Thursday, December 1, 2011

Not A Whole [N]other Story

Here's the conversation...
"I've had such a rough day!"
"What happened?"
"Well, my tough week actually started on Monday, but that's a whole nother story..."

Let's just set the record straight.  There is no such thing "a whole nother" story, at least not in the world of correct English grammar. 

Think I'm crazy for bringing this up? Stop and listen for a few minutes and sooner or later, you're going to hear (or say), "...but that's a whole nother story."  What's they've/you've done with this little phrase is actually splice the word "another" and stick the word "whole" right in there.  "Another" is happy being all together; leave it alone!  Instead, try saying, "...that's a whole other story" OR "that's another story" (without the 'whole').

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Identical Snowflakes??! Possible, but Not Probable

We've all heard (and probably repeated) the old adage that no two snowflakes are ever the same.  I used to use the analogy all the time with my students when describing how each of us is also different and has our own special gifts and talents.  Well, I may have to amend my whole diatribe!

There is an article today in the Washington Post by Brian Palmer ( about the uniqueness of snowflakes.  It gets pretty technical at certain points, but according to his snowflake expert source, it is mathematically and statistically possible for two snowflakes to be identical; it is just highly, highly unlikely given the number of combinations of molecular arrangements. 

Palmer quotes Kenneth Libbrecht of the California Institute of Technology, "Now, it’s not a law of nature that no two snowflakes could be truly identical. So, on a very technical level, it’s possible for two snowflakes to be identical...[t]here are a limited number of ways to arrange a handful of bricks...but if you have a lot of bricks, the number of combinations grows very quickly. With enough of them, you can make a driveway, a sidewalk or a house.  Water molecules in a snowflake are like those bricks. As the number of building blocks increases, the number of possible combinations increases at an incredible rate." 

Palmer continues by explaining, "[c]onsider the math, which Libbrecht helps explain using a bookshelf analogy. He points out that, if you have only three books on your bookshelf, there are only six orders in which you can arrange them. (That’s 3 times 2 times 1.) If you have 15 books, there are 1.3 trillion possible arrangements. (Fifteen times 14 times 13, etc.) With 100 books, the number of combinations increases to a number that is far, far greater than the estimated number of atoms in the universe."

Like I said, it gets a little technical, but if you have 6th grader (or older) child, it's very likely that she's worked with combinations in math class.  While she's not going to be able to figure out the total number of snowflake combinations in the world on her own (Palmer shares that "Libbrecht estimates that around a septillion — that’s a 1 with 24 zeros — snowflakes fall every year."), this is a nice connection to make.

Happy Winter!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Report: Baby Max and Ruby - Birthday

Birthday [Book]
My two year old is over the moon for the TV show about two bunny siblings called, Max and Ruby.  If you (and your children) haven't seen it, it may be something to consider DVRing.  To tie in a bit of educational, non-TV activity, the book series is a great complement.  We got a copy of Baby Max and Ruby: Birthday by Rosemary Wells and Katie just loves it.  The words could not be more simple and there really is no plot (but then again, we're talking about books for 1-2 year olds), but the pictures are fun and exciting to her.  In fact, each picture of a present in the book has a bow that slightly raised, giving your child a tactile surface to keep him interested while you read the words on the page.  This is a great book for young kids, and if you're really ambitious you could extend the book to include lessons on sharing and sibling rivalry.  We found it online, but with shipping costs, it almost makes more sense to find it your local bookstore or big box store.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More Math Fun!

I had someone ask me again about ways to make math less scary for kids of all ages.  I find that kids get most overwhelmed when they lack a solid foundation; in other words, getting kids to understand and have number sense is my first suggestion.  Obviously, this is much easier when kids are younger, but even 8, 9, 10 year old kids benefit greatly from breaking down numbers and playing with them. 

Making math more into a game is a great way to build basics, but without the stress! One fun activity that you can do with your kids is to find some flat rocks and allow your kids to paint different numbers on them, one number per rock.  Vary the number range based on your child's age (maybe 1-5 for younger children and 1-9 for older kids).  If you don't have rocks, allow your child to pull 3, 4 or 5 playing cards from a deck of cards.  If you don't have cards, use scraps of paper.  The point is, kids see rocks/cards/scraps of paper as "game" pieces and all of a sudden, math is fun instead of stressful.

Ask him different questions about the numbers on the rocks/cards/papers and give him a chance to manipulate them to answer the questions, and more importantly, justify his reasoning.

Sample questions include:
"What happens when you add the number on this rock (e.g. 4) to the number on this rock (e.g. 3)?"  "Now, what do you notice when you add the number on this rock (e.g. 3 -- the 2nd rock from the first question) to this number (e.g. 4 -- the 1st rock from the first question)" -- the idea here is that your child will begin to see the Commutative Property of Addition, which states a +b = b + a.  You child will have to explain WHY 4 + 3 = 3 + 4.  Have him try multiple additions combinations to prove to you (and him) that this property always works.

"What is the largest number you can make with these three rocks (e.g., 7, 8, 3)?"  Assume your child chooses to manipulate the rocks to make the number 738.  Ask, "Great! Why is 738 better than 378?"  Then push further and ask about the place values of each of the digits in a 3-digit number.  Try to tease out that the number in the first place represents hundreds and the larger the number in the hundreds place, the larger the number overall.  "So, would it be better to have an 8 in the hundreds place, or 3 in the hundreds place? Why?"  "What is the value of the 2nd digit {tens}?"  "What is the value of the third digit {ones}?  Obviously, you want your child to get to 873, but be sure to praise and question each step along the way.

Ask your child to come up with her own questions about the rock numbers and let her "quiz" you.  See what questions and discussions arise, and go from there.

Good luck and happy math exploring!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Meet Susanna Mae!

We are thrilled to introduce Susanna Mae, Letter Learning's newest employee!  Born Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, 8 lbs, 7 oz. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Additions and Updates - What's New at Letter Learning

We've been hard at work expanding our line of kid-friendly, educational greeting cards and are pretty darn proud of our newest additions.  (With a baby due any second, expansion seems to be a big theme around here.)  Anyway, here's what we've added.

All Capital Letter Cards:  We had some very thoughtful customers write in and let us know that they're kids' preschools start by using only capitals. The idea is that the upper- and lower-case letters together is a bit too confusing for the youngest writers, so they simply focus on one strand at a time.  We happily obliged with the following two new cards.  (More coming in the near future).

Teacher Appreciation Cards:  As a former teacher, I can't believe this one slipped under the radar until now.  What teacher wouldn't want to receive a thank-you card from her student?

We also have some pretty sweet new Valentine's Day cards and have updated a few of our other classics.  See everything at  We couldn't possibly show you everything here, so take a few minutes to check out our site. 

You can save 20% with promo code "THANKYOU20", so what are you still doing here?!

Got other suggestions for cards?  Please share!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Make Math (Even) More Magical!

We all know kids learn more when they're having fun (I feel like a broken record saying that over and over and over again), so let your little Einsteins go hog-wild with this fun math game!

Write each digit 0-9 on its own scrap of paper and have your kids crumple them up. 

Depending on the age/math proficiency of your kids, have them choose between 2-5 scraps from the pile.  Tell them their job is to use each of the numbers they have randomly chosen in a math expression, working toward some goal (largest sum, an even number, a multiple of 12) that you set.

So, for example, if you have a 5th grader, you may say to him, "Pick 4 scraps of paper.  Make (two) 2-digit numbers that, when added together, give you the largest sum possible."  If your child pulls a 2, 4, 1 and 5, let him play around with the numbers realizing that it doesn't make sense to make the numbers 24 and 15 (sum of 39), when he could make 51 and 42 and get a sum of 93.  Would changing the numbers to 52 and 41 change the sum?  Why or why not?

If you have a 1st grader, change the game to something like, "Pick 3 scraps of paper and add all of the numbers together".  While this may not seems exceptionally fun to adults, most kids will like the novelty of moving the papers around and the fact that they're written on pieces of paper instead of a math worksheet.

Other ways you can change this up:
- use a die or 2,3,4, dice to get your random numbers (kids automatically think "game" when dice are involved!)
- have your kids play against one another to get the largest sum and have them explain their thinking ("I made 42 instead of 24 because 42 is a larger number.  A large number plus another large number will get me a larger sum than 2 small numbers added together....")
- add more pieces of paper and have repeated digits
- let your kids set their own goals for the math expression
- have your kids pick 3 pieces of paper randomly and then have the option to choose which number they'd like to have for the 4th digit, depending on that round's goal

What else can you think of to make this math game even more fun!?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

House of Cards - Fun, cheap, easy way to learn more about your kids

Here's a fun/easy/cheap/educational activity for all you parents, caregivers and teachers out there!  Give your kiddos a stack of playing cards and a roll of masking tape and tell them that the "best" castle wins.  That's it.  They can't use anything other than the cards and the tape and they have to build a castle. "Best", of course, is relative, so you can judge the winners based on cooperation, design, strength, aesthetics, or give a prize in each category.  Gauge your kids to see what will be best for them.

If you're a teacher, use this as a team-building activity for your cooperative groups.  If you're a parent, use it at a birthday party to keep the kids engaged, or just use it with your own kids and see how creative they can truly be.  The kids can work independently, in small groups, or in large groups.  You'll be amazed what life skills start shining through during this oh-so-simple activity.  If the kids are working in a group, you'll immediately be able to pinpoint "the leaders".  They're the ones who take the masking tape and the stack of cards and demand their teammates listen to their plan before anyone does anything. You'll soon find your creative cats, too.  They're the ones who quietly and artfully create a architectural masterpiece that has multiple levels, staircases, spindles. and use alternating diamond/spade patterns  The peace-makers will emerge, well, as the ones who keep the peace and keep everyone involved.

The great thing is that clean up is easy, the cards can be re-used and this activity can be done repeatedly since no two castles will be the same.

Try it out and share what you find -- we'd love to hear what you discovered about your Aces!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quoting Angelou's Quotation

There's an article in the Washington Post today (  about the new Martin Luther King, Jr statue.  Renowned poet Maya Angelou has voiced her disapproval of how the statue creators paraphrased of one of King's speeches, and she is quoted as saying, "The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit."  Now, I'm not taking sides on this one, and I certainly do not want to take too much away from Angelou's point, but this brings up a great teachable moment that I couldn't pass up.  Angelou uses the word "quote", when really, she should have said, "quotation".  Why? 

Quite simply, "quote" is the
verb, and "quotation" is the noun!
It's simple..."quote" is a verb and "quotation" is a noun.  What Angelou should have said was, "The quotation makes..."  I hear this all the time, and have certainly caught myself making the same mistake, but it never hurts to know the correct form.  So, quite simply, if you are talking about something that has been said or written (a "thing", if you will), the correct word is "quotation".  If you are doing the action or describing someone else's action, use "quote". 

N.B.  I did find some research that suggests that "quote" as a noun is acceptable in casual and informal writing/speak, but the English purists out there don't seem to like that one bit!

Some examples:
I love the quotation, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
The girl quoted many quotations in her essay.
We read many famous quotations while at the library.
She quoted Einstein quite often.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Choices make the world go 'round (and get stuff done!)

Offer choice when trying to
get your child to complete a task that
might be less than desirable.
 I caught myself asking my 21 month old, "Katie, do you want to help Mama clean up your toys?"  I realized immediately I had made a mistake. She may be less than 2, but she's not crazy.  Of course she doesn't want to clean up.  Who does?  She answered, "No!" and ran away. 

I started thinking about I should have and could have phrased the questions differently and better, and was instantly brought back to my teaching days.  Kids, like most everyone, like to feel like they're making their own choices about their actions.  Few people like to be told what they need to do.  Rather than asking a closed, dead-end question like, "Do you want to eat your vegetables?" or "Would you help me clean up this mess?", the better route would be to offer two choices.  "Katie, do you want to eat your green beans or carrots first?" or  "Katie, would you like to pick up your blocks, or do you want to pick up your puzzle pieces?"  That way, the task is getting done, but the child feels like it's on her terms.  Either way, the answer she picks still gets the goal accomplished, but she's not responding to a question that makes her feel trapped.

I used to use this all the time with my 5th and 3rd grade students, so I know it works for kids of all ages.  The next time you're trying to get your child to perform a task that may be less than desirable, try phrasing it as though he has options.  Rather than, "Emma, are you ready to start your homework?", try, "Emma, do you want to do your math homework, or read for 30 minutes first?"  Rather than, "Chris, do you mind taking out the trash?", try, "Chris, would you rather take out the trash or clean the bathroom sink?"

So now, dear readers, I ask, "Would you rather leave a comment on this blog entry or the one that I wrote earlier in the week about sending your kids off to school?"  The choice, is, of course, yours! :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sending the Kids Off to School (and You into Depression?)

I read this post from Janice D'Arcy of The Washington Post's OnParenting ( this morning and it really got me thinking about how the first day of school impacts much more than just students.  As a former teacher, I can assure you that your kids are in good hands, but that doesn't change the fact that starting school can be a big step for parents, too!

In her post, D'Arcy writes about how sending her little One off to Kindergarten for the first time is a gut-wrenching, tear-worthy experience, and I think that's something we don't consider often enough.  She mentions that she feels all sorts of guilt and regret for not packing in more activities and time with her child before the "big send-off".  We often hear about "empty nesters", who send their kids off to college, but how often do we allow moms and dads of 4-, 5- and 6-year olds to wallow in the fact that their "babies" are now, and for the next 15 or so years will be, be school-aged?

While I recognize that I'm in a completely different situation, taking my 21 month old to "school" (read: organized playgroup in a local community center on Friday mornings from 9:30-noon) did stir up a few feelings that I wasn't expecting.  You always hear that you shouldn't blink because your babies will be grown up in that time, and I have to say it seems like just yesterday we were bringing her home from the hospital.  Now she's old enough to eat snack, play and be without me for hours at a time?!  I'm thankful she's independent enough to do all of this without me, but I can't help but think that maybe I'm a little too disposable.

I'm sure this is more dramatic than it needs to be, but I do like that D'Arcy was brave enough to speak up about her feelings on sending her child to school for the first time.  What do you think? Have you had similar experiences?  Is it hardest when they first go to Kindergarten, or is middle school the kicker? What about high school and sending your kids off to college?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

All Right, Let's All Get This Right!

It's nitpicky* (let's come back to that in a second), but it's time we all learn that there is no such word as "alright".  It's always two words: all right.  The great news is that there is no confusing rule to remember when to use alright and when to use all right, unless you can't remember that the former is totally incorrect 100% of the time!

So, throw out "alright" with last week's leftovers and feel confident that you'll always be right with all right!

*Back to nitpicky, it's a pretty common phrase, but have you really stopped and wondered where it comes from?  According to sources I came across, it refers to picking nits (yes, the eggs of lice) out of hair.  That's a tedious and meticulous job (as any mother with kids who have lice can attest), just as to nitpick in the figurative sense is to find fault or analyze in an overly critical way.  Similarly, I've heard it originated from chimps who spend much of their time laboriously picking nits from each other's hair.  Gross and yet so interesting.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Math Phobia - Let's Cure It Together!

Math Monster, be gone!
 I taught 5th and 3rd grade for 7 years and am taking a little time off as I prepare to have my 2nd kiddo.  Someone recently asked my opinion about kids' math-phobia, its source and more importantly, its solution.  Here's what I think.

As you well know, many kids struggle with math.  I'm probably not going to get a whole lot of love from parents or fellow teachers, but one of the biggest disservices we do for our kids is teach them "tricks" to remember math algorithms.  As teachers, we are so pressured by making sure our kids do well on state tests that we look for a quick fix, and teach kids tricks that we assume they'll remember long enough to get them through the test-taking period. 

For example, when teaching kids long division, I've heard many fellow teachers teach their kids the saying, "Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister", which is supposed to help kids remember the steps,  "Multiply (Mom), Divide (Dad), Borrow (Brother) and Subtract (Sister)."  It seems like a great system until it's crunch time, the kids are under stress and have no idea if it was Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister or Sister, Dad, Mom, Brother or Uncle Sam, Aunt Patty, Grandpa, Cousin.  There's no meaning to which the kids can connect, and therefore, there's little chance the kids will remember the correct steps in the long-term.  Summer comes and goes and as the child enters the next grade, he's right back at square one as far as long-division proficiency.  So, his next teacher teachers him the saying "McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Burger King, Sonic" to "help" him remember the steps of long division and here we go again....

Our U.S. educational system is also very flawed (in my opinion) in that we spend small amounts of time on each of 6-7 math strands each year.  In Kindergarten, kids get a quick unit on number sense, geometry, patterns and algebra, etc., and then they see each of those units again in 1st-8th grade.  The problem with this is that there are so many units that each one is only touched upon for a short time.  There is a ton of breadth and not a lot of depth.  As compared with many Asian ways of teaching math (which focus on 1-2 strands only for the entire year), our system doesn't allow the investigation needed for kids to truly grasp what they are doing.

Unrelated as these two points may seem, they actually are very similar to one another.  My suggestion to parents and teachers who have math-phobic students is to start back at square one, and really spend time with your kids helping them to truly understand the basics of math.  If your child struggles with long division, I'd be willing to be that he doesn't grasp that it's really repeated subtraction.  (Have you ever sat down to think about division in that way?)  Asking a child to learn division, when he doesn't understand subtraction is like asking a kids to string together a compound sentence when he doesn't know the alphabet.  Without the proper foundation, his math tower (upon which more and more is constantly piled) is bound to topple. 

This all sounds great in theory, but what about reality?  My suggestion is to start small.  Kids know more than you (or they) think.  Obviously, the younger your child is, the easier it is for her to catch up.  If fractions are your child's nemesis, "catch" her talking about sharing half her cookie with her sister, or dividing up the pizza among her 4 friends.  Use real-life, meaningful scenarios to get your kids thinking about math.  Ask them tough questions and make the commitment to do some research yourself.  Do you really understand what it means to "borrow" from the hundreds place when solving a subtraction problem, or do you just cross out the 7, make it a 6 and put 10 on top of the 0 in the tens place? 

Kids are like dogs in that they smell fear.  If you grew up eeking by math class and clearly don't get it, I'm willing to bet your kids are going to hate math and try to slip through as well.  Maybe it's time for both of you to make the commitment to learn more about math than just the tricks that your teachers taught you years ago. 

Just "sum" food for thought!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Report: Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton

Who doesn't love Sandra Boynton's books?  They're funny, cute, kid-appealing, and this one in particular has a really important talking point for kids.  Happy Hippo, Angry Duck takes a light-hearted approach to kids' feelings and letting them know that being sad, angry, happy or frazzled is totally and completely normal.  As always, Boynton's illustrations attract kids, but it's the message in the book that I find so compelling.  I think so often we forget that kids need to know that being confused or angry is just part of life.  She ends on such a positive note by saying ". . .I hope you are happy.  But if you are not, you have friends who will help you."  We need to emphasize to even the youngest kids that they are surrounded by family and friends who love and support them no matter what.  Two thumbs up for this multi-purpose book!  We found it on Amazon for just $5.99! 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Let's Explore this Further (or is it Farther?)

Here's another one of those pesky word pairs that tends to get mixed up by a lot of well-meaning folks.  When do you use "further" and when is "farther" the correct word to use?  (And, no, it's never "Happy Farther's Day")
This jockey is riding farther (and faster)
 than anticipated!

So it's pretty easy, actually.  "Farther" is correct when you are talking about an physical, measurable distance (as in, Her car is parked farther away than mine).

"Further" should be used when you are talking about additional time, quantities or degrees (as in, We need to discuss this word pair further to be totally clear on it).

I keep the two straight by using the "far" in farther to remind me that that one relates to distance.  We ran farther than she did.  The sun is farther from the Earth than is the moon.

Have any further comments or questions, please share them below!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

No Muss, No Fuss, No Clean-Up: Fun Geometry and Communication Activity

Looking for another easy, low-cost, no clean-up activity? How about one that improves kids' communication AND geometry skills? Check this out!  Have your child draw a simple picture like the one shown here.  It requires little artistic ability from the child, which means there shouldn't be any stress involved.

 When she's finished drawing, DON'T LOOK at the image.  Instead, get your own sheet of blank paper and sit with your back facing her.  Her job is to describe to you her drawing in enough detail and geometric and positional language that you can draw your own version of her original image. 

For instance, she might start out by saying, "Draw a circle".  Well, without having seen the original, you may pick up the pink marker and draw a huge circle that takes up the entire page.  What she'll soon see is that she needs to say something like, "Draw a small gray circle with a black circumference."  Then she has to convey to you that there is a purplish-blue triangle hanging from the bottom left side of the circle.  But, she'll have to let you know that it is an equilateral triangle, as opposed to a bottom-pointing isosceles triangle or something else.  She also have to let you know that the triangle is similarly sized to the circle.  Next, she'll have to use her language to get you to draw the kite/diamond and the floating orange pentagon.

You can make up your own rules, such as the listening artist is allowed 5 clarifying questions, or the original artist is allowed to peak at the listening artist's work as it's being drawn so she can be more exact with her descriptions.
The possibilities are absolutely endless, and there's no reason multiple kids couldn't participate in this, if you're needing a little break.  One child could still be the original artist and a whole group of kids could be the listening artists.  Have fun! And, as always, happy learning!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Never-ending Endings

Kids of all ages love hearing stories.  They also love making up their own stories.  Tonight, for a quick and easy change of pace, read just half a book/story to your child and challenge him to come up with his own ending for the story.  It doesn't matter if it's a new book that you've never read, or an old favorite, your child will (most likely) love coming up with his own sequence of events.  More than just fun, this piques children's imagination and keeps them excited about reading.  There are literally endless possibilities, and you can take turns coming up with alternate endings.  Your child will love hearing what kooky new twist you come up with and will no doubt have critiques on how it could be better.  Instead of the Brown Bear seeing the Red Bird, let your 4 year old throw in a pink polk-a-dotted parakeet.  Instead of the Three Little Bears scaring Goldilocks when she wakes up, have them invite her to stay for more porridge, fall in love with Baby Bear's neighbor friend who stops by to play and live happily ever after.  Whatever you do, make reading an adventure.  Make it fun and once your child sees how much fun you're having, he's sure to jump right in!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Statue of Sanity

Kids driving you a little nuts already this summer? Maybe the idea of a road trip send shivers down your spine because your angels mysteriously turn into something else about 2 blocks from your house?  Here's a no-materials, no-mess game that I used to have my students play while they waited in line.  It's in a similar vein to "The Silent Game" except the kids are supposed to be as still as statues.  That's it.  You, or one of your kids is designated "Statue Master" and gives the rest of the crew a 5-4-3-2-1 countdown (during which time the "statues" get all of their wiggles out).  Once they hear "1", though, they have to freeze and be perfectly still.  The Statue Master observes and eliminates anybody who moves.  Simple? Yes.  A great way to get your kids to stop fighting or calm down or do whatever it is you need them to do? Yes!  Enjoy, fellow Statue Masters!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Turn the Sunshine into a Science Lesson

It is so hot.  It's hot in the sun, it's even hot in the shade.  We hear repeatedly that we need to help our little Ones stay cool by dressing them wisely in light-colored clothing, but why not let them explore the "why" behind that idea?  In other words, turn the daily clothing battle into a learning experience that's meaningful to them.

Here's what you can do. Have your kiddos grab one black (or dark) sock and one white sock.  Ask them to make a hypothesis (prediction) about which sock will be hotter, when left in the sun.   (And, yes, use the word, "hypothesis" -- they can handle it).  Ask them why they predicted what they did.  Put the socks side-by-side in the sun and place a thermometer inside each one (use outdoor thermometer or regular household thermometers).  Have your child check the temperatures of the socks periodically (they may need help reading the thermometer, so keep that in mind as another valuable life lesson).  They should see that the dark sock is significantly hotter than the light/white sock.  Now ask them if they'd rather wear light-colored clothing on a hot day or dark clothes.  With any luck, the experiment's results will transfer and they'll realize that white is much better.

In a nutshell, the reason for this is that dark colored clothes ABSORB light/heat which make the person even warmer.  Light/white clothes REFLECT light/heat and therefore keep a person feeling relatively cooler. 

Now, see if your child really gets it by asking him which color clothing he should wear outside in the winter!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bubble Geometry

What kid doesn't like blowing bubbles? What teacher doesn't love it too?  Why? Because there is so much math embedded in this seemingly fun-only activity.  We all know kids learn more when they're having fun, so throw in this secret geometry lesson while your kids are blowing their hearts out!!

The object, of course, is to blow the biggest bubble.  Let your kids experiment with different shaped bubble-makers (homemade or store bought).  They can use wire coat hangers, string, or the wands that come with the bubble solution.  Here's the math part.  Once the bubbles pop, use the bubble ring that's left on the sidewalk and have a quick talk with your kids about the diameter, radius and circumference.  (See the definitions below for your refresher course.)  Get the rulers out and have your kids measure each of the three for each bubble they blow.  Have them make their own data sheets to keep the records straight. 

If you have multiple kids, you can make it a competition or have them work together in a team effort (which life lesson will you choose today?); if you have one child, see if he can "beat" his record with each successive bubble.  What improvements can your kids add to increase the size of their bubbles?

Your kids' math teachers will love you and your kids will be having so much fun, they'll do all the math you want just to keep making the biggest bubble! It's most definitely a win-win!

DIAMETER:    any straight line segment that passes through the center of the circle and whose endpoints are on the circle  (remember, the line segment has to start and end on the circle AND PASS THROUGH THE CENTER POINT)

RADIUS:  any line segment from its center or axis of symmetry to its perimeter  (think of this like a spoke on a wheel; the line segment has to have one end point on the center of the circle and one endpoint on the circle itself)

CIRCUMFERENCE: the perimeter (or distance) around the circle; you calculate this by (C=πd) OR (C=2*π*r)     (π = 3.1415)

Other ways you can embed math in this lesson:
- have your kids measure in centimeters and inches
- have your kids find the difference between each bubble's measurements
- have your kids research WHY bubbles are always spherical no matter what shape the wand is

Happy blowing!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lay or Lie? -- or Just Losing my Mind!?

This has been driving me nuts for years.  Before reading any further, ask yourself, "Do I really know the difference between the words lay and lie?"  If you're like me, laying/lying (?) in bed, having trouble sleeping at night, not knowing if you are using the words properly, prepare to get a good night's rest.  Here's the story that I learned after doing a little research.

"Lay" is a transitive verb.  That means it must have some sort of action and is always followed by an object which receives the action.  "Lay" means to place something.  I lay my bag on the table.  (The action is me placing, and the object is my bag.)  If you did it yesterday, you laid your bag on the table.  You may also have laid many bags on many tables.

"Lie" is intransitive and means to recline.  It doesn't need an object to receive the action.  The boy lies down.  (The boy is the subject, and he's reclining, but there's no object receiving anything.)  Here's where it get confusing: the past tense of lie is lay.  So, the boy lay down yesterday.  He has lain down each day this week.

Try to fill in the blanks with either: lay, laid, lie, lay or lain.
1.  I was exhausted last night, so I ______ down for a quick nap.
2.  She ______ the baby in the crib each evening.
3.  Every morning this week, the dog has _____ on the concrete floor to cool off.
4.  My mom _______ the cards on the table.
5.  The cat _______ still waiting for the mouse to move.

1.  lay
2.  lay(s)
3.  lain
4.  laid
5.  lie(s)

How'd you do?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Keeping Your Sanity During Long Car Rides: Game Ideas

Summer is the time for long road trips.  Who wants to fly and get there in 3 hours, when you can drive in just 23?  My family of 6 used to pile in a full-sized van and drive from Houston, TX to Buffalo, NY in one shot.  I should clarify by saying that my 2 parents would drive us from Houston to Buffalo.  All 28 hours.  No hotels.  No stops longer than pee breaks and gas fill-ups.  Needless to say, my sibs and I got really good at keeping ourselves occupied in the car.  I'm not advocating you be quite so crazy, but should you find yourself packing the car with a rising blood pressure, here's a list of 10 things to try with your little Ones in the car to keep them happy and learning.  (Some work better for older kids, some better for younger munchkins.  You know your kiddos best.)

1.  Take turns making up one cohesive story, alternating one sentence at a time.  You start with something like, "Once there was a little boy who loved to make pancakes."  Then your child has to incorporate that into the next part of the story.  "He woke up on Sunday morning and found that his stove was missing."   Now, it's your turn.  "When he asked his mom about the stove, she mysteriously whispered, 'I saw three elves snooping around the yard last night..."  And so on, and so forth.  The story will go in places you never imagined!
2.  Blast the radio. 
3.  Give her a book to read.
4.  Come prepared with snacks.  Lots of snacks.  Let your kids describe their ultimate dream snack while they munch (e.g. a large vanilla sundae topped with cheetos and smothered in barbecue sauce)
5.  Play "buzz".  This is a great game to help slightly older kids learn their multiples.  See our previous blog entry for details.
6.  Play the State capitals game.  This requires you to know your states (and their respective capital cities), or at least have a navigator with an atlas who can look this up.
7.  Go through each letter of the alphabet, describing one fruit/song/artist/actor whose name begins with that particular letter.
8.  Sing a song.  Can't carry a tune in a bucket? Simon Cowell, your child is not.  She doesn't care.  Just sing.  Get that imagination going by making up your own silly lyrics and tunes, or by trying to sing one song to another's tune.  Make it a contest to see who can hold out laughing the longest.
9.  If your child is old enough, bring along a children's dictionary.  Take turns picking random page numbers and places on the page to learn new words.  (For instance, "Mary, turn to page 138, and let's learn what the 7th word on the left side of the left column means).  Or, turn it into a game and have your child try to find words that will stump you.  1 point to you for each word you know, 1 point to him for each word she stumps you with.
10.  Keep that dictionary handy and play simple version of Balderdash.  Your child picks a word and then gives you 3-4 definition.  1 definition is the correct one, and 3 are definitions of other words.  You have to determine which definition truly matches the given word.

Got other suggestions for keeping your sanity in the car? Share them below!

Happy Travels!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Buzz about Buzz!

Don't worry about getting stung! This has nothing to do with those pesky pollinators in your garden.  Rather, this is a game that school-aged kids absolutely love (and there's even a bunch of math hidden in it).  The rules of the game are simple and flexible.  You (or your child[ren]) determine which number's multiples you want to focus on.  Let's say you pick the number 3.  Start counting and alternate between you and your child.  If there are more kids, even better.  Each person takes a turn.  You start by saying, "1".  Your child says "2".  Then, instead of you saying, "3", you say "BUZZ!"  This is because the object of the game is to say, "BUZZ" rather than the multiple of the chosen number and 3 x 1 = 3.  Now back to your kiddo who says, "4".  You say, "5".  Your child does not say "6", but rather "BUZZ" (because 3 x 2 = 6, meaning 6 is a multiple of 3).  Play continues.  You say, "7", your child says, "8", you say, "BUZZ" [not 9, since 3 x 3 = 9].  If someone misses their opportunity and says the multiple instead of BUZZ, they have lost.  You can play to a certain number, change the object number, count down instead of up, or even play in a different language.

Here's another sample round:
Parent: "Let's play Buzz!  The number is 5.  I'll start.  1."
Child 1: "2"
Child 2: "3"
Parent: "4"
Child 1: "BUZZ!"
Child 2: "6"
Parent: "7"
Child 1: "8"
Child 2: "9"
Parent: "BUZZ!"
Child 1: "11"
Child 2: "12"
Parent: "13"
Child 1: "14"
Child 2: "15" 
Parent: "Oh no! You should have said, BUZZ! because 5 x 3 = 15, so 15 is a multiple of 5.  Child 2, you are out this round, so now Child 1 and I will continue until one of us makes a mistake.  Keep listening to make sure you keep track of who says what!"

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's Raining, It's Pouring....It's Math Time

It's raining here with no signs of letting up -- what a perfect day to do some math! As a teacher, I absolutely love(d) the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) website called Illuminations.  This site is full (absolutely exploding) with math games, ideas, objectives, activities for all ages and all math strands.  If your child needs extra help in algebra, there's a game/activity.  If geometry stumps your child, no problem -- they've got you covered.  And, when I say all ages, I truly mean, all ages.  We tend to think of Pythagorean theorem when we hear geometry, but don't forget that even preschoolers are practicing their geometry skills when they sort shapes and put them into patterns.  I highly, highly recommend this site to fellow moms, dads, teachers, whomever.  It's safe, free and educational.

Here's a screen shot of just one of the many activities: "Pan Balance - Shapes" -- a wonderfully rich activity that introduces kids to algebraic thinking without them even knowing it!  You definitely want to read each activities rules and explanations before playing and as always, you want to make sure your child is properly supervised.  This game's gist is as follows:  I learn that 2 red squares are the same "weight" as 1 blue circle.  In the next round, I learn that 2 red squares and 1 purple triangle are equivalent to 1 blue circle and 3 yellow diamonds.  From there, I can continue to figure out the value of each shape. I get to pick which shapes I place on which of the two balances and deduce their values from the results.  Amazing, isn't it?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Have you heard about Alice?

Am I just super out of the loop or does no one else know about this super fab website called

I feel like such a loser for having not known about this earlier.  But, in the event that I'm not the only one living under a rock, I'll share the good news! I was looking for some Happy Tot fruit/veggie pouches for Katie and found them here for right around a buck a piece.  With free shipping, I went a little crazy, and we can now feed each child in the greater DC area Happy-Tot-centered meals for the next 20 years.  Anyway, I also threw in some toiletries, office supplies and loved seeing the $0.00 shipping costs! also remembers your orders and give you the option of doing repeat orders.  They also automatically find and use manufacturers' coupons to increase the savings.  Whatever makes life easier (and cheaper) is A-OK with me!
Just wanted to pass this great site along for you fellow bargain hunters!  What do you think?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's a Social Parade!

It's a Social Parade!  We love new followers!  Thanks for visiting us!
Smart and Trendy Moms

Book Report: Textured Soft Shapes: High Tide by iKids and Kate Davis

A puzzle? Bath toy? Book? Which is it? All 3 and then some! This simple book consisting of just 5 pages packs in a bunch of learning skills.  Rhyming riddles describe different sea creatures whose identities are revealed when kids remove their outlines from the following page.  I see kids loving this because of the rhymes, bright colors, soft animal cutouts.  I see parents loving this because it is waterproof, tear proof and floats.  Let your kiddos read in the bathtub, at the beach or in their beds and never worry about the integrity of this book.  Great for kids 6 months-2+.  We found it on Amazon for just $10.39.

Giveaway Ends Tomorrow! -- UPDATE: ENDED

UPDATE:  CONTEST ENDED! Congrats to Jodi R. for winning the gift certificate!

Want adorable, educational greeting cards for your kids? How about adorable, educational greeting cards for your kids FOR FREE?  Don't miss your chance to win $23 in Letter Learning cards!
See details in this previous blogpost!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Getting Your Kids to Read (Especially in the Summer) -- Tips from a Teacher

Reading is one of the most wonderful activities a child of any age can do.  The way the stories build their imagination, vocabulary, language skills, background knowledge....well, it's pretty spectacular.  Unfortunately, most kiddos view reading more like visiting the dentist (sorry, dentists) than the luxury most of us consider it.  (How many adults do you know who don't just love to curl up with a great book and just read, read, read?) 

If you find yourself with a reluctant reader, check out these tips that I used to use with my students to see if it motivates them.  As with most educational feats, the trick is getting kids excited about what they're doing.  Reading a book (especially reading a book during the summer months) is no different!

1. Ask your kids what they think will happen next in the book. Kids will be dying to find out if they're right, so they read away.
2. Ask your kids to draw a picture of a scene from the book and tell you all about it. The more kids talk about the book, the more excited they get about it.  If they're not great artists, have them make up a song and dance routine about the book.  Not dancers and singers?  Have them create clay/playdoh figures from the book.  Be creative -- what does your kid like?
3. Ask your kids to write an alternate ending to the book and compare/contrast it to the real ending of the book.
4. Read the book at the same time your child reads it so you can have in-depth conversations about characters, their decisions, conflicts, resolutions, scenery, etc.
5. Have your child read parts of the book outloud to you; this improves fluency and comprehension, while making the child feel that you are part of the whole reading process (if you are not available to listen, pets and stuffed animals work as great alternates)
There's a little reader in each one of our kids and it's our job to pry him and build him up.  Find out what your kids love and use that to help them love reading!
What do you do to keep your kids reading all summer long?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Holy Cow! Don't miss your chance!

Want adorable, educational greeting cards for your kids? How about adorable, educational greeting cards for your kids FOR FREE?  Don't miss your chance to win $23 in Letter Learning cards!
See details in this previous blogpost!

Book Report: Ten Friendly Fish by Debbie Tarbett

My little monster is just 19 months, but she has more fun with colorful, counting book than I'd ever imagine.  Ten Friendly Fish is full of vivid pictures of sea life that she just adores.  In fact, her limited vocabulary includes "oppa" (octopus), which I'm certain is a direct result of this book.  With each turn of the page, one more fish gets distracted by a new sea friend until the very end when the one lone fish is once again reunited with all of his original buddies at their party in the sea!  Great for learning sea life names, looking at brilliant pictures and of course, counting! Tarbett also has a similar book about Ten, Wriggly, Wiggly Caterpillars, if that's more your style!  We found Ten Friendly Fish on Amazon for $18.95.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Short and Sweet, or Abbreviated and Saccharine

Be a proud bookworm!
Whose vocabulary couldn’t use a little expanding? I know mine could.  I’m also willing to bet you’d be OK with your child’s vocab getting a little broader.  That’s why I’ve started tweeting kid-friendly words a couple times a week.  ( But, you can always check back here for recaps if you happen to miss the tweets when they happen.  So far, we’ve learned 3 new words (see below).
AUSPICIOUS: adj; promising; favorable (sounds a lot like suspicious, but the “a” in the beginning makes a big difference in meaning!)
CHORTLE: v. to chuckle gleefully (a hybrid of “chuckle” and “snort” coined by Lewis Carroll)
GENIAL: adj. good for life & growth The genial rain helped my seed germinate
The BEST way to really make these words stick in your brain and your child’s brain is to make a connection to them.  An example? OK, here goes….  I learned my lesson about tickling Katie in her high chair when milk shot out of her nose as she chortled.
OK, now it’s your turn.  Comment below on how any (or all) of these three words connect to you!

And...don't forget about our $23 gift certificate giveaway! See details in this previous blogpost!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Book Report: Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino

Silly as this book sounds, it's a must-have for your library! Kids ages 18 months to 5 or 6 will love this book for different reason.  Little ones will enjoy the pictures and rhymes and older kiddos will enjoy guessing which type of animal Lloyd, the llama and his friends are describing.  Everything from bats to swans make an appearance in this adorable soon-to-be classic that everyone will love.  We found it on Amazon for just $6.99 (what a steal!)

And don't forget about your chance to WIN a $23 GIFT CERTIFICATE to LetterLearning just by following our blog and letting us know you did so on our Facebook page! Our educational greeting cards for kids are too good to miss -- especially when they're free!!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sneak it in!

It's hot. Summer's humidity has already smacked me in the face and it's way before noon (and June!!). Schools let out very soon and kids are thrilled.  The start of summer is the longest time kids will have before they have to back to school, at least that's how the see it. How are you going to keep you kids' minds sharp during these next few months, so they don't walk into their new classrooms next September having forgotten everything they learned this past year? No sweat. Three words. Authentic Learning Experiences! I don't want to use the word sneaky, but I sort of do. You need to be sneaky and keep their little brains in tip-top shape without them even knowing it! Keep your kids thinking without knowing that's what they're doing.

For example: The streets in my neighborhood are all three-syllables and alphabetized. While on a walk, what a great game it would be to ask kids to come up with fictitious names of streets that could fit in between the real ones. So you've got Abingdon, Buchanan, Covington -- how about Camelot? Where would that go? Before or after Covington, why? Does it fit the description of 3 syllables? Why or why not?

How about this one: Each night, my brother incorporates story time with his two girls. But, instead of just reading to them, he gives them a choice: read a book, Dad makes up a story, or Jane and Marie make up the story. The girls LOVE to hear Dad's stories, and usually build off them for their stories the next night. Keep that imagination going. And, then, as they get older, he could have them write down the stories the next morning. They're going to want to do that because the stories belong to the girls. They are excited about them because they created them.

Or, while your kids are out jump roping or playing hopscotch, have a contest to see if they can count by 2s or 3s, rather just by 1s. Use the word multiples, as in "Can you count by multiples of 2 and get to 26 before you step on the jump rope?" Make it some obscure number because that's more exciting for them. They're having fun jump roping, but they're also thinking mathematically and learning the word "multiple" without even knowing it.

What are ways that you have fun with your kids while sneaking in a little learning?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Spelling is Tough...Help is on the Way!

Note: A modified version of this article written by me was originally posted on Cathy P. Miller's blog, (Thursday, July 1, 2010)

Spelling is tough. But, as a teacher from down in the trenches, I can tell parents that demanding kids write the same words over and over and over again is not the most productive use of your (or your child’s) time. Educators, as a whole, have shifted away from rote memorization and endless tracing of inconsequential spelling lists, and instead, are spending their time figuring out ways to engage kids. It’s my experience that kids who truly are excited
about the subject matter, learn more and learn it faster.

Kids who have issues memorizing, (there are many of them out there, not even counting those with identified learning disorders), are in a real pickle. There is no context for the words, and there are no connections made. Now, in all fairness, sometimes the words rhyme, but more often than not, they are just a group of words that the publishers of the textbook happened to think were appropriate for all the kids in a class. One size didn’t fit all. There are
so many kids whose brains just work a little differently, and for those kids, spelling can be a huge problem.

I know, I know – we have computers who do all of our thinking, right? Wrong! Even in the age of SpellCheck and T-9 Alpha, kids need to know how to spell. So, what can you do to make it easier?

Three words – authentic learning experiences!

Kids need to be engaged in what they are doing. They need to see how and why spelling is so important. Tracing a list of words does not help the kids make essential connections that they need to make to learn how to spell words, or retain that information.

I believe it’s just fine to have young kids trace words to help them learn how to spell, but here’s the catch…the words have to be meaningful! A list of random words is not meaningful.
A letter to a friend written is meaningful. A story written by the child himself is meaningful. An article about the child’s favorite sport or musician is meaningful. It’s our jobs as educators (and yes, you parents are the most important educators in your child’s life) to find out what interests our kids.

Ask questions, dig a little. What is it that makes your child tick? Use that to help her spell (and read and form letter and practice handwriting…) Here’s the greatest part – you can do all of this at home.

You don’t need fancy fonts on the computer to be able to have kids trace the words and become better spellers. Simply make the dotted font yourself using a good old paper and pencil. Ask your child to tell you about his favorite character in his favorite fairytale, and jot down what he says in that dotted font. Then, while he’s still so excited about this story about the protagonist slaying the dragon, have him trace over what you just wrote and he just
said. Let him use blue marker if he wants. He’ll probably want to read it over and over and over again. Why? Because that story is the most interesting thing in the world to him, at that moment in time.

Why Does This Work?

Just by talking to your child and writing down his story in a handmade dotted font, you are:

1. bonding with your child and learning more about her likes

2. giving her the opportunity to trace over her own story (that you jotted down)

3. allowing her the chance to see the words that are important to her, her story and in her vocabulary in the written form

4. providing new reading material that is exciting, yet familiar, and fun for her to read

These ideas are the driving force behind Letter Learning ( We remembered how our own students struggled often with spelling and handwriting, and knew how much they love their family and friends. We also know that young kids love to “be like Mom” and since 80% of greeting cards are sent by women, it seems that greeting
cards that help kids learn to write and spell are a long overdue instrument.

Take the time to sit down with your child and really talk to him. Every child has at least one thing that really piques his interest. It is your job to find it. Do that, and the rest is easy!

Now it’s your turn. Tell us what has helped you work with your child on spelling and writing.

Book Report: Ibaby: Goodnight, Baby by iKids (and Contest Reminder for $23 to Letter Learning)

We received this little gem as a gift and my 18 month old adores it!  Each page shows a Mama animal waiting for her baby to be put to bed.  The unique part of this book is that the babies (really, their pictures) are attached to colorful strings in the spine of the book, so your child quickly learns to pick which baby matches its Mom.  Once that task is done, she can physically "tuck" each baby in the its nest/pen/crib.   We're all about interactive books, and this one fits the bill perfectly.  Great as a gift for a young child or to keep for your child's own collection (or both!)  We found it on Amazon for just $8.99.

And...don't forget about your chance to win a $23 gift card to  (

Just subscribe to our blog, AND tell us that you did it on Letter Learning's Facebook page ( and you'll be entered to win a $23 gift certificate to Letter Learning's site. You can use the gift certificate to buy any cards you like, all of which are geared to help young writers become more confident in their literacy abilities, while having fun making greeting cards for family and friends. Come check us out, if you don't believe it! It's most definitely a win-win!
To enter, just:

- Subscribe to our blog AND

- Let us know you did it on our Facebook page ("like" us to write on our wall).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Win $23 to Letter Learning! Here's how....

Have little kids? Have little kids who get frustrated with spelling, handwriting and letter formation? Subscribe to our blog, AND tell us that you did it on Letter Learning's Facebook page ( and you'll be entered to win a $23 gift certificate to Letter Learning's site. You can use the gift certificate to buy any cards you like, all of which are geared to help young writers become more confident in their literacy abilities, while having fun making greeting cards for family and friends. Come check us out, if you don't believe it! It's most definitely a win-win!

To enter, just:

- Subscribe to our blog AND

- Let us know you did it on our Facebook page ("like" us to write on our wall).

Why $23? Why not? :)

Remember, you need to do both of those things to be entered to win the $23 buckeroos! US residents only, must be 18 or older. Contest ends July 1, 2011.

BIG News!

We've got big news! Well, at least to us, it's B*I*G news! We teamed up with artist Mariah DeMarco to create some new card designs and we can't wait to share them with you! In addition to Mariah's new designs, we have super cute additions that you don't want to miss. So run (click quickly?!) to our site to check them all out! Here's a little sneak peek of some of the newest cards! What do you think??!