ABC and 123: A Learning Collaborative: 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Planning for Life Outside of the Classroom

Putting together amazing activities,  planning detailed themes, writing curriculum, and implementing it all with students of many different ages is a joy and a pleasure.  However, it leaves us lacking in time and energy for the necessary tasks of meal planning, ingredient list making, and grocery shopping.
eMeals is an online service committed to giving teachers and moms a break by creating weekly menus and assembling the ingredient lists.  In addition, eMeals promises to keep meals affordable without the need for stock piling or couponing, while still keeping their valuable service incredibly affordable.
My family has been experimenting with eMeals for several months.  To begin, choose your perfect plan from a variety of options. Menu plan options are available for large families or couples. They consider your favorite grocery store, as well as specialty needs such as: gluten free, low carb, low fat, vegetarian, and portion control diets.

After choosing your menu plan print off one or two weeks worth of menus (the site displays two weeks - current week & previous).  I put the meal plans in plastic sleeves, one side showing the menu and the other side showing the pre-planned shopping list.

Shop, Unload, Cook, Serve, Smile!
(Let someone else in your family do the clean up so you can head back to your lesson planning, grading, and crafting)
Easy, right?
Before trying eMeals I was a bit worriedour grocery bill would increase based on unusual ingredient lists sometimes found on meal planning services.  I also wondered if the weekly menus would include main dishes our family would actually enjoy.

The plan my family is currently enjoying is the Slow Cooker Meal Plan and it is not grocery store specific plan. The recipes all have fairly short ingredient lists and all of the instructions for each meal fit in a small grid box (which means they aren't very complicated!). Having dinner cooking in the Crock Pot as we all roll in after school is a life saver.

During our first month with eMeals our grocery bill actually went down because I am shopping with more of a plan in mind.  I am excited about the fantastic line up of new recipe ideas I've collected. The plans have encouraged me to try some new flavors we typically don't include in our menu.  After a couple nights of rave reviews from our kids my husband wanted in on the new secret. I'm more motivated to make dinner and I am spending less time in the grocery store. 
The cost of the service is a very reasonable $1.25 a week and worth every penny to me!  As an added bonus, members get a FREE holiday menu when they sign up for eMeals. They can choose between our Classic, Paleo, or Clean Eating Holiday Plans. See the recipes and images you can use below to promote it. You have access to the full menus in your members’ area on our website. You can also offer your readers the discount code HOLIDAY for 15% off.

Disclosure: E-Meals is currently providing our family with a 1 year subscription while I participate in their blogger outreach network. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Family Meal Time Pasta-billities

Disclosure: The following post is sponsored by The Pasta Shoppe in conjunction with one of our advertising networks Business 2 Blogger.

There are many convicting statistics about the importance of eating dinner together as a family.  As you put away the days materials, grade the papers you have collected, clean up the class, prep the white board with the next morning's agenda, and cram your take home bag with lesson planning to work on after your own children are in bed it can be difficult to come up with a dinner plan other than take out. One of our go-to meals on the nights I can't carve out time to make the dish planned in our weekly menu, or when I have forgotten to turn on the crock pot before heading out in the morning, is pasta!

The Pasta Shoppe adds pastabilities to family dinner plans.  Their product line includes meal mixes, pasta nests, shaped pasta to use in your favorite recipes, and delicious low fat Meringues.

On a chilly night last week, it was a treat to be able to quickly put together Pasta Shoppe's Chicken Noodle Soup in just about 15 minutes.  We added sliver cut carrots and strips of cooked chicken to the noodles and broth spices provided in the package.  It was hearty & delicious and the kids enjoyed spooning the chicken shaped noodles out of their bowls.  When it gets even cooler yet we are looking forward to trying the Wintertime Chili with snowflaks pasta.

One of our favorite summer picnic recipes is Crab Pasta Salad.  It will be much more fun to assemble and serve with thematic crab noodles.

When one of our family friends has a new addition, our favorite meal to deliver is a pasta dish called Bowtie Bambino.  I am looking forward to the next due date so we can prepare it with "bambino" themed noodles instead of bowties.  

Bowtie Bambino

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 small bunch of sliced scallions
26 oz. 4 Cheese Spaghetti Sauce
1/2 cup fresh, chopped parsley
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 cup heavy cream (I always substitute with skim milk)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 lb. My First Pasta

Stir fry chicken in oil.  Add cream, tomato sauce, parsley, scallions, and cheese.  Reduce heat and toss with cooked pasta.

Any of the seasonal noodles from The Pasta Shoppe would make for a rockin' thematic sensory and sorting play station. There are 13 Halloween Sensory play ideas shared on Creative Playhouse, which one of these ideas would be more fun with shaped noodles?

We are especially excited to fill our sensory play bin with Halloween pasta, plastic spiders, dry corn kernels, mini pumpkins, and googly eyes.

In addition to adding something special to our nightly dinner inspiration, Pasta Shoppe offers a solution for the "been there, done that" school fundraisers.  Request detailed information regarding the Fun Pasta Fundraiser here.

After sampling many of the pastas included in the Fun Pasta brochure, and reflecting on our recent experience with our school's fundraising choice, I am convinced this would be a great option. Fun Pasta Fundraiser allows for simple, online ordering.  The food does not require refrigeration in the time before it is delivered.  There are reasonable price points for all budgets.  Pasta is more practical than $12 rolls of wrapping paper and more healthy than cookie dough.  The profits and rewards programs are definitely worth looking in to.

The Pasta Shoppe will be gifting one of our readers with a box of seasonal shapes and your favorite team pasta.  Enter to win using the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Back to School with Balefire Labs, Inc. {Giveaway}

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Balefire Labs, Inc. in conjunctions with Mom It Forward Blogger Network. The opinions, stories, and homework drama included in the following post are my own. 

There isn't an hour that goes by that one of our four children doesn't ask, "May I use your phone?  May I play the iPad?"  We have always had what may be considered strict technology limits for our children. On school days they are not given any time on the computer, watching TV, or playing electronic games of any kind unless it is required for academic extension.  On the weekends and over summer vacation we are a bit more laid back about the iPhone and quickly hand it over while we sit at appointments, ride in the car, or wait in long lines.  However, the more time I spend myself examining the amazing educational apps and opportunities offered by smart phones and electronic readers I recognize their function in developing usable skills.  I realize our family needs to balance our technology limits accordingly.  It has also become very evident that having a system for deciphering which apps are indeed high quality and instructional is necessary to avoid mommy guilt technology time off task.

As part of this year's daily homework, my oldest son is required to practice multiplication facts for 10 minutes a day. His teacher copied a set of paper flashcards for each student, but highly encouraged the fourth graders to research online games for quick multiplication practice. Without exaggeration...the first night my son spent and hour and a half trying to find one game intended to develop fact chart confidence, with minimal pop up ads, and age appropriate graphics.  Needless to say we were both frustrated with the "10 minute assignment."   Offering him my phone for a search of the app store might have seemed like the next best answer, but again there are over 100,000 options considered educational. many times have we paid the small amount to try an app that turns out to be a total dud?!

I wish I would have known then about the online service offered by Balefire Labs, Inc.  Balefire offers objective reviews of educational apps to make searching for the right app quick and easy.  Evaluations, including a letter grade and a quick reference features chart, are available for apps intended for students from PreK to 12th Grade.

After familiarizing myself with this tool, Gavin and I worked together to create a great list of possible apps for him to use when practicing his multiplication facts. Balefire Labs features an easy search by topic, grade, and subject area.

Once you have reviewed the easy to understand feature chart, it is helpful to click through and read the detailed reviews which have been compiled using a strict criteria.

Many of the apps Gavin and I discovered to help with his times tables actually ended up being free.  Bonus! {Thought: the small amount you might invest in subscribing to Balefire will save you a load in app fees for activities that might not teach just what you were hoping to teach}

As a family we are appreciative of the option to search apps for the 0-4 year olds in our home as well.  We have found a few favorites and have organized them in a separate bookshelf just for our toddlers.  They are able to build their confidence in navigating age appropriate apps and don't end up distracted by Minion Rush or Temple Run, which teach very little and cause a lot of frustration for their age.

It seems, as more and more classrooms integrate technology, using Balefire Labs when planning for a new year of subject area lessons will save teachers time and hassle while ensuring they are giving their students the best possible opportunities within the limited time.

If you are interested in getting to know more about this product consider finding Balefire Labs on Twitter, Facebookor Google+.  Then, give it a try for yourself!

3 Readers of ABC & 123: A Learning Cooperative will receive a FREE 1-year subscription to Balefire Labs! Use the rafflecopter below to enter before the giveaway closes at 12:00 AM EST on October 4, 2013.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Planning a Fall Fam Fest

We have a very large extended family.  There are so many cousins for our children to get to know and it is rare we all get to spend time together.  Spurred on by a conversation with my Gram our family decided to organize the 1st fall family festival ~ Fam Fest '13!  After putting some time into planning a fun afternoon with our family we are hoping to inspire you to do the same.
Photo Booth Ideas & Props

After our time at Family Forward, we knew it wouldn't be a party without a fantastic photo booth. The props created by Mom It Forward would be an excellent addition to our festival next year when the printables become available online.

However, there are many other great sites for printable photo booth props. McKenzie Smith has 12 pages of colored pdfs to print, cut, and pose with at your festival.

Our family also used several of the unique props created by Oh, Happy Day.

To add to the prop collection pack up your dress up box into wooden apple crates to display by the photo booth.

For an autumn event a large piece of burlap or a giant roll of brown butcher paper make an easy backdrop for your photo booth.

{Learn from our rookie mistake and line up the seams or make sure the seams are not in the direct line of the centered close ups}

Tall, cut corn stalks or hay bales make an easy thematic border for the photobooth.

Create a banner for your photo subjects to model with to remember what the occasion was all about!
Outdoor Games
When planning the outdoor games for our family carnival I referred to my Summer To-Do Pinterest board. This board includes several large, yard game versions of classic indoor games.  The kids especially liked the Giant Jenga and the over-sized Right, Left, Center!

This beautiful LRC game pictured about, from DIY Show Off, would be a very durable option for use year after year. The kids and I created ours out of red plastic plates and large white foam cubes wrapped in clear packing tape.
Corn Hole Cup
To entertain the adults we set up a huge double elimination Corn Hole (aka Bean Bag Toss) Cup Competition.  The competition was fierce, and fun for the great grandparents to watch and cheer for from the sidelines.  There is already talk of who the teams will be next year and how we might up the ante with the prize.  For the inaugural year the big trophy was this "fancy" Corn Hole Cup which I am sure will become the centerpiece in someone's home for years to come ;)
Ring Toss

This homemade ring toss is made out of spray painted Jones soda bottles and bamboo rings wrapped in fabric strips.  You will probably have to do without the flowers when the game is in play.
The other activities we included in our first annual festival included a backyard baseball game, facepaint, bean bag toss for children, scoops, Frisbee golf course, and a pinata.  
There are several other game ideas posted to ABC&123's Pinterest board, Fall Festival Ideas we are hoping to incorporate next year.

For all of the games we used small prizes collected from "trinket catalogs" and the dollar stores.  The kids at our party were especially thrilled with tattoos, plastic wizard fingers (ACK!), and those little grow capsules that melt in water leaving a colorful sponge shaped like a character.

For this year's festival we kept the food simple with hamburgers and a topping bar, chips, homemade macaroni & cheese, fruits and veggies.  During game time we served snacks in colorful paper cones similar to these from Bridgey Widgey.

Our party featured Clementine Pumpkins from Muffin Tin Mom.

 We also served Veggie Skeletons.

When planning your own Fam Fest, remember it does not matter how simple or Pinterest-y you like to make things, what matters is the time together with the generations!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happy {Almost} Halloween Tulle You: DIY Costumes

Disclosure: The following post was sponsored by Hub Network through their partnership with Circle of Moms.  While I was compensated to write this post about Hub Network's First Annual Halloween Bash Costume Contest, all opinions are my own.

It will be here before we know it! 

Do your children get into costume?  Are you a DIY family or do you love choosing a favorite character off the racks at the store?  While in many school settings students are not allowed to come to school in costume and/or are required to choose a character from a book, dressing up is still a very exciting part of our October traditions!
Growing up a big part of the Halloween fun for our family was brainstorming costumes, digging through the dress up box for the perfect pieces, and making ourselves into clever characters for the big night of trick or treat!  I will admit there have been years I've relied on the generic end of season clearance costumes that fill our dress up boxes to outfit our four for Halloween. However, our favorite costumes are always the ones we spent time creating together.  Our extended family gets into the homemade dress up spirit too and some of their costume ideas are pictured below as well. 
In the past four years my daughter has been Abby Cadabby, Tinkerbell, Cinderella, and Super Woman.  Each of these costumes would not have been complete without a fluffy, over the top skirt made of tulle.  To encourage your creative juices in preparation for this Halloween I have rounded up the tulle-inspired costumes created by members of our family.


Cookie Monster

Snow White


A pretty peacock
Super Woman
(This is actually a wreath, but there has to be a creative soul out there that would love to figure out how to turn this into a timely Despicable Me costume!)

This season, Hub Network is hosting Hub Network's First Annual Halloween Bash Costume Contest.  They are searching the U.S. for the spookiest, silliest, and most inventive costumes.  Submit your one of a kind costume ideas for a chance to win a prize valued at $25,000.
Show Hub Network your best costume by registering before 9/29.  Each entry must be a unique creation.  One winner from each state will be flown to L.A. to appear in The Hub Network's First Annual Halloween Bash!  Martha Stewart, the Halloween Expert herself, will appear as a judge at the Hub Network's Halloween Bash.
Here at ABC & 123: A Learning Cooperative we are sure we have the most inventive readers in the blog world and we can not wait to see what spooky, silly, creative costumes you come up with this year! 

Disclaimer: My crafty cousin in costume crime, of Justine's Crafty Creations, has put together several of these tulle costumes and modeled them on her sweet triplets!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fall Fashion: For the Teacher Headed Back to School

Full Disclosure: The following post is sponsored by Meijer in promotion of their fall clothing line. ( I may or may not have spent well beyond what I earned between my desire to have "one of each" and the tow truck bill after I locked my keys in the car while I was shopping ;).  All of the opinions here are my own.

After several years of working from home, teaching my young children in the classroom that is our home and our world, I have taken a new position teaching part time in a more traditional setting.  This change has required a significant change in my wardrobe. When Meijer contacted me regarding their Fall 2013 Look Book it reinforced my need for a few new classroom appropriate outfits.  Initially, I was quite certain I would also need them to provide a personal stylists so I would have a clue if the outfits I was choosing were even on the trendy radar.  However, I decided to trust the designers to the current and fashionable part and to choose pieces I knew I would be comfortable wearing!

From the start I was drawn to these lovely infinity scarves and was tempted to build an outfit around each of the color combinations. I picked one to start with...
 Using the cream, navy, and autumn orange color scheme I set to shopping for mix and match pieces to provide many options with a few classic pieces.
 I left the store with
.~2 pair of pants - one pair for dress and one for casual Fridays
~2 pair of shoes - flats and boots
~2 dress shirts
~1 casual top & 1 sweater
...all to accompany my scarf!
  After an afternoon of mixing and matching I was able to use these pieces to put together 8 smart outfits.  A few of these combinations are pictured below.  Navy is one of my comfort zone colors, so these work for me. The maize and navy scarf might be my next wardrobe addition.  However, there are so many great colors available. It would also be fun to experiment with the deep purples and greens pictured in their fall Look Book as well.

For those of you who live in an area with a Meijer store, you may be interested in participating in their Pin It to Win It fall style contest for a chance to win a $100 Meijer gift card.  There is more information regarding the specifics of this contest at

What is your preferred classroom style? 
 Do your school outfits make a comfortable transition for weekend wear? 
We would love to hear your fall shopping tips too!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Getting Creative with #DuckBrandTape

While attending Family Forward last week, our family had the chance to connect with Duck Brand Duct Tape during a project oriented session encouraging families to start a tradition of creating together.

Our family worked together to create 3 different projects of 3 different skill levels.

Beginner Project: 
Duck Brand Tape Bow attached to a Tape Headband

Intermediate Project: 
A Golden Wallet

Advanced Project: 
Super Hero Accessories

This session was a highlight of the conference for my kids and since we have been home they have been dreaming up, and searching Pinterest for, more duct tape projects.  Here are a few ideas for getting ready for back to school in Duck Brand Tape style!

iPhone or iPad case:  It's Overflowing

Locker Mirror: Rykauna's Ruffles

Lunch Bag: Pinterest

File Folders from The Silver Lining

Heart2Home: Drawer Caddies

Did you know?

The popular product, Cricut, used for scrap booking and creating fantastic classroom bulletin boards can also cut custom designs into Duck BrandTape?  Experiment with it. It's fun! Using Duck Tape would be an easy variation on the personalized pencil case shared on Chase the Stars.