5 Expert Tips for Making TV Time More Educational. Who says TV time always has to be brain numbing? Click over to discover five fresh ways to wake up your brain during tube time.

5 Expert Tips to Make TV Time More Educational

We’ve been sick lately. Hacking up a lung, bronchitis kind of sick. We’re pretty miserable. And that means the TV has been on a whole lot more lately.

But excessive TV time isn’t good either. I was running out of ideas for making it more educational, so I turned to my family for help.

Teaching runs in the family, and my mom and my older sister are both teachers. They provided just the spark of inspiration I needed, and I wanted to share their ideas with you.

Keep reading for five tips for getting more out of TV time delivered straight from two expert teachers: Elementary Title Teacher and Special Education Director Sheryl Templeton, M.Ed, and high-school English teacher Mindy Jones.

The best part? None of these tips are complicated; they’re all simple! Which is just what my sick, foggy feeling brain needed.

Add Some Conversation

Both of the experts agree that talking to your kids about what they’re watching is essential. I concur.

The easiest way to make this happen is to know what they watch. I try to make sure I’ve seen at least one episode of each show they enjoy. That way we share a common vocabulary, and I at least have an idea of what they’re talking about.

Here are some questions the teachers suggested you try:

  • Who is your favorite character?
  • What did that character do in this episode?
  • Why did the writer decide the character should do that?
  • What might have happened if that character did something else instead?
  • Does that character remind you of anyone else?
  • What would you have done if you were that character?
  • Where does this show take place?
  • What would happen if it took place somewhere else?
  • What’s something that happened that couldn’t happen in real life?
  • What’s something that happened that could happen in real life?

The kids loved talking about their favorite shows. The younger kids struggled a bit with the idea that a writer had written the show, but it was a great introduction to that concept.

Sequence Events

Events happen in a particular sequence. My mom, Sheryl suggested having the kids pay attention to the sequence of events.

This strategy is also a good way to practice the concept of cause and effect. As we were talking about the show, I took a few minutes to ask some sequencing questions.

These got them thinking about the order of events.

  • What happened first?
  • What happened next?
  • What happened right before the commercial break?
  • What do you think will happen next?

These questions will help your child better understand the plot of the show. Just like in books, plots are an important part of television shows.

educational tv time

Analyze the Commercials

Don’t just fast forward those ads! Mindy suggested using commercial breaks to your advantage by having the kids analyze the content. Just a few pointed questions got everyone’s mind rolling:

  • What are they trying to sell?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • How do you know?
  • What appeals did they use?

Teaching kids to be aware of commercials—and the purpose behind them will help them be more-informed consumers in the future. Looking at commercials through an educational lens also increases critical thinking skills.

Listening for Specific Words

Sheryl recommends having kids listen for certain words during the show to keep their mind focused. Having a task to think about prevents the brain from passively watching. Your child will have a job to do, and will be listening closely for those words.

Having knowledge of the show is important for this activity. That way you give your child a word that’s more likely to be said.

For older children, you can give them even more listening challenges. Try listening for words that start with a certain letter. Or words that rhyme. They could listen for opposites.

Since I have two early readers, I created a Bingo style board for them to listen to while watching. They had to cross out each word on their board. When they were finished, they received a small treat. It was a fun way to practice their reading while they were sick.

Learn About the Craft of Film

Each scene in the show happens for a reason. The writers and directors put everything there for a particular purpose. Challenge your children to pay attention to angle of the shots, the composition of the scene, and how everything works together.

Mindy noted that children can, “start searching for product placement and basic framing.” Older kids can, “look at more advanced framing, camera angles, and editing.” They can analyze the show, which helps them pay attention to detail.

Jayme, my oldest, had the most fun with this one. She’s created mini-movies on her laptop before, and really got into the analysis process.

To Increase Learning, Don’t Just Watch TV

By using these expert tips, you’ll help keep your child’s brain turned on during tube time. They won’t be passively staring at the screen, but rather actively engaging their brain.

What tips do you have for making television time more educational? Since I’m beginning to think by the time we all make our way through this illness summer will be here, I’d love to try some more things.

Please share your tips in the comment section below, or connect with me on Twitter. You can find me @lisatannerwrite.


Gardening across the curriculum: learning activities for kids.

Gardening Across the Curriculum: What Kids Learn By Getting Their Hands Dirty

My plan is to wrap our official homeschooling up by the end of May. Our learning though, never ends. I’m a huge fan of learning through experience.

This year, we’re going to try to finally figure this gardening thing out.

You see, even though I live on a large homestead and raise my own animals, plants are another story. My thumbs are definitely not green.

I’ve tried in the past. Many times. But I’ve always tried to go too big. This year is different. This year I’m shrinking my gardening plans into something more manageable.

And planning on the kids helping a lot more. After all–gardening is a great way to learn. Here’s a look at gardening across the curriculum, what getting their hands dirty can teach kids.


Math is everywhere in life. In our gardening time, my kids will be:

  • Counting seeds
  • Measuring depth for measuring
  • Measuring space between plants
  • Marking the growing season on a calendar so we know when to expect a harvest
  • Measuring rain
  • Estimating the height of plants
  • Comparing plant sizes
  • Sorting flowers by color
  • Sorting seeds by size


Nature is naturally scientific. While gardening, the kids will specifically study:

  • Botany (plant identification)
  • Classification of plants and bugs
  • Insect studies
  • Learn about good garden insects and pests
  • Observe and name parts of plants
  • Differentiate between weeds and plants
  • Weather studies
  • Water cycle
  • Composting–the cycle of life
  • Nutrition

Language Arts

We’ll be reading and writing a lot about our garden! Here’s what I’m planning:

  • Reading seed packets
  • Identifying letters on seed packets (for my non-readers)
  • Research square foot gardening via internet and books (for my oldest)
  • Read these books from the library (aff. links):

As we read each book, we’ll talk about the plot, the characters, and write down what we learned about gardening.

  • Writing our own gardening stories
  • Making science journals and writing in them about our plants

Social Studies

Gardening across the curriculum means all subjects are covered! Here’s how we’ll tackle social studies:

  • Checking out zone maps to determine what zone we’re in
  • Visiting the local farmer’s market to learn more about our community
  • Learning about George Washington Carver & his work in agriculture
  • Studying ag around the world
  • Comparing food eaten in different parts of the country
  • Organic vs. conventional growing systems


Gardening is so colorful! We’ll be doing some fun art projects:

  • Making a seed collage
  • Sketching the parts of plants
  • Making a stepping stone path
  • Color inspiration picture (pick one color from the garden and then use shades of that color to create a picture)
  • Create plant markers


  • Building a trellis playhouse with Daddy
  • Building raised beds


  • Weeding the garden
  • Learning about the importance of water for plants and people
  • Nutrition studies
  • Washing hands
  • Washing produce before eating it

I’m so excited to dive into our garden studies. I’m hoping for a great harvest. But even if we just grow a bunch of weeds, I know the kids will learn so much by getting their hands dirty.

Do you garden? What other examples can you share of gardening across the curriculum? I know I didn’t cover it all!

5 Simple ABC Games with homemade letter cards. A video post!

5 Simple ABC Games with Homemade Letter Cards

We love playing learning games! Today I have a special treat for you. My six-year old daughter, Ellie helped me create my very first video post.

She demonstrates five simple ABC games that use our homemade letter cards. Click below to see the video.

In case you have a lousy internet connection (like I do…), or don’t have time to watch the video, here’s a written version. It has all the directions you need to play these simple ABC games.

5 Simple ABC Games with Homemade Letter Cards

How to Make Homemade Letter Cards

Our letter cards are simple. They’re inexpensive, and fairly durable. You’ll need:

26 Index Cards

1 marker (like a Sharpie)

To make the cards, just write one large letter on the unlined side of each card.

Game 1: Alphabet Soup

You’ll need:

Your letter cards

A large soup pot

A spoon

To Play:

Spread the letter cards around the room. Have your child run over and grab one, and say what letter it is.

Ask your child to add the letter to the pot.

Continue adding letters until they’re all in.

Then sing the ABC song and give the letters a stir!

2. ABC Toss

You’ll Need:

Your letter cards

A ball of crumpled aluminum foil

To Play:

Spread a few letters out on a desk or table. Hand your child the ball of foil, and have her take a few steps backwards.

Your child tosses the ball of aluminum foil onto the cards. Ask her what letter the foil landed on (or landed near).

Flip that card over, and toss the ball again. Continue until all cards are flipped over.

3. A Basket Full of Letters

You’ll Need:

Your letter cards

A basket

A chair

To Play:
Set the basket on the chair. Hand your child the stack of letter cards, and ask her to stand a few feet back.

Ask your child what card is on top. Once she says the letter, have her toss it into the basket.

When all the cards are tossed, have your child pick up any misses. They can take a step closer, and try again.

4. Flip the Sound

You’ll Need:

Your letter cards

To Play:

Shuffle the letter cards and place them in a stack face down.

Have your child flip the top card over.

Ask your child to say the name of the letter, and the sound the letter makes. Have your child say a word that starts with that sound.

Continue for each letter.

5. Driving for Letters

You’ll Need:

Your letter cards

A toy vehicle

To Play:

Set the letter cards in order on the floor in a path around the room. They should be face up.

Have your child start with the vehicle at the letter A. Ask her to either put the letters in the vehicle (if it’s big enough) or drive over the letter.

She should sing the ABC song, driving from one letter to the next.

Will you give any of these simple ABC games a try? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Photo by Amador Loureiro via Unsplash

6 Secrets to Successful Multi-Age Crafting

6 Secrets of Successful Multi-Age Crafting

My kids love crafting! I love that they learn so much while crafting. With seven kids ranging from 1-14, I’ve learned that multi-age crafting is different.

I can’t just go to Pinterest, pick a beautiful project, and get the kids started.

They’re abilities and interests are just too varied.

Some of them would find success on the project I picked, while others would be miserable. I’d end up tempted to do the project for them.

And that’s not the point of art.

Here are the top tips I use to ensure multi-age crafting success.

We use them frequently–several times a week at least. Art is so much fun when done like this!

1. Lower Your Expectations

There. I said it.

You cannot expect all of your kids to complete Pinterest worthy crafts every single time they craft.

If you’re doing art to show off how crafty your kids are, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reason.

Instead, focus on the process. What they make isn’t nearly as important as the skills they learn while crafting.

Your children will be working on essential soft skills such as:

  • Creativity
  • Building imagination
  • Working collaboratively or independently
  • Using supplies appropriately
  • Solving problems

In addition to practicing plenty of fine and gross motor skills.

With all that going on, it’s okay if you don’t feel like framing and displaying every single thing they make.

2. Let Your Kids Be Creative

I hardly ever have a plan in place for craft time. I simply pull out the supplies, and let the kids do what they do best–create.

I could never come up with some of the amazing ideas they have. I don’t even pretend to try.

During our last craft session, here’s what the kids did:

  • Jayme (14): Hand sewed some fabric into a Spiderman Hood for a costume collection she’s making.
  • Jeff (7): Created a Mario and Luigi craft by drawing shapes, cutting them out, and gluing them together.
  • Ellie (5): Made a farm set by drawing different farm animals, coloring them, and cutting them out.
  • Sydney (4): Colored some Doc McStuffins coloring pages Jayme printed out for her
  • Simon (2): Colored a few minutes on a piece of paper
  • Brynna (1): Picked up crayons and dropped them back into a bucket.
  • Owen (9–with Angelman Sydrome): Played with a drawing app on the iPad a few minutes
  • Me: Made a jumping origami frog and flying bird.

3. Ensure Simple Rules Are Followed

Multi-age crafting should be enjoyable, not stressful. I don’t want to worry that my 1 year old is going to grab a pair of sharp scissors and poke her eye out.

So, we have five simple rules in our house. They keep us safe, and make clean-up simple!

  1. Sharp Objects are for Responsible Parties Only–Keep Tabs on Them & Put Them Away Immediately When Finished
  2. Pick Up Everything You Drop (we have a child with Pica in the house who loves to eat crayons…)
  3. Put Your Lids Back on Your Markers
  4. Stay in the Crafting Area (usually the dining room table)
  5. When You’re Done, Clean Up Your Supplies

My four year old follows all these rules–they aren’t that complicated. I’ve found my kids learn through example. The older ones definitely help make sure the youngers follow the crafting rules.

Otherwise, we keep the supplies up for a week.

My rules might not be what your kids need. I encourage you to create your own simple craft rules. Teach them to your kids gently, and ensure you have a consequence for when the rules get broken.

4. Don’t Overwhelm Your Kids with Supplies

I don’t bring out every single craft supply in the house each time we create. Otherwise, I’d overwhelm the kids with options. Instead, I keep it simple.

I bring out crayons and a variety of papers. If the older kids want a specific supply (scissors, glue, yarn, etc.) for a project, they can get it. But, they’re responsible for ensuring it gets taken care of and cleaned up when they’re done.


5. Let Your Kids Be Done When They’re Done

We usually put a movie on during craft time. My youngest kids color for a bit, then go watch the movie. They’re in the same room, but don’t have to craft for as long as the older kids.

Everyone has a different attention span, and having a second option available keeps whining and fighting to a minimum.

6. Leave Time for Sharing

We end each crafting session with a quick share session. Everyone shows off what they created. It’s great public speaking practice, and teaches the kids to have pride in their work.

It also teaches the younger kids to actually create something before they stop and go watch a movie. That way they have something to share!

What are your secrets for successful multi-age crafting? I’d love for you to share in the comments!

Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash.

patterning games for kids

5 Patterning Games for Kids

Red. Blue. Red. Blue.

Big. Big. Small. Big. Big. Small.


Patterns are everywhere!

If you’re looking for a fun way to practice patterns with your kids, give one of these games a try. They’re:

  • Easy to set up
  • Fun to play
  • Full of learning

Because learning shouldn’t be complicated!

5 Patterning Games for Kids

1. Potato Stamps

The humble potato provides a perfect stamp when you cut it in half. If you keep your cut plain, you can experiment with color based patterns.

You can also cut a shape into each half of your potato, and use those to create shaped patterns.

Here’s what you’ll need:


1 potato per person

Tempera Paint (affiliate link.) you’ll need at least 2 colors.

Construction paper

1 Paper plate per person

Paring knife


Cut the potato in half lengthwise for your child.

Pour a small pile of 1 color paint onto one section of the paper plate.

Pour a small pile of a 2nd color of paint onto another section of the paper plate.

Show your child how to dip one half of the potato into the paint, cut side down.

Let your child stamp the potato onto the paper.

Have your child dip the other half into the second paint color.

After a few minutes of free stamping, make a pattern and ask your child to copy it.

Then, let them make a pattern for you to copy.

Continue experimenting with colored patterns.

If Desired:

Use the paring knife to cut away part of the potato, leaving a raised shape behind. Have your child experiment with stamping, and creating shape patterns.

2. Build a Nature Pattern

Head outside for a nature walk, and let your child gather materials for pattern building. When you get back inside, spread out her finds on a large piece of newspaper. Then it’s time to create.


A variety of items from nature, such as:

  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Sticks
  • Grass blades
  • Moss
  • Small rocks


Digital camera (the one on your smartphone works great!)

White paper


After you’ve spread the natural items on the table, encourage your child to look for items she can build a pattern out of. Have her  build her pattern on the white paper.

She can make a colored pattern like this:

Something green, something brown, something green, something brown

An item pattern like this:

Rock, flower, grass, rock, flower, grass

A texture pattern like this:

Hard rock, soft flower, hard rock, soft flower

Or any other pattern she can think of. Nature is fun to play with!

Once the pattern is created, have your child take a picture of it. Then, let her shake the items off the paper and begin again.

3. Muffin Cup Patterns

This game is perfect for when you’re cooking dinner. Just set your child up nearby to play while you work. Building patterns with small items will encourage fine motor skills.


A muffin pan (6 or 12 hole)

A variety of beans and small noodles

White Paper

A quart size Ziploc bag


Set the muffin pan on the counter.

Measure out 1/4 cup of 6 different types of beans or noodles.

Put the beans and noodles in a pile.

Have your child sort them into the muffin holes, with one type of object in each hole.

Once the items are sorted, create a pattern from them on the white paper for your child to continue.

Have your child build a pattern for you to continue.

Alternate turns.

Have your child put all of the beans and noodles into a Ziploc bag to sort again another day.

4. Lego Patterns

My kids love Legos, so I had to include this one! Have your child gather your Lego collection, and then sit down together to play. This game teaches your children that the same pieces can be used to build a variety of patterns.


Legos in a variety of colors and sizes


Each player secretly picks one Lego brick, and conceals it inside his or her hand.

When everyone is ready, count to 3 aloud.

On 3, everyone reveals their piece by opening his or her hand.

Everyone looks at all the pieces.

Everyone hurries to gather more pieces that are similar to all the pieces selected.

Everyone builds their own pattern out of those similar pieces.

Compare patterns. Use words such as color, shape, and size as you talk about the patterns.

Ask your child if all the patterns ended up the same.

Take apart your builds, and try again.

5. Letter Patterns

This game is perfect for young learners. It practices letter identification.


A dry erase board and marker


A piece of white paper and a marker


Write a letter pattern on the board or paper for your child to continue. You can start with easier patterns, and then make them harder. Here are some examples:

  • ELLIEELLIEELLIE (use your child’s name!)
  • bdbdbdbdbdbdbd

You can create tons of patterns using only letters.

To change things up a bit, alternate turns with your child. Mine always love creating patterns for me to continue.

As You Play

While playing, read the patterns aloud. This will help your child use multiple senses to learn about patterns.

Do you have a favorite patterning game for kids? Please share in the comments!