365 TV-Free Kid Activities
How Alligator Got His Smile Back


After our whirlwind spring in Kiev, we are so happy to be back home.  I’m excited to announce that my debut picture book is now available through Guardian Angel Publishing. http://www.guardianangelpublishing.com/alligator.htm

How Alligator Got His Smile Back is tied directly to K-3 pacing guides and Florida curriculum standards, which are consistent with current Common Core recommendations. Specifically, the backmatter activities ask students to compare and contrast the two species in the book using textual clues to discern information. The book also explains coastal habitats and has a habitat activity. The non-fiction activities were developed through discussions with K-3 teachers in two separate school systems, and tested in classrooms with postiive teacher feedback.

But don’t just take my word for it, here are some of the reviews so far:

“Frogs croak all night, but alligators don’t have to make noise to feel important. A charming story, beautifully illustrated, with something to think about for all those frantically pursuing their 15 minutes of fame”.~Caldecott Honor Medal winner Eric Kimmel

“Jayne Moraski’s original tale, How Alligator Got His Smile Back, has all the charm and heart of Kipling’s beloved Just So Stories and deserves a spot on the same shelf. A classic in the making by this new writing talent.”~C L Clickard

“Ms. Moraski’s  well penned story between an alligator and a frog overflows with vital information about coastal habitat, and species classifications, making  How Alligator Got His Smile Back a must have in all science classrooms. The story is a fresh twist on the African folktale about the bragging crocodile. The illustrations by award-winning illustrator, Carl Kocich, grab and hold of your attention as you move through each page.”~Nicole Weaver: Award winning trilingual children’s author, a Literary Classics Gold Award and Seal of Approval- http://nicole-weaver.com

I forgot how to play

Here’s a cool list of games for small groups of kids, in case your kids say they forgot how to play.



flower-candlesHeat up a spoon, and press the flowers on the candle - very simple, very pretty.♥


Heat up a spoon, and press the flowers on the candle - very simple, very pretty.

TV-free day 188: EGGS-periment with the chemistry of dyeing Easter eggs


Turn your holiday decorating into a science project with this cool article on the chemistry of dyeing eggs from www.education.com

Problem:  How does vinegar change the egg dyeing process?

Will the eggs in the vinegar get darker or lighter than the eggs in the water, or will they all be the same?


  • 3 cups of distilled water
  • 3 teaspoons vinegar
  • Teaspoon
  • Spoon
  • 3 white eggs
  • Food coloring
  • 3 cups
  • Old towel


  1. Get three containers and fill each one with a cup (250 mL) of distilled water.
  2. Label one container “1 teaspoon vinegar”, the next “2 teaspoons vinegar”, and the last “control”.
  3. Add several drops of food coloring to each container (adding the same amount to each).
  4. Add a teaspoon of vinegar to the first container and two teaspoons to the second.
  5. Using a spoon, place a white egg into each container.
  6. Wait for a few minutes, and then remove the eggs, placing each one on a towel to dry.
  7. Look at the eggs. Which one is the brightest? Which one is the lightest? Why do you think this happened?


The egg that was immersed in the most vinegar is the brightest.



Food coloring is an acid dye. It bonds using hydrogen, and this chemical process only works in an acidic environment.

Distilled water is usually neutral, with a pH of 7. This means that it is not acidic and not basic. Vinegar is acidic and contains around 3% acetic acid. When you add vinegar to water, it creates ideal conditions for food coloring to dye the egg. Since eggs are made out of calcium carbonate, this calcium in the shell reacts with the acid in the vinegar to make carbon dioxide. If you place an egg in vinegar and water, you can often see that chemical reaction taking place as bubbles of carbon dioxide form in the liquid.

Going Further

What would happen if you tried boiling an egg with red cabbage, beets, or turmeric powder? What colors would you get, and how intense would they be? How would adding vinegar affect the absorption natural dyes? What about if you colored the eggs with Kool-Aid?

What would happen if you tried boiling each egg with the dye and the vinegar in the same amount of water? Compare an egg that’s been boiled with vinegar and dye to an egg that has not been boiled, and figure out whether warmer water temperatures help in dye absorption.

Our TV-Free Side note on chemical bonds: We also talked briefly about how color bonds to the egg, and that led to a discussion of atoms and chemical bonds. Here are some good sites for introducing this concept:
Dogs teaching chemistry: Short and hillarious video that introduces the concept of atoms bonding by illustrating the notion with cute dogs.
Chem4Kids.com has a great intro about atoms being stable and “happy.”
187th TV-Free Activity for Kids: Balloon Race

We recently discussed Newton’s Laws of Motion in our homeschool for 5th grade.  The third law of motion states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

To illustrate this point, we adapted an experiment that was suggested in Harcourt School Publisher’s Science book (page 729 of the 5th grade 2009 edition) for balloon rockets.

For the Balloon Race, you will need:

  • 2 balloons
  • String or thread
  • 2 straws
  • Tape


  1. Cut 6-8 feet of string, and thread a straw through on one end.
  2. Tie one end of the string to a door knob or post.
  3. Repeat these steps with the other straw and string.
  4. Try to find something like a bed post or two door handles that are along the same wall to provide the same “racing distance.”  Tie the end near the straw to the post.
  5. Blow up the balloons, but don’t tie them (have a kid hold them tight).
  6. Face the open end of the balloon toward the end of the string that is tied to a post.
  7. Hold the balloon under the straw, then gently tape the balloon to the straw (while a child still holds it tight.)
  8. Now count to three and let the balloons go. 

 What direction did they travel?  Toward the air that was released or away from it?  How does Newton’s 3rd law apply here?  The balloon moves in the opposite direction of the air that is released from the open end, and along the line of the string.

Did the one filled with more air go farther? Why?  Was more force exerted that resulted in an equal and opposite force in the other direction?

 Jayne’s book recommendations to go with this balloon activity:

Even though our youngest isn’t studying Newton’s Law yet, she had a blast racing the balloons and wanted to do this over and over again.  So for the younger crowd, try The Mystery of the Hot Air Balloon (The Boxcar Children Mysteries) by Gertrude Chandler Warner and illustrated by Charles Tang (Albert Whitman 2011). The Boxcar children learn how hot air balloons work and even help launch one, but before they get the chance to ride in one they have to figure out who is trying to ruin the rally.

For your middle-graders aged 11-14, try Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick (Clarion 2011, 320 pages).   It’s just right for those tough middle school years when life (and friends) can change in the blink of an eye.  It’s had several great reviews, and here is a synopsis:Marley’s life is as precarious as an overfull water balloon—one false move and everything will burst. Her best friends are pulling away from her, and her parents, newly separated, have decided she should spend the summer with her dad in his new house, with a job she didn’t ask for and certainly doesn’t want. On the upside is a cute boy who loves dogs as much as Marley does … but young love has lots of opportunity for humiliation and misinterpreted signals. Luckily Marley is a girl who trusts her instincts and knows the truth when she sees it, making her an immensely appealing character and her story funny, heartfelt, and emotionally true.”

Sorry Ohio, Our Buckeyes Became Hearts Today

Can peanut butter and chocolate ever be wrong?  We took a basic buckeye recipe and squished them into heart shapes. Then dipped the tops in chocolate for Valentine’s Day!

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup butter, softened

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

2-3 cups semisweet chocolate chips (depending on how proficient you are at dipping….we were a bit messy)

Blend together all but the chocolate. The dough will be stiff.  Make tablespoon sized balls, then shape them into hearts and put them on a wax paper covered cookie sheet.  Freeze for at least 30 minutes (we did this overnight).

Melt the chocolate in the microwave on 30 second intervals until it is glossy when stirred.  Then remove the hearts from the freezer (if they are out too long, the chocolate doesn’t stick right).   Dip the tops of the hearts in the chocolate and set them back on a waxed paper sheet.  Refrigerate, if you can wait to not scarf them down, that is it. 

: )

Day 186 Happy Valentine’s Day - Woven heart baskets

My girls have been in to origami lately, and asked me to find a way to fold paper hearts for Valentine’s Day. This craft came to mind, and I found a great set of instructions here:  http://craftyb.com/2012/01/valentines-day-woven-heart-craft/

You will need:

Two separate colors of paper of the same basic weight and scissors.

Step 1:  Cut the folded over U-shaped template, making one color’s center cut slightly longer than the other..  We free-handed the design and it made it harder to fit together.  So it’s worth taking the time to cut the template out. 

Step 2:   I thought it was easier to show you in pictures than to try and explain the weaving process, so here we go.  Fit part of the white inside the loop of the red. 

Then slip the lower part of the red inside the white loop.


And finally, 

Then you should have a basket you can open up.  You can tape a handle to it and fill it with small treats and you are all set.

Book Recommendation for today:  A great Valentine’s Day picture book which has a great message (without being preachy) is Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, by Ellen Spinelli and illustrated by Paul Yalowitz (Simon & Schuster 1996). One wintry day, a postman delivers a mysterious package with a big pink bow to a lonely man named Mr. Hatch. 
"Somebody loves you," the note says. 
"Somebody loves me!" Mr. Hatch sings as he dusts his living room. 

When Mr. Hatch is happy, he spreads his cheer around town. When he learns the package was delivered to his house by mistake, he returns to his rather grumpy ways. But his neighbors learn of his plight and repay his kindness.

Day 185 - Turn it Around Art Project


Here’s a great way to introduce your kids to symbolism in art. A really talented Florida author/illustrator, Janeen Mason has a template for this on her website.

Use her template and follow the instructions. We didn’t have black felt at home, so we just traced the template on one side of a paper. Then on the other side drew the outline of a fish.  We asked the kids to draw a “dead fish” on one side and a happy healthy fish on the other side of the paper.  

We then discussed that the art is a symbol for the choices we have to make on keeping our waterways healthy in Florida.  We have several rivers that are very sick. But we can turn it around by changing the way we care for our water and our environment.  The act of turning over the paper made the symbolism very clear to the kids. They had a lot of fun. 


If you want more information about Florida Waterways, here are some good sites: 

Educational Resources from St. John’s Riverkeepers:  http://www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/the-river/education-resources/

Florida’s Springs:  http://www.floridasprings.org/protecting/

Books to go with this project: Ocean Commotion by Janeen Mason (Pelican Publishing 2012). 

The Secret River by Florida author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Atheneum 2011). A classic story that is worth sharing with a new generation. 


Starred Review. Grade 3–5—Rawlings penned what she called a “child’s story” in 1947 to accompany paintings by Robert Camp. Found in her papers after her death, The Secret River was finally published in 1955; it posthumously received a 1956 Newbery Honor. Originally illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, the 55-page story followed young Calpurnia and her ever-constant puppy, Buggy-horse, on a self-determined expedition to “turn hard times into soft times.” Spurred on by Mother Albirtha, a wise woman of the forest, the girl and her dog find a fish-filled river and, with the help of a red boat and the pink paper roses tied to Calpurnia’s pigtails, bring in a giant catch and cleverly devise a way to get the fish back home. 

Lego Math - adding fractions

We recently reviewed our Hershey’s bar fractions recently. But I think this visual does a better job of teaching the addition of fractions.  We also found that once those candy pieces were apart, we ate them too quickly to add them back up again. ; )

TV-free Day 184: Santa Shells

What to do with all those shells our kids picked up on the beach throughout the summer?  We’ve washed and dried them and made Santa Shells for the tree.

What you need:

  • Any oblong shell at least two inches long. We used Eastern Oyster shells, they are abundant in Florida and they often have interesting patterns.
  • Paint
  • Hot glue gun and string to hang the ornaments

Step one: Wash and dry the shells

Step two: Paint the base skin color for Santa. Then blend it with pink for his cheeks. Let it dry.

Step three: Paint the red hat and let it dry.

Step four: Paint the white for his hat and beard. Let dry.

Step five:  Attach a ribbon or string in a loop shape on the back side of the shell to hang as an ornament.

This took two days for us to complete due to all the drying in between.

Books to go with this activitySanta’s Time Off by Bill Maynard (Putnam Juvenile 1997).  Have you ever wondered what Santa does when Christmas is over? Does he ever get a vacation and head to the beach? These wonderful illustrations and easy poems are a fun way to think about how Santa might relax.

For the chapter book set, try Santa Paws #9: Santa Paws on Christmas Island by Kris Edwards (144 pages Scholastic 2007). The Callahans are about to settle in for an unusually snowy holiday at home, when a last minute opportunity lands them in the tropics instead. With surfboards, sand castles, and sunshine, this vacation to Christmas Island might be the best trip the Callahans have ever taken.
While the Callahans try to relax, Santa Paws is hard at work. He saves people from drowning and even prevents Abigail the cat from being devoured by an alligator. But before the holiday is over, it’s Santa Paws who will need to be rescued.


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