Thinking Outside the Toy Box

Remember last year when REI decided to close for Black Friday? They called it #OptOutside, and REI says that more than 1.4 million people and 170 organizations joined the movement. Amazing!

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The decision by companies like REI and 
Sprout, to opt out of Black Friday this year, got us at Bear & Bud thinking a LOT about holiday shopping. We are offering some holiday specials this year (free printable downloads with code BFCM2017), but we are also finding ways to think about gifts for kids in a different way.

We’re being more thoughtful about our own holiday gift purchases and how we’re spending downtime too because, as much as our kids love playing on digital devices and receiving bright and shiny toys, they also love playing cards, making art, reading, and taking day trips with the family. 

Think outside the toy box - Insta-2

So, this holiday season, when you and your kids do something together or buy something super cool that isn’t exactly a typical toy purchase, share it with our book-loving community on Instagram or Facebook, and tag it #outsidethetoybox.


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from our Starts with a Seed Picture Book Box

Head over here and check out how Bear & Bud makes it easy for kids and families do this during the holidays and all year long with our book + craft boxes and subscriptions!

What are you doing #outsidethetoybox these days?! Let us know in the comments below.

reading tips · Uncategorized

How to Respond When Your Child’s School Ditches Homework

How to Respond When Your Child's School Decides to Ditch the Homework

If you’re a student, the words “no homework” sound like music to your ears. And, with all of the sports, art classes, and zillions of other activities that parents schlep kids to each week, “no homework” can sound like a relief to parents as well. Furthermore, studies by researchers at Duke University found that homework, particularly for elementary school-aged kids, is ineffective. So, this sounds like “no homework” FTW, right?

Well…maybe not. A friend of mine recently posted about her son’s school shifting to a no-homework policy this year. She’s worried about coming up with math problems to do in the car with her son, teaching him about astronomy after dinner, and helping him  practice study skills that she knows he’ll need as the years go by.

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I enjoy looking at the stars with my kids as much as anyone. But, as a working parent—and a teacher no less!— the thought of explaining the complexities of the galaxy to my 9 and 4-year-old kids after a long day of work and school makes me want to run to the TV and turn on a Neil DeGrasse Tyson show. He clearly knows a lot more about the stars than I do, and then I can go make lunches for the next day. I get it, though, the sentiment in policies like this is solid, and it’s backed by research. If homework, in the traditional sense, doesn’t help kids, then it does not make sense to assign it.

But here’s the thing: shifting the heavy lifting of creating homework assignments from teachers to parents doesn’t do the trick either. So, while it’s true that traditional worksheets are not supportive to a child’s education, there’s still a solution: reading.

A number of schools that have, formally or informally, stopped assigning traditional homework, recommend that their students read a just-right book for a minimum of 20-30 minutes each night.

What’s a just-right book? It’s one that a child can decode (truly be able to read the words) and comprehend (understand the story). For independent reading, which is what we want our kids to do at home each night, they should be able to decode and comprehend the book on their own, without support from others. Many teachers guide students through the process of determining what books are just-right for them. Our poster  is a great resource that walks parents and kids through that selection process. It’s easy to print at home and put next to your child’s bookshelf as a reminder for how to choose a just-right book.


The other key element to choosing a just-right book is the curation, which we handle at Bear and Bud. Helping kids find books they’re excited to read is the easiest way to foster a love of reading, even if they only want to read graphic novels or the same series they’ve read a million times. It’s okay to let kids read what they want (as long as it’s just-right). I still recommend that parents encourage kids to try new genres and explore new authors, but it’s possible to do this in a playful way. You can introduce this idea as a cool challenge, like we did with 2 of our FREE Printables: Where We Read Challenge and Reading Challenge Checklist or with one of our quarterly subscription book activity boxes.

Wondering what else you can do to support kids when they don’t have homework? Here are some of my quick tips:

5 Alternatives to Homework

Has your child’s school cut back on homework? Let us know how it’s going!


reading tips · Tweens · Uncategorized

Homework Station Setup: Advice from a 4th Grader

corkboard (1)My 9 year-old is gearing up for the first day of school next week. After getting her new school supplies organized, she decided it was time to get her study space all setup. For her, the ideal homework spot is the desk in her bedroom. “It’s much quieter in there than in the rest of the house where my little brother is usually making a lot of noise.”

Here’s some advice she wanted to share with everyone who’s setting up their study spaces too. (I just love this kiddo!)

4 tips for setting up a study space

  1. Find a quiet place.
  2. Clear off your desk (or wherever you’ll be working).
  3. Make sure you have everything you need.
  4. Get to work.

5 favorite study space must-haves

  1. Pencils, Pens, Colored pencils, Erasers, Highlighters
  2. Electric pencil sharpener
  3. Monthly planner
  4. Putty (for study breaks!)
  5. Corkboard – “This year I asked for a corkboard. I like to hang pictures up in my room, but my mom doesn’t like me to put tape on the wall. Now that I have my corkboard, I can put up pictures and things.”






6 Books to Help Kids Talk About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

6 Books

Processing the dark events taking place from Charlottesville to Barcelona is a struggle for adults, let alone kids. As an educator for the better part of the past 2 decades, I’ve had many opportunities to support students through very challenging times.

Here’s what I’ve learned:
The most important thing adults can do when times are very, very tough, is to create an environment of trust, kindness, and acceptance.

That’s as simple and as complicated as it sounds. Doing this work is an everyday, every minute kind of thing. It’s in the way we speak to children and to other adults. It’s making the choice not to skip over the discomfort we feel when a white child asks, “Why do black people all sound the same?” or “This game is only for girls.”

We as parents, the most important teachers in our kids’ lives, must practice responding with love, and acceptance. We must ask, “What do you mean?” and “Why do you think so?” instead of “Don’t say that!”

In my classroom, and in my own home, I turn to stories to help kids (and to help me) process the most challenging topics. Stories give us some distance from the eye of a storm we’re living through, and they provide a container for the raw feelings that we are experiencing.

As we grapple with ways to support our kids and one another in these exceptional and difficult times, I want to share some of the stories we’re reading at our house and some that are on my TBR list for middle grade readers.

Have you found any books especially helpful when it comes to working through tough topics with your kids? Let’s get a big list going – picture books, middle grade books, YA books, classics, graphic novels…


My Name Is Maria Isabel  by Alma Flor Ada and K. Dyble Thompson
Grades 2-5
Imagine that a teacher mispronounces your name. This could be irritating, even embarrassing, but it’s something that can be quickly sorted out. Now imagine a teacher telling you that she will not call you by your name, a name that you love. Instead, she decides to call you a different name, simply because she wants to. María Isabel Salazar López finds herself in this situation in My Name is Maria Isabel. Through Maria’s story, readers are invited to consider the connection between one’s name and one’s identity.

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All Mixed Up! (Amy Hodgepodge, No. 1) by Kim Wayans and Kevin Knotts
Grades 2-4
This first book in a series by Kim Wayans, introduces young readers to Amy Hodgepodge. Amy is African American, white, and Asian. Having been homeschooled through 3rd grade, Amy is anxious about starting 4th grade in public school. She’s excited about the new experience and also worried about fitting in.

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Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Grades 4-7
This story is told through letters between two narrators—the son of a rural farmer and a young immigrant living with her family in New York City—brought together by a school pen pal program. From the very first line of the book, readers encounter notions of respect, gender equity and fluidity, empathy, and kindness:

“Dear River,

       I cannot tell from your name if you are a boy or a girl, so I will just write to you like you are a human being.”

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Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
Grades 4-8
The chapters in this book tell stories from diverse voices and perspectives. While each one is different, they are all bound together by a connection to their neighborhood garden. Winner of the Newbery Medal.

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Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy #2) by Deborah Wiles
Grades 5–8
This is the second book in a series of three in which the two main characters are both from Greenwood, Mississippi. Despite being from the same town, their backgrounds, genders, and races make it seem as if they could be from different worlds. This meaningful story transports readers to the Freedom Summer of 1964.

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Brown Girl Dreaming  by Jacqueline Woodson
Grades 5 +
This award winning book of poems paints a picture of what it was like to grow up African American at the edge of the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras. Packed with emotion and strength, these poems pull readers in to encounter language and feelings through the author’s voice and experience as someone who struggled with reading and also someone who found her voice in the world.

reading tips

How to Finish Summer Reading by the Time School Starts


There are three weeks until school starts for my kids, and I keep hearing myself say, “Where’s your summer reading book?” or “You’re bored? Go grab your summer reading book.” I mix it up sometimes with, “Have you done a page in your math packet today?” But the response is always the same: An eye roll followed by, “Ugggghhhhhhh. Mooooom…stooooop it.”

Here are a few tricks to getting that last book, or math packet, finished without too much protest. See what works, and let us know how your kids are powering through their summer assignments!

The Whole Brain Child Book

Read together. We got back from the beach today and everyone was super-tired. Bud fell asleep on the sofa and my husband and I didn’t feel like plopping down in front of the TV. So, when the question came up, “Can I watch a show?” we went with “Come read with us in our room.” We did get the eye roll, but that was it. Note her Kindle in the background. 😉

My review on The Whole Brain Child coming soon in another post.

Read aloud. Either you read aloud, have your child read aloud (to you, a pet, a sibling), or have them listen to someone else read aloud for the audiobook version. Any combination of these would work as well – take turns or do a chapter from an audiobook, then a chapter with you acting as narrator. Btw, listening to a book is NOT cheating! It’s great to follow along in the book while listening, but listening to stories read aloud helps kids build strong reading habits like visualization, prediction, and making inferences.

Make reading a priority. We, as parents, know all too well that some things just have to get done, like feeding the dog or putting toys away. So, after I’ve tried every trick in the book, sometimes my best option is to level with my kids. When I reach this moment with my kids, I try my best to patiently explain why the thing has to be done. I’ll admit that this approach has never made anyone jump for joy in my house, but I’m okay with that. I keep my sights on the light at the end of the tunnel…even when my kids have protested initially, 9 times out of 10 they finish reading time with a much happier and sweeter attitude than before they started.

Anyone else dealing with end-of-summer struggles? Let us know how things are going in your house!

reading tips

When Will Your Child be Ready to Read?


Last month, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I came across a video of my son’s pre-school buddy that made me pause. My son’s friend was reading, and not in the way that’s so common for kids that age—where they memorize their favorite books enough to fake the motions of reading. His mom posted the video because he was really reading, using his finger as a pointer and sounding out words on the page.

A wave of mom guilt washed over me with a hefty dose of envy. I mean, if that little guy’s mom could teach her son to read, then certainly my kid, the son of a reading teacher, should be learning to read, right? I mean, how was I going to find time to teach my preschooler to read? Plus, it’s summer, and my 4-year-old is more interested in pool time, Legos, and episodes of Ninjago than he is with sitting down for storytime.

“I don’t want to pressure him,” I told myself. But, a few days later, there was another post on Facebook. Now, my son’s friend was reading full sentences. All I could think was, “What is that book he’s reading, and can I get it via Amazon Prime Same-Day?” Thankfully, my friend posted the title of the book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, in the comments of her post. So I ordered it on the spot.

Here’s the thing, I know there isn’t research telling us that 4-year-olds should know how to read. I know that reading early does not mean a child is smarter, stronger, or more advanced than a child who does not read until 1st grade. I know that having a head start with reading does not guarantee a child will continue to be ahead of her peers as time goes on. And yet I, the reading teacher, couldn’t resist buying the book.

It arrived the next day, and I skimmed over the introduction and first lesson. Then, I put it on the shelf, deciding not to rush things. I have casually discussed learning to read with my son. I’ve even asked him if he wanted me to teach him how to read. Let’s just say that he was not into it.

But, about a week later, my son and I were finishing a new (awesome!) book, A Family is a Family is a Family, that I’d picked up at Stories Bookshop when I was in NYC last month, and I saw the teach-your-kid-to-read book on the shelf out of the corner of my eye. I went for it. Instead of following the suggested script, “I’m going to teach you to read. It might be hard, but I know you can do it,” I kind of snuck into it, jumping into the first exercise. Within a minute, Bud was repeating the “m” sound after I did, and the next thing I knew we were “playing” the word game in Lesson 1.

So, as it turns out, my kiddo is interested in learning to read and finding time for our lessons together isn’t impossible. Like so much of parenting, there isn’t one best or right way to do things. Learning to read can happen at age 3 or 6…or whenever.

What have been your experiences with your little readers wanting to, or not wanting to read?



Camp-themed Book and Crafts Book Club Box for Kids

Some things just go together. Peas and carrots. Jack and Jill. Summer and camping! Whether you and your kids love roughing it or you’re more of a glamping family, our July Happy Camping box is a super way to embrace the best parts of any camping experience. We have a limited stock of Picture Book and Growing Reader boxes remaining, so place that order before summer’s end!


Let’s take a closer look inside our July boxes… starting with the above Activity & Discussion Guides. They’re packed with questions to guide your reading before, during and after reading, craft instructions, educator tips, and a camp-ready snack recipe.

Picture Book of the Month: A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen

If you’ve never read a Chris Van Dusen book, you’re in for a real treat! This book is packed with adventure, suspense, and humor! Van Dusen’s signature rhymes make the story move as fast as Mr. Magee’s camper flies down the rocky hillside and into the stream.


Can’t Wait Craft: Paper Campsite

Using the box that your Bear & Bud Book Club book + crafts come inside, we inspire readers to create a mini campground under the stars worthy of a make-believe campfire. As always, we include all the supplies you need to make these crafts twice!


Have the supplies on hand to make a camping playset right now? Check out our easy-to-follow how-to video below, then subscribe to our YouTube channel for more tutorials!

After Reading Craft: Wax Paper Lanterns

Take these colorful lanterns on your next camping trip, or use them to light up your room at night! Our craft kit includes a few crayons to get you started, but we know you all have a box full of broken crayons in your home, so by all means add some of those bits and pieces to your lantern!


And now onto our second July box!

Growing Reader Book of the Month: Gone Camping by Tamera Will Wissinger, Illustrated by Matthew Cordell

The poems in this book are thoughtful with the perfect dash of humor, and after you read the first couple of them, you’ll be asking, “How does Tamera Will Wissinger do it?!”.


Can’t Wait Craft: Campfire Story Discs

Everyone needs a good campfire story to tell around the fire, so we created a fun way for everyone to become fantastic campfire storytellers.

Watch our tutorial!


After Reading Craft: DIY Magnetic Poetry + Embossed Tin

This craft was so fun to come up with and your Growing Readers are going to LOVE it! The beauty of this craft is that it allows you to take and create poetry anywhere you go!


And because no camp-themed Bear & Bud Book Club box would be complete without a book-themed snack recipe, we’ve included a sure winner, Camp-ready S’mores Bars!image1

Hope you enjoyed taking a look inside our July “Happy Camping” themed boxes. Ready to snag yours? Pop over to Bear & Bud Book Club to place your order!