Friday, January 31, 2014

Stella Ma Celebrates Chinese New Year

All links in this post are affiliate links.

Happy Chinese New Year! Does your family enjoy learning about world cultures like mine does? To raise global citizens who don't judge others by their appearance, language or traditions, I love teaching my kids about families who live around the globe from different cultures. We celebrate the uniqueness and beauty in everyone, and I hope you do, too.

That's why I'm thrilled to have 
Stella Ma, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Little Passports here to share her family's annual Chinese New Year traditions...


Happy Chinese New Year and Year of the Horse! I grew up in a fairly traditional Cantonese-speaking family, and Chinese New Year has always been a very special holiday for me. As a young child, I knew Chinese New Year took place around the beginning of the year, but I didn’t fully grasp that the date was tied to the lunar calendar. I recall my mom pulling out a large Chinese calendar book and flipping through the pages to find the exact date.

Our excitement built as the day approached and preparations were made. We cleaned the house before the holiday because we didn’t want to risk “sweeping” out good luck after the New Year. By the same logic, we observed not washing our hair on New Year’s Day for fear that we might wash away good fortune. 

Lots of planning went into getting ready for the traditional New Year's Eve family reunion dinner. I particularly enjoyed the shopping trips my mom and I took to Chinatown to purchase the special ingredients. The food we served was auspicious and symbolic, with the names of many of the dishes sounding like the Chinese pronunciations for “good fortune," "happiness," or "longevity.” Dishes and ingredients included chicken, roast pork, Chinese “hair” fungus, lettuce, dried oysters and fish. My favorite dish, which involved a labor-intensive mincing of many ingredients, was the dried oyster lettuce cups (with the Chinese name of the dish sounding like “good business”). I would stand next to my mom and watch her take great care as she prepared all the ingredients. When we got a food processor, I thought it would finally bring my mom some relief, but she still insisted on hand-chopping everything. 

We always started New Year’s Day with a special vegetarian meal. Because my dad left early in the morning for work, I would go to bed excited, knowing that my mom would wake us all up around 5 am so we could share the meal as a family. In the morning, we would wish my parents a happy new year and good health for the coming year in Cantonese and then we would eat a piece of candy to ensure sweetness for the new year. My mom would give us lycee (red envelopes) filled with lucky money. After breakfast, we would dress in something red to symbolize good luck and head off to school.

The weeks following involved visits to my relatives where we would bring and exchange bags filled oranges, sweets and other treats. It was a multi-week rotating house party! When I moved out and got married, I appreciated the annual tradition of coming together as a family to celebrate even more. Every year, I call my parents on the morning of the new year to wish them a happy new year. It’s tradition that only married couples give out red envelopes, so I find myself always scrambling to get them prepared and feeling extra lucky if I managed to get brand new bills from the bank. (I no longer observe the “no washing hair” tradition, and my mom looks the other way.)

As a mom myself now to two young boys, I cherish sharing and passing along the traditions. On New Year’s morning, I give my sons each a piece of candy with their red envelopes. Being given candy for breakfast makes them feel like they have the best mom ever! They also love going to Chinatown and watching the lion dancing, and we’ve had many ad hoc lion dance performances at home using makeshift drums and lion costumes fashioned out of blankets. 

Gung Hay Fat Choy (as we would say in Cantonese, or in Mandarin, Xin Nian Kuai Le) to the Little Passports community! 


Sam and Sofia are ready to learn more about these new traditions! Which one would you like to try? Bring Little Passports into your child's life in 2014 to teach them about all of the fascinating cultures around the world!

Disclosure: I am a Little Passports ambassador. All links in this post are affiliate links. When you click on them, it helps support the MommyMaestra site. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Get Motivated Through Music

This is a sponsored post.

This post is also part of my #FightLatinoObesity series

As a homeschooling mom, I'm always looking for ways to keep my kids active and healthy. We're fortunate to live on a small farm with lots of trees and space for outdoor games. But during the winter, those outdoor activities really take a hit. So it's up to me to look for indoor exercises like yoga, exercise videos, and more. In the summer we swim and hike, garden and haul hay (small farm, remember?). I've also investigated trackers that monitor physical activity year round. But I still look for ways to get the most out of these activities. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that music may be the answer. 

Studies have shown that music can increase the intensity and duration of a workout by as much as 15%.  Unfortunately, most people miss out on those benefits because their earphones hurt and fall out during active use. Simple equipment can extend a good exercise session for children and adults. Do your children use earphones when they're exercising? If not, you might try yurbuds, a brand of Stereo-Bluetooth® earphones that use TwistLock™ Technology and FlexSoft Comfort Fit to lock in place comfortably and are guaranteed never to hurt or fall out. They're even compatible with all Bluetooth® devices.

Here's a list of some of our favorite songs that really energize us and motivate us to move - even it if is simple dancing in the living room:

  • Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66 - Mais Que Nada
  • Anything from The BeeGees!
  • Rumba Mambo Cha Cha Cha by Putumayo 
  • Disco Inferno
  • The Gypsy Kings!
What songs get your family movin'?

Coupons for you!

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Disclaimer: As a Best Buy Ambassador, I have been compensated for this post. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Learning About Holidays through Bilingual Music

After the holidays roll around, I’m usually a bit relieved when they are over. For me, it means the multitude of student winter performances are done, and that we have survived the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. So once New Years was over this year, I really felt thankful that the whole season was so special. For some reason, more than other years, the tone of the 2013 holidays was so peaceful, loving, and happy. And I’m so glad it was.

As a children’s musician and teacher, and a parent of bilingual children the holidays become a wonderful time to learn about culture and traditions though music. Learning songs in Spanish in my household, and among my students at a Language Immersion Magnet has proven to be first and foremost the most fulfilling and easiest way to really learn the language. I first began teaching at this Language Magnet five years ago, and to see the growth of each student’s Spanish-speaking abilities has been amazing. There are students in the 3rd grade who have tackled multiple Harry Potter books in Spanish! It just amazes me to see and hear how well children can learn a second language when there is support at home and at school.

But getting back to the music! One way I teach my students about holidays and traditions is through song. With singing, not only do students enjoy the learning more, they are able to bring special meaning to each unique event. The resources for Christmas songs in Spanish are quite overwhelming! There are so many from various countries that I can barely decide each year what to teach. However, when it comes to the smaller holidays it’s not always easy to find the right song for the occasion!

With the help (and a bit of a push) from my friends, Emmanuel and Kristine Munda, we began series of bilingual Holiday songs to help children (and adults) learn vocabulary for that special day, and to have a fun song to really bring the festivities to life! We began our holiday music adventures with our Thanksgiving song in 2011, and since then recorded and made bilingual videos (with paper animation) for a Christmas song called “Rat-a-Plan”, the very popular “Los Monstruos” for Halloween, and even a bilingual Father’s Day song called “Superhero Dad.” But I have to say my favorite bilingual song is the “Valentine’s Day” song for “El día del amor y la amistad.”

Kristine of created the cutest characters that show the fun little activities and traditions we share here in the United States for Valentine’s day, like sharing tiny Valentine cards, candies, and making crafts. This is such a catchy song that all my students have loved to sing it! In fact, I’ll have to upload our choreography that goes with the song one day!

You can check out the video here at Mommy Maestra, and download the song on my Bandcamp page HERE!

The Munda team and I are happy to announce a DVD in the works with our collection of Holiday videos, which will include a bilingual song for Earth Day, a new Mother’s Day song, Día de los niños, and for birthdays! You can stay posted for these new releases on my twitter or facebook and on my website

Have a wonderful día del amor y la amistad and I hope you enjoy the “la la la’s!”


Sara Quintanar is the teacher and mommy of three behind "Music With Sara." When she's not cleaning after her 2 year old, she teaches music in Spanish to hundreds of children in Glendale, California.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Curious George STEM Collection

Do you actively nurture your child's interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) subjects? Far too few Latinos are pursuing degrees and careers in STEM fields, and those that do enroll in STEM college courses don't always graduate - too many drop out of those classes. But careers in these fields are in high demand and Hispanics are especially underrepresented. So if your child expresses an interest in STEM, it is important to support that interest and provide them with opportunities to strengthen those skills.

At what age should you start to encourage their inner scientist?

Every child is a budding scientist at heart. From the moment they are born, they are learning about their world, and before long are experimenting and testing their surroundings. Curiosity is a beautiful trait and it is important for us to nurture it in a safe manner.

You can support your child's interest by buying books about the natural world and reading to them. You can also look for toys that are more like tools for helping your child discover the world we live in like butterfly growing kits, gardening tools, magnifying glasses, microscopes, and so much more. You can create situations that help your child learn about and appreciate nature, such as participating in programs like Project Feeder Watch during the winter, or giving your child a balance scale and some common household items.

But there are also several online sites that have been developed to help kids understand their world.

PBS has created one such resource for kids in preschool through 1st grade, The Curious George STEM Collection, which may be found on the PBS Learning Media site. The Collection presents six different videos that children can watch to develop their knowledge of measuring, building, and simple machines. The site also offers lesson plans and interactive games for educators and families to use.

You can also find lots of great interactive games on the PBS KIDS LAB site, which uses popular characters from their shows to teach kids scientific concepts.

So if you're looking to keep your kids busy for a short time during the weekend or after school, this is a great educational tool to help you develop and strengthen their STEM skills!


Disclaimer: I am a PBS KIDS ambassador. However, I learned about the Curious George STEM Collection on my own and decided to share. All thoughts and opinions are strictly my own. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bilingual App Review: Talk in 3

I am always on the search for bilingual apps! My kids love the ones we have, but they are always asking for more. Here is a recent find for parents who want to introduce a third language to their children.

Name: Talk in 3
Subject(s): Math, Languages, Vocabulary
Available on: iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch
Brief description: Put together a small puzzle to reveal the word in Mandarin, English or Spanish. Listen for the prompt at the end and follow directions to go to the next puzzle.
Price: $2.99
Language(s): Mandarin, English, and Spanish
Ages: Recommended for 4 and up.

What my kids like: My 3 year-old and 7 year-old like vocabulary apps that do more than give them a word in a different language. Talk in 3 is engaging. The language app has kids put together puzzles before revealing the word, which is different compared to other vocabulary and foreign language apps. They also liked that after receiving their word in their chosen language, there was still one more step to follow. My oldest appreciated the added Mandarin language option. When we find bilingual apps, they are usually Spanish and English. He has been curious about Chinese languages, so for him, this was an added bonus.

What I like: I loved that there was a little bit of math included in this language app! The puzzles are age appropriate for my three year-old who is a year younger than the recommended age. My oldest benefits as well when the voice command asks children to count in the designated language. The children are hearing whole sentences in three languages and that was what sold me. I am constantly looking for bilingual apps that offer more than just vocabulary. Talk in 3 is worth the $2.99 for me because of the basic introduction of Chinese Mandarin, the math concepts for all ages and the basic English and Spanish intro or review for bilingual kids.


Betty Galvan, is writing "for smart and stylish moms" over
at My Friend Betty Says... She is a teacher and mother to three fun little boys.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

MommyMaestra on Home School Heartbeat

This week, I've had the privilege of being on HSLDA's Home School Heartbeat Radio Program. If you'd like to learn about how families can explore and pass on their heritage through their homeschooling, and why it is so important for Latinos to help their children learn about their own culture, I encourage you to stop by and listen if you have a few minutes!

And if you like what you hear, please share it with your family and friends so that more homeschool organizations like HSLDA can see the growing number of Hispanic homeschoolers and be encouraged to create more (bilingual) resources for us.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Dinosaur Train Nature Trackers Adventure Camp & Club

I'm able to share the following with you because I am a PBS KIDS ambassador. 

On Monday, PBS KIDS will premiere an all-new special: DINOSAUR TRAIN “Nature Trackers Adventure Camp!” The Pteranodon family is taking kids and parents on an excursion in an all new one-hour special featuring four new stories about nature and adventures. From river systems and timberlines, to rainforests and erosion, kids will learn about geography and paleontology during the on-air special.

While this episode may be new, the Nature Trackers Club isn't. And this is one of the things I'm most excited to learn about. The Dinosaur Train Nature Trackers Club is a community of families and educators committed to learning about nature and doing good things for their environment. The PBS KIDS site has so many wonderful printable resources and tools!

Its easy to start, you just print up the Nature Tracker's Guide Book and complete one of the challenges listed in it. (We printed up the official club sign, too, because my kids love to hang signs on their bedroom doors!)

And when you sign up for the e-newsletter, you'll get monthly challenges that get you to exploring nature through indoor and outdoor activities and experiments, like this Growing Crystals activity that we did this week as part of our science lessons. You can find it here in this list of all the activities shared over the last few years. This month's challenge is on water and ice and helps your child explore the different states of matter.

My kids are just having so much fun with this, and I think yours might, too.

And you know what the best part is? It is all FREE!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Free Winter-Themed Printables in Spanish for Preschoolers {Printable}

This month's winter-themed printables from our sponsor, Monarca Language, are adorable! I hope you like them as much as we have.

This post contains affiliate links.

The Spanish vocabulary cards focus on where animals find shelter in the winter. Print them on cardstock, then have your child color them in and cut them out. Then take turns telling a story with your cards. 

If you've been saving your cards from the previous months, then you can encourage your child to mix them all together to create more elaborate stories. 

The other activity sheet focuses on animals from the Americas and Antarctica. Simple and sweet, I LOVE that they got it right with polar bears in the Arctic and penguins in the Antarctic. No, the two never meet. (I'm sorry. The former zookeeper in me loves, loves, loves that this is shown correctly.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Teaching Children About Healthy Hygiene {Printable}

This is a sponsored post.

How do you teach your kids about the importance of having a healthy hygiene routine? Do you simply guide them by reminding them to brush their teeth, wash their face, brush their hair every morning when they wake up? Do they do these things without your mentioning it, or must you remind them to do it every day? It seems like I have to remind my kids every morning and every night to brush their teeth and wash their faces. 

But sometimes I forget.

So to make things a bit easier, I've created a chart that we can tape to the bathroom mirror to help them remember when they go in there in the morning. And when I was asked to write a post about hygiene, I thought, why not share it with you? To make it more durable, you can laminate it and then just have your child use dry-erase markers to check off the boxes each day as they complete their task. It is a simple and easy way to help children establish a routine of healthy habits. The chart is available in English and Spanish, so you can choose the one that fits your family best.

This post was sponsored by Healthy Essentials, and they are offering lots of printable coupons, tips & tools and so much more. Here’s the deal: you can save over $45 by visiting in January and signing up for extra-special HEALTHY ESSENTIALS® coupons and offers.

Now is the perfect time for a fresh start to your healthcare routine and to create healthy resolutions. From pain & allergy relief to dietary & digestive health to products for kids & babies, there are significant savings on items for every member of your familia. Just visit to sign up!

Enter to win a trip to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup™!

Want to go to 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™? Visit and see if your wish could come true. Plus, get tips and coupons to save on your favorite products for the New Year.

All you have to do is share a picture or story of a moment of caring in your life and you could scream “GOAL!” from Brazil.

Visit for more information on this amazing opportunity!

Join the Twitter Party on Tuesday to win!

When: Tuesday, January 14, 1 p.m. ET

Hashtag: #Moms4JNJConsumer

Prizes: We will randomly award 15 prizes throughout the party, from all eligible correct responses to trivia questions. Each prize includes an assortment of Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies HEALTHY ESSENTIALS® products with an estimated retail value of $50.

Prize Eligibility: No purchase necessary. Entrants must be legal residents of the 50 United States + D.C. 18 years of age or older. Void where prohibited.

Hosts: @theMotherhood, @CooperMunroe, @EmilyMcKhann, @TheMotherhood25

Disclosure: This post is part of the HEALTHY ESSENTIALS® 2014 program by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. and The Motherhood, who sent me a box of products and compensated me for my time. Opinions, experiences and photos shared here are all my own, and I hope you enjoy them.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Free Sample of Advanced Spanish Phonics Center Homework Book

Today's freebie from Lectura Para Niños is 14-page sample of their Advanced Phonics Center Homework book. For those of you teaching your children to read in Spanish, it is a wonderful treasure!

Created to accompany Lectura Para Niños's Phonics Center, the entire homework book has five parts. In each mini book, there are 1-3 pages of homework for each reading concept you are working with. If your student is struggling with closed syllables, Leah says she would practice first with the phonics center – advanced, with closed syllables, and pull the practice pages from the following mini books.

1-Leyendo Palabras: Whole word reading (32 pages)
The student reads the words in the box above and writes the word below the corresponding picture.

2-Busca Palabras: Word Searches (14 pages)
Find the hidden words from each theme.

3-Escribe palabras correctamente: Unscramble the words (32 pages) 
Unscramble the words from each theme.

4-Escribe las palabras en las cajas correctas: Write the word in the correct letter boxes. (32 pages)

5-Recorta y pega los dibujos con la palabra correcta. Cut and paste the picture into the correct circle that matches the word. (82 pages)

If you like the freebie, you can find the entire book here.

The phonics center can be found here.

REMEMBER: You can find more free downloads from Lectura para niños here on MommyMaestra. 

Happy learning!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Launching a Spanish Program for K-1

I'm very excited to share with you that today will be my first day back in the classroom! Although it is simply once a week for an hour in my son's is a great feeling. When I stepped out seven years ago, I never imagined I would be away this long.

This is a small step for me but a big step in teaching languages in our elementary schools. My son's school starts a Spanish curriculum in the first grade but for some parents (including myself), forty minutes every six school days wasn't enough. It was remarkable that they took the initiative and suggested adding Spanish as an after school enrichment program. It was also impressive that the school quickly agreed and I was happy to accept the recommendation for the spot.

I'm going in with great ambition to hold the entire class speaking only in Spanish for the entire hour. The majority of the children are in the first grade and love their Spanish teacher, I know they have been paying attention! The basics such as introductions, letters, numbers and shapes have been covered by her and will be reviewed with me. This will be more of a support class with no reason for me to believe the children who are not of Latino descent, cannot benefit from an additional one hour a week of Spanish.

Today I will start with resources that we have mentioned here on Mommy Maestra, books that are perfect for reading aloud, music and games! Diego has been asking me all day if I am prepared! Of course, it is an added bonus that he will be sitting in the same class with me. It also goes without saying that this opportunity continues to support our family's effort to keep the Spanish language alive in our home. Diego is proud of the fact that I will be in his school teaching (even if it is only an hour a week) and as what seems to be the only Spanish speaker in the lower grades, it shows that his first language is important.

Please wish me luck! I promise to report back!

image via


Betty Galvan, is writing "for smart and stylish moms" over
at My Friend Betty Says... She is a teacher and mother to three fun little boys.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

App Review: YodelOh! Math Mountain

When I was little, we lived for a while with my 'Buelita. She's the reason I fell in love with The Price Is Right. And one of my favorite games on that show was the one with the little Swiss? mountain climber complete with lederhosen whom you had to help climb to the top of the mountain without him falling off the cliff. So imagine my delight upon discovering this educational app based on the same premise!

Name: YodelOh! Math Mountain
Subject(s): Math
Available on: iPad, iPhone, Nook, Amazon, Google Play 
Brief Description:  A fast-paced game to reinforce basic math skills.
Price: $2.99 
Language: English 
Ages: 9 and up 

What my kids like:  

- The quick pace. But I have to admit that they also dislike it for the same reason! This game goes by quickly and keeps the player on his or her toes. There's a lot going on. Not only do they have to solve the equation, but they also have to be on the lookout for crazed billy goats trying to push them off the mountain (don't worry, they disappear with the tap of a finger!), plus briefly appearing images that grant bonus points when tapped. 

- The music! 

- The colorful graphics. Seriously, who wouldn't love the cheerful mountain climber and the angry goats?

-There's no limit. They can play as long as they can keep guessing the right answers and stop those crazy goats from touching their mountain climber!

What I like: As a teacher, I like that I/they can choose the subject of the equations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, or a combination of all four. It helps me to focus them on one particular skill, if they need extra practice. I also like that there are NO 3rd-party ads, social networks, location tracking, easy web access, or in-app purchase opportunities. You download the game and just play.

While it is technically in English, there's really not a lot of language used except for Math - a universal language, no?

I think it is totally worth every penny, and I use it to sneak in learning during fun breaks in our math studies.

Here are a few additional pictures to give you a better idea...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Día de los Reyes Magos Activity Sheet {PRINTABLE}

To celebrate Día de los Reyes Magos, I put together a quick activity sheet for kids in Pre-K through 1st grade. May you all have a wonderful day!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Powerful Impact of Music Education on Overall Academic Performance

Many educators and parents have intuitively known for decades that music education plays an important role in a child's academic life. It's the reason why I signed my kids up for guitar & piano classes and why I decided that they would be required to take a minimum of 2 years instruction before they were allowed to quit...if they wanted to!

We don't have any student orchestras near us, but after watching this amazingly beautiful segment on PBS Newshour, I wish we did. I would love to give my kids this experience.

But more importantly, I love that a program called The Harmony Project is making a difference in the lives of low-income children, including Latinos. It is also a grassroots program, started in 2001 by Dr. Margaret Martin, a woman who had an A-HA! moment and decided to turn that idea into reality. The privately funded program provides instruments and free tuition for low-income children for both group and private lessons. 

I would encourage you to watch this segment, embedded below. It is very well done (like everything by PBS Newshour), and if you aren't convinced to enroll your child in music classes, then surely nothing will!

If you live in one of the cities where The Harmony Project is found, perhaps this would be a fantastic opportunity for your child?

¡A tocar un instrumento!

Friday, January 3, 2014

The White House Student Film Festival

Do you have a young future filmmaker in your house? Do you (or your child's school) use technology in your child's education?

Then you may be interested to know that this year, the White House has launched it's first ever Student Film Festival. This video contest is open to K-12 students, and the finalists will have their short films shown at the White House, as well as featured on the White House website.

I would truly love to see some talented Latino students make their filmmaking debut on the White House website!

The short films (no more than 3 minutes long) must be on the topic of technology in education. Specifically, they should focus on one of the following:

1) How you currently use technology in your classroom or school OR
2) The role technology will play in education in the future.

Parents/Guardians are required to submit the video here.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Spanish Winter Word Search {PRINTABLE}

Many MommyMaestra readers will be impacted this week - some already have been affected! - by winter storms.

So January's free printable from our sponsor, Spanish for You, is timely. It's a Spanish Winter Word Search plus audio file.

This fun activity sheet introduces your Spanish language learner to winter-themed vocabulary. The accompanying audio file is a bonus for parents and children who are learning proper pronunciation.

And in the spirit of the season, here's a sweet video that uses some of the vocabulary words to share with your little ones:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Year Full of Blessings Activity {Printable}

NOTE: Printable has been updated for 2023.

Happy New Year from MommyMaestra!

I am so looking forward to this new year and all the wonderful moments I'll be sharing with my family. My biggest wish is to be a better mom. To help my children find happiness everyday and grow in knowledge and self confidence. I want to be the mom they need me to be: always patient, always kind, always loving. And since I'll be trying to help them find the blessings we have each and every day, I'm starting off with this idea I've seen in a million places. To share it with you, I've created a bilingual printable for A Year Full of Blessings Jar.

A Year Full of Blessing Jar

Every time we experience something new, learn something fantastic, meet new people or receive something wonderful, it gets written down and placed in the jar. At the end of the year, we open up all the notes and read about our marvelous year.

To help you create your own, I've designed two images (one in English, the other in Spanish) that you can print up and attach to your own jar. We've used both, one on each side. I printed them on some extra 2" x 4" mailing labels I had laying around. The images are large so you can adjust the size as needed.

Wishing your family a wonderful new year full of many bendiciones!

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