teaching thoughts · topic

Why do teachers do that?– introduction

I have decided that I’m going to dedicate my Friday posts to helping you, as parents/caregivers, understand why teachers do certain things in school. Often times it looks like teachers are putting out materials and activities just because they are fun. Don’t get me wrong ALL teachers want children to see learning as fun, but the goal is learning. Teachers don’t often have the time to explain the why behind all the learning… so I’m going to try to do that.

So, dear readers, send me your questions. Ever wonder why teachers use play dough? Ever wonder why teachers have little pencils or crayons in the classroom? Ever wonder why math is taught with manipulatives? Or what is a brain break? Ask… I’ll try my best to explain “Why do you do that?”

So drop me a message here on this post, or any post that makes you ask why. Or email me at mydayinprek@gmail.com

story · topic

Brown is Beautiful

Yesterday I sat down multiple times to type up a post, but I couldn’t formulate figure out an at home activity that matched the story I wanted to share. I couldn’t make it meaningful. I’ve learned as a teacher that if activities aren’t meaningful, approachable and memorable then they won’t be impactful with children. So, sorry I didn’t share an activity, but here is the link to the story I wanted to share: It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr.

Onto today’s stories and activity:

Today I am sharing two stories that deal with the same topic, skin color. Often we hear people talk about skin in terms of black and white. But, I challenge children (and adults) to look again. The first story compares these colors to those of the earth. All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka. The Colors of Us by Karen Katz finds a young girl and her mother walking through the neighborhood looking at all the beautiful shades of brown that she sees on her friends and neighbors. She compares theses shades to foods that are familiar.

From the palest of sand to the darkest of chocolates, shades of browns are beautiful. So, today let’s celebrate that. Make a collage of all shades of brown paper. Draw with multicultural crayons. Blend paints to create shades of brown. Whatever meaningful, approachable and memorable activity would help your child see the beauty of browns. For me… I drew a rainbow, Because together we create a beautiful rainbow of colors

story

All are Welcome

This week we will focus on accepting differences. Today’s story is All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold. In this story you will travel through a school day learning that all are welcome and accepted for who they are in the classroom. They learn to treasure differences. My favorite page from the story “We’re part of a community. Our strength is our diversity. A shelter from adversity. All are welcome here.”

This is a great opportunity to talk about acceptance and inclusion. Roll play greeting others as well as asking people to join in. Adults often assume that children know how to join a group, AND that they will naturally ask others in join the fun. But, these are skills that need to be taught. Many children learn from watching others as well as from other people greeting them and asking them to join, but direct instruction of these skills are helpful for many children.

What would you say if you saw a child alone on the playground? How could you help that child feel welcome? How would you feel if you were the one not included?

Let your child ask questions. Take the time to look, listen and learn together.

drawn with “people” crayons… I cheated and drew them from the back (:

Have your child draw a picture of him/herself playing with someone who is different from them. This could be someone you know or a character from this or other stories. Discuss the similarities and difference. This could be physical differences as well as habits. Remember that the goal is to celebrate the differences. “Our strength is our diversity” Helping children see that the things that make you different are the things that make you special will help him/her see and appreciate the differences in others and view these differences as assets!

family activity · story · topic

Elmer is Unique and so are YOU

This week we will look at stories and activities that help children appreciate differences and acceptance of the uniqueness of individuals.

Today listen to the story Elmer by David McKee (read by David McKee). Elmer is a patchwork elephant that lives in a herd of all gray elephants. Elmer’s friends love to laugh at Elmer’s humor, but Elmer worries that they are laughing at his patchwork. He finds a way to change his skin to gray to fit in, but then realizes that the herd isn’t the same without Elmer the Patchwork Elephant’s presence.

Elmer and his friends learn a valuable lesson… the things that make you different are the things that make you special. This is a lesson that educators work to instill in their classes. The look that uniqueness is not a thing to be looked down upon, but instead to be seen as assets.

Chat about the things that make your child special. Look at physical, emotional, behavioral and other differences. Discuss likes and dislikes. How to these attributes make you… you?

At the end of the story, all the elephants have one day a year where they decorate themselves to show their own unique differences too. (Elmer paints himself gray on these days, to still stand out in his own way). Have your child draw an elephant, or print one off the web. Write on the top of the page “I am special because I am ME” Then around the elephant write attributes that make you… you!

Finally decorate your elephant to show off these attributes. What makes you different is what makes you special, celebrate these differences.

This would make a great family project. Have each member of the family create their own unique elephants. Show that there are attributes that are similar across the family, and ones that are special and unique to each individual.

teaching thoughts · topic

How Does My Child Compare…??

When parents meet with teachers, they often say “How does my child’s learning compare to his/her peers?” or “Are other kids in your class doing ______?” or “Is this ….” Doesn’t matter what the topic or question… they want to be assured that their child is fitting in.

Here’s what I want you to know…. that isn’t the way to judge your child’s achievement. In every classroom you will have children who are ahead, on level and behind academically, emotionally, socially, physically, and so on. Each child learns, grows and develops on their own path.

Good teachers look at each child in the class as an individual. They look at that child’s developmental level when they walk in the door and then work towards growth (in all aspects of life). Every child can learn… just not all on the same day and the same way.

So, what is the best way to look at where my child should be? There are developmental milestones for skills and development. Again these are ages and stages. Just as your child might have talked early or walked a bit later than some of their peers, the same is true for learning to read, write and the rest of the learning that happens in school. But, with the support of your child’s teachers, YOU and time.. they will learn to read, write and so on… when they are ready.

We live in a time that wants everything done yesterday. There is a push for things to be done and mastered before they are developmentally appropriate. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a proponent of introducing children to skills that are above and challenging. But, I live in the reality that not everyone will master them now.

So, the next time you are wondering where your child fits in. Stop and ask. How much has my child grown? Are their areas that (s)he is strong in? (maybe your child is really good in math or reading or drawing or sports or tying shoes) What areas are my child struggling in? How can I help lay the groundwork for him/her to move forward in these areas? How can I uses areas of strength to help develop areas of challenge?

Life isn’t equal, but we can make it fair! (my definition of fair… providing each what they need to be successful in the place they are so they can get where they are going)

teaching thoughts · topic

Fine and gross motor development

You often hear educators talk about motor development. Typically at this age, we are talking about fine motor development, but lets dive into both fine and gross motor development.

Gross motor development is the use of large muscle groups to move. Your child begins gross motor development before they are born. You can check out gross motor development skill levels here. Many of these skills need the trunk/core to be strengthened. One other thing to realize… your child needs to master gross motor skills before they can master fine motor skills. So, get your child up and moving. They need to throw, pedal, run, jump, twist, kick and more on a regular basis. (plus the more your child does these things typically the more they are able to sit and attend). Think about this, if your child has not developed good core strength, then just the action of sitting is work, never mind attending to task and listening.

Suggested gross motor activities:

  • Lava Jumping: Put different pieces of paper (different colors or write letters/numbers/words) on the floor. Have your child jump from paper to paper. Start by jumping two feet together, move to long strides, and work up to hopping on one foot and then the other.
  • Paper Skate: give your child paper plates to stand on and skate around the kitchen
  • Balance beams: set up balance beams (can even been tape on the floor or chalk on the driveway)
  • Snowball fight: write words, numbers, colors, letters, etc on pieces of paper and crumple them up. Now have fun throwing snow around. After x number of minutes, have your child pick up balls one at a time and read it to you. They then toss the snowball to you, or into a bin
  • Frisbee: learning to throw a frisbee is a great gross motor skill as you turn your torso in the throwing process!
  • Show me how you move: this always a favorite for indoor recess. Show me how you would move if you were a _______. I always did themes winter (snowflake, penguin, polar bear, on ice skates,…) farm (a horse, picking apples, raking the fields, etc..)
  • Hop, skip, jump, gallop

Fine motor development is the use of small muscle groups, and with education typically focuses on the muscles of your hands. You can check out fine motor development skill levels here. Children need to develop and strengthen their fine motor skills to write, cut, turn pages of book, trace, copy and more. These developmental skills are key in education. But, mastering these skills does not mean you child has to use a pencil all day… there are many fun ways to hone those fine motor skills.

Suggested fine motor activities:

  • Playdough: roll, pull, push, cut and more. give your child a dowel and have him/her place their hand flat on the “rolling pin” and push down while rolling back and forth. give them plastic knives and other tools
  • Bubble wrap: have your child pinch and pop, twist and pop, pound and pop… who doesn’t like bubble wrap?
  • Beads and buttons: string with string, pick up with clothes pins, sort, transfer from one place to another with a spoon, tweezers or pincer grip
  • Lego: small Lego blocks are great for fine motor development (and so many other learning skills
  • Playing with hot wheel cars (set up roads together)
  • Stacking blocks, cups and more
  • Coloring, cutting, tearing, gluing and more

phonemic awareness · teaching thoughts

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness

As I continue my series on topics for parents, today I will explain a few terms that are tossed around, especially when children are beginning to learn to read and/or struggling to learn to read.

Phonics is the connection between the printed letters and the sounds they make. Children need to have strong phonics skills to decode words. Typically they will learn that short vowel and consonant sounds first. Then they will move on to learn about long vowels, digraphs (th, sh, ch, wh, ck etc), vowel pairs and so much more. But, the thing to understand is that phonics is connecting the sound to print. This is reading and writing! This is key, but it is not all!

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate phonemes (sounds). This is rhyming, blending onset and rime, syllables and more. Children need to be able to play with phoneme they hear, note these skills do not involve print! This is playing with sounds. Singing songs, manipulating rhymes, poetry, breaking words apart and putting them together… but out loud.

Here is the thing… strong phonemic awareness is the precursor to strong phonic skills. When children develop the skills and confidence in the ability to play with letters and sounds. The ability to isolate the sounds they hear and manipulate them to make changes, then the understanding of phonics becomes sooo much easier.

To give an example. When children develop an understanding of rhyme they know that they can remove the beginning sound of one word, replace it with a new sounds and the create a new word (real or nonsense). This is word families. Cake, bake, make, take, rake… word family… words that rhyme. Now, if I have a firm understanding of rhyming words and I learn to read one word in a word family, I can use my understanding of rhyming words to create new words to read and write.

Another phonemic awareness skill is blending words. This can be done with onset and rime (/b/ /asket/= basket) as well as with individual sounds (/f/ /l/ /a/ /t/ = flat). When you can take the sounds you hear and push them together in your mind and hear a whole word, it makes it easier to sound out the words and then hold them together to make a word. Sounding out words is just what I did, but reading the printed letters instead of just hearing them aloud.

So, if your child is just starting to read and write, or struggling to learn to read and write, you might want to step back and play with sounds. Build their phonemic awareness skills first… then the phonics will fall into place smoother.

teaching thoughts · writing

Writing vs penmanship

Today I continue my series on my thoughts on education. Today’s topic is writing vs penmanship. Often times when people think about young children writing is has more to do with penmanship than actual writing. When we discuss writing in education it is not the process of putting words on paper… it is the process of putting thoughts on paper. Read that again!

We teach children that writing is a powerful way to share thoughts and information. And, if you know anything about children they LOVE to share their thoughts and information.

Writing is a process and has steps. I am not talking about the writing process (prewriting, drafting, revising, editing) while we do teach this in school too. I’m talking about the process of learning to write. Learning to put your thoughts on paper in a way that others can understand. I have shared these stages in the past. (click here)

When adults tell children exactly what to write (a dictation) or write it for them (scribing or for copying) we are taking away the power of writing. I would rather my students write one word on their own than copy a paragraph I stated. Now, don’t get me wrong there are times for dictations, scribing and copying, but we can’t confuse this with writing.

Again writing is the process of putting your own thoughts on paper.

When children are young then begin to scribble write or write random letters, numbers and symbols. Often this is not seen as writing, but it is! It is your child writing their thoughts on their own. When we start telling children that the work they do on their own is not good enough, not correct or acceptable…. they don’t want to write. When you make the writing process more about correct letter formation and not about the thoughts behind the writing… they don’t want to write.

We need to empower children. We need to praise the work and listen to the thoughts behind it. We need to challenge them to add more to their work. As they develop more phonics and sight word skills their sentences will expand. Their writing will develop into a more conventional form. But, until them we need to say “Please read me what you wrote”, even if what they wrote was random scribbles… recognize that they are writing.

math · teaching thoughts · topic

Math Monday

This week I am going to write a series for you the parents! I’m giving you my two cents on many learning topics. This is my opinion as a educator as well as a parent. So much of the impact we have on our children’s learning has to do more with how we think than what we do!

Math is NOT scary! read it again Math is NOT scary!

Sadly we still live in a world were people are afraid of math. Math is a set of steps. Math is black and white… right or wrong… for the most part. But there is more than one way to solve a problem. There is more than one way to see how to get to the end result.

A large issue with adults and math is they were forced to memorize facts. You learned that 2+2=4 and that 5*8=40, but you didn’t learn the why. You just learned the fact. When you start to think math, not just memorize it… you will find that it makes more sense.

In schools, we use a lot of manipulatives and manipulation of visuals to help see math. New math is mental math on paper…. or with manipulatives. Take for instance the concept of “Make a 10”. This is teaching children to see the addition fact 6+7 and break it down to 7+3+3… why? Why can’t they just memorize that 6+7 =13? Make a ten is an easy mental math step… I know that 7+3 is 10 and then 10+3 is 13. Seems like more steps, but then do it in your head… hey wait. If those numbers were 17+16 what then? 10+10+7+3+3. This is THINKING math.

I could go on and give more examples, but I won’t.

My thought for you today is play with math. Provide white boards and have your child illustrate problems. Provide counters (Lego, cereal, goldfish, crayons,… anything). Make learning of math fun. Help your child to think math… not memorize it!

Remember this is just my two cents.

story · teaching thoughts · topic

Books!

Often times I have parents ask me “What are the best books for me to read to my child?” or “What books should my child be reading?”…. Ok I’m going to give an answer that might shock a lot of teachers… Any book your child is interested in reading is worth reading to/with them! Often times teachers poopoo the reading of stories based on tv shows or movies and such. I say… if your child wants to read it… read it!

Also many teachers have children read “just right books”.

While having your child read books that are really hard is often frustrating for children, if your child wants to read the book and is willing to put in the effort because they like the story/topic/whatever… why would you stop them?

Some people do not want children to read books that are too easy. But, this builds fluency. There is a need to increase both oral fluency as well as silent reading fluency and endurance.

I say… let your child pick books they are interested in reading/having read to them. If they like the book/topic they are more engaged and more interested in listening.

That being said…. I do encourage parents to read aloud even after your child learns to read independently. You should be reading books 2-4 levels above your child’s reading ability. I always encourage kindergarten families to start reading chapter books to your child. When they listen to chapter books they learn to envision the story in their mind. They also learn to hold the story between sittings which will help when they begin reading chapter books on their own.

I leave you one last thought on reading….