teaching thoughts

Almost August

Can you believe that July is almost over? What does this mean… back to school. While some schools do not go back until Sept, many schools open back up in August. So for most teachers the end of July feels like the end of summer.

What does it mean for parents? Back to school shopping. Time to pick up new clothes, backpacks, lunchboxes and everything off your child’s supply list.

Here is my thought as a parent and teacher about supply lists.

First make sure to get the items on the list. You might not realize it, but the teachers have little to no budget to set up their classrooms. So, if they are asking for items that seem strange or excessive, it is for a reason. Most teachers ask for all the materials they will need for the school year at this time because they are on sale. So when you get asked for dozens of pencils, crayons and erasers, understand this means you won’t be asked to supply more later.

Only label the items your teacher asks you to label. Teachers ask for specific brands for two reasons… one they will ask for the best quality so they last longer and in the case of crayons/markers/colored pencils the color looks better with some brands. Another reason is that they put all the materials in one space and will give out new ones to al the children without having to search through for the ones labeled with a child’s name. (In the past, there was also the chance the items would become community supplies).

If the teacher asks for certain colors, follow those steps too. Teachers will assign certain colors to different subject red-reading, yellow- writing, blue- math etc… This makes it easier for the children to find the specific materials they need.

Remember your child will be using these materials!

My brands of choice:

  • pencils- Ticonderoga
  • crayons- Crayola
  • colored pencils- Crayola
  • Markers- Crayola or Mr. Sketch
  • scissors- Fiskars
  • glue/glue stick- Elmers
  • Dry Erase Markers- Expo
phonemic awareness · teaching thoughts

Why Can’t my Child Rhyme?

Rhyming is such an important step in phonemic awareness. What is phonemic awareness you ask? Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate letter sounds in spoken words. It is the hearing part of reading! When children are able to hear, manipulate and isolate letter sounds, they are able to utilize this skill in decoding and encoding words for reading and writing.

So why rhyming? Rhyming is the ability to switch out the beginning sound of a word to make a new word. That it! Ok so why is it so hard for some children?

Did you know there are actually 5 stages of learning to rhyme! Say What???? You read that correctly. Your child needs to develop through five levels before they are proficient at rhyming independently.

Step 1- rhyme exposure— this is the understanding of the word rhyme. Children need to be exposed to words that rhyme and be taught the context behind the word rhyme. So when you read books, sing songs and recite nursery rhymes with your child, state things such as “hey wall and ball rhyme” “/w/- all and /b/- all rhyme because they both end in -all”

Step 2- rhyme recognition– this is being able to determine if two words rhyme. Children need to listen to two words and be able to tell you if they rhyme or not. Provide pair of words tree/key, car/bike, blue/glue, man/money etc… Have your child give a thumbs up if they rhyme and a thumbs down if they don’t. Often times children will struggle when the two words begin with the same beginning sound, point out the ends of the words are different and that is where we focus on rhymes.

Step 3- rhyme judgement– in this step you will provide your child with 3 words and have your child pick out the pair that rhymes. This works on recall as well. Stating night/moon/light your child would need to say night and light rhyme. In class I encourage children to say night and light rhyme because they both end in -ight. This shows they understand the focus on the rime of the word.

Step 4- rhyme completion– in this step your child will complete a sentence or line from a poem or song with the correct ending rhyme. Begin with using familiar song and stories and then move onto unfamiliar materials. I want to go out and play, because it is a sunny ____. DAY play and day rhyme. Check out this activity I shared called rhyme away for another fun activity on this step.

Step 5- rhyme production– this is the step of independence! this is your child producing sets of rhyming words on their own. I often go back to step 2 and have the child be the one in charge. Have your child give you sets of words and you determine if they rhyme or not. Then move on and have your child tell you a list of three words with a pair of rhymes. Finally have him/her give you rhyme completion sentences (this step is hard and not needed to master rhyming)

Yay! Your child has now mastered rhyming. Time to move onto the next skill… but do not forget to come back and practice rhyming. When you stop working and reviewing skills it makes it harder for your child to remember the skill when needed.

phonemic awareness · story

Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s Farm

Today let’s read the story Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s Farm by Joy Cowley. When the farm animals do not want another bath, they decide to leave the farm. They travel from the farm to the city. This is a great rhyming story.

Can you find the rhymes in the story? Practice listening for rhymes (you say two words and your child says if they rhyme or not). Creating rhymes (you say a word and your child says a word that rhymes). Do these with your child leading too… when your child is able to create their own rhyming pairs and understands the difference between words that rhyme and don’t they are mastering one of the phonemic awareness skills needed for reading development. Want to read more about rhyming? Click here, here, or here.

Mrs. Wishy-Washy loved to give her animals a good scrub. Let your child rub and scrub some of their toys today. Fill up the sink or a bucket in the backyard and let your child wash their toys. This encourages sensory play which is important for development.

Sensory play is any play the stimulates the senses. Allowing children to play with textures- hard, soft, wet, dry, sticky, smooth, bumpy etc encourage and allows for acceptance of these various textures in other aspects of life. The use of sensory play is soothing for children who are anxious or frustrated. This play also helps develop and connect brain pathways that are needed in more complex learning. Want to read more? Check out this article Why Sensory Play is Important for Development by Educational Playcare

teaching thoughts · writing

Phonetic Spelling

Have you ever seen your child write on their own? Children will write in play without support all the time, but as soon as you sit them down to write something they expect you to write it for them and/or tell them how to spell it. Why? The reason is the adults.

When children write on their own they go through a natural progression from scribble writing and random letters all the way to correct spelling. But, if adults tell children how to spell and/or that they are spelling words wrong then the child is afraid, cautious and concerned about doing it right. So, what can we do?

Teachers have learned that you can guide children through these writing stages without hampering their development. Wait what does that mean? Phonetic spelling, as known as inventive spelling or transitional spelling, is the process of writing words based on the phonetic sounds you hear in the word.

When children begin the process of phonetic spelling, they start by writing only the beginning sound. This is because it the the key sound you hear in a word. The next step is to add on the ending sound and later when they have mastered an understanding of more letter sounds and especially vowel sounds they will add in the medial sounds. For example, let’s pretend your child drew a picture of a house. When they begin the process of writing they may label the picture just with an “h”. As they gain more confidence in their own writing process they will naturally begin to add more sounds. Now they will write “hs” as house. Moving forward they may learn that “ow” says /ow/ and will write “hows”.

While none of these are the correct spelling they are steps towards getting the correct spelling. One concern that adults often bring up is that the child is learning it wrong. Let me dispel this myth, your child is not learning to spell the word, (s)he is learning the process of putting their thought on paper. At this point in the learning development, we are working on the concept of print has meaning and that you can put your thoughts down in words. Later as children learn more phonics skills and begin to see that words are spelled a specific way, they will master the correct spelling of words.

When teachers assist children in progressing through this process, the key is to sound out words slowly and teach children to stretch out words. We have them visualize the words on an elastic band. Pull the band slowly to stretch out the sounds. Write the sounds you hear. The key is to always go back to the whole word before you are finished. Here is another example: candle. Have your child stretch out the word c-an-d-l. When your child starts writing they will probably write “c” or “k”… either works. Then they may add in the “d” as this is a more dominant sound than the “l”. They will then progress to cndl as these are the consonant sounds you hear in the word candle. This is praised as they have progressed. If your child has learned “an” you can stretch it out and say do you hear the “an” sound in the word?

So why? Why do we want children to do through this progression? Well… a few reasons. One, they are writing. They are putting their own thoughts on paper. They are doing it their way and aren’t being told no that’s wrong. They aren’t ready to do it independently and in book spelling and won’t be for a few years. We want children to view themselves as writers and the earlier they write, the stronger this image will be.

Why else? When children make this natural progression of writing they actually develop stronger phonics and phonemic awareness skills. They need to use these skills to write on their own. They are not waiting to memorize and learn a new word or rule before they can write. If children had to memorize all the words they wanted to write before they began writing they would not get beyond sight words and simple cvc words until late in first grade. With transitional writing they can begin writing words as soon as they master their letter sounds.

So… what does this mean for parents. First if your child writes something that you can’t read it is OK! Ask your child to read it to you. “I see you labeled your picture, will you read the words to me?” “I noticed you wrote sentences to go with your illustration, I’d love to hear what you wrote.”

Next, if your child gets stuck on a word help them sound it out. It’s ok if it is not spelling exactly. In the classroom, I always talk about kid spelling (or kindergarten/preK spelling) verses book spelling. I do not expect the children to write in book spelling, but this addresses the fact that there is a correct way to write something, but since they are in K, preK are kids whatever, it’s ok to write it their own way.

Finally, if you are working with your child to sound out a word and they spell it correctly… tell them. Look you wrote that in book spelling. This will begin to solidify the correct spelling and that they can transition from phonetic spelling to book spelling. Just remember to praise their effort to use phonetic spelling too or else they will revert to depending on you for all the book spelling!

math · teaching thoughts

Addition

Most kindergarten classes are taking on addition at this time in the year. Addition is more than just memorizing facts. Often times families help their child memorize facts and then the child does not want to do that work behind understanding addition concepts. While this is not a huge deal now, it might be later on.

Educators have recognized the need to teach mental math, that is what “new” math is in the early years… mental math on paper. We teach children to not just memorize, but think math. You will see there is a lot more story problems and very few facts sheets.

Now this does not mean that we do not want children to memorize math facts, but we want them to understand the thinking behind the facts too.

For example instead saying solve 4+5, teachers might say: There are 4 large books and 5 small books on the table. How many books are on the table? We want to see the children move from drawing 4 large books and 5 small books and counting each book to moving towards 4+5=9.

For this fact, they might say:

  • Put the big number in my head and count up from there 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • that they know that 4+4 is 8 and one more is 9
  • Or they may say that 5+5 is 10 and one less is 9.

While these steps might seem like a lot to teach and learn, it is actually how you do mental addition. Look at the numbers you have, determine a fact you know and manipulate the numbers from there. We talk about making the facts less messy. Later they will learn to break down numbers into 100s, 10s and 1s and then use this breakdown to add.

Ok… so what does that mean for me as a parent? I encourage you to get your child to manipulate math facts. Tell them number stories and help them illustrate the answer. Challenge them with multiple addends. Look at addition as anything that means more.

  • 6 birds are in the tree. 4 more land on the branch. How many birds are in the tree now?
  • There are some children in the room. 3 have on jackets and 7 have on sweaters. How many children are in the room?

They also will need to solve facts with missing addends

  • There are 4 pink candies and some yellow candies on a plate. There is enough candy for 9 children to each get one piece. How many of the candies were yellow? 4+__=9 (four pink and how many yellow makes 9 pieces is this fact)
  • 10 children line up to get a drink of water. Some have their own water bottles and 2 need to get a cup. How many have their own water bottle. 10= ____ + 2

Present facts as number sentences with the answer on either side of the = sign. Use symbols to represent the missing fact piece. Often you will see a box used, but try to use other signs too, this will help later when getting into harder algebraic equations.

teaching thoughts

Brain Breaks

Ok… What are brain breaks and why are they so popular in school? A brain break is an opportunity for teachers and students to change gears. During the school day, children and adults are often hyper focused on the learning at hand. But, we know that this isn’t the best way to learn. You need to stop and change gears for your brain to process the information at hand. So, that is when you need a brain break. Teachers in the younger grades often use music and movement as a brain break. This gives your child the opportunity to move and change gears! We recognize the movement is a critical piece in learning. While many primary teachers (and some secondary teachers) allow and often encourage and provide opportunities for movement during learning it isn’t always possible. We need to get up out of those chairs and move around.

The addition of music also triggers additional parts of the brain to work. There are many wants to take these brain breaks and make them educational and fun! Many children’s musicians are seeing the need for this and creating learning based songs with movements. This connection helps our auditory and kinesthetic learners create additional learning connections through music and movement.

There are other ways to use brain breaks such as yoga, breathing exercises, classroom games and more. The key to a good brain break is change! A change from whatever you are doing at the time. So if you have been super active and need a brain break, then use breathing exercises to slowwwww down. If you have been sitting too long, get up and jump around.

Some brain breaks:

  • Go Noodle, Jack Hartmann, Dr Jean, Laurie Berkner Band, Raffi, Ella Jenkins for songs
  • head shoulders knees and toes– switch up body parts, change pacing of the movements, make it fun
  • freeze dance– put on music and then everyone freezes when the music stops
  • high knees/marching
  • show me how you: walk like a penguin, gallop like a horse, float like a snowflake etc.
  • blow bubbles
  • simon says
  • coloring
  • breathing exercises – Go Noodle, The Mental Heath Teacher
  • build with blocks
  • play with play dough
  • and so much more!

The key to brain breaks is to use them BEFORE your brain is ready to shut down. These should last 1-3 minutes (longer with younger children). Remember it is an opportunity change gears and refocus!

art · STEAM · teaching thoughts · topic

Playdough

Did you ever wonder why teachers in the early years allow, encourage children to play with playdough? Often times parents see playdough as messy. It sticks to things, it gets on the rug and won’t come off. It gets under your nails and often times it smells strange. So why oh why do teachers want my child to play with it?

I’ll tell you why… it’s good for your child. Click here to read NAEYC’s (National Association for the Education of Young Children) article Playdough Power.

Benefits of playdough:

  • fine motor development
  • independent play
  • creativity
  • vocabulary
  • peer interactions
  • sensory play
  • dramatic (imaginative) play
  • science (cause and effect, textures etc)
  • math (size, thickness, number etc)

Ways to encourage and extend playdough play:

  • add tools (plastic knife, dowel for a rolling pin, cookie cutters)
  • read a story before playdough play to encourage play based on story topic
  • add toys (cars, construction vehicles, dolls/plastic toys)
  • provide kid size kitchen tools (pans, fork, knife etc)
  • natural products (rocks, sticks, leaves)
  • provide items to make textures (combs, strainers, buttons etc)

Ways to save your sanity

  • teach your child to clean up the playdough! use the playdough ball to pick up the smaller pieces
  • provide a mat, table cloth or cookie sheet for the playdough to be played on to contain the “mess”
  • provide bins for playdough toys to be collect into at the end of play
  • have your child think of the items to put into the playdough

Make your own playdough and you control the smell!

Basic no cook playdough recipe

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 Tbps of oil (cooking, baby oil, coconut oil etc)
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 2 Tbsp cream of tartar
  • 1- 1.5 cups of boiling water
  • color
  • scent (optional)
  1. Combine flour, salt and cream of tartar in a bowl
  2. add in oil
  3. Put color and/or scent into 1 cup of boiling water
  4. stir to bring together into a sticky ball. if it is too dry and won’t combine add up to 1/2 additional cup of boiling water, but add it slowly or you will put in too much
  5. when it is a sticky ball, let it cool for a bit
  6. roll it out onto the counter and then kneed the dough for a few minutes until the stickiness is gone. This is an important part in pulling the dough together. after a few minutes if it is still really sticky, add more flour
  7. store in an air tight container when not in use and it should last about a month

Colors and scents:

  • kool aid packets is a great way to add both color and scent to dough 2 packets added to the dry ingredients should give the color and smell you are looking for
  • food coloring (gels add more color than liquid)
  • extracts- vanilla, mint, orange, lemon
  • spices- cinnamon, apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice

teaching thoughts

Graphic Organizers

Why do teachers use graphic organizers with young children? Wait, first let’s talk about… what is a graphic organizer?

A graphic organizer is a tool used to collect information in an organized and visual fashion. This learning tool is great for visual learners. It helps children put their thoughts and learning down on paper in an organized visual manner.

Typically in the primary grades you will see teachers use circle maps, bubble maps, double bubble maps, venn diagrams, KWL (know, want to learn, learn) and other organizers on a regular basis. We also use Can, Are, Have/Need charts; beginning, middle, end; main idea, supporting details; and tree charts.

Teachers uses these maps whole group in the primary grades to introduce the concept of collecting information and then using that collected information to write about a given topic. These are also great tools going forward for visual learners to help them study and master new topics.

It is a very visual tool that helps children learn to collect important information, compare and contrast topics, and move between known information and new information.

letter work · teaching thoughts · topic · Uncategorized · writing

Penmanship

This week I have been writing about writing. Each day I not only shared a story for you to share with your child, but also talked about what writing looks like in the early childhood years. I mentioned, ok often, that there is a difference between writing and penmanship. I linked you to the phases of writing and explained how to help your child get started. You can see these posts here, here and here.

Ok… I keep telling you that writing is not penmanship, so I guess we need to talk about penmanship. Penmanship is the actual skill of putting letters on paper. It is teaching correct letter formation. Before children can begin to write letters on his/her own, they need to: copy horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, draw a circle, draw horizontal and vertical lines that cross, copy a square and triangle. This on top of being able to hold a pencil correctly are the proper all skill children need to have developed before writing.

Now, does this mean that you don’t show children letters, how to form letters or anything like that before they have mastered these other skills? NOOOOO. We want children to play with letter first. Yes, you read that correctly… play with letters. Provide them magnetic letters, and other letter toys. Make letters with Lego, play dough and other toys. Write letters with markers, pencils, crayons, sidewalk chalk and other writing tools.

One skill that many children struggle with is the fact that letters start at the top. Children are egocentric beings and everything comes from me and goes out. They want the letters to start at the bottom and go away from them. This makes letters very disjointed in their formation. Practice drawing lines on paper, in the air, on the sidewalk and drawing top down.

I could go on and on about the skills a child needs to develop before he/she can master penmanship, but I won’t. Yes, children need to learn to write letters. Yes, if you learn to “properly form letters” they tend to be neater. Yes, it is easier to learn to do something “correctly” the first time and not have to go back and reteach it. Yes, yes, yes… this is why I do teach penmanship in my prek and kindergarten classes. When I teach children letters, letter sounds, etc., we practice how to form the letter. I teach this in conjunction with the skill of letter knowledge not as a separate entity.

This is the letter “a” it say /a/ as in apple, astronaut and alligator. The capital A is written like this “start at the top middle, slant down to the bottom, jump back up to the top, slant the other way down to the bottom, cross in the middle.” The lowercase a is written like this “make a “c”, go up just past the top and then down on the same line”. We do the same for all the letters. I choose to teach the letters in order of writing the lowercase letters. (c, o, a, d, g, q, s, l, i, t, h, b, k, j, p, r, m, n, v, w, y, x, f, e, u, z)

  • c, o, a, d, g, q, s all start in the same place, “start like a c”
  • l, i, t, h, b, k, j, p all start with a straight line down
  • r, m, n all start with a straight line down, but come back up and have a curve
  • v, w, y, x all start with a slant left to right
  • f, e, u, z each have their own path

While many teachers and programs have you teach the upper case letter first, I do not agree with this concept. Gasp! Yes, you read that correctly. Yes, I understand that in a lot of ways capital letters are easier to copy because there are less curved letters, but, if a child is not ready to correctly write curved letters they aren’t ready to correctly write letters. Also, when you read and write text we use a LOT less capital letters. As a kindergarten teacher, my job the first few weeks of school was to typically reteach children how to write their name. Many children come in and say I can write my name and proceed to write “SIMON” and then get upset when you try to teach them to write “Simon”. So… let’s teach it “Simon” to begin with! It might take an extra few steps, days and even weeks of practice, but you don’t have to unlearn something!

So… play with letters. Work on fine motor skills. Talk about how to go from top to bottom. Work on copying letters, shapes, numbers and such. Do not stress… your child will learn to make letters. Put the focus on writing for meaning and the rest will fall into place!

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