Friday, June 29, 2012

Use What They Love

"Look, Mommy. I made an O."

I asked Big L if he thought we had enough trains to spell out the word train. He didn't think we had enough, so instead we used cars to spell the word car. The boy has almost 200 cars, for goodness sakes. I know this because we lined them ALL up and counted them one day. You might think from the pictures that we have duplicates of some cars, but no. They are all different. Piston Cup Lightening McQueen is NOT the same as Radiator Springs Lightning McQueen. At least, this is what I am told from the hoarder of the family. Yes, Big L gets his inherent need to collect things from his father. 

"Do you think you can spell car with your cars?" He got to work...

Can you tell that my child is a little OCD? He had to use all Lightning McQueens for one letter, Maters for another and for the last he decided to use "green and yellow cars." He completed this completely on his own. 

I guess all the work (or was it play?) that we did with Rock Letters, Marshmallow Letters, Playdough Letters, and Getting Messy with Letters has paid off. I think it is time to move on to writing letters with old fashioned pencil and paper.

Providing yet another idea for forming letters is not the point of this post. I think I have pretty much played out that topic, even thought my child still obsesses over making letters pretty much every day. No, the point of this post is this; use what your child loves to teach a skill or concept. L loves (obsesses) over his cars. So, I am constantly trying to think of new ways to connect cars with literacy. We have also made a "parking garage" from a cardboard box, with sight words written in the parking spaces. He had to park his cars in the sight words I read aloud. He didn't even realize he was learning. To him, we were just playing. 

Make it fun. Use what they love. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Storytime Co-op: Week 2

This week for our story time co-op, E's mommy planned the learning activities and B's mommy planned the craft. I got off easy and just had to provide the snack. Even though it was unbearably hot outside, the boys had a ton of fun!

Theme: Camping & Outdoors

Books: Maisy Goes Camping by Lucy Cousins; Camping Day! by Patricia Lakin

Of course, we had to read the books inside the tent. The boys also enjoyed eating their picnic lunches in the tent. 

Songs and Rhymes: 
This is how we pitch a tent, pitch a tent, pitch a tent. 
This is how we pitch a tent when we are camping. 

This is how we chop the wood, chop the wood, chop the wood.
This is how we chop the wood when we are camping.

This is how we... (start a fire... roast a marshmallow.... go to sleep, etc.)

We had to have a fire (fake, of course). E's mom made it out of toilet paper rolls and orange tissue paper. If you give the kids popsicle sticks and white squares, they can count out fake marshmallows to glue on the sticks to "roast" over the fake fire. (Math and Craft Activity) We ran out of time, so we didn't actually get to do this. 

Learning Activity: Fishing for objects that start with the letter ??? E's mom put a bunch of objects/toys that she had around the house in the water table. When she held up a letter card, the boys had to find an object that started with that letter. It was a great way to review letters and the sounds that they make. This activity was actually quite challenging, because they had to skim over all the objects and process the names/initial letter sounds. Also, some items could be called different things. Cowboy instead of Woody, or truck instead of roller, for example.

You know when kids are having fun with something when they don't want to take a time out to go use the potty. One of the boys just dropped his pants and peed in the grass so he wouldn't miss his turn. His mommy was so proud! 

Snack & Another Learning Activity: S'mores, of course! The boys had to count out 10 chocolate chips and five mini marshmallows to place on their 2 graham crackers. Microwave for 20 seconds and you have a delicious treat. 

Craft: Bird feeders - Spread some peanut butter on a pinecone and roll it in bird seed. Don't forget to tie a string at the top of the pinecone first, so you can hang it from a branch. Craft activities are actually learning activities disguised as fun. Besides giving the kids an opportunity to strengthen their fine motor skills, crafts often require them to follow directions. Also, we worked on some vocabulary developement. 

Me: "These pinecones are prickly! Do you guys know what prickly means?"
E: "Yeah. It means it can hurt you."
Me: "That's right. they are sharp."

Children learn and actually retain new vocabulary through real-life experiences and conversations. Don't be afraid to use big words with your preschoolers. Just don't be surprised if he at some point comes up to you and says, "Mommy. You being obnoxious!" (True story.)

Next week we are doing a water theme. I'll be planning the learning activities. Can't wait!!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Storytime Co-op: Week 1

With the kids out of school and many long days to fill, I decided to start a storytime co-op with a few friends. We plan to meet once a week throughout the summer and involve our older children in some structured learning activities. Since our kiddos are only 3-years-old, I decided to not make it a drop-off co-op (where moms take turns taking ALL the kids and keeping them busy), but if you have older children then that could be an option. We also wanted to keep the group small (4 boys), so it wouldn't be too chaotic. If you are thinking of starting a co-op, I would suggest choosing friends with children roughly the same age and ability level. We had so much fun that I am thinking of doing another co-op with different friends at some point, just to keep it new and exciting. 

Here's what we did this week....

Book: Eric Carle's From Head to Toe
Our boys are all very active, so they had so much fun getting up and moving with this book. 

Songs & Rhymes: We sang three different songs that had to do with body parts: The Hokey Pokey; Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes; One Finger One Thumb Keep Moving (The Wiggles).

Remember to keep the group time short and sweet (10-15 minutes) and don't have the kids sitting the whole time. They have very short attention spans at this age!

Learning Activity: Define the terms Living and Non Living. I told the boys that living items breath, have babies, poop, and eat. This is just a simplified version of how I would define living things to older children. I also excluded plants from the activity, because I didn't want to complicate the activity. Explaining that photosynthesis is a plant's way of eating is far too advance for this age!

I'm not calling this a literacy activity, because it was even more than that. Yes, the vocabulary lesson is literacy based, but it is also content vocabulary (science). And, sorting and catagorizing is a math skill. 

Outside Play: Another mom lead the boys in a game of "Do What I Do." (Following directions and math/counting was the focus here.)

Pat your head 3 times.
Spin in a circle 2 times.
Pat your head and then pat your tummy. 

Then the boys had to act like some of the animals in the book. (Reinforcing vocabulary: action words)

Can you stomp like an elephant?
Can you arch your back like a cat?

Craft Time: Another mom planned the craft. The boys colored the parts of a monkey (eyes, ears, mouth, nose) and then glued them to a paper plate to make a monkey's face. (Fine motor skills development and following directions was the focus here.) 

We all can't wait until this week's co-op! It's going to be a camping theme. Post to come...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Marshmallow Letters

The boy child has recently taken an interest in writing, so we have been working on making/forming letters. We've painted letters, formed letters with play dough, made rock letters, as well as a few other activities that I haven't had time to blog about. (Stay tuned!) Today, we made letters with marshmallows and toothpicks. 

My son loves him some marshmallows, so he was very excited when I told him that we were going to be doing an activity with them today. He was so engaged in this activity, though, that he didn't munch on too many until we were done. I was shocked! 

We only worked with the first 10 letters of the alphabet today. First, I wrote each letter on a post-it note, as he watched me write them. (Modeling proper letter formation is important. Kids notice the details in what you do more than you realize.) Then, we sorted the letters by attribute, curvy vs. straight letters (vocabulary development). 

We had not done this activity before, so he needed some help figuring out how to make the letters. I modeled the A, formed half the E, he formed the other half of the E, and he completed the F on his own (since it was so similar to the E). 

I asked him to try and make the H and I on his own and this is what he came up with....

"Look, Mommy. It's a little i." He ate the floating marshmallow on top before I could take a picture. 

He still didn't get the concept of having all the toothpicks connected with marshmallows, so I modified the letters on the post-it notes to include dots to represent the marshmallows, and it acted as a diagram for him to follow. 

My math connection quickly became obvious. We counted how many marshmallows and toothpicks we needed for each letter. When making the E, we noticed a pattern down the left side (marshmallow, toothpick, marshmallow, toothpick, marshmallow). We took all the letters apart and counted out all of the supplies we would need to make them again. However, when we got to the end, we were missing 2 marshmallows for the I... 

We're still arguing about who ate them! He denies eating them, but if I admit to eating them then that would be admitting to cheating on my diet. Nah, that would never happen. 

If you haven't "liked" Mommy the Literacy Master on FaceBook, then what is the matter with you? I need to feel the love.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fun with Animal Flashcards

Flashcards don't have to be boring. Let's think beyond the typical activity of holding up the card and having the child read the word. Although Big L does enjoy having me quiz him with flash cards, the novelty quickly wears off for him. This is what we did with his animal flashcards on this day...

First, we envolved little sister. She enjoyed holding (and gnawing on) the cards. She got to look at the picture with the words, while brother could just see the words on the back. We practiced reading the animal words. 

Then we sorted the cards by animal classification. I only thought of doing this, because on the back of each card is the classification, along with a brief description of the animal. He had trouble with this at first, but then he started to get the hang of it. Of course, we had to discuss the attributes that made an animal a mammal, reptile, or amphibian, etc. 

Some Other ways you can sort...
  • With or without hooves?
  • Water or land animals, or both?
  • Scary or not scary? (We did this after L put the bear in the classification with the alligator. "But, they are scary, Momma!")
  • Can fly or cannot fly?
  • Feathers, fur or scales?
  • Legs or no legs? (Or, by number of legs)
  • Sort by type of habitat
So, for 3 bucks, you have a resource that you can use at least 9 different ways!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fun with Balls: Another Teachable Moment

Balls are fun. Well, until you get married. Then, you are just too tired to play with them. 

Okay, now that I got that out of my system, I promise not to make any more ball jokes. It's just that they come to me too easily, just like jokes about caulk. Tiling the kitchen backsplash with my husband was loads of fun. Oh, how I love dirty puns!

I pulled out the inflatable pool and balls today for Little L, who is 4 months old and starting to enjoy sensory activities such as this one. Of course, Big L wanted to play, too. A common problem for moms of two is trying to keep both children entertained at the same time. For my sanity, it is nice to be able to have both children engaged in the same activity. It is extremely difficult to set up separate activities for both children all day long. Plus, I want them to be interacting with each other throughout the day. Most activities can be appealing to both children with modifications.

After about 5 minutes, the novelty of the ball pit wore off for Big L. Now what? All I have is a pool, balls, and a half-naked 3 and a half year old. (FYI, He did have underwear on. We didn't need 2 more balls in the pool.) What about this moment can possibly be teachable? I mean, I don't even have a book or letters! Every moment is teachable, remember? 

I decided to work on some vocabulary and oral language skills with Big L to focus his energy. 
  • Find a ball that is the same color as the octopus on the pool. 
  • Find two balls that match
  • Find two ball that are different
  • Find a ball that is the same color as the sun. 
  • Find a ball that is the same color as the ocean. 
  • (Showed him a green ball) Can you think of something that is the same color as this ball? (This is a harder question, as it required him to produce an answer of his own, rather than just picking up a ball.)
You get the idea. What else about this moment was teachable? Leave a comment below!

Monday, June 4, 2012


A, E, I, O, U (and sometimes Y)... these are vowels. You probably already knew this, but do you know the sounds that they make? Vowel sounds are one of the earliest phonics lessons that are taught to children, along with the sounds of consonants. Vowels are tricky, though, because they can make different sounds, and when paired together they can make so many more!

Here are the basic rules...

Long Vowel Sounds sound like their name, like in the word make. A common spelling pattern for long vowels is CVCe (consonant/vowel/consonant/e), like in the word bike

Short Vowel Sounds are as follows...

  • /a/, apple
  • /e/, elephant
  • /i/, igloo
  • /o/, octopus
  • /u/, up
CVC is the most common spelling pattern for short vowels, like in the words cat and bag

A lot of native born southerners, like myself, have difficulty enunciating the short e and short i sounds. It has taken me several years to correct this, and I still occasionally find myself slipping up. Say the words pen and pin. If you pronounce them exactly the same way, then you have the same problem! Start monitoring yourself now, so your child doesn't pick up on this bad speech habit. I can't tell you how many students I worked with that had a problem with this. They seriously couldn't hear the different between short e and short i, which impacted their ability to sound out and spell some words. 

The English language would be easy if every word followed these simple rules, but of course they don't. There are vowel pairs that make long vowel sounds, like -ea-, -ei-, and -ai- (meat, weigh, and tail). Then there are vowel pairs that make whole new sounds, which are called vowel digraphs (-oo-, -ou-, -ui-, etc., like in poop, sound, and suit). Even some of these vowel digraphs can make different sounds. For example, -oo- sounds differently in book than it does in the word poop. Then there are vowel diphthongs, which is a vowel and consonant together that make a single vowel sound (like -ow- and -igh- in the words cow and sigh). Oh wait, there's more... modified vowels, like -ar- that just sounds like /r/ (star). It's no wonder that reading is so difficult for some children!

Here's what you need to do with your preschooler...
  1. Make sure you are modeling proper pronunciation of words.
  2. Teach him his short and long vowel sounds. The long sounds are easy because they just sounds like the letter name.
  3. Begin working with the CVC short vowel sound pattern. Words like cat, hat, fan, can, bag, and tag should be among the first words that he can read, because he can sound them out phonically. 
  4. Do some picture card sorts. For example, put the picture of a bag in the short vowel sounds pile and the picture of a cage in the long vowel sounds pile. Even if your kid can read, don't put the words with the picture for this activity. My little stinker figured out that he could just put all the words with the e at the end in the same pile. A great observation, but I wanted him listening to the sounds! I will eventually put the words with the picture when I'm ready for him to learn how to start spelling these words, or if we are working on sight words. 
  5. Play word games in the car. You say a word, he tells you the vowel sound. You say a word, he tells you if the vowel sound is short or long. 
Any other ideas you have for practicing this concept? Leave it in the comments section! 

Side note: I feel like there is a poop joke to made in there somewhere. Like, do you read a book when you poop, or only at school? Hey, that's a good sentence to memorize to remember the sounds of -oo-! 

Friday, June 1, 2012


Every child needs a good set of letters to play with. These are wooden ones from the Melissa and Doug See & Spell set. (I've mentioned them before in a previous post.) Big L likes taking out his letters and just playing by himself. Sometimes he makes words, or matches the letters. On this day, I noticed that he put the letters in alphabetical order, something we haven't done in quite a while. It got me thinking...

Just about every parent teaches her child the ABC song. Why? Why is it important that they know how to put the letters in order? Sure, it's obvious why they need to know how to identify the letters and sounds in order to learn how to read, but why is order important? The letters of the alphabet seem to be be arranged arbitrarily anyways. 
  1. Memorization - It is easier to memorize a bunch of things if there is a particular order to them. That's why pneumonic devices are so common. Our brains need to make order of things in order to commit them to memory. If you chunk up the ABC song by phrases, there are seven (abcdefG hiJK lmnoP qrS tuV wX YandZ), consistent with the magic number of things that our brains can remember. (Well, the number that most people can remember. Big L has memorized the names and numbers of all 173 cars that he owns. I believe there is something wrong with his brain.)
  2. Life Skills - If you were born before 1930, you may still use a phonebook, which is arranged in alphabetical order. Or, if you are technologically savvy (which I am assuming you are since you are reading this blog), you use your knowledge of alphabetical order to locate files on your computer. Your contacts on your iPhone and music on iTunes are also organized in ABC order. We use alphabetical order every day, and since it is so ingrained in our minds, we don't even realize that we are using it. 
  3. Work & Study Skills - Folders, files on the computer, the glossary and index of a book, and the dictionary are all organized in abc order. Not knowing the order of the alphabet can certainly interfere with one's ability to function in the workplace or locate needed information. 
With this said, why do we teach children the order of the alphabet at such a young age? (My son knew it at 18 months old, for goodness sake!) Are children asked to recite their ABC's on the first day of kindergarten? No. (Though, they will be asked to identify upper and lower case letters out of order.) The only reason I can think of is that children under the age of 5 have minds like sponges. So, let's fill their heads up with as much information as possible BEFORE they start grade-school. Everything becomes harder to learn after the age of 5, and infinitely harder after bearing children and developing "mommy brain." (Can I hear an AMEN?) 

Take out those letters (buy or make some if you don't have any) and get your child to practice putting them in order. If they already know how to do that, then make it more difficult by asking them to put them in order backwards, or by giving them words to put in order. Most importantly, teach them WHY this skill is important. Children learn better if they know why they are learning a skill. 

Side note: L was just reading over my shoulder, ran into the other room, and brought back an ABC book to read. Kids pay attention to EVERYTHING that you do, even if you don't think they notice!