Friday, August 31, 2012

PART 1 Beyond ABC's: Teaching Your Child to Read in Just 15 Minutes a Day

This is the first part in my series Beyond ABC's: Teaching Your Child to Read in Just 15 Minutes a Day. The 15 minutes a day will be spent on targeted instruction for your child. 

Targeted instruction means to
1.) assess your child's strengths and weaknesses.
2.) plan lessons that target your child's areas of weakness.
3.) directly teach your child the reading skills he is lacking. 

This Beyond ABC's series is about more than just doing fun learning activities with your child. Don't get me wrong; still do those fun learning activities. I am a strong believer of play-based learning. But, if you have a child that already knows his letters and letter sounds and you are ready to move beyond just the abc's and teach your child how to read, then this series is for you!

PART 1: Getting Organized

You will want to spend your entire 15 minutes each day actually teaching your child. You don't want to waste time searching for or preparing materials. I have found it helpful to have a notebook with everything that we will need already in it. 

  • 1-inch 3-ring Binder (Get something fun that your child will like. Or, let him decorate the cover.)
  • 2-pocket folder with 3-ring holes
  • Page Protectors (Make sure you get glossy, not matte!)
  • Dividers
  • Dry erase markers, fine tip
  • Printer paper and lots of black ink for your printer cartridge. I print TONS of materials and books for my son, so I would suggest purchasing ink refills instead of new cartridges each time you run out of ink. We paid about $11 for an ink refill kit from Amazon and have already refilled our cartridge twice and still have tons of ink left. 

We keep our dry erase markers and a tissue (for erasing) in the front pocket. Or, you can purchase a pencil holder that fits in a 3-ring binder for storing these tools. 

What to put inside:

Label your dividers however you want. We have reading, writing, graphic organizers, and since we also use this binder for math we also have a section for that. It doesn't really matter what you label your dividers as long as it works for you and is organized. It's always easy to change the labels and move things around if you need to. 

The left side of the pocket folder is where you will keep books and print outs of consumable activities. You will put pages that you want to use over and over again in the page protectors (handwriting sheets, graphic organizers, etc.). 

The right side of the pocket folder is where you will keep your ongoing assessments (more on this later in the series) and stickers. 

Once a week, I set aside "planning time," where I print out and get together everything I'll need to use for the week. So, the left side of the folder is FULL. It usually has 3-4 books from Reading A-Z and several activity pages to go along with the books. I'm not one to write down everything that I plan on doing for the week. But, if you need to, include a lesson plan sheet on the left side pocket with your books. Also, you don't need to spend a ton on reading programs and resources. You can check out books from the library and there is a lot of stuff you can get online for free. 

Here are just a few FREE resources to get you started:
More phonic sheets (vowel sounds)

I encourage you to check out these links and explore the sites for even more resources. 


Leave a comment or question below. Or, contact me via Facebook

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Storytime Co-op: week 6

Theme: Back to school

Book: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.

Before Reading: 
Have you read this book before? 
Do you have a favorite animals?

During Reading:
What do you think we are going to see when we turn the page?
Have you ever seen a purple cat before?

After Reading:
Do you remember which animal was yellow? red? green? etc.
What did the teacher see?

Learning activity: I prepared some shape cards with a color written on each one. The boys had to read the color word, find those colored blocks and then use the blocks to create the shape. Some of the boys really got into this! We are going to have to make it harder next time. Perhaps I'll use smaller and different shaped legos or pattern blocks. 

Snack: We used goldfish to mark all the letter A's on an "A map." In retrospect, I should have used the letter B to go with Brown Bear, Brown Bear. I created this map in literally 2 minutes using a simple table in Microsoft Word. Just select a large font with a script that is easy for children to read. You can do this same activity over and over again. Simply change the medium for the markers (paint dots, marshmallows, etc.) and you can even have the map formation shaped like letters or geometric shapes. 

Learning Activity: I showed the moms and kids the proper way to grasp a pencil. We used pencil grips to aide in the boys' training. I printed out handwriting sheets with each boy's name to trace. You can create your own for FREE from here

Craft: Brown Bears

  • 1 1/2 paper plates per child
  • brown tissue paper
  • 2 googly eyes per child
  • elmer's glue
  • stapler

Cut out 2 ears from the half of a paper plate. Staple ears on the whole paper plate so it resembles a bear. Have children glue pieces of torn tissue paper to the bear and adhere the eyes. Bam! Super easy craft using materials that you probably already have at home. 

We also took the boys outside to act like the animals from the book. It was super hot and sticky outside, so they preferred acting like caged animals inside. 

This storytime co-op was thrown together literally the morning of. Kids don't need anything fancy to have fun. Just be creative and use what you have on hand or can get for free online! 


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fun Learning Activities for Magnetic Pom-poms

First you'll need to make your magnetic pom-poms. This only took me about 10 minutes. I got my inspiration from here

  • pom-poms - I picked up a pack of 50 sparkly ones from the Target dollar spot, similar to these
  • magnets - Don't cheap out. Buy good ones that are actually going to stick to something magnetic. 
  • hot glue gun - I used a high temp one. Low temp ones are useless in my opinion, and should only be used by children. 
  • something magnetic to play on (fridge, cookie sheet, etc.)
  • Make letters using letter sheets. There are a TON of them that you can print for free from Making Learning Fun. They have both uppercase and lower case sheets

  • Make freestyle letters. I've already written several posts about why this is an important skill for children, here, herehere and here. Now have your child do it with pom-poms!

  • Create freestyle pictures. 

"It's a smiley man with green eyebrows and orange cheeks." ~L
"It's a caterpillar with big orange eyes!" ~L
  • Use as a prop for imaginary play. 

The cookie sheet inspired him to make cookies. Here is he placing the dough on the pan. 
  • Make freestyle shapes. 

He turned his circle into a flower here. 
  • Sort by color, or make some magnetic pom-poms of different sizes to sort by size. 

  • Keep a letter and number of the week on the side of the refrigerator. 

  • Spell words. 

  • Make repeating patterns. 

  • Make number shapes (like you see on dominos and playing cards). 

  • Use to represent addition and subtraction problems, or multiplication and division for older kids. 

  • We could rack our brains all day for more ideas, but the best idea usually comes from the child. Just give him the pom-poms and cookie sheet and ask him what he wants to do with them. Child-led play and learning can often take you in a direction you never even thought of yourself. 

L wanted to make a rainbow on the refrigerator. 
"Hey! My rainbow kind of looks like a king's hat. Take a picture of me, Momma!" ~L
Making flowers.
Never forget to stop and smell the roses!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Do's and Don'ts of Parent/Teacher Conferences

Don't worry. This isn't what parent/teacher conferences are like. (Well, hopefully not.) 

This is what they should be...

When I was teaching in the public school system, I always looked forward to parent - teacher conferences. They gave me a glimpse into the students' home lives. Even though I wasn't seeing my students in their home settings, I was able to see who they lived with, or in some cases had to deal with. How a child's parent represented himself certainly made an impression (good or bad) that influenced how I taught his child. For example, I had one third grader who was particularly timid and somewhat uptight. After meeting his fidgety father, who seemed to be on his best behavior suppressing his rage, everything about the child became perfectly clear to me. I found that an especially gentle approach to my teaching worked for this child, making him at ease and open to learning. This is just one example of oh so many, for I have taught hundreds of children during my career thus far, each and every one unique.

Any good teacher will be sizing you up, looking for any unspoken information that you can give her. Whether or not she will be doing this purposely, it is only natural to be influenced by first impressions. So, you will want to make a good one.

  • Relax. You and your child's teacher have something in common: what is in the best interest of your child. Remember, you are on the same team. 
  • Check out the classroom environment. Where is your child's assigned seat? Who is seated next to him? Are the classroom rules and expectations posted? Are they worded positively, or negatively? (Show respect vs. no hitting: the difference can give you some insight on the teacher's personality.) What kinds of things are accessible to the children (books, toys, math supplies, etc.)? 
  • Ask questions. How is my child adjusting to the routines? How does my child interact with the other children? How is he performing academically? What are you doing to ensure that he understands the concepts that are difficult for him? What are you doing to challenge him in areas at which he excels? What can I do at home to support your goals for my child's learning and behavior? Is there anything I can do to support you as his teacher (send in materials, volunteer in the classroom, cut out laminating at home, etc.)? Note: Only offer what you are really willing to do. If you agree to do something, then be reliable. 
  • Don't get upset. If you don't like what the teacher has to say, or how she is saying it, voice your feelings calmly and respectfully. Don't give her any excuse to make you out to be the villain. If you cannot resolve the issue peacefully, then bring it to a higher power; involve the principal or pre-school director. 
  • Don't be apologetic for your child. You cannot control what he does while at school. Whenever I had to deliver bad news to a parent, I was never expecting an apology. However, I often heard, "I'm so sorry. I will speak to him when I get home!" Instead, it would have been nice to hear, "What do you think prompted this behavior?" or, "What can we do to resolve this issue?"
  • Don't bombard the teacher with questions. Rather, let the conversation flow smoothly. Ask your most important questions first just in case you run out of time. 
  • Don't ask questions about your child during an open house where other parents are present, unless you are willing to have others hear what your child's teacher honestly has to say. Whenever a parent would ask me a question with 20 other people in the room, I always assumed that they were not concerned about confidentially on that topic and were not willing to wait to discuss it in private. Parent: "How is J doing? Is he staying focused during writing time?" Me: "Actually, he has been quite focused on one writing topic in particular. He keeps writing in his journal about how he can't wait to watch X-rated movies 'like mom and dad.' That reminds me, can we schedule a private parent/teacher conference?" (True story.)
  • Don't talk negatively about your child's teacher in the presence of your child. He needs to know that his parents and his teacher are on the same team. If you have an issue with the teacher, make sure she is aware of it. This goes for all other relationships in your life, so why wouldn't it include your child's teacher, someone who spends as much waking time with your child as you do? 
  • Don't accept anything less than the best for your child. You are his advocate. A child's success in academics is greatly influenced by the first 3 years in school, so you will want to do everything within your power to make those first 3 years excellent ones. As a parent, you have way more control than the school will let you believe. Don't be an overbearing, helicopter mom; but do be involved and supportive. When an issue arrises, as it surely will at some point, react in a way that sets a good example for your child while also showing him that you care and will do anything to protect him and ensure his academic success. 
Involved Parent + Strong Teacher = Successful Child

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Graphic Organizers

Graphic Organizers are great tools for teaching your little one reading/listening comprehension skills. I conducted a lot of research on graphic organizers during my graduate program, and, among other numerous findings on how they can greatly benefit a child's learning in all subject areas, I also found them to be useful during any stage of learning. Basically, if your child can talk, it is not too soon to introduce her to a graphic organizer. You'll just have to do the writing for now.  

A graphic organizer is simply anything that organizes information in a visual way. They can range from very simple, such as the "topic flower" one in the picture below, to extremely complex flow charts and story maps. The possibilities are endless. You and your child can even make up your own, which would demonstrate mastery in a particular skill area. For example, I will be one proud momma the day Big L creates a detailed story map when given just a blank piece of paper and a pencil. Creating a graphic organizer from scratch is much more difficult than filling in information in designated spaces. Obviously, it will take a lot of work to get him to that point. For now, we are starting with a skill-appropriate graphic organizer. (Notice that I said "skill-appropriate" and not "age-appropriate." There is a definite difference. I could write an entire post just about my thoughts on this matter!)

We used this "topic flower" to recall content vocabulary used in a Reading A-Z book titled, "We Make Cookies" (Fountas and Pinnell reading level B). This particular organizer I printed from Reading A-Z, but a similar one (called a "spider map") can be found here, along with many others that are FREE to print. Or, you can just make your own by sketching one on a blank sheet of paper. 

After L read the book aloud to me, I asked him to tell me everything that the characters used to make cookies and that I would write them down. He looked back in the book for a few ingredients that he couldn't recall. Then, he told me that he would want to add chocolate chips if he were to make cookies. (This is where it would have been nice if we had made our own flower, because then we could have added more pedals. There just happened to be the right amount of pedals for the book we were reading, but not enough for extending our thinking beyond the text.)

Maybe I need to write a post about comprehension skills so you will all understand way I was so proud of my 3-year-old being able to do what he did during this lesson, But for now, just print off a few graphic organizers and start using them with the books that your child reads. You will be surprised by the depth of comprehension your child will start to show you! Or, if your child is lacking in the area of reading comprehension, it will quickly become evident and you will know what you need to work on with him.

Graphic Organizers can:
  • encourage learners to think about information in new ways
  • be used to demonstrate learning, or recall information
  • encourage new ideas (brainstorming)
  • show the "big picture" (lots of information shown in a small amount of space with fewer words)
  • support visual learners, or strengthen visual learning for those who are not naturally inclined
  • foster more strategic learners when children start to recognize different patterns of thinking
In summary...

Graphic Organizers -> Any age -> Use with book -> Make kid smarter -> Kid will become rocket scientist (or at least a good reader) -> Kid will be able to afford nice retirement home for you one day

See what I did there?

Remember, there are no "rules" for graphic organizers. Spaces can be added or deleted. You can write in word, phrases, or sentences. You can crumble up the paper when you are done, or hang it on the fridge. It's not what is put on the paper, but the thinking that is done because of the paper!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Storytime Co-op: Week 5

This week's Creativity Award goes to B's mom for the snacks. (Or, should it be awarded to B's dad?)

The award for Most Thrifty goes to E's mom for using supplies that she had on hand, even if the potting soil pellets were a bust. 

And, I will award myself with the Procrastination ribbon. Don't my index card drawings have "slacker" written all over them? Yes, they were done a hour before we had to leave while simultaniously bouncing a baby on my knee and screaming at L to "just eat your breakfast already!"

Book: The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

Learning Concepts: Sequencing and transitional words (first, next, then, last)

Sequencing is one of the first reading comprehension skills that children are taught in school. This skill can be taught with just about any book. When reading with your child, ask him to recall what happened in the beginning, middle and end of the story. Or, phrase your questions like I did here...

What happened first?
What happened next?
Then what happened?
What happened last?

Other transitional words you can use with your child: beginning, middle, end, finally, after that, and ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.). 

We read the words first, next, then and last several times throughout this activity. I will be adding these words to L's sight word ring to practice. 

Snack: Crushed up oreos ("dirt"), sunflower seeds, and baby carrots
             Sugar cookie "carrots"

The boys started getting a little stir crazy, so we moved our storytime outside. E's mom showed off her garden. Here they are checking out the corn stalks...

Learning Concept: Sorting and Classifying (math)

E's mom pulled out some seeds that she had on hand. The boys took a good look at them and talked about their attributes (small, large, round, flat, smooth, etc.). 

Then, we mixed the seeds all up and the boys worked together to sort the seeds and match them to the picture of the plant that they will grow into. 

Craft: Planting carrot seeds. 

First, we tried using some soil pellets for planting our seeds. We mixed them with the instructed amount of water, but the soil was just too runny. They were probably just too old. 

Plan B - Just get some dirt from the garden. I think the boys were much happier with this messier option, as evident by the big smile on E's face. 

This is what the potted seeds looked like when we were done. We used clear plastic cups so the boys could see their seeds sprout. 

Make sure you punch a few holes in the cup on the top. 

Vocabulary Development: Patience - We talked about how the little boy in the book was patient because it can take a long time for seeds to sprout. But, we can't forget about them. We need to take care of them just like the boy in the book took care of his seeds.