Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Using Wordless Picture Books!

Have you discovered the joys of wordless picture books? Books such as Chalk by Bill Thomson and The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney are just two examples from this wonderful world that is just right for encouraging oral language, understanding of story structure, and the development of critical/creative thinking.  And a big benefit in our eyes is the way these books can draw in our ELLs. Studies show that families, who speak a language other than English, are engaged and have valuable interaction in their home language when given wordless picture books.

For emerging readers, show them the cover and ask if they can predict what the book will be about based on the illustration. Then open the book. Remember this act alone is modeling for children the way to hold books and turn pages. Encourage the child to turn the pages, taking in the illustrations. Let the child’s imagination soar!

Then go back through the book a second time. An adult can begin by telling a story in his or her best expressive voice to match the illustration on the page. This model will likely encourage the child (children) to use an expressive voice, too and will show that the sky is the limit for storytelling!

When finished, have the child share his or her favorite parts of the story you told together and/or point out a favorite picture.

Be sure to take out the book again, a few days later. Set the stage by starting your story with different words or from a different viewpoint. This gives children “permission” to tell the story a different way.

Be sure to invite families to be a part of the wordless picture book experience, in any language. This would make a helpful Family Night Demonstration.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.D.02; 2.D.04; & 2.E.04.
Head Start – VII. A. & VIII.B.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Two Easy Games To Develop Phonemic Awareness

It is up to us to help families understand the importance of pre-reading skills. Blending and segmenting the individual SOUNDS of language (called phonemes) are essential precursors to reading.  It is important to note that neither of these skills involves looking at letters or words. It’s all about playing with sound. And the research is clear: If children can play with sounds, they will likely become better readers.  So, how can we do this?  “Games” like the following can help.

To blend, tell children that you are going to play a game called “Guess My Word.”  Slowly say each sound in a word, like  d  ŏ  g.   Children should be able to blend these sounds together and say, “dog.”  Remember to say the correct sound of the vowel.

Blending -
You say  s   ē. The child says see. 
You say c   ă   p. The child says cap.
You say m  ī   n. The child says mine.
You say   ch  ŏ  p.  The child says chop.  (The ch is said as one sound.)
You say  f   ĭ   sh.  The child says fish. (The sh is said as one sound.)

Segmenting –
Turn this game around and tell the child that he or she is going to be the teacher! You say a word and ask the child to carefully say all the individual sounds in the word. For example, you say pot. The child should say  p    ŏ    t.  Other words include:

You say nap. The child says  n    ă    p.
You say sun.  The child says  s  ŭ  n.
You say me.  The child says  m   ē.
You say rock.  The child says  r   ŏ   k.
You say ship.  The child says  sh   ĭ   p.

Please feel free to share this post with families so they can play sound games with their children! 

For a more comprehensive assessment for Phonological/Phonemic Awareness, see our Assessment here. Please send us any feedback as it is still in development. Thanks! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.E.06
Head Start – VII.B.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Critical Thinking Game: Pirate's Treasure!

Critical thinking skills can and should be encouraged in even our youngest learners. Contrary to the beliefs of some, this does not mean encouraging children to climb the ladder of skills, like having 4 year olds memorize sight words or sitting with children until they can add or subtract. These are skills that will be developed, especially if we have provided a firm foundation. That firm foundation means reading to children. It means having a rich verbal interaction with children. It means explaining our thinking about many facets of our life; for example, why are we having broccoli for dinner instead of cotton candy! Over the years, we have seen many children pushed to read, write, and calculate at a young age.

What can we do to help develop critical thinking skills, which in our analogy means giving that ladder a wider base so when a child does start to climb in, the footings are secure?

Here is one game that all families can play.  Children can think about strategy while learning the concept of number. This can be played with buttons, coins, counters, etc.

We call it Pirate’s Treasure, as we like to make it fun and play with “gold coins.”

Put out 13 gold coins (red counters or objects of one color) and 1 silver coin (yellow counter or object of a different color).

Two people play. Begin with an adult and child. Take turns. Each player will decide to take one, two, or three coins/counters when it is his or her turn. The player who is left with the silver coin or yellow counter has lost.

There is a strategy to this game. Encourage children to think:

Should they take the first turn or the second turn?
Should the amount they take change based on what the other person took?
What happens if you change the number of coins/counters?

There can be a rich verbal discussion about strategy as children play this game along with oral language using mathematical concepts (“I took 2 away. How many are left?”)

These kinds of games help to build a strong base for later learning.

For ELLs:
Children can learn to play this game no matter what language is spoken in the home. Discussion about playing it can help develop English vocabulary in a natural setting.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.B.04, 2.D.06, & 2.F.04.
Head Start – IV.A., VI.A., & X.A.

Monday, September 5, 2016

FREE Activities - All School Year Long!

We know many of you are kindergarten teachers - or preschool teachers who are encouraging emerging readers. We hope you will sign up to receive our free - yes, free activities in English and Spanish. Each week you will receive a link, via your email, to a standards-based activity, just right for your young learners.

What topics do we offer? Just about anything you can think of, from elephants to healthy eating to gardening, the list goes on. Speaking of the list, click here to see the wealth of information we have covered in the past.

You will see that this wealth of material reflects literacy, math, social studies, and science. We try to integrate subject areas as much as possible because that is how children learn.

As part of the activity, you receive a Dear Colleague letter, offering you more thoughts on how to use the activity in your classroom, complete with extension ideas. These letters also contain many of our teacher-tested suggestions for classroom management.

Spanish speakers and their families love receiving these weekly activities. You may want to copy and send them home. We know that reading to children always encourages literacy skills. The new Spanish text that is provided each week is a valuable way to get everyone involved!

And we never share your email - we promise! So sign up in the white box to your right.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Take Your Time and THINK!


Does speed equal success? Sometimes we are asked to assess children by how quickly they can name letters, pictures, or sounds. Is this really thinking? We do not agree that children should be evaluated by how quickly they accomplish a task. We value careful thought. We believe that critical thinking is important and should be encouraged and celebrated, even in our youngest children. We encourage you to avoid giving any assessments that equate speed with success.

When we read a book aloud, are we going beyond the questions that ask, "Who are the characters in this book?" or "What happened in this book?" We can encourage careful and critical thought by posing questions such as these:

  • How is this character like you (or someone you know)?
  • Do you think the character(s) acted good or bad? Why?
  • What do you think about the ending of this book? Explain. 
  • How are this character and that character alike/different?
  • How would this book be different if...?
  • Is there a different way this book might end? Tell more about your idea.

Question stems like these encourage young learners to think about books and their world. Many children are ready and eager for this type of thought. They don't always like recall questions and get bored. We challenge you to challenge them this year! 

When you ask your entire class to slow down and think, this gives your ELLs time to process questions. This is a help as you are giving the gift of time to not just English learners but to everyone in your class.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.B.04.
Head Start - IV. A.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

It's About Time: Analog and Digital Clocks

Do we teach children to tell time using analog clocks? This is a question many teachers are posing. As preschool and kindergarten teachers, telling time may not be required, but it is helpful to get our youngest learners thinking about clocks and their role in our lives.

So much of our time these days is displayed digitally. We, at Maggie's Big Home, like to have our youngest children compare time pieces. Show an actual analog clock along with a digital clock. Have a 'grand conversation' about the likenesses of each clock. Children may begin by talking about numerals. They may notice how the clocks work. For example, show children the electrical cord or batteries. Encourage children to also explain that clocks help us keep track of time passage. In other words, physical attributes, along with the helpfulness of clocks are important discussion points.

Next have children discuss what is different about these clocks. It is always interesting to hear them talk about the hands on an analog clock. Talk about the sweep of these hands. For children who are ready, we like to show them the word hour and the word minute. Help them understand that the word hour is a shorter word and that the hour hand is shorter on an analog clock. Of course, discuss other differences.

When you are finished bring out chart paper. You can make a Venn diagram to help children understand the concept of compare and contrast. This also helps develop concept of word as terms such as hand, numerals, battery, or even phrases like time passage will be put on your chart.

While actually telling time may not be part of your curriculum, it is helpful to start children thinking about clocks. And this is a wonderful way to engage families, too. Encourage children to find examples of clocks in their homes. Describing these clocks is a valuable expressive language activity, followed by illustrating favorite clocks. 

  • Pair children so they can discuss clocks and explain their experiences with clocks. You may want to pair children who speak the same language so they can share details. 
  • Describing clocks from home gives children a tangible way to share and celebrate a part of their culture with others. 
  • Use the clocks as concrete objects to help our ELLs learn English words and phrases.
Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.F.13.
Head Start - VI.B.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New Beginnings: Making a Connection

Some of you have been working with children all summer. For others, the new school year will start with fresh faces, excitement, and perhaps a few jitters. To help calm anxious children (and families!), it is helpful to get to know the interests of your children and to use these passions during the first few days of the new year.

If you visit homes prior to the start of school, keep a list of the interests of each child. We realize not everyone makes home visits. It may take time to make phone calls, but you can glean important information to help make those early days smooth for everyone. Even a mailer, with a postage paid return envelope, can help.

Ask questions like:
  • What toys does your child like?
  • What animals are a favorite for your child?
  • What is your child's favorite food?
  • What sports does your child enjoy?
  • What outdoor activities does your child like?
  • What is your child's favorite movie or television show? 

From responses, you can stack your room with appropriate books and pictures. Try to find something for everyone. If a child cries or exhibits signs of nerves, you can lead this child to an appropriate and comfortable spot that contains his or her favorite things.

You will note the importance of being nonjudgmental about television, etc. This is the beginning. There is time for moving away from too much screen time or a sedentary lifestyle. For now, we just want to make connections! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.A.04.
Head Start - II.A.