Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Position Words for Preschoolers

In, over, under, around, through...these are the types of words that can easily confuse preschoolers, especially those children who are learning to speak English. How can we help all of these children learn these key words that can often be confusing?

One of the best ideas is to use high leverage practices to model the meaning of the words for children. When we model, we are clear and concise in our choice of vocabulary. More importantly, we demonstrate the meaning of vocabulary using hand gestures or by moving our bodies. It is important to remember that we should ask children to quietly sit and watch us before having them engage in jumping over a book or walking around a chair. This is because often children get excited when moving around. By asking them to watch you first, this helps children to process the meaning of position words. 

In addition, there are several books that help children not only hear these words used in authentic texts but you can emphasize these as you read.  Two of our favorite books for this purpose are Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins and Inside, Outside, Upside Down by Stan Berenstain. Using high leverage practices, modeling, read a book the first time through using hand gestures to demonstrate the meaning of position words. Then read a second time for children to act out the key words. 

As children walk and play outside, encourage them to use this vocabulary in context. 

If your class goes for a walk, have them chant sentences like, "Walking over the bridge."

Intentionally ask children to practice position words. Make it a game by playing, "Teacher Says." This child has responded to, "Teacher says point UP." Either this variation of "Simon Says or a fun version of "Mother May I" are appropriate ways to engage young children with position words. 

Finally, you can assess the ability of children to use and understand position words by giving them a cup and plastic toy.  Have them tell you a story about how the toy is above the cup, under the cup, on the cup, etc. 

ELL Connection:
As you can see, this is a helpful strategy for our English Language Learners. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.B.01 & 2.D.04
Head Start - VI.A. & IX.A.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thanks For Giving

Today is Giving Tuesday, but we know people who work with children do this all of the time - you put the interests of others first! One of the challenges is to help our children internalize the importance of giving.  While they see our model all of the time, it is important to be intentional about teaching our youngest citizens about giving. 

One of the ways we like to integrate this key understanding into our daily classroom life is to create a project-based curriculum for a week. Plan to include families in this event as this helps the community become involved and assists you. Here are our suggestions for this meaningful and fun project:

  • First of all, identify a few organizations in your community that need funds. After you narrow the list to three or four, involve children in choosing the group that will receive the money from your class. This makes the project more meaningful - children are "invested" in the outcome! 
  • Find a recipe that is age-appropriate for students. For our youngest children, we like no-bake goodies like Rice Krispie bars or no-bake cookies.
  • Include children in chorally reading the recipe. Make a shopping list with them.
  • Some of you may be able to take a field trip to a local food store to purchase the ingredients. If this is not possible, ask a few families to help with this. The children in these families can go along and report back to the class about the experience. These young shoppers can even draw pictures or take photos to share with their peers.
  • Include family members and your students in the preparation of the treats. This is why we like to use a no-bake recipe as everything can be made in your classroom. 
  • You can duplicate the day and time along with the organization that will benefit from your sale. Have children cut out the wording and paste onto decorated posters, which they create. This helps them become aware that written language helps people understand about events. 
  • On the day of the sale, have children help at the sale table. While they may be too young to make change and count money, they can at least look at coins and identify them. It is amazing how much can be learned about math when children are involved in an authentic situation! 
  • Once all treats are sold, involve children in delivering the money to the organization which they chose. 

In our experience, children feel proud of their work and reports from doing this for 20 years, tell us that this type of experience is a much-loved and remembered time in classroom life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thanksgiving Thoughts

We may think we need more creative activities than just asking children to write on a leaf or turkey feather about the things for which they are thankful. But remember - these children have not done this for the past ten years - this activity is new to them. Do it the old-fashioned way 


present these "old" activities with a facelift - include their thoughts using ChatterKids (click here to see this post) or even use Quiver 3D or Aurasma to make the time-held tradition of giving thanks come alive. 

Of course, you can easily create a bulletin board with these ideas, too. We believe it is best if children use invented spelling to share their ideas. This way you can easily see where they are on the phonics/spelling continuum. Drawing a picture can give you information, too. This often means the child does not feel confident enough to use letters. As a reminder, here are the first few stages of this important continuum:

Initial consonants
Final consonants 
Initial digraphs and blends (letter combinations like th, sh, bl, fr, tr.)
Short vowels (remember that short e is the most difficult)
Affricates (j, ch, tr, dr)
Final consonants blends and digraphs

We feel that if preschool children can correctly write the first consonant of a word, we are thrilled! 

And now for just a fun and eye-catching project, we suggest creating a turkey farm. Get some orange paper cups. These become the body of your turkey. Then use various colors of paper (red, brown, yellow) to make the tail feathers. You can pre-cut these tail feathers or have children practice their burgeoning fine motor skills by tracing and cutting a pattern. Have children make heads and perhaps “gobblers.” Fringe the tails and glue them to the mouth of the cup. Glue the head to the bottom of the cup. Then staple your 3D turkeys to a “field” on your bulletin board. It makes a fun display. 


Monday, November 6, 2017

Writing: The Basics for Preschoolers

Writing! Yes, it is important for preschoolers, too. One of the key things we need to remember is that we should encourage good practices. These include: holding writing utensils correctly, forming letters correctly (moving a pencil from top to bottom, etc.), and thinking about the uses and varieties of writing. 

Sometimes we are so anxious to teach children to write their names or the letters of the alphabet that we forget that age-appropriate quality is more important than quickly learning to write names and letters. We need to develop hand muscles and encourage correct muscle memory first. 

We can do this by having children write large lines, going from top to bottom, with water and paintbrushes on white boards.  Once their muscles remember to do this from top to bottom, show children how to correctly form circles, start at the top and circle around to make the lines meet. 

After these key prerequisite skills have been mastered and are a part of muscle memory, encourage the use of crayons or markers to correctly make the first letter of their names. Watch for proper formation and celebrate when this is accomplished. We encourage you to focus on form. 

We also think lined paper is not appropriate for young children. It is our belief that they are not ready for this yet. Encourage proper formation of letters, no matter how large these letters need to be. Lined paper comes later once proper formation is achieved. 

Remember when pencils are put in the hands of your preschoolers, look for the proper holding of pencils. If needed, provide a pencil grip. We cannot overemphasize the importance of giving a proper model for holding a pencil. Left-handed writers can serve as a model for left-handed children. 

Finally, you can provide stations or centers showing the many uses of writing. Have a banking center with stamps, adding machine tape, etc. Encourage a post office with envelopes and mailing stamps. A store station can use credit card receipts, etc. These all help our children learn that writing is a way to communicate - in many forms. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.E.05.
Head Start - VII.E. 1-4.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Food Chains for Preschool

This week we feature leopards in our free weekly activity. In the accompanying Dear Colleague letter, we talk about ways you and your children can discuss the interconnectedness of Planet Earth. In the past we have looped paper strips to create a chain of vegetation and animals to illustrate our dependence on one another.

As you can see, the strips do not always lend themselves to drawing pictures and may be more appropriate for older students.

An age-appropriate activity is to act out a food chain. This can be helpful, especially when you are working with English Language Learners (ELLs). This type of comprehensible input is important for their understanding. As always, using clear nouns and verbs will especially be helpful to newcomers or those in the “Silent Phase.”

There are other visual activities to help all children understand our connected world. For example, if you are changing your school over to Earth-friendly reusable coffee mugs, put the old Styrofoam cups to good use. They can serve as a way to show the food chain in a different manner. Take a look at our visual:

You can ask children to color just one plant or animal and then work with a group to figure out how these all “stack up” in the food chain or one child can make his or her own food chain cups.

We have shown the food chain for a leopard to align with our activity, but here are a few other ideas:


Of course, you will want to ask children for ideas about your local animals and how these creatures fit into a community food chain.

You will see that we always like to integrate fine motor skills into activities. Coloring, cutting, and pasting encourage future writing skills.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC –2.G.02 & 2.G.08.
Head Start -XI.B.1 & 2.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Working With ELLs in the Silent Phase

As we have discussed in the past, there are phases to acquisition of a new language. You can read about the Silent Period by clicking here. This phase can be confusing and frustrating for teachers as we want to see and be a part of learning. When children are reluctant to express themselves, we often think that nothing is happening or even that we are failing as teachers. But this is not true! 

We would benefit from remembering that much is taking place in the minds of new language learners as they immerse themselves in the school environment. They are listening and watching. Children watch you show pictures of nouns and verbs. They listen to you read books. They observe their peers line up, wash their hands, and go to lunch or run outside.  All the while, language is being matched with actions. Vocabulary is being silently attempted in little heads. This is an important time.

To help, the first thing to remember is to avoid forcing any child to speak. This can make the silent period last longer or even be harmful in other ways. Be patient - children will speak! To help children and to assure teachers they can implement strategies that will assist children, think about integrating the following into classrooms:

Always remember that receptive language is being built. Read simple books with pictures that match the text. We think this is simple, but the choice of text for ELLs is important. Many books do not have pictures that adequately match the vocabulary of each page. 

Consider asking yes or no questions, but pair these questions with a hand signal like thumbs up or thumbs down. This way, children can give the hand signal until they are comfortable adding the simple words. 

Pair children with others. You can match them with those who speak their language, but you can also watch for blossoming friendships. Often ELLs will try and speak English words to other children with whom they are comfortable. Watch and listen...but silently! 

We like to plan constructivist activities to engage children. When we move beyond simply writing letters or numbers, children are more engaged and likely to share thoughts. Group children and let them explore. You can see for example, our post on the M & M Experiment.  Activities like this integrate literacy and science, but they also help children learn inquiry skills and cooperate with others. For your ELLs, these types of activities show them that it is acceptable to take chances! And in the fun, they are more inclined to take chances with their new language.

Sing songs that have repeating verses and rhythmic language. These are easy to follow, especially if you pair gross motor movements with the words. This makes the language especially fun and age-appropriate. 

It is also important to establish the idea that mistakes are acceptable and made by everyone. We like to be vocal about our mistakes and show all children that these are ways to further learning. We can be heard saying, "Oh I made a mistake but I can learn from it," several times a day. 

Of course, if you can speak a few words in the child's home language, this will almost certainly bring a smile to faces. Look for books that have a few words in different languages. And, of course, if you have Spanish speakers, be sure to sign up for our Emergent Reader weekly activities in English and Spanish. Even sending home the Dear Colleague letter will help families who are fluent in Spanish. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.
Head Start - IX. A.,B.,& C.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Making Subtraction Fun

Before young children even see the minus sign or hear the words "take away" or "subtraction," we can help them to understand the meaning of this mathematical operation. Children easily see and appreciate the concept of addition - it means more, something that developmentally is appealing to children. But when we talk about take away, that isn't always as appreciated. No young child likes things taken away. Here are two age-appropriate and fun ways to help preschoolers understand the concept. 

Counting Backwards: 

First, counting backwards encourages subtraction readiness. We suggest making a game out of this. For example, you can easily add this as part of classroom management. As children line up, count backwards from any number to zero. Make this fun by letting children pick a number from a bowl (you can put in numbers you want children to learn. For example, you might write numbers 4, 5, 6, 7). When the child chooses a number, he or she can read it, and then you tell children you are going to countdown from that number to zero. You can count slowly, in a squeaky voice, or a low voice, etc. to make it fun and different each time. This helps children hear the numbers as one is taken away as you countdown. 

Additionally, engage children in counting down, too. Have them do this while they are on the playground, cleaning up, or even as they do the calendar. Count backwards from the current date to the first day of the month as you point at the numbers. 

How Many Are Hidden:

Take a certain number of small objects like pennies or blocks. If you have 5 objects,  show those objects to children. Have them count the objects and reinforce the number with them. Next hide a certain number, like 3, behind your back. Show children the remaining 2 objects. Ask them to figure out how many you are hiding. Continue to do this with different combinations. Then play the game with other numbers. 

We suggest sending this fun and easy math game home for families to play with children. It is a valuable activity to encourage mathematical thought about subtraction. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.F.02 - 2.F.13.  
Head Start -  X. A., B., D., & E.