Monday, December 21, 2015

Teaching Respect

Encourage independent thoughts in children by remembering to ask them their opinions. It is always heartening to listen to parents not only ask young children, “What do you think?” but then to have them follow up with the all-important word, “Why?”

Children learn that their opinions matter when we encourage them to tell us what they like or dislike. They should learn that it is perfectly fine to say, in a polite way, that they do not like something.  Teachers often ask children to give a thumbs up or down after listening to a book. Accepting that not all books are enjoyed by everyone is a way we can show our children that people have different opinions and these need to be respected.

One of the keys is asking children to state reasons for their opinions.  You may need to give them sentence starters like the following:

I liked it because it was funny when __________________

I liked it because the picture of the was __________________

I liked the ending because ________________________

I did not like it when _______________________

I did not like the character when it _________________________

I did not think it was funny when ____________________

This applies to many experiences.  Listening patiently to children as they tell whether or not they like something and their reasoning is an important learning experience. It not only teaches them that their opinions matter but it models for them that we all must listen and respect the ideas of others.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.B.02., 2.B.07., 2.D.03.
Head Start – II.C., VIII.B.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Helping Children Organize!

This post might be helpful for your classrooms, but it is sure to please families, especially at this time of year when many children will be home and messes are sure to abound. Toys can take over a house (or classroom) and weary families often struggle with constantly cleaning up. The refrain, “Pick up your toys” is often a favorite but unfortunately may not yield the results we want.  There are a few ways we can avoid the constant struggle that disorganization brings.
This child was not happy with the disorganization of his toys. He often complained about it but did not know how to fix it.
Children must be included in organizing a room. This means that adults should not quickly clean when children are sleeping or at school. Small children are usually eager to help. While having their help may take a bit longer, the results are worth it. Children who are invested in organizing and have a hand in deciding where things will be kept are more likely to find those spots again when asked to clean. 

Another important component of cleaning and organizing is getting rid of toys, books, and games that children have outgrown. Have special boxes for these. Discuss with children where these should go (a neighbor, friend, relative, organization, or yard sale). When children can name the place their toys will end up, they are often more likely to part with them.

Finally, labeling bins, boxes, or even spots on the wall can help children as they return toys to correct places. The bonus? It helps preschoolers understand that words have meaning. They may even develop sight vocabulary! 

When he was involved in organizing, the child knew where everything should be put away. After having friends over, he cleaned up his room in less than 20 minutes with no complaints.
Involving your children in all aspects of cleaning and organizing will pay off!

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 3.E.03, 2.L.02
Head Start – II.B, VII.D.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Traditional Games = Key Learning

Sometimes teachers are always looking for the ‘latest and greatest.’  I constantly need to remind myself that often what seems old to us is NEW to a young child! Nursery rhymes teach the all-important phonemic awareness skill of rhyming. And…those games your parents and grandparents enjoyed develop necessary skills.

There are many versions of Memory available today.  You can even make a personalized game from a set of pictures. With digital cameras, it would be easy to create Memory cards showing interesting neighborhood environmental sights such as evergreen trees, deciduous trees, flowers, etc. You may want to make a Memory game that shows favorite books. There are so many possibilities!

Grandparents will likely recall the old favorite, Drop the Clothespin in the Bottle. Children still love this game! It develops hand/eye coordination in ways computers and other electronic devices cannot! 

Board games like Monopoly teach children about counting. My four year-old friend in the photo, was counting by 5s as he gave me the play 5 dollar bills! He counted the dots on the dice and moved that number on the board. He thought about strategy such as what might be best to buy. And he learned about winning and losing. What a lot of lessons!

 Sometimes games are more than games!

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.A.11
Head Start – IV.C.

Please share this post with families!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Make Oral Reading Engaging!

I was fortunate enough to see the author of Stormy Night, Salina Yoop, demonstrate a fun way to engage young children in her books. In the video below I have included some of her techniques like using bubble wrap to mimic rain and waving a paper for the sound of wind. 

Additionally, I helped my young friend understand the feelings of the main character by having him find a stuffed animal to cuddle during the reading of the book. This helps children understand that book characters have feelings and is a valuable first step in identifying lessons that books can teach us. 

You will see suggestions in the upper left corner as I read in the video below. These can be applied to any book.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.E.04, 2.J.06.
Head Start - III.D., VII.A.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Family Time With Preschoolers: Thanksgiving

We know many families may look for fun and meaningful activities to keep young children busy while allowing them to feel an important part of the holiday celebrations. Below are just three of our favorite activities.

Collect pine cones and have children use a paper plate, torn scraps of paper, and a pre-cut turkey head to make the centerpiece for the Thanksgiving dinner table. See for yourself how festive this looks. And won't your child be thrilled with his/her contribution!

Find engaging books like 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey for a different view on the holiday celebrations. This book has the added benefit of being all in rhyme (much like 'Twas the Night Before Christmas) so it encourages pre-reading skills. Families can give their children the task of making a disguise for a turkey, too. Trace your child's hand to make the traditional turkey. Cut it out, and give it to your child. Let them use scraps of material to make the turkey look like something else so it can hide. Will they dress it like their pet, a football player, or even an object like a chair? Let them "hide" their turkey.

Finally, while family members are busy cooking, tell children to decide on their favorite Thanksgiving dish. Have them draw pictures of how to make this yummy food. This supports an understanding of sequence, but it may also produce a lot of laughs as you might see your child thinks 15 cups of sugar go into a pumpkin pie!

Happy Thanksgiving!
Your friends at Maggie's Big Home

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Oral Reading Expands Vocabulary!

We all know that the more words a young child can understand and use, the more successful they will be in school. What's the best way to increase any child's vocabulary? 

Read - Read - Read!

When children listen to any book, they are hearing language and begin to see how context and picture clues can help them learn new words. In the short video clip above, the child hears words with tangible meaning like crew and rocket. But there are also opportunities to see how words like instead are used in the language.

It is important that our preschoolers enter school not only with large vocabularies, but also with the background of being able to determine word meaning by the other words, phrases, and pictures around an unknown word (context). When children have the freedom to listen and experiment with words, they are more likely to take chances and rely on context when they begin school.  

This is important as research shows that children learn 300 to 500 new words each year through direct vocabulary instruction. This may sound like a lot, but researchers have also concluded that children learn about 2250 words per year simply by reading. What a big difference! It tells us that children who read and are read to are expanding their vocabulary while those who struggle with reading and are not being read to at home, are getting left further and further behind. The gulf widens. This is why we must continue to encourage all families to read. This includes speakers of any language. If families in your area feel more comfortable reading to their child in the language of the home, this helps children learn and should be encouraged. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.02, 2.E.04.
Head Start - VII.A.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Eager Learners? Offer Sight Words in an Age-Appropriate Fashion

Many children begin to show an interest in those "mysterious" things called words that they find in books or on labels in your classroom. When they do, you can help these eager learners to identify the basic sight words, the Dolch words, which are 220 of the most common words in the English language. All of our children should be familiar with their use in oral language and eventually be able to quickly identify them in text. While we don't necessarily advocate teaching these words in preschool, some teachers have asked for ideas on how to enrich their learning time for children who show an interest in learning these words. 

We tend to stay away from flashcards, but do encourage children to look at Dolch words and help them to move individual words into meaningful sentences. This age-appropriate technique helps children understand that words can be combined to say something meaningful.

You can use other age appropriate activities to satisfy a preschooler's thirst for knowledge. We like to integrate fine motor skills and give children slips of paper with Dolch words on them. They can link these papers into a sight word chain by gluing and holding the paper. This develops the all-important pincer grasp. Try this with letters of the alphabet, too! 

What child doesn't love bubble wrap? Use the kind often found in shipping boxes to write Dolch words on. Children can say the words and pop the bubbles. This is a favorite activity of ours for learning letters, too. 

Finally, head on over to your local library. Many still stock some of our favorite books for learning Dolch words in context. Former teacher, Margaret Hillert, wrote over 80 little books using Dolch words in thousands of ways. Read her books to children with great enthusiasm and expression. You'll be sure to have a class full of children who have at least heard the Dolch words used in speech. And that's important for all learners!

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.C.03, 2.E.04, 2.E.07, 2.E.09.
Head Start - I.D, VII.C, VII.D.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Apple Math!

Continue the theme of apples by extending the idea into a math lesson. Cut different types of apples into slices and invite children to taste the slices. Tell them that they will be deciding which kind of apple they like best. We suggest using Granny Smith (green), Golden Delicious (yellow), and some type of red apple, like McIntosh. This will make the creation of the chart easier.

After children make a decision as to their favorite apple, ask them what color paper they need to represent their apple (yellow, green, or red). Often teachers precut apples, but why not turn this into a cutting exercise, too? Outline a simple apple shape on a square of paper. By making the outline basic and by putting it on a manageable piece of paper, small hands can handle cutting out their own apples. Sometimes large sheets of paper are difficult for children to turn, as turning paper is often the way they cut in the beginning. By putting the shapes on smaller paper, the task is more age-appropriate.
Simple shapes on appropriately sized paper make for valuable cutting practice.
Remind children who might be perfectionists that apples come in all different shapes and no apple is perfectly formed. This gives children “permission” to make cutting mistakes.   
Apples come in all shapes and sizes so a perfectly cut apple is not necessary.
Make a chart on large paper with the apple categories. Do this with the children so they can see how to make their own chart. We usually turn the apples over before gluing so that the black outline is not visible on the chart paper. This avoids cutting comparisons. 
Use the chart to ask questions about math. Invite children to ask their own questions based on the chart.
When the chart is complete, use it during your opening to ask valuable math questions like:

  • How many children like Golden Delicious apples?
  • How many more children like Granny Smith apples than like Golden Delicious apples?
  • How many children like Granny Smith AND McIntosh apples?

The best part is when children begin asking their own math questions!

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.C.03, 2.F.02, 2.F.04.
Head Start – I.D, X.A, X.B.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Apples: Alike and Different

Fall often means apple picking time and the many wonderful activities that come with apples. We like to use apples to encourage our preschoolers’ observation skills and to give them practice with verbal skills. This is a fantastic way to celebrate the season!

Be sure to let each child hold all of the apples. This way you can encourage use of senses other than sight.
Line up different types of apples. Ask children to tell how they are alike and how they are different. You can do this in a ‘variety’ of ways. These are suggested below with the outcomes for your class.

·      Children can turn and talk to a partner. (Using verbal skills)
·      You can make a class list on the board using the same number of columns as variety of apples.  (Improving Concept of Print)
·      Individual children draw on coloring paper (Independent thinking)
·      Discuss as a class, making sure each child shares a different fact (Listening to one another)

Remember to encourage children to talk about more than the color of the apple skin. They can discuss shape, size, feel of the apple, stem, smell, etc.

Add to the likenesses and differences chart by cutting the apples in half as shown below.  Delight children with the seed star in the apples.
This often encourages children to go home and ask to see an apple star. You may want to send a note home or post an announcement so families know what children are asking.
Then offer children a slice of each apple variety. They can add to their comparison chart or discussion by talking about the taste of the apples.

Finally, have children discuss or draw favorite foods that are made using apples! 
You may even want to use this opportunity to talk about healthy food choices. Caramel apples, while delicious, may not be the most healthy way to use apples!
Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.D.04, 2.D.07, 2.E.03, 2.G.03
Head Start – IV.A, VII.D., VIII.B., XI.A.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Alphabet Knowledge Art

In our October 6 post (see below), we discussed the order in which letters should be taught. It’s always important to integrate as many skills into our lessons as possible. The idea below combines letter knowledge and identification, fine motor skills, and even gives you the opportunity to talk about the reuse of materials.

Give children a paper with the outline of the letter of the week or the first letter in their name. One day you can give a capital letter and another day children can practice the lowercase letter.

Let children rummage through your classroom scrap box. Have them use their thumb and forefinger to tear tiny squares of paper. This is good pincer grasp practice (fine motor).

Children should use a glue bottle to glue each square in the lines of the letter.  Squeezing a glue bottle helps strengthen hand muscles (fine motor). This is also a good opportunity to talk about using one drop of glue rather than putting globs of glue onto paper. We find this is direct instruction that often needs to be repeated.

As children work, encourage talk about the letter, its sound, and words that begin with the letter.
When children are finished and the art is dry, have children take these home. You can encourage parents to save these letters so children can practice identifying them with their families.

Remember – the use of the scrap box is a wonderful opportunity to talk with children about reusing materials rather than throwing everything away.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.C.03., 2.E.07., 2.J.05., 2.L.08.
Head Start – I.D.,  III.C., V.B., VII.C.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Living Things

This week in our weekly activity, we provided a short text about bears. We hope you are signed up to receive these free activities. If so, be sure to read these bear facts to your class.

You can use this as the basis for a discussion (or grand conversation) about living things. You could also show children a photo like the one below:

Ask if zebras and bears are living. You will likely get a chorus of “YES!” Then ask children to share ideas about why this is living. Children might suggest ideas like the following:

It eats.
It has a face.
It has a home.
It moves.

You can ask leading questions about other living things. For example, “Are you living?” After children agree. Ask them what size they were as a baby. This likely will prompt responses such as “Living things can grow.”

Then comes the difficult part – having children cross ideas off of the “Living Things” list. We feel this is important as it helps children understand that it is necessary to revisit and often change their original ideas.

You can show a picture of a tree.

You can ask if the tree is living. Explain that it grows, it takes in air to help make food, and it moves in the breeze along with growing. Additionally, trees produce seeds like pinecones so they make more. This should help children cross off statements like “It has a face.” They can add other statements including “It makes more.”

Then have children go on a picture “hunt” in your classroom library or on the playground to find other examples of living things.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.G.02 & 2.G.06
Head Start - XI.1 & 2

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

In What Order Should We Teach Letters?

A, B, C, D, E, F, G…..most of our young learners have heard and may know how to sing the alphabet song. Some can identify the letter that begins their name. But when we are doing a more formal teaching of letters and their sounds, in what order should they be taught?

It is our belief that we should not start with A and move sequentially through the alphabet to Z. Why? This means we start with the often confusing letter A. Think of the different sounds this letter has – short a as in apple, long a as in ape, the schwa sound as in about (makes the sound uh), or even the r-controlled sound as in car.

As you can see the many sounds of letters like a can be confusing to children who are just learning. Examples of other letters that make multiple sounds include all the other vowels (e, i ,o, u),  and consonants such as c and g.  Keep in mind that letters like a and g can appear differently depending on the font:

a, a, g, g

This can be confusing for young learners, too. Additionally, we avoid b and d because of the confusion that often occurs.

We suggest beginning with letters that have consistent sounds and usually appear the same way in print material.  Letters such as the following are good places to start:


Stay tuned for more ideas on teaching letters and sounds!

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.E.07
Head Start – VII.C.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sentence Starters and Vocabulary Development: Community Helpers

Talking about firefighters, bakers, police officers, teachers, librarians, or postal workers? Integrate community workers into your literacy curriculum!

You can help young learners improve their speaking and listening skills along with encouraging Concept of Print by giving them sentence starters like this:

Firefighters are __________________.

Firefighters can __________________.

Firefighters have _________________.

Children can write their own words, draw pictures, or even choose from words you provide as shown in the photo.

You can see that this type of sentence completion will not only help children think about words to describe community helpers/workers, but they will gain an understanding of different types of speech. Adjectives, nouns, and verbs are used, depending on the sentence starter. This gives children valuable practice in forming correct sentences.

Children can point to words and "read" their finished sentences. This encourages Concept of Print and may even help some to memorize sight vocabulary like are, can, and have

They will have an opportunity to compare and contrast community workers as several words can apply to more than one profession. Of course, finish the lesson by having children role play different community workers.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.03, 2.E.09, 2.L.09.
Head Start - V.A., VII.D., VIII.B.

For Firefighter Math, sign up for our free printable activities!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Get the Attention of a Class - Part 2

As getting the attention of children is an on-going challenge, this week we continue to offer you suggestions to make this a fun experience in your classroom:
  • As children are working, run around and put a light bulb over the heads of anyone who is thinking or getting ready to listen.
  • Teach children to copy your hand gestures. Make different funny hand movements every day so this doesn’t become stale.
  • Tell children to put their fingers over their mouths if they are listening.
  • Tell children to smile when they are ready to listen (it’s difficult to talk when you are smiling big!) 
  • In the morning, show children the 'secret signal' for the day. Make it something strange like patting your knee or turning in a circle. Explain that when they see you do this - everyone needs to stop and look. They will love all the crazy things you do!
  • Various attention grabbing statements like “1, 2, 3 eyes on me,” where children respond with “1, 2, eyes on you” can be changed to things like “bumpity bump,” where the class responds, “bump, bump.” By constantly varying this, children are more likely to look at you and listen. 
  • Use giant hand clappers to surprise the class.

Head on over to your favorite party store to find these inexpensive “toys” that are sure to encourage listening ears and get all eyes on you! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.A.07 & 2.A.08
Head Start – II. B & C