Tuesday, August 28, 2018

It’s All Fun: Getting the Attention of Young Children

Do you turn off the lights to let children know it is time to change activities? Perhaps you all sing a clean-up song together. There are different ways we can get the attention of children. But the key to this is to have a “tool bag” of strategies. This is helpful as sometimes one strategy loses its effectiveness. Additionally, we sometimes give a direction and expect it will be immediately followed. Teachers (and their students) benefit when there are a variety of “attention getting” approaches from which to choose.

We believe it is important to make school settings age-appropriate as we want to set the stage for the idea that learning can and should be fun and enjoyable. This is why we encourage teachers to avoid negative comments and to highlight the positive. Even simple statements such as, “I like how Bennett is sitting and looking at me. He is ready to listen,” can be essential.

Notice that not only have you highlighted the positive but you have used the child’s name in a positive way. This contrasts to saying something like, “Bennett you need to sit down.” When children hear their names it is reinforcing, even in a negative context. This means some children may ignore you, just to hear their names! We want to avoid this.

Additionally, the comment, “I like how Bennett is sitting and looking at me. He is ready to listen,” includes information about WHAT is expected – looking at the teacher. Simple statements like this help children learn. They are not just complimented but are reinforced for and are learning the key behaviors. This is essential!

Now back to creative ways to get children to listen and follow directions. We like and use callbacks. There are the oft-used ones such as the following:

1,2,3, eyes on me.       -        1, 2 eyes on you!
Hands on top.              -        Everybody stop!
All set?                         -        You bet!

But you can also integrate learning into your callbacks, too. Clap in a pattern and have children follow that pattern. This encourages listening skills and develops an awareness for patterns.

You may also want to use the titles of books you read or are planning to read. For example you say, “Llama, Llama,” and children respond, “Home with Mama.”

You can also use harmonicas, little bells, or even toy xylophones to encourage listening. You may even want your “helper of the day” to use these instruments.

We like to start the morning by teaching the “attention getter” for the day. You can do this as part of calendar time. Keep in mind that when we change the callback each day, this keeps children listening (an important school readiness skill), is fun, avoids boredom, and keeps a positive atmosphere in your classroom!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It’s All Fun: Developmentally-Appropriate School Readiness

As you are getting ready to talk with families about how to be sure children are school ready, we are reminded of an important idea. It is more important that schools are ready for children than it is for children to be school ready. We need to be sure we are not pushing children beyond what is developmentally-appropriate for their age. Consider the idea of asking a large group of children to sit, ‘criss-cross applesauce’ for long periods of time on the carpet. Many times, this only leads to antsy children and trouble. It may be beyond what young children should be asked to do. This goes for “sitting on your bottom” in a chair. As a wise teacher one told me, “They won’t go to college bouncing in their chairs.” If you are having management issues in your classroom, it is so important to stop and ask yourself if you are asking children to do things that are beyond their developmental age.

It is also important to explain this to families, too. I have heard of homes where young children were asked to sit with flashcards at night. This is likely not something we want to do with preschoolers. Rather, we want to encourage a love for learning.

There are developmentally-appropriate ways we can encourage children to become school-ready. For example, board games are a wonderful way for children to learn how to take turns and follow rules. They can see counting in action as pieces are moved along a board. Mathematical one-to-one correspondence becomes meaningful. Reading (if a part of the game) can develop print awareness concepts. These are all helpful and age-appropriate ways to encourage children to become a part of a classroom community.

It is also helpful to explain to families that modeling is a key part of developmentally-appropriate school readiness, too. When an adult reads a newspaper or book, a child sees that adult engaged in literacy. We all know that young children like to mimic. They will then be more willing to pick up reading material when they see it as a part of a family’s home life. Often adults do their personal reading after children go to bed. It is important that we show children we read for information or pleasure, too.

Children can see mathematics at work in homes. If following a recipe, encourage families to talk the recipe aloud. Show children measuring spoons and cups and their importance to creating a favorite dish – like three-layer bars!

School readiness is not going into a preschool classroom reading sight words or using scissors perfectly. Rather, it is being able to get along with others and understanding the concept that literacy and mathematics are useful skills that everyone uses. The skills will come later!  

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

School Readiness Skills: Answering Questions

We all know how important it is to read orally to young children. When we share books, in any language, we are modeling fluent reading, including expressive ‘voices,’ proper phrasing, and an appropriate pace. Oral reading supports vocabulary development as children begin to understand that clues to understanding new words can be found in the context of a paragraph and in text features, such as pictures. All of these are necessary components of a child’s future reading success.

But beyond that, we can use the pictures to help give children the idea that we need to use a book (text) to answer questions. This helps children understand the importance of using facts to support our answers. In school, children will be required to answer text-dependent questions. We can help develop this school-ready skill, not to mention that using facts as the basis for responding to questions and forming opinions, helps develop an educated society. 

Here is an example of how you can do this for preschoolers.

From Llama Llama Mad At Mama by Anna Dewdney.
You can easily use the pictures in age-appropriate books to help children respond to questions. In the example picture above, you can ask literal questions like, “What colors are in Llama’s shirt?” After a child answers, you should ask the child to point to the part of the picture that shows the answer is correct. Of course, the child should point to Llama’s shirt.  Literal questions and answers like this are easy to turn into text dependent questions. But, we can and should go beyond the literal level of comprehension.

Ask deeper questions about characters, which are still part of preschoolers' abilities. For example, you might ask, “How is Llama feeling?” This is not a literal question, but it is still possible to use facts from the picture to support a child’s claim. Most children would respond that Llama feels mad. Then ask, “What makes you think that?” Children need to use details from the picture like the look in Llama’s eyes, the shape of Llama’s mouth, or his tongue being out as facts that resulted in them say, “mad.”

Asking all children to support their responses with details from a text is important as it helps everyone develop a sense that facts matter! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.E.
Head Start - VII.A.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Yes, Really - Children LOVE Interesting Words!

This was an unusual sight - 

While walking on a dirt road through a forest, we saw a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Yes - a group of butterflies is a kaleidoscope, rabble, or swarm. We used the word, kaleidoscope, as it seemed to give a clear picture of the meaning of the word. When talking with children about this, they became excited about the ever-changing picture of a kaleidoscope and its apt description of the way butterflies can have ever-changing colors as they move. 

Other interesting group names can be shared as children look at photos of various animals. You can elicit engaging conversation and creative thought when you show a group of giraffes. Have children discuss what they might call several giraffes together. Amazingly, some might even come up with the actual word - tower - which is a fun description for these towering animals. 

Here is a brief list of some fascinating animal group names: 

Hedgehogs - Prickle
Ants - Army
Cockroaches - Intrusion
Gulls - Screech
Hyenas - Cackle
Leopards - Leap
Tigers - Ambush

These are just some of the fun and unusual words you can lead children to understand and use. Think of how impressed families will be when children come home with this knowledge! 

But back to our initial photo. Did you notice that this kaleidoscope seemed to be focused on a dead frog? Wow! 

This brings up more scientific vocabulary. Words like carnivore and herbivore can be used when describing photos like this. We often tell children when they use Level 3 (content-area) vocabulary like this, they sound like scientists. We also like to stop the class and applaud or give a finger clap when this type of vocabulary is heard in conversation. You know this will encourage more "big word" use by your children!  

Standards Alignment:

NAEYC - 2.D.04, 2.D. 06, 2.G.07.

Head Start - IV.A., VIII.A., VIII.B.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Modeling Helps: Taking Care of Nature!

When did my own concern for the environment begin? I remember it clearly. It was over 50 years ago and I was sitting at a small desk in a classroom. My teacher walked over to the coat closet and pulled out her jacket. She reached into her pocket to show us the trash she had stored in there - things like candy and gum wrappers. She then passionately told us that it was better to keep your trash until you could properly dispose of it. As this was in the early days of a "Do Not Litter" campaign, her words were powerful and meaningful. Since that day so long ago, I have remained committed to picking up trash. 

This little anecdote shows us how words paired with deeds and actions can be influential.  It was my teacher's walk to the closet and her emptying of pockets that made a difference to me. When we want to encourage our children to care for Mother Earth, we can be the models. 

My dad always stopped for turtles on the road. He made sure no other traffic could hurt them as they crossed from one side to another. It will not surprise you to learn that I have carried on this 'tradition." Recently 15 minutes was added to an errand as I stopped for 3 turtles crawling across the roadway. 

Now, I share this with children and show my pictures. I am confident that this modeling will have an impact on their love for nature. 

There are other ways we can encourage care for nature, too. I recently was at a gathering where a very young child began to pull the bark from a birch tree. His mother walked over and kindly explained that the bark was like the tree's skin. The tree needed the bark to protect itself. Later, I heard this same child explaining it to a little girl. The two nodded and agreed the tree needed its bark. 

There are so many ways we adults can be influential in developing a love for the environment in young children. Sometimes children are afraid of animals, like bats. We can sit down and read a book to them about the many ways bats help the world a better place for us by eating insects. Many children are afraid of bees. Discuss with them the importance of bees to plant life on Earth. 

We can make a big difference in the way children view their role on Planet Earth! Pair your words with actions, photos, and books.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.G.03.
Head Start - XI.B.1.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Teaching English Language Learners: Thinking About Language

"Put your jumper in the car boot." 

What does that mean? 

Those in Great Britain will understand that someone is being told to put their sweatshirt in the trunk of the car. 

The sentence shows us that even in those countries that share language, terminology can be different. Even the name for the mark at the end of a sentence, a period, can be confusing as in the Commonwealth countries, the term, full stop, is often used. These examples show us that we often need to do a bit of research about the terminology used in those languages spoken by children in our classrooms. Terms can be different or words can mean one thing in one language and something else in another language.

Here are a few examples. A trombone in French is a paperclip. In Norway, the word gift means poison.And Ohio means Good Morning in Japan. Mist is a word for manure in German. You can see how a child from Germany might be confused if you are talking about the weather being misty.

The above words show us that we need to understand the language of all children in our classrooms. This can be true for children from different parts of the country, too. Take a look at this sign: 

This illustrates that children from areas like the upper Midwest can call a soft drink, pop. Those in other areas may say soda while others in the Boston may say tonic. This can be confusing for small children who move to a new area. It will help if those who greet newcomers take a few minutes to learn what terms might be used but confused. 

When we understand our differences, it helps make everyone more comfortable.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.01 & 03.
Head Start - VIII.A. & B.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Teaching Your ELLs: Cognates and Beginning Phonics

As we discussed last week, it is not necessary to know how to speak a second (or third!) language to teach English Language Learners (ELLs). Using 'best practices' of teaching will help you guide your young learners. For many of these ideas, please see last week's post. 

Another concept for you to consider is that of cognates. This is the term we use for words that are used in two or more languages and have the same root language. For example, English and Spanish are both descended from Latin. This means there are many words that are similar. Because pronunciation is different, these words can and do often sound a bit different, but many have enough similarities that children (and families) may feel comfortable seeing the labels in your classroom.

This is an important consideration as you prepare your classrooms or daycare centers for the next school year.  We use these labels to increase awareness of print and to help children begin to associate letters and sounds. When we add Spanish labels, too, this will help all children see the likenesses in the languages. 

This also adds to the sound/symbol awareness and growth for children who are in the emergent stages of literacy. When children speak Spanish and see the Spanish word as a label, they can begin to associate letters with a sound. This helps teach the principle of sound/symbol association. This is a necessary literacy skill. 

It is also a good model for families. When you invite these important adults into your room and they see these labels, they can then be encouraged to label key places and items in their own homes. Additionally, it models to families that using their home language is important and necessary in literacy instruction. You can show families that saying words, in any language, and pointing to the letters, helps children develop sound/symbol relationships. 

So - look at lists of cognates to see if any are helpful to you. But don't stop there. Use the languages spoken by children in your care. Find the terms that your need to label the areas of your room. These are readily available on many Internet sites.  Use these words to not only help your ELLs but all children. English speakers will develop an understanding and appreciation for other languages! Everyone wins! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.01 & 03.
Head Start - VIII.A. & B.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Best Practices for All Children!

We often hear from teachers that they are ill-equipped to teach English language learners (ELLs). One of the reasons given is their inability to speak another language. While this is helpful, it is not required to be a successful teacher of ELLs. When teaching young ELLs, it is important to keep in mind a few basic principles. And these are not unique to ELLs, but are really ‘best practices’ for all learners.

Speak Clearly
Some of us, speak quickly and with excitement in our voices. I am one of those teachers. But when presenting content, we need to remember that ELLs and many other young children need processing time. Slow down your speech a bit. This helps children think about each word that was said.

Provide Wait Time
Make sure when asking question, you give children plenty of time before you expect an answer. Sometimes you can say, I am going to ask a question. Pause. Then ask the question. Point to your head and say, Lets all think. Children understand that a question will be asked, and they are given time to prepare their answer.

Use Partner Practice
In the above scenario, ask children to whisper their answer to someone sitting next to them. This gives ELLs the chance to practice their English skills before speaking out in front of the class. And remember, when you call on only one child, he or she is the only one getting speaking practice. By asking children to share with a partner, everyone benefits from oral language practice. This extra step helps everyone.

Use Pictures and Objects
When you use pictures or real objects to help children understand vocabulary, this helps them develop the ability to use a variety of methods to learn new words. They become attuned to visual signals and develop this modality as part of their learning repertoire. This means you can use pictures of frogs, videos of frogs, or a model of a frog if reading a book about them. For most children, this also adds excitement and they will be more inclined to become engrossed in the text.

Use Body Language and Facial Expressions
When we show or act out vocabulary, children are more likely to understand what words mean. For example, we can hop like a frog. And, then add to this. Have children hop, too, while saying the word. This type of comprehensible output helps children make meaning. Facial expressions also add understanding. Talking about something sour? Make a face and then have children make this face, too.

As you can see, you already do many of these ‘best practices’ but you may not realize these are important strategies for teaching your ELLs. Just be explicit about what you are doing!

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.01 & 03.
Head Start - VIII.A. & B.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Healthy Treats for the 4th!

We hope you enjoy the holiday! Please consider involving your child in the preparation of snacks. See our post at this link - Healthy Holiday Treats.

See you next week!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hide and Seek: Spotting Animals

As we continue our love of the great outdoors this summer, we wanted to draw your attention to helping children become nature observers. Be sure to point out the ways animals hide or camouflage themselves. Ask children to think and explain why this is important. Help them to see creatures in the grass, in the water, in fields, or even in the mud as they become keen observers and critical thinkers. 

We spotted this frog in the muddy water along a walk. When you see a frog in a place like this, a few probing questions can lead children to consider the wonderful ways of natural camouflage. You might ask, "Is it more difficult to see this frog in the muddy creek than in the green grass?" Listen and ask follow-up questions like, "How does blending into the creek help this frog?" 

When walking in a different habitat, you could spot an animal like this toad hiding in the grass and dried leaves. This yields a discussion about why certain habitats are more inviting for animals than others. Ask children questions like, "Why does this environment protect the toad more than grass that was all green would?" You may want to imagine the view of this toad from a treetop. Pose questions like, "What animal might try to eat this toad? How would its coloring in this habitat protect it?" These help children to think about scientific concepts. Hold 'grand conversations' and follow-up with children's responses. 

Take the opportunity to spot nature "at work." Then what may be scary to children, like this harmless snake, can become a normal and accepted topic for a discussion about the wonders of the environment. Children may be more likely to consider ideas like the snake's coloring and how this helps it, then be fearful of its presence.

These are just examples from our part of the world. What camouflage can be seen in animals where you live? These kinds of observations and prompts will encourage an appreciation for nature and will develop oral language along with encouraging critical thinking skills. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.G.03
Head Start -  XI.B.1

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Looking and Questioning When Outdoors

Walks anywhere can be fun for classrooms, summer camps, and families. When you have a chance to walk in a park or along a woodsy pathway, you can encourage thoughtfulness about nature with children. What may seem like a simple sight to you, can provoke age-appropriate critical thinking for children. For example, the stem of a dandelion, with an empty stalk and flower head can be the source of questions. "Why isn't this dandelion yellow anymore?  What happened to the seeds?"  These kinds of discussions can help children develop analytic thinking skills and to "think like a scientist." 

You may see a dandelion in bloom, one with its fuzzy head, and another with just a stem. This is a perfect scenario for discussion and questioning.
Stop to examine a tree on the ground. Is its trunk cracked? Is it uprooted? Pose questions like this to spark curiosity in children. Encourage them to make connections between a recent windstorm and the observations they make on a hike. Talk about what happens to animals that might depend on the tree. Did the squirrels 'scurry' off somewhere else? When we question like this, we are developing a sense of concern for nature. 

A walk on a sandy shore line or dirt road might yield animal tracks that can lead to more questions. "What do you think was here? What were they doing?" Asking children to imagine and make hypotheses based on these visuals helps raise curiosity about nature. 

Asking questions like, "What do you think made these tracks?" helps heighten curiosity about nature.
Walking along a sidewalk? Stop (at a safe distance) to look down at an anthill. Discuss the build-up of sand around the opening. Ask children to verbalize how this might have happened. You may see streams of ants busily going to and from the hill. Ask children to describe what is happening. Then encourage them to use interesting words (see the blog post titled Colorful Words) to connect language arts and science. 

Even an anthill, lodged between sidewalk cracks, can lead to important nature discussions.
You may even be lucky enough to see something like this: 
These kinds of discoveries can open a world of inquiry about animals and their habits. The child who was lucky enough to spy this, returned home full of questions about beavers. His family found several YouTube videos so that he could watch and then answer his own questions, based on the observations made from viewing the videos. 

Standards Alignment: 
NAEYC - 2.G.03.   
Head Start - XI.B.1.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Wonderful Wildflowers Provide Sequencing Lessons!

There are so many wonderful opportunities that nature gives us. A bonus is that not only do our children develop an appreciation for our Planet but all of this is free educational material! We recently took a close look at the wild environment around us and made key observations. While the plants may be different in your community, the idea is the same - help children to discover how nature sequences the blooming of wildflowers. 

These blooms like to hide. You need to know where to look to spot these tiny wildflowers.

In the northern forests and fields, one of the first flowers to bloom is the shy Mayflower or Arbutus. As soon as the snow melts, the blooms on this plant hide beneath the big leaves, close to the ground. Help children to discover the first wildflowers of spring in your area. 

Yellow Trout Lilies are "early risers" in the northern U.S. forests.

Subsequent excursions, will show you that soon other wildflowers will follow. In our area, we next spot Yellow Trout Lilies and the Buttercup. What blooms next in your area?

It is always exciting to spot a Lady-slipper! They are delicate!

The appearance of these flowers means we should keep our eyes peeled for the elusive Lady-slipper wildflower. This gem can be difficult to find, but you will be rewarded if you know when to look. Watch for the blooming of the more common wildflowers for your signal to search for the Lady-slipper. Help children to discover which flowers mean that others will also be in bloom.

Then, share the tale of this unique wildflower by reading the book, The Legend of the Lady's Slipper by Kathy-jo Wargin. This connection helps your budding botanists to appreciate the long history of wildflowers and the stories told by generations. Check for books, legends, and tales about wildflowers in your area!

As the summer continues, look for other plants that bloom. Take photos and sequence these pictures to show the story of the growing season through wildflowers. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.G.03.  
Head Start - XI.B.1.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Eco-Systems for Pre-Schoolers

How can we teach our young children to appreciate and respect the way in which ecosystems work?  One of the fun and meaningful ways we found is a fish tank that shows the interdependence of plants and fish. Take a look at this child's betta tank - 

This was not showing the child that he needed to take care of a pet. But changing the water and having it at the right balance was beyond the child's developmental level. The solution? We heard about fish tanks that demonstrate the interaction of nature. 

The waste created by the betta in the tank is pumped into the plant section. This waste helps the plants to grow and thrive. What a wonderful way to show children that in nature everything has a place - even waste!  Since the waste is removed from the water, it is clean and clear, making the water a perfect habitat for the betta.  What's even better is the plants grow fast as they love the fish "food" that is recycled to them. Children have a fish that lives in a healthy environment, a garden, and a wonderful example of how an ecosystem works! 

Soon the plants will sprout. They are herbs and can be used in cooking. What an ecosystem where everyone and everything benefits!

Standards Alignment:  
NAEYC - 2.G.03.  
Head Start - XI.B.1.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Colorful Words

We like to encourage the use of interesting (colorful) words. This helps children expand their vocabulary. Research tells us that most students (not just young children!) learn more new words from reading books or having books read to them than through explicit vocabulary instruction. In fact, reading helps grow vocabulary more than 6 times as much as direct instruction. This is powerful and shows us that we need to read books to our classes and encourage families to share books at home. Of course, this should be done in any language. Unfortunately some families are hesitant to read to their offspring in their home language. We should advocate for this to take place as there are many benefits to hearing the language of literature and informational text. 

But there are fun activities we can do to heighten awareness of words and encourage word play, especially in homes over the summer. We like to use paint chips and talk about the progression from light to bright colors. This can seen below.

We then find what we call a dull word. Examples include walk, said, good, mad, etc. The list can go on and on. We suggest doing the first paint chip activity as a modeling activity (see our post here) and then encourage children to keep a paint chip or two taped to a wall. They can add to the words on this paint chip as they listen to books or conversation around them. This encourages children to be good listeners and on the look-out for interesting additions to their age-appropriate thesauruses. 

Tell children they do not need to have all spaces filled in one day. Paint chip collections should be a part of a summer of oral language and word play. 

At the end of vacation, families can read the words together and choose their favorites. You can also encourage children to use the more colorful words in daily conversation. This is vocabulary development at its best! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.04, 2.D. 06, 2.G.07.
Head Start - IV.A., VIII.A., VIII.B.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

BIG Numbers!

Have you noticed that children love counting? They especially love large numbers. Talking in terms of hundreds of something is a normal part of a young child's speech. You can help children better understand the meaning of one hundred and the progression (sequence) of numbers when you create a hundreds chart with them. This is something you can do as a group in your classroom and then suggest to families as a home activity. Children love recreating a school activity at home!

As you write the numbers, be sure to use different colors to depict odd and even numbers. Keep the numbers in lines so that children can see those with 0 in the one's place, 5 in the one's place, etc. This can help them count in different ways, including skip counting (for example, counting by 2s). 

A simple homemade hundreds chart, like this one, is more meaningful to children than store-bought charts. You can involve children in creating charts. This makes memories!

You can make several charts and cut apart the columns so children can see 5, 15, 25, 35, etc. Children can then put the hundreds chart back together again like a puzzle. This can then be done, using an additional chart, and cutting the rows apart. When children work to place these pieces back together again, it gives them a greater understanding of the way numbers work.  

For further understanding, use unifix cubes to make the numbers. We find children love to snap together the cubes to make long number "trains." These can then be matched with the numerals on your hundreds chart. 

Depending on the age and readiness of your children, you may want to discuss odd and even numbers. We hope you will use unifx cubes to illustrate the idea that even numbers can be evenly divided while odd numbers cannot be divided into "trains" of equal length. If your children are not ready for this concept, just using different colored markers for the odd and even numerals on the hundreds chart will develop some background knowledge and help them to become school ready!

Standards Alignment:

NAEYC – 2.C.03, 2.F.02, 2.F.04.

Head Start – I.D, X.A, X.B.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

But My Child JUST Memorized That Book!

So many times we hear family members say that a child is not reading because the child has memorized a book. You may see this in your classroom or center as children pick up a much-loved book again and again. Take a look at the video below. What looks familiar?

You may see young readers mimicking your expression, the way you turn pages, or you pointing at illustrations/words. It is important to remember that these are necessary components of reading. It is our responsibility as educators to not only teach children, but to also help families appreciate the important role they play in literacy development.  

When families read to children, their expressive reading is a vital component of the experience. When children hear text read in different "voices" and with different pacing, this model sets the stage for future success. Not only does it demonstrate one of the five components of reading, fluency, but it also serves as a motivating factor for children. 

Another feature we see in this video is the use of pictures. Too often, we hear a family member expressing concern about a child's "over-reliance" on illustrations. But, we need to see the use of pictures as a valuable strategy. When a child looks at a red bird on a page and says, "red bird," it reinforces the idea that we can and should use context cues, whether these cues are pictures or words. 

Additionally, turning pages, moving from top to bottom, and even identifying the cover of a book are necessary skills that are demonstrated when children memorize a book. Reading and rereading a book can and will make these early literacy skills automatic. 

So - remember that valuable lessons are learned and practiced when children "memorize" a book. This IS reading! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.E.04, 2.E.06, & 2.E.07.
Head Start - VII.A., VII.B. & VII.C.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

How Does Your Garden Grow?

What fun we have in our preschool classrooms this time of year. It is a time when we often plant bean seeds in little cups. It is exciting for children to watch their plants sprout and grow. Many of you have children measure these plants and keep track of how they are growing as they turn toward the sun. This is a wonderful way to connect math, science, and appreciation for the Earth. 

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Always plant a few extra seeds as sometimes a child's plant does not sprout. This can be devastating. All these years later, I still remember that I was the kindergartner whose bean seed never grew. Please keep a few that you can substitute if necessary. 
  • You may want to think about planting a tray of seeds - in fact plant several trays of beans, peas, etc. You can then compare and contrast how these mini-gardens grow. This helps oral language development. It also shows children the importance of working as a class. These class "gardens" encourage togetherness. 
  • If you have the room and appropriate environment, think about planting outdoors. This will help your children observe the natural features of our environment and how these features are necessary for plants: sunshine and rain. This will add more importance to your daily weather report. Children can then discuss and describe how the day's weather will help or hurt their garden.

The extension to this activity is to discuss healthy food. How do the vegetables that you grew help children grow? We know children who have started to eat beans because they grew a bean plant. Families will thank you! 

Additionally, you can talk about how locally grown food is fresher and also helps the environment. Share the idea that we often use trucks to bring in food from far away. When we grow food or buy it from local gardens and farms, this means that the gas from these trucks is not polluting our air. 

All of these points about gardens will lead to important discussions. Remember, that any opportunity to get children sharing and talking is a necessary school-readiness skill. This is also helpful for our English learners as they are exposed to content area and academic vocabulary in a meaningful way. 

Standards Alignment: 
NAEYC - 2.K.01 & 2.K.02.
Head Start - I. A. & B.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Wildflowers = School Readiness Skills

Continuing our encouragement of getting children outside, this week we delve into using the beauty of nature to develop verbal and critical thinking skills. As an example, we share the following photos of wildflowers along with suggested open-ended questions to help you consider how you can use walks, nature, and talk to develop needed school-ready skills. 

Ferns can invoke good discussions. You can have children count fronds on an assigned plant and then compare their numbers. You may want to ask, "How would this feel if you rubbed it against your face?" This invokes a sense of more than a visual appreciation for nature. You might want to have children imagine they are tiny bugs. How would it feel to climb on a fern during a wind or rainstorm? 

This may seem like an uninspiring setting for children. But bend down and examine all that is here. Some children may describe the many colors they see. Others can predict what might be living under the dead leaves. You may even want to do a mini-science lesson about decomposing as children can then develop a sense of wonder about the cycle of life found in natural settings. 

What a treasure trove this plant brings to children. Ask "I wonder" questions such as, "Hmmm....I am wondering what made those holes in this plant?" Let children hypothesize. It's also a good opportunity for children to understand that you do not always know all of the answers. This can lead to a discussion about how to solve the mystery. Let children offer ideas about the scientific process as they can consider how to determine the architect of the holes. Your children will enter school thinking like scientists! 

This is one of my favorite wildflowers. You can ask children to describe this plant (green leaves). Discuss their guesses and then show the group how to gently lift the leaves to reveal small, gentle wildflowers thriving under the leaf. These are mayflowers or arbutus. I love the idea that often we need to consider what may be just below the surface! An important lesson for children, even if they are too young to appreciate the symbolism. They will remember the experience in later years and may use the lesson of arbutus - I did! 

Standards Alignment: NAEYC - 2.G.03. Head Start - XI.B.1.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Let's Run and Jump!

Now that the warm weather is here (finally!) we wanted to highlight important research for you and your children. While these are concepts most of us who are with children everyday know, it is always helpful to be reminded that our understandings are reinforced by research. This research can then be helpful in supporting our beliefs and actions. It's as simple as: Children benefit from exercise! 

Let's examine why this is important. Researchers tell us that frequent exercise is necessary for developing bones. Additionally, aerobic exercise helps the heart muscle. We can't forget that exercise also encourages good mental health. These are all reasons we should integrate large muscle play into our daily activities. 

The research shows that at least one hour of moderate or vigorous activities should be a part of a child's day. This includes climbing on play structures, reaching hand-over-hand on outdoor equipment, or crawling through tunnels. While these ideas assume you have access to a safe and well-constructed playground, there are other activities that can be done without expensive structures. 

You can encourage a rowdy game of tag, set up a simple obstacle course, draw a line in the sand or mulch and have children jump back and forth over the line. These are all fun activities that are made even more entertaining when you participate. I remember playing tag with my students. It had the benefit of encouraging everyone to run and laugh plus it gave me needed exercise, too! We all felt better after playing together. 

Encourage families to participate in exercise, too. Dr. Stephanie Walsh, the medical director of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, notes that not everyone lives in a safe neighborhood.  She suggests that families create obstacle courses in their homes. These allow children to climb, crawl, or even jump. She says that if families take walks together, this may not always "count" as vigorous enough exercise for developing bones and muscles. Why not have children run in place or skip and jump as adults walk? This can make the activity meet the needs of a young child. 

While we are on the subject, we would be remiss if we didn't discuss the unfortunate trend of eliminating or shortening recess time in public schools. Preschool teachers can help educate families about the importance of play time. Everyone can then advocate for outdoor experiences in the school day. When children do not get this "release time" it can lead to many problems. When children do not get a break, it can result in students who have trouble concentrating on "work." It is especially important that recess not be taken away for a child who has not completed his or her assignments. Often these children especially need the time to run, jump, and shout. 

So - let's celebrate recess and play! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.K.01.
Head Start - I. A. & B.