Monday, December 13, 2010

Fall (or maybe Winter) Stations

We had some really fun Fall stations planned for the day before Thanksgiving. We the snow that came, school was closed and the stations had to be postponed.

When we returned from the long break we had our station day, with a few changes.
Instead of making gumdrop turkeys, we made gumdrop snowmen.

Instead of decorating leaf cookies, we decorated snowmen cookies.

We also made special necklaces with beads, fruitloops, and noodles.

Thanks to all of the parents who helped out, dontated materials, and helped with preparations ahead of time!
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Naming the Work of an Illustrator

We're continuing to work in our illustration study this week. I have been absolutely thrilled with the connections kids are making between the work they see published authors and illustrators doing and their own work. Last week, we spent quite a bit of time looking at Jan Brett's illustrations, how she adds details, borders, and sneak peeks. This week we have been looking at a few new authors.

Here is an example from Gail Gibbons' book, Apples. I was astounded when the kids noticed that this was a sequence of events. (A connection to our new reading curriculum.) One student also found this magazine photo, during a different investigation. We loved the way the photographer/illustrator broke the picture into different sections, also showing a sequence of events. Simply pointing out to young authors that it is ok to divide up their page is eye opening for many!

We've also been noticing how speech bubbles and thought bubbles are used. These simple ideas are elements kids notice in books. They point out that it's neat or that they like it. They are drawn to these elements, but they don't really know why. Giving kids the language of authors and illustrators, by NAMING these techniques, makes the process more meaningful for our young writers.

As you are reading with your child at home, be on the lookout for interesting or unusual illustrations! We'd love to see them too, if you're willing to send the book to school with your child.

Happy reading... and writing... and illustrating!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to Grow Paperwhites

This is a post I did for my home blog last weekend. We are growing 3 Paperwhites in the classroom as well. I thought you might like to see this post, in case you are interested in growing beautiful flowers, indoors, that smell amazing!

It's time to plant Paperwhites!

I stopped by my local garden shop last week to pick up my Paperwhite bulbs. Once upon a time, when Costco carried Paperwhites, I would give one to each of my students to observe in the classroom. We loved watching the roots start sprouting. Then the green would shoot up out of the bulb, grow buds, and eventually flowers. It's magical for a five year old to see how an ugly brown bulb can bring such beauty. Well, Costco doesn't carry Paperwhites anymore. Sadly, I can't afford the price of Paperwhites for all of my students. $25 at the garden center is a lot harder to swallow that $9.99 at Costco. I do love to grow them with my own kids, though.

If you've never grown Paperwhites before, it's time to start! They are really easy.

Choose a container. Any bowl or dish will do.

Fill it with rocks.


Add a little water and a few bulbs.



Before you know it, you'll have beautiful flowers. Happy planting!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Our Illustration Study

I'm reading a new book, which means my "teacher mind" is spinning. It means I'm not sleeping, because I'm thinking about our newest unit of study in kindergarten. My laundry is not getting done, because I'm reading and planning.

Here's the book I'm reading. Katie Wood Ray is a fabulous author. She writes about Writer's Workshop and writing in early childhood. In my opinion, she's brilliant. She honors the work of young children and has a deep understanding of their needs.

In her book, she discusses the value of illustration as part of the writing process. In kindergarten, we make books. We make cards, write letters, and just make "stuff" out of our writing. I love this quote from Katie Wood Ray's book, "Making books is developmentally appropriate because, when supported to do so, children bring to book making the same exploratory spirit they bring to all sorts of other play." We provide blocks and they become architects. We give them a home center and they become just like their moms and dads. We give them blank books and they become authors and illustrators.

Take a look at Jan Brett's illustrations. We all look at these books and see gorgeous illustrations. What makes them so beautiful? Today, one of the kindergartners responded to this question by saying, "She does not scribble when she draws."



Here are a few things we love about Jan Brett's books.
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Does your child like to draw? Is it something they would choose to do each day? What art materials does your child like best? Crayons, Twistables, oil pastels, colored pencils, watercolor paints... the possibilities are endless.

Next time your child is excited about a family activity, have them draw it! Talk about the details that can be added to the picture. Ask questions and dig deeper. The more your child talks about an experience, the more they will remember to include in their drawing.

Happy illustrating!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Environmental Print

Tonight we had gymnastics. It takes fifteen minutes to drive each way. So, for thirty minutes my kindergartner practiced her reading skills this evening. Here is a little of the conversation:

"Mom, what does e-f-a-c-c spell?"

"Efacc. But that's not a word you'd find in the dictionary."

"How about this one. s-m-i-l."

"Well, if you add a silent e to the end, it spells smile."

"Hey, I can spell smile!"

"I know what s-a-f-e-w-a-y spells. Safeway! That's our grocery store!"

"How did you know such a big word?"

"I know that it begins with ssssss and all of those other letters with it spell Safeway."

I could keep going with this, but I don't have thirty minutes to recount the entire conversation. The whole time we were in the car, my daughter was reading words, looking for letters, sounding out made-up words, and just having fun with language. I didn't push her into doing this. In fact, I could really have used a little quiet time in the car. But, playing with language and looking for environmental print is a natural thing for kindergartners to do. It's fun for kids and incredibly engaging.

Environmental print is just that, words all around us in our environment. It's everywhere. We find it on labels, signs, restaurants, food containers, logos, and advertisements. Kids this age are naturally drawn to this type of print. At first they just see the symbol. By age 2, both of my kids knew when we had arrived at Target and it wasn't because they were reading the letters and sounding out the word. The big red Target symbol is a dead giveaway. By age 5, they were interested in the word itself. We started talking about the sounds the letters made, or the blends that letters made when they were put together. Eventually they started to read the words.

Next time you're in the car (even if you were really wishing for a little quiet time) try playing around with environmental print and the words and letters you see all around. Your kids will love it, and they'll be learning at the same time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cooking With Kids

My kids and I love to bake together. They love to roll out the dough for sugar cookies, and then help frost and decorate. When we make bread, they help knead the dough. (Yes, the flour gets everywhere.)

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I got out all of our "kid cookbooks" and picked out a few new recipes to try. I have a pretty big collection of cookbooks written specifically for kids. Every year I do a cooking unit in the classroom, so I'm always on the lookout for inexpensive cookbooks to add to the collection. Cookbooks for kids are easy to find. There are usually big bins of books for sale at my grocery store. I find some on ebay or at Half Price Books. You'll see them everywhere if you're on the lookout.

This time, instead of choosing something to bake, my daughter and I picked a few recipes for dinners and snacks. We picked a broccoli mac and cheese, clam chowder, and a cereal based snack.

My daughter is only 6, and had a great time being in charge of dinner for the family. I love the way directions in kids' cookbooks are written so simply. Reading recipes ties right into our work with "sequence of events" in literacy. They are easy to follow and the language is just right for a beginning cook. They are full of photographs too, which make them ideal for young chefs. (But, really, who doesn't love good pictures in their cookbook?)

Here are a few things we made:

Here's the whole wheat mac and cheese with broccoli. Whole wheat pasta does not photograph well. It tastes better than it looks.

This is the cereal based snack mix we tried.

Here's the clam chowder.

Overall, we had a great afternoon together. We had Sunday night dinner, snack for the week, and a casserole to put in the freezer for later. I purposely didn't share these recipes because my daughter's favorite part of cooking together is the hunt for the perfect recipe. If you haven't cooked with your kids before, I encourage you to find a few kids' cookbooks and give it a try. Put them to work washing vegetables, tearing salad greens, and mixing ingredients. It looks like we'll be snowed in today. It may be a great day to cook up some memories. Cooking with kids is a joy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pinecone Bird Feeders

We are learning about sequence of events in our reading curriculum right now. We have talked about how authors use signal words such as first, next,then,after, and finally to help readers understand sequence. Recognizing sequence helps us, as readers, follow directions, learn steps in a process, or understand how an event unfolds over a period of time.

One of our sequences was a "how to" poster. We learned how to make pine cone bird feeders by following a sequence of events. Today, in class, we actually made the bird feeders.

We started with beautiful pine cones from Eastern Washington.


We tied them with string, added frosting, and rolled them in bird seed.



I'm sure our little bird friends are saying thank you, on this snowy day!

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

What To Do On A Snowy Sunday

It was snowing today, but not enoough to really enjoy. We thought it was more of a "light a fire in the fireplace and do some crafts" kind of day.

I got out some rubber stamps, washable stamp pads, blank cards, and some pretty paper.

My little kindergartener had a great time making cards for the grandmas. I love that this is not only an art project, but encouragement to write! My little girl is so excited to write. This is a great way to capture that excitement and give her a purpose for her writing.

What projects do you do at your house? I'd love to hear your ideas for snowy day arts and crafts! It sounds like we'll be having a lot of snowy/stay home days this year.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

Practicing Numbers

Workbooks are great for practicing letters and numbers. The grocery stores even carry workbooks for young children. Here are a few ideas for your kids to try, when they get tired of practicing letters and numbers in workbook pages.


Write letters or numbers on a piece of paper and glue Cheerios to the top.


Practice in shaving cream on a table or the shower wall.


Practice with Play-Doh snakes. Make sure kids are forming letters and numbers properly.


Practice with markers or paints.

It's amazing how excited kids get when you just change things up a bit!
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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Favorite Things for Learning Letters and Sounds

I'm in love with the Leap Frog brand! The people who work at Leap Frog simply KNOW KIDS! There are a few items that I have purchased for my kids that I can't live without. With the Holidays approaching, keep these ideas in mind for gifts for your kids.


First up, the Letter Factory DVD is an absolute "must have" if your child is still working to solidify their letter sounds. (Which is most kindergarteners at this point in the year.) This DVD was only $9.00 at Target and it was the best $9.00 I've ever spent. It has catchy little songs to help kids learn letters and sounds. I actually purchased the whole series of Leap Frog DVD's for my own kids. The skills addressed in the DVD's get progressively harder, but are always taught in a developmentally appropriate way.


The best part about the DVD's is how they connect to the hands-on learning games made by Leap Frog. I purchased this game for my kids a few years ago. Leap Frog has stopped making the board game, although you can still purchase it on Ebay. You can also buy card games, Leapster game cartridges, Fridge Phonics, and many other games that use the same catchy songs as the DVD. It's brilliant! The kids learn the songs when they watch the DVD. Then they play the hands-on games to help solidify the concepts.


Here's my latest purchase. I bought a tag reader, some books, a carrying case, and headphones for each of my kids. Again, this is a brilliant invention. Kids can touch the book and just have the story read to them, or point to each word individually and read the book on their own. There are also several learning games incorporated into each book. The books and Tag reader are available everywhere. I often buy books at Target. I purchased the original set from I found that buying the initial set on their website was less expensive.

I hope you'll keep some of these ideas in mind for Holiday gifts. There are so many wonderful learning games made by Leap Frog. They haven't even paid me to say these nice things about them! I'm just a huge fan of the products. (Although, if Leap Frog wanted to purchase a class set of Tag Readers for my class, I'd gladly review their product for them!!!)