Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kindergarten Writers

I think Writer's Workshop is my favorite thing to teach young kids. I've never considered myself much of a writer. One of the reasons I started blogging, was to have writing experience to draw upon when we are talking about the things writer do. I want to be able to share my own thinking, as a writer. That's hard to do when the only thing you write is a grocery list, a note to a teacher, or an email to a parent. There are lots of reasons we write, but I wanted to find joy in my writing. (Not that I don't enjoy sending you emails!)

Blogging has helped me connect as a writer with my kindergarten writers. We need to make decisions about what to write, how to format our piece, which pictures or illustrations to use, or when a piece needs more work. Here are a few things our kindergarten students are working on now.

I like my cat.
This writer was in the middle of a piece of writing. He told me that he was going to add lots of details to the picture before he added his cat. You can see that he is using sight words and is also able to sound out simple words. This author doesn't quite have the idea of spacing or punctuation, but that will come as we progress through the year.

I Like Horses
This is the cover of a book that one of our kindergarteners is working on. Let me just say, most kindergarteners (and most of their teachers) cannot draw horses like this! She is an amazing artist! When I asked this little girl to tell me about her story, she told me about a magical Christmas horse. I find it very uncommon for kindergarten students to write fiction stories. They usually like to write about the thing they know best... themselves. I can't wait to see how this fiction story turns out!

I like my family.
Here is an example of a child who is transitioning into using punctuation. We often see young kids over use their punctuation when they first learn about it. They know that their teachers and parents praise them when they remember to put a period in their writing, so why not use it more often? I always try to remember that this is a developmental phase. I don't point out that this is wrong or incorrect. I use this as an opportunity to model. When I read a story to the class or do a demonstration, I point out the difference between a word and a sentence and show them where to put the period. Most kids are able to learn this concept through our modeling. Eventually, if students are still over using punctuation after a period of time, I will show them the proper way during a one on one conference. I always want to be careful not to crush the attempts of a beginning writer.

Christmas Eve
I love this piece. The girl who wrote this, found a book with the words Christmas Eve on it. She brought the book back to her desk and copied the words in the bottom corner. Earlier in the year, we had talked about putting labels on our picture. She has labeled the bed and the moon, using her best-guess spelling. Do you see those little circles on the moon? She explained to me that the moon has little circles on it, if you look very carefully, and she wanted to add that detail in her drawing. When I asked her to tell me more about her picture, she said, "It's Christmas Eve and my bed is in the living room because I'm waiting for Santa." At that point, I took some dictation. She had done lots of great writing, and I wanted her to remember this story.

Kindergarten writers are truly amazing. Our Winter Break is coming up and I'm sure many of you have adventures, family time, or celebrations planned. Please encourage your child to write about their experiences. I find that my daughter is more excited about writing when I write a book with her.We spend a lot of time writing side by side.  I always point out that my pictures aren't perfect, and that's ok.  You don't have to be an amazing artist to be a great writer.  My son, who is in 5th grade, really enjoys taking his own pictures. Sometimes he will add photos and writing to a scrapbook. Other times he will add to his own blog. However your child chooses to write, please encourage them! We'd love to see their writing when we return from break!
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingerbread Friends

Kindergarten teachers love collecting different versions of The Gingerbread Man. Maybe we love it because we take the kids on a hunt for the Gingerbread Man on the first day of Kindergarten. Whatever the reason, when December rolls around, we break out the books.

The Gingerbread Baby, by Jan Brett, is one of my all time favorites. If you haven't seen it already, Jan Brett has a terrific website with lots of great activities and games for kids.

Recently, we read Gingerbread Friends, also by Jan Brett.

I think Gingerbread Girl is my #1 favorite. This little girl is smart and sassy. My daughter loves this book too. I think she has a lot in common with that smart and sassy Gingerbread Girl.

Our kindergarteners made some gingerbread friends of their own.  We invited families to help with this project at home.  The kindergarten gingerbread friends are SO much fun to see!

Thank you for helping your kids with this project!  We love encouraging projects that families can do together. 
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pattern Block Turkeys

We are starting our pattern work in kindergarten. We have talked about AB patterns, ABC patterns, and AABB patterns. Kids have had a little time to explore with our math manipulatives. Today we made our paper pattern block turkeys. Some kids really have a good understanding of how pattern blocks fit together. Many kids really understand the concept of a pattern.

You can see, in these two pictures, how kids are putting the pattern block pieces together.

Some kids are simply gluing pattern block pieces down in a way that looks "pretty" to them, with no pattern at all. That's ok too. Working with pattern blocks, construction paper, and glue sticks is fairly new to some of these kiddos. We let the kids explore and meet them where they are. We love the way their creations are turning out.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

I'm a book lover. I spend WAY too much money on books. The majority of the books I buy are for use in my classroom. I have a collection of thousands of children's books at school. I buy inexpensive books at garage sales and library sales, but I also shop the bookstores for newly released books. I love buying picture books we can use as mentor texts during Writer's Workshop. Last week, I was on the lookout for easy readers for my kindergarteners.

I stopped by Barnes and Noble and went straight to the children's section. I was down on my knees looking through some easy readers, when an older gentleman came up. He saw my pile of easy readers and said, "Oh, this is the same series I was just looking for. I'm buying some books for my grand daughter. " Well, I'm kind of chatty. I started telling him about my kindergarten students and showed him the books I had found.  As I was walking away, he asked if I buy the books for my classroom with my own money.  I told him that I did, but that it is something I really enjoy being able to provide for my students. 

At that very moment, he took out his wallet and handed me a twenty dollar bill.

 He told me that he'd like to buy the books for my students.  His wife came around the corner and chimed in, telling me that their son is a teacher and they know how much money we spend out of our own pockets for the good of our children. 

I was stunned.  Strangers don't do this kind of thing.  Sometimes parents will donate books to our classroom, but this was a couple I had never seen before and would probably never see again.

I told my kindergarten students, my girl scout troop, and my own children about the kindness of the couple in the bookstore.  I wish I had asked their names or gotten an address so I could send a thank you note. The only way I came up with to thank them, was sending a thank you to the Seattle Times.  Every Sunday, The Times runs a Rants and Raves section.  I looked up who to send this to and sent an email, thanking the kind couple in the bookstore.

I can't tell you how excited I was to see my message of thanks in last Sunday's paper.  I hope they read the newspaper on the weekend and saw my note.  Their kindness brightened my day beyond words.

Since then, I've been on the lookout for ways I can help others, in the same way they helped me.  One act of kindness leads to another.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Veteran's Day Butterflies

We met our buddy class! Our big buddies came over to help us with a project for our Veteran's Day assembly, later this week.

Every child in our school is creating a butterfly out of red, white, and blue paper. We decorated our butterflies and they will be used to make an American Flag to honor our veterans.

Be sure to ask your child about our buddy visit today!
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New Things To Look For

Over the past few weeks, we have been reading books by Eric Carle.  I know many kids have read these books at home because I hear, "TEACHER!  I have that book!"  When I take out a new book by Eric Carle.

This week, we will be starting to send home our literacy backpacks.  Each backpack will have a book, an activity, or sometimes a stuffed animal to read to.  The backpacks go home with a different student each day, so please be sure to send it back the day after your child brings it home.  If it is an especially busy night, and you don't have time to read the book or complete the activity, please send it back the next day anyway.  We will be sure your child gets a second turn, if they missed out the first time around.  The first book bags will just be a story by Eric Carle and a stuffed animal to read with. 

We are also sending home a writing book.  Each night, a different child will get to take these books home.  Please take a few minutes to fill this out with your child and read through the pages that were done by their classmates.  When each child has had one turn, we will send the books home again.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Collecting and Pressing Leaves

Hello Families!  I hope your kiddos are enjoying their time off.  I have a favor to ask.  Beginning next week we will be starting several projects using fall leaves.  Would you mind taking a leaf walk with your child and collecting some beautiful leaves for us?

We are looking for all different sizes, shapes, and colors.  The leaves also need to be pressed.  Laying leaves between newspaper and putting heavy books on top works well.

Phone books also work well for pressing leaves.  Once the leaves are inside the book, it will take several days for them to dry out.

Thanks for your help collecting leaves!  Think of all the beautiful projects we will be making with these!

Happy leaf collecting!

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Really Owe Her One

Most of you know my pathetic story of falling down the stairs and breaking my foot. Sadly, it happened the day before the pumpkin farm field trip! I called Mrs. Parkhurst, who was very excited to chaperone her daughter's class on the field trip, and begged for help. Of course, she happily said, "Of course! I'll take 50 kindergartners to the pumpkin farm for you!" I really owe her!!!

The kids had a fantastic time on the trip. The weather was beautiful and the kids loved picking their pumpkins! The next day, the kids spent the whole day doing pumpkin math.

The measured how tall their pumpkins were.

They measured the distance around their pumpkins.

We counted the ribs in each pumpkin.

We weighed the pumpkins too.

Thank you, Mrs. Parkhurst, for jumping in and taking our kids on this fabulous trip! The kids were so excited to tell me all about their field trip and pumpkin math when I returned.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Our First Reader's Theater

We have started our first Reader's Theater in kindergarten. Every three weeks, our classes will participate in reading a book which is written like a play. Each child will have a part. We focus on reading with expression and reading fluently.

This week, we also focused on concepts of print. The concepts of print seem obvious to adults, but to a child, this is a whole new territory. Here are some of the questions we ask kids (and model for them).

Where is the cover?
Where is the title?
Where is the author's name?
Where should I start reading?
How many words are in this line?
Can you point to a period? What does it mean?
Can you point to an exclamation mark? How do we read a sentence with an exclamation?

You get the idea. These are all questions that seem to have an obvious answer, but many kids are quite unsure. These are just a few things to keep in mind as you are reading with your child.

Happy reading!
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Two Books Can Be Confusing

We have started sending home two different books in kindergarten.

For the past few weeks, you have been seeing books like this one:

These are the books we are asking you to practice with your child.  Your child should be reading them to you on three separate occasions.  When they have read their book three times, and you have signed them off in their folder, we will put a stamp in their reading log.  (Oh, they love earning these stamps!)

This week, we changed things on you!  Are you confused?  These books look different from the others.  They are smaller and focus specifically on the sight words we are introducing each week.

When you see these books come home, please have your child practice them!  We don't have a special reading log for these books, but the more they practice, the better readers they will be!

Sight words are the words we expect children to know quickly, without thinking or sounding them out.  When your child entered kindergarten, we assessed them.  We gave them a list of 25 sight words and asked them to read each one.  To be meeting standards as a beginning kindergarten student, your child should be able to read at least one word.  We will share results of how your child performed at our upcoming parent/teacher conference.  We would love it if you would practice these words with your child at home.

Here's the first list:


We have also been working on:

Keep reading at home!  Thanks for your support!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Our Take Home Reading Books

This week we started sending home our Take-Home-Reading books.  The first two books in the series are wordless books.

Wordless books are a wonderful way for young children to feel like readers, even if they aren't able to read words yet. 

In class, we model how to tell the story of a wordless book.  We point out to our students that there are no words in the story, so we have to be detectives and look very closely at the illustrations to see what the story is all about.  We look at the details in the illustration and practice "reading" this story. 

The language of picture book with words may come out as your child is reading to you.  Kids might start with, "Once upon a time" or "One day" as they read.  They may say, "the end" as they get to the last page of the story.  This type of reader-like behavior lets your child demonstrate their knowledge of traditional stories.  It shows that they've been listening as you've been reading to them all of these years!

This is a great opportunity for your child to read to you.  It may even be the first time they are able to do this.  It's the start of a new chapter in your child's literacy life.  Please remind your child that even though these first two books have no words, they are still books and your child is still reading!

Over the past few weeks I've been pinning some of my favorite wordless books. Pinterest is an online bulletin board. I have a button on their site for my favorite children's books. You can follow me on Pinterest and see these books by clicking on the button below.

Follow Me on Pinterest

You can also visit my other blog for an additional post on wordless books.


Happy reading!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Homework for Parents

Am I allowed to assign homework to parents?  If I could, I'd assign THIS book for all parents to read.

I read a lot of books on early childhood education.  It's my passion!  As you know, I have kids of my own and 50 kindergarten students who rely on me to have a firm understanding of how they learn.  This is the SINGLE BEST BOOK I've read about early childhood education.

Mariah Bruehl is the author.  I purchased my copy of the book from Amazon.com.

This book is brilliantly written for parents with young children.  Mariah briefly discusses developmental stages in reading, writing, math, science, and social awareness.  She explains what parents will see when they work with their children.  The best part about the book (in my opinion) is the fact that it is all about learning through play and life experiences.  It's not about sitting down with a workbook.  It's about real life.

Mariah also writes a blog and offers online classes for parents and teachers.  I have taken her Playful Learning class online and it was fabulous. My kids took her writing/photography class  over the summer and enjoyed it as well.

Happy reading!

Proper Pencil Grip

Next time your child picks up a crayon, pencil, or marker, check to see how they hold it.  Do they look comfortable as they are writing?  Are they using a proper grip to hold the pencil?  Are you wondering what the proper pencil grip actually looks like?  Here's a great picture of the proper way to hold a pencil.  Notice the way the fingers are positioned and the angle of the pencil. 

You and I don't even think twice about the way we hold our pencils or pens.  We just pick them up and start writing.  A five year old is just starting on this adventure called writing.  We want to help them develop good habits from the start.  I have to admit, when I see a student who looks like they are struggling with their pencil grip, I really have to watch them to figure out what they are doing that causes them challenges.  I'm not an occupational therapist.  To my eye, I'm just noticing that they are struggling.  An occupational therapist could tell exactly which finger leads the pencil,  where the error is in the position of their fingers, and know exactly how to help the child correct their grip. 

Over the years, I've started to figure out more and more ways to help students with their small motor skills.  Playdoh, clay, Leggos, and finger paint are all really fun ways to help build the muscles in our hands.  Kids love it and they don't even notice that it's work.  

One of my favorite discoveries is the Crayola crayon for beginners.
These crayons are triangular shaped, which encourages the proper form for holding a pencil.  Brilliant!

Take a look at the way your child hold a crayon, marker, or pencil.  If it looks uncomfortable, it probably is uncomfortable.  We may not be occupational therapists, but we know when our kids are struggling with something.  Give these crayons a try!  Oh, and don't forget the playdoh and fingerpaint!  Have fun!!!