Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Favorite Gingerbread Books

Thanksgiving is here, which means that Gingerbread Season has officially begun!  I truly believe that if there was a title of Gingerbread Queen, it would be mine.  At home and in the classroom, December is filled with gingerbread.  
(Side note:  I think part of the reason I love it so much is that it's not actually a Christmas activity but it still feels festive.  Working in a public school I'm not allowed to do true Christmas activities, but no one can complain about a cute little cookie!)

My collection of gingerbread books is pretty big.  I think I'm up to about 20 or 25 different titles.  I realize that most families won't run out and buy 20 different gingerbread books, but if I had to choose and narrow it down, these are a few of my favorites.

You absolutely have to have a few of the traditional versions.

All of those versions are slightly different.

Then, there is The Gingerbread Girl.  I love reading this story to the kids because they make predictions along the way, based on what happened in the other stories.  Suddenly, there is a twist and the kids cheer!  It's such a great book.

Here's one that you may not have heard of.  This one is Gingerbread Village and it was purchased through The Learning Workshop, which is a company that makes educational materials and is based in Washington State.  It has a song that goes along with it and I love using music in my classroom.  We sing this all through December.  I also have a beautiful Gingerbread Village felt board set that a parent made for me a few years ago.  The kids love telling stories with my set.

Of course, everyone needs a copy of Gingerbread Baby, by Jan Brett.  (And don't forget Gingerbread Friends, by Jan Brett, too.) She's simply fabulous and I love the resources she provides on her website.  This story is a must-have!

Finally, here is another Gingerbread Man story that you may not have heard of.  Heidi, from Heidisongs is absolutely amazing!  I don't know how she did it, but she wrote a musical based on the Gingerbread Man, had her kids perform it, and then made it into a book.  My students love this one and she even has a video of their performance on You Tube!

If you are interested in purchasing any of these books, here are my Amazon Affiliate links.  I do get a little kick back for being part of this program.

There are so many other gingerbread books that I love, but these are my personal favorites.  Do you have a favorite version?  Make sure you read it to your child and share it with us in the comments!

Finally, I want to share a few questions that you may want to ask your child as you are reading different versions of the Gingerbread Man.

*What do you think is going to happen next?

*Do you like the ending? How would you change it?

*How do you think this is the same and different from the last story we read?

*What was your favorite part?

Obviously, there are a lot more things to talk about in the books, but this is a good start since we are comparing different versions.

Happy reading and Happy Gingerbread Season!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reading Magic

I spotted this book at a reading conference last summer and knew I had to read it.  If you aren't familiar with Mem Fox, she is one of my all time favorite children's book authors.  In my mind, Mem Fox creates the reading magic for children.  

I've spent the past few days reading this book and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.  It isn't filled with new-to-me information but I love the way Mem Fox writes.  This book is just a good reminder of the reasons we read aloud to children.  It also reminds me to share this information with parents.  I always tell parents that the single most important thing they can do for their child, when it comes to education, is read to them.  In this book, Mem Fox explains why reading aloud is important.

In her book, Mem Fox describes Reading Magic happening through 3 avenues.  There is the magic of print, the magic of language, and magic of knowledge.  I won't go into great detail about all three of these areas because I really think parents should read the book to get the full idea.  I do want to talk about the magic of knowledge because that is what this blog is all about.  

This quote from the book sums up my feelings about reading nicely, "Of course children will not only learn about the world from the pages of books.  They'll learn about it from being in it.  It's important for us to take them on as many excursions as possible, even it it's just around the block to the local shops or to the park or the zoo, let alone to another state or country.  They'll also gather information about the world by listening to interesting adults, watching fascinating television, and learning about anything at all- from computer graphics to making pancakes, milking a cow, or playing soccer.  Expanding their experience in any direction helps them to better understand how the world works."

I may start to sound like a broken record, but I truly believe that experiences play a key role in our literacy lives.  Every experience we have finds a permanent record inside our brain and we can use that record later on as we are reading or writing.  

One of my favorite things to do with young kids is cook.  I have a big collection of children's cookbooks.  My daughter loves it when I bring a few books home for her to look through and often finds a recipe or two that she is excited to try.  Princess Tiana's fruit salad was easy to make.

Baking is always one of my favorite activities.  My youngest has been baking with me since she needed a stool to reach the counter. The picture below was taken when she was 6.

Last night she did a bit more baking and whipped up a batch of frosted gingerbread cookies, completely on her own.  There may have been a little incident with the flour.  It was pretty comical, but I guarantee it was one of those incidents she will file away and revisit sometime in the future.

I often think about the amount of time we spend growing, picking, and preserving our own food.  As I read aloud to my students, I wonder how many of them have background knowledge about food like my own kids do.  Do they have gardens at their houses?  Do they know where their food comes from or is the read aloud their first introduction to food literacy?

We don't take huge vacations in our family, but we do take advantage of the range of climate around us.  In the summer we hit the beach and in the winter we enjoy the mountains.  Each and every experience gives my kids a little more information to file away.

As much as I believe in Mem Fox's three secrets to reading magic, the secret of knowledge of the world has to be my favorite.  For parents, this secret can be the most fun and easiest to do with kids.  Just have fun!  Cook, bake, paint, collect leaves, enjoy the snowfall, walk to the park, and simply enjoy the seasons with your child!  File all of these adventures away and I promise they will be called upon later in life.  Your child may be reading a book a year from now and say, "Hey!  I did that with my mom!"  That sudden connection will make such a difference in your child's ability to make meaning from a story.

Enjoy your adventures and happy reading!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Great Books For Kindergartners to Read Independently

I'm a kindergarten teacher and I'm always on the look out for books my kids can read independently.  It's not easy finding great books that 5 and 6 year olds can read.  We tried the BOB books, but many of my students think they are boring.  I have to admit, I think they are a little boring too.
A few years ago one of the parents in my class shared a book set with me. I purchased this set, by Nora Gaydos, at Barnes and Noble. My daughter, who was in kindergarten at the time, loved it! She earned stickers each time she read a book. (Stickers are included in the set.) The set for Pre-readers is fantastic.  The Level 1 books are a pretty big jump, but I bought those as well.  They are pretty challenging, but something to work toward.

While I was browsing, I found these sets of non-fiction books. I'm in LOVE with these books! The text is repetitive and easy for kids to access. The pictures are actual photos. The books are really gorgeous! I'm having a hard time finding these online.  I purchased them at Barnes and Noble, so if you ever spot them, you should really pick the up!


If you are interested in finding books that your kids are able to read with minimal support, these sets are good suggestions. Even when your kids are reading on their own, please remember that reading TO your kids will always be an important part of your daily routine! If you have suggestions for other great books, please share them in the comment section or send me an email!

Happy reading!
Dolen Diaries
Nap-Time Creations

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thanksgiving Placecards and Table Decor for Kids

My chalkboard Thanksgiving table activity is up on LeapFrog Learning Path.  This activity was especially fun to create, photograph, and write about.  My daughter helped make the place cards for a dinner party earlier in the week and my son helped set up the camera and lighting for the photoshoot.

Details on how to make the table covering, place cards, and tags are on Learning Path.  There are a few fun products I tried out and even a chalk stamping portion.  

I hope you try it out at your Thanksgiving Kids Table.
Dolen Diaries
Nap-Time Creations

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Idea Room - Organizing An Art Area For Kids Even When You Don't Have The Space

 Last week I shared my post about the Idea Room that was at a school I visited for a training class.  Today I'm sharing how to create an Idea Room in your own house, even when you don't have the space for a dedicated Idea Room or Art Area in your home, and how it is inspired by Reggio Emilia.

For the past several years I've been inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach to education.  There are so many things I love about Reggio Emilia.  I love the use of light, the use of reflection, the 100 languages of the child (similar to Multiple Intelligences), giving kids the time to explore and investigate ideas based on their own interests, and creating an environment that serves as the third teacher (referring to the idea that there are two teachers in every classroom).  I've been on a mission to create spaces and provide experiences for my students that reflect this approach.  When I visited The Idea Room in another school, which was a room set up for exploring in a variety of different ways, I was immediately struck by how "Reggio-like" this space was.  I thought about how wonderful it would be to have a Reggio Inspired space in every school for kids to extend their learning, but it also reminded me how important it is to have a space to create in our own homes.

In a dream world I would have a huge craft room and each area of my room would be set up for a different craft.  It would be a place to work, create, and explore with my kids.  I would have big sink and big tables.  And there would be glitter. Lots of glitter.  But, here in my real world, my sewing room is shared with the den and my craft table doubles as the kitchen table.

I store most of our art supplies in portable bins.  My daughter tends to draw all over the house.  Sometimes she needs her supplies in the family room, other times she takes off into her own room, and most often she needs them for homework assignments at the kitchen table.

I'm a big fan of buying high quality art supplies.  Dollar Store art supplies give you Dollar Store quality.

A few years ago, my son needed some art supplies to create a brochure to go along with a book he had read.  Even though he was past the "coloring stage" and never sat down to draw or color, he did have a need for art supplies on a regular basis for homework projects.

I love to sit down and do some art with the kids too.  This was one of those paint by numbers drawings that was done with watercolor pencils.  (If you haven't tried them, they are SO much fun and would be a great gift idea for kids.)

When my kids were younger, this pegboard writing wall was hung in the kitchen.  We had envelopes, papers, stationary, stickers, drawing paper, and sight word cards right at our fingertips.  Now that the kids are older, this is upstairs by my daughter's room.

We have a spot in our kitchen that has a quirky little cupboard on the back side of  the  main cupboards.  We use this space to house most of our art supplies. Glass canning jars are great for storing pens, pencils, and paint brushes.

The kitchen table is our Idea Room.  It is the space that we spend time creating all sorts of things. From drawing and coloring to wire crafting and metal stamping.  This is our Idea Room.  It's our space to make our ideas come to life.  

Do you have a space in your house that can serve as your idea room? Everyone needs a place to create, even people who don't think they are artistic (like me)!

Happy creating!

Dolen Diaries
Nap-Time Creations

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Idea Room

A few days ago I attended a workshop that was housed in a beautiful new elementary school.  The school had room called The Idea Room.  It was such an amazing space and it just made me want to spend the day exploring different materials in this space.  

To start, it had a Kiln Room.  Both of my previous buildings had kilns that were stored in the boiler room, but my new building does not have a kiln at all.  I'm a bit sad about that because I've always done clay projects with my class.  The aprons hanging here just invite creativity!

I cook and bake quite frequently with my kindergarten class and I was envious of this cooking station in The Idea Room.  It was set up like a full kitchen for any cooking or baking project that might tie into the curriculum.

The windows.  Oh, the windows!  There is a whole wall of windows that lets in the light. It reminds me of the Ateliers in Reggio Emilia.  The learning spaces in Reggio Emilia, Italy, are always filled with light and reflection.  I could just imagine this space with a few mirrors to reflect the natural light pouring in.

There is a large over-sized sink for clean up after really messy projects.

And the art supplies... Oh, the art supplies!  This room is ready for any creative endeavor you could imagine.

I forgot to take a picture of the space as a whole, but it was filled with stainless topped tables that were ideal for any sort of messy activity.

 My first thought, when walking into this room, was that every school needs to have a room like this.  Then, my dreaming went on to the next level.  Wouldn't it be awesome if, not only did every school have an Idea Room, but they also had a designated teacher who was assigned to that room and their job was to support teachers in their endeavors to enhance learning though creativity.  I think I would be knocking people over to get in line for that job.  As a teacher, it's SO hard to teach the curriculum of every single subject area, differentiate instruction to the needs of all kids, challenge kids who need to go beyond grade level, provide support to struggling learners, create lessons that meet the needs of the variety of different ways kids learn, and then provide meaningful opportunities to keep the learning real-life and relevant.  Wouldn't it be awesome if the Idea Room teacher could provide that support, gather materials needed, and assist in teaching the lesson?  Honestly, when I do a painting project or special cooking activity with my class, I don't have enough time at recess to run to the bathroom or even take a bite of my lunch.  Every spare minute of my "break" is spent setting up materials.  It's exhausting but, as teachers, we do it for the kids.  I know I'm only dreaming, but it would be so awesome if our nation and state valued this type of education enough to fully fund it and provide learning environments, like The Idea Room, that would meet the needs of all learners. Sigh.

Coming up soon, on the blog, I'll be sharing how to create your own Idea Room in your home, even when you don't have the space.

Happy creating!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bats Books and Model Magic

We've been reading a lot of bat books lately in my kindergarten class.  Some books are fiction and others are non-fiction.  Obviously, the non-fiction books have a lot of great information about bats, but the fiction books are not without their important details about bats.  The kids have been very interested in learning about the claws and light weight bones of bats.  They found it interesting that bats hang by their feet and can use their wings to catch bugs at night. 

We have been retelling stories about bats, writing about bats, making "bat trees" which describe things bats have, can, and are, and we have also been showing our learning  through our models.

We watched a few videos about bats, which really helped us see the parts of the bat's body.  Then, I gave the kids small pieces of Model Magic.  Model Magic is like a soft clay that dries hard.  I gave the kids time to explore with their Model Magic for a while and then we started to create our bats.

I kept the pieces small, to help kids with their fine motor development.

We worked to have a small head and body, large ears, thin wings, claws, and even the little hook on top of the wings. It was challenging for some kids to work with a small amount of Model Magic.

I'm always trying to find a variety of ways for my students to show their learning.  Using Model Magic was a great way to demonstrate with something they are creating, rather than just writing about their learning.  While they were working, I wandered around and talked to kids about the different parts of the bats they were making.  We talked about the thin wings as they flattened out their Model Magic, and big ears as they sculpted away.  The full activity didn't take long, but kids really got a lot out of it.

Happy learning!

Monday, October 26, 2015

How To Press Leaves

Fall is in full swing and the leaves are showing off a bit.  I really love the beautiful leaves... but who doesn't?  Driving through the mountains this weekend reminded me that it's time to start leaf collecting.  I use leaves all over my house for decoration, but I also use them in the classroom for math, art, science, and literacy connections.  When I ask kids to bring leaves to the classroom, they are usually GREAT collectors, but the only way we can use these leaves for our projects is when they are pressed.  Pressing leaves is very simple and doesn't take up a lot of space. 

I usually start with a couple of paper towels on the table, and then I set a few leaves on top.

Next, you set a paper towel on top of the leaves and another layer of leaves is set on top of that towel.

I keep layering as many paper towels and leaves as I can, and then put a big stack of books on top.  They need to sit like this for several days so they become dry and flat. Once they are pressed and dry, I store them in an OPEN container.  There will still be a tiny bit of moisture in the leaves, so you don't want to close them up and grow mold.  That's a science experiment I'd rather not do right now.  

My favorite way to press leaves is with a flower press.  A friend bought this one for me and I use it constantly during the summer for flowers and the fall for leaves.  

I will be sharing books and projects very soon.  For now, happy leaf collecting!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Teaching Kids to Write - What I Value

It may be surprising to hear that I didn't always love teaching writing to young children.  After all, I write a literacy blog.  You would think that I loved reading and writing as a kid and that my love for those subjects carried right into my adult life and into my teaching.  Well... not so much.  I actually hated, yes HATED, reading as a kid and although I didn't mind writing in my younger years, I found it to be absolutely painful to teach in the beginning years of my teaching career.

When I first started teaching, we really didn't have a writing curriculum, so we had to figure things out as we went along.  I started reading a few books about teaching writing to my first and second graders, but they all talked about modeling for them.  Writing in front of the class absolutely petrified me.  I couldn't imagine sitting in front of a class and showing them how I came up with story ideas and actually writing in front of them.  It was painful.  It was something I avoided at all cost.

In 1998, I started my master's program in reading and literacy.  I didn't feel as competent as I wanted in these areas and I knew I needed to learn more.  Katie Johnson was one of my instructors who helped influence my teaching.  She had written a book called Doing Words.  I tried many of the methods she described and started to enjoy our writing block.  I started to think of writing as the central language arts experience in our day. I helped my young writers with vocabulary, getting their ideas from their heads to their papers, giving kids more choice, and using the whole writing process.  I started to feel like I knew what I was doing!

Not long after starting my master's program I discovered Katie Wood Ray and Ralph Fletcher.

They changed my world.  I started reading every single book I could get my hands on.  Ralph Fletcher taught me so much about keeping a Writer's Notebook and Katie Wood Ray made my heart sing with her Writer's Workshop approach for young authors.  Writing became a joyful time in my classroom.  I found myself making sure my students had time to write every single day and they started begging me for longer blocks of writing time.  I attended conferences that Ralph Fletcher and Katie Wood Ray spoke at and would absolutely get goosebumps hearing them talk about their work in teaching young writers.  I want to BE Katie Wood Ray.

In 2004, I was invited to be part of a team of teachers in my district who would be working together to strengthen the literacy component in our district and our building.  This was truly the best opportunity of my professional life.  We spent time watching nationally recognized literacy coaches teach lessons, work with small groups, and confer with individual students.  I took notes and tried these lessons and techniques in my own classroom.  Our literacy team worked together, studied together, co-taught lessons, supported each other, and encouraged one another.  We gained enough confidence that we began inviting other teachers into our rooms to learn right along side us.  We didn't take the role of  "expert" but we were co-learners with other teachers.  My willingness to try new things, invite others in, and build a Writer's Workshop in my classroom had gone to new levels and my students were benefiting.  I was so excited about Kindergarten Writer's Workshop that I wrote an e-book and started selling it on Teachers Pay Teachers.

click here for the e-book

I'm currently working in a new-to-me district that is really striving to support their teachers in the teaching of writing.  We have had many days of training, lots of demonstration lessons, and we've been given the resources we need to be effective teachers.  I think it has made me a better teacher of writing, but I'm feeling like I need to take a step back and look at what I value.  The work and training in my district has given me an outline to follow.  I know what I need to teach my kids and where they should be at certain benchmarks in the year.  It's a clear map to follow, but I'm finding that I'm missing a few pieces that have made me the writing teacher I am, and have made my students so passionate about writing.

This will be a working list, because I'm sure I will forget a few important components, and because my thinking is constantly changing.  I'm already including some of these things into my writing block, but a few of these things have taken a back seat and I'm just feeling like I need to rethink where my heart is.  Here is my list of things I value and want to be sure to include in my writing program:

*Young child need to make stuff, especially books.  Writer's Workshop is that time.

*Writer's Notebooks are the HEART of writing time.  I absolutely cannot live without them, even with kids as young as kindergarten age. Ralph Fletcher has always been my mentor in this area.

*We should write every day and be joyful, without feeling like we are herding our kids through pre-determined practices.

*Scented markers, scrapbook paper, and sticky notes need to live in the Writer's Workshop.  We teach young people and a variety of supplies makes those people joyful.

*We need to write books, not just single pages.  This makes us true authors and helps us understand the books we read. It helps us see why authors and illustrators make the choices they do.

*Sharing time, where the kids share their writing, is even more important than the teacher's mini-lesson at the beginning of writing time.

*Small motor skills and modeling how to slow down our illustrations, using simple shapes to draw pictures is immensely valuable.

*Benchmarks for what kids need to be able to do at certain points during the year have made a big difference in my instruction.

*Oral Language development is a huge component that is often overlooked when we are teaching children how to write.  It is really the backbone of so much work we do in reading and writing instruction.

*Pre-writing is a great opportunity to develop oral language.  Kids can tell their stories to themselves, to friends, or a teacher.  Speaking their story helps them to be able to write their story.

*Children learn about language all day long. All. Day. Long.

*The environment needs to be a support to the writer.  In Reggio Emilia, the environment is considered the third teacher.  (This assumes that there are two teachers already in the room.)

*I absolutely love teaching writing with mentor texts (picture books).  When kids make connections to the work another author has done and try it in their own books, it's magical.  I strive to do this daily in my writing instruction.

*Mini-lessons are the places we really help the kids learn to talk like writers.

*Poetry writing was taken out of the Common Core State Standards, but I can't live without it.  It opens kids up to an entirely new possibility and helps reluctant writers become free to try new things.

*The Inquiry Process and inspiration from the Reggio Emilia Approach have driven my work with group research projects.

*The documentation of student learning comes in so many different forms.  Reflection (teacher and student) and transparency (with students, parents, other teachers, and administrators) are two important pieces in this process.

As you can see, there are so many things I love an value in writing instruction.  This list is, by no means, complete.  I will continue to add things as I grow as a teacher of writing.  For now, I need to really throw my heart into taking what I know to be great pieces of my training in my district, and combining it with the pieces I value.  I need to bring my focus back to Writer's Workshop, using mentor texts, and incorporating Writer's Notebooks, without losing sight of the great work we have done in our district trainings.  I believe that bringing these pieces together will make my heart sing and my students soar.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Pumpkin Jack

Pumpkin Jack, by Will Hubbell, is one of my newest purchases for our classroom library.  I really love this book.  It's beautifully illustrated, ties in so well to the kids' schema for pumpkins, and gives a great example of the life cycle of the pumpkin.

We used this story to help us create Mental Images and visualize.  We did retellings in several different ways, and we also made Pumpkin Life Cycle books.  This is a short week for us, due to parent/teacher conferences, but if I had more time I would have done a few more activities with the pumpkin life cycle and a lot more hands-on exploration.  

We have a variety of pumpkins and gourds in our classroom for drawing and observing.  The kids have loved drawing on black paper with oil pastels, and of course they love observing with the magnifying glasses.  Unfortunately, one of our pumpkins had a Humpty-Dumpty type accident and landed on the floor.  Although the kids were sad to see the pumpkin cracked open, it did spill out some of the pulp and seeds, which made a great opportunity for learning.

If you are interested in the Pumpkin Life Cycle booklet, I found it on Teachers Pay Teachers.  It was written by Fun Time Early Learning.
Click Here to go to the free download on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Happy reading!