Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Creating a Home Writing Center

One of my most popular posts on my homelife blog was on creating a home writing center.  This was a very easy project to put together and has seen YEARS of use.  I wrote this post, initially, when me daughter was in kindergarten.  She's now in 4th grade.  In the beginning, this was hung in the kitchen and used daily.  As the kids grew up, it has now been moved to my daughter's room.  She uses it most often when her friends are over and they want to write a song, a play, or a book.  I thought it was worth a re-post on the literacy blog.


Here's the original post.

My kids love to write, especially my daughter.  She's always getting into my cupboards, looking for envelopes, sticky notes, or paper.  The kids have their own art cupboard, but for some reason, they like my things best.  Today we created a writing center, just for the kids. 

We started with some pegboard and a little trim from Lowe's.  The pegboard was precut to 2'x4'.  The nice people at Lowe's can cut the trim, but I just cut mine with a hand saw.

I made a frame to go around the edges.  In the interest in saving a few cents, I just used a small piece on the bottom.  No one will see the bottom and it just needs to be pushed out from the wall a little.

I drilled pilot holes in the pegboard and trim, to keep the wood from splitting.

I bought a few accessories in the pegboard department at Lowe's.

The clear wall file holders came from Staples.  I used my Silhouette to cut the vinyl letters.

I painted the board the same color as the wall.  I wanted it to blend in.

Then came the fun part.  The kids helped me add the bins.  I hit the dollar store on the way home and bought envelopes, sticky notes, blank cards, notepads, and stickers I also made a few blank books and put those in a bin.  My daughter is in kindergarten and loves to make her own books.

The two wall file bins are for paper and projects.  Blank paper is always a must in the writing center.  The project bin is for all of the works-in-progress.  We always have cards we are working on, books in progress, and letters that need addresses and stamps.

As a final touch, we added a hanger for sight words.  My daughter's teacher sends her sight word cards home as they learn them in class.  This will be a great tool to have close by!

The new writing center was used within the first 2 minutes of completion!

Happy writing!

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Monday, February 23, 2015

A Happy Accident - The Secret Life of Trees

There was a happy accident in kindergarten today.  

We were doing some explorations with trees, leaves, twigs, and pinecones, when the kids started asking about hidden seeds inside of pinecones.  They could see the seeds in there, but they didn't come out very easily.  We tried digging a few out with a pencil, but it just wasn't working.  As the kids were investigating, the clumsy teacher (me) started fumbling with a few pinecones and one fell to the ground.  As it hit the floor, I heard the kids yell, "Woah!"  Dozens of tiny pinecone seeds were scattered all around. 

There were a few kids right beside me who asked, "Can I try that?"  Well, of course I told them they should!  They hung their arms out like branches, held their pinecones, and dropped them one by one to the ground.  It wasn't too long before the rest of the class was joining in.  It was an accidental lesson in the way new trees grow, where the seeds come from, and how the seeds fall to the ground.  It was messy, but it was a fabulous lesson.

We had just finished reading this book from DK Readers, which was a perfect tie in.

Happy tree exploring!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Our Tree Named Steve

We've started our tree unit, in Kindergarten.  I asked families to send tree related items to school, and boy did they come through!  Many of the families in my school live on a few acres of property, so they helped do a bit of collecting for our class project.  The kids were thrilled to bring in their treasures every day.

I've also been collecting books about trees to add to our classroom library.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Winter Trees by Carole Gerber
Be A Friend to Trees by Patricia Lauber
Sky Tree by Thomas Locker
A Tree is a Plant by Clyde Robert Bulla
A Gift of a Tress by Greg Henry Quinn
A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry
A Tree is Growing by Arthur Dorros
I Can Name 50 Trees Today by Bonnie Worth
Trees, Leaves, and Bark by Diane L. Burns
The Secret Life of Trees by DK READERS – Chiara Chevallier
Pine Trees by Allan Fowler
20 Ways to Draw a Tree by Eloise Renouf
Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel

We read the last book on my list during read aloud today.  It is a very sweet story about a family who loves a tree, which they have named Steve.  I finished the story and looked up to see one of my sweet little boys with tears streaming down his face.  Never, in my teaching career, has this happened!  I've never had a student who was moved to tears by a book!  It was the sweetest thing I've ever seen.  

I knew the kids would love this unit because it's hands on and involves a topic they experience every single day.  I knew the books I purchased would help the kids learn the concepts and I pictured them pouring through pictures and finding out new facts.  I had no idea that a simple story, like this one, would be something so powerful for the little people I teach.

Happy reading!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sometimes it can be hard to take pictures without showing my kids' faces.  This one turned out pretty cute, if I do say so myself.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reading In Kindergarten

I love this time of year, in Kindergarten.  It's a magical time, when kids go from saying, "I don't know how to read!" to "Hey, I can read this book!"  I've been telling them they could do it all along, but it usually take until about February for the kids to start believing it.  

Some books are repetitive, like our Meanies books.  The kids LOVE the Meanies and laugh hysterically when we read these books.  Several years ago, I met a friend who wanted to come visit my classroom.  She worked for the Wright Group (I love, love, love The Wright Group) and brought me several big books and the matching 6-packs of independent readers.  Best. Gift. Ever. (Thank you to Jenny!!)  The kids love the fact that the big book matches with the small books.  As soon as I put them in the kids' book tubs, they practically gobble them up!  They LOVE these books.

We are also reading easy-readers in the classroom.  I buy level A and B (Fountas and Pinnell leveling) any time I lay eyes on them.  There are not enough easy readers out there for these kids.  The kids are starting to point to words, recognize sight words, and read fluently on their own.  It's magical.

Don't get me wrong, we have plenty of other reading options, besides Meanies and easy-readers.  They kids have access to my classroom library, which is filled with every author, illustrator, genre, and topic that a kindergarten could possibly want.  Kids love those books too, but there is something special about introducing them to books they read on their own, and not just picture read or retell.  It's an exciting time to be a student and a SUPER exciting time to be a teacher!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winter Books

Winter is here and I have snow on my mind.  We were able to take a short trip to Lake Chelan over the Holiday break and it was beautiful over there.  It had snowed a little, just before we arrived, and there was still a dusting covering everything.

I made my hubby pull over as we were driving so I could snap this picture with my phone.  Talk about a beautiful view!!

After a short, 7 mile, drive up the hill we arrived at the ski and tubing hill.  There was quite a bit more snow up there and it was the perfect place to learn to ski.  My kids had each taken one lesson before, but they were still a bit unsteady.  They LOVED this place.  It had a rope tow and they went up and down that hill for hours.  I rented equipment as well because I just couldn't resist getting on skis again.  

Here's my youngest, carrying her skis.

When we got home from our snowy vacation, I brought my snow-themed books home from the classroom.  I set them in a little basket in my family room and just waited.  Last week, when we had a little down time, my daughter spotted them.  My hubby was reading his book and I was reading some blogs on the ipad. My daughter grabbed the stack of books and happily started talking to herself about the books she remembered reading before.  She lit up when she saw Snowballs.  That was a favorite when she was about 6 years old.

It didn't take long before she took off into the other room with her stack of books and I heard her saying, "Now, class, today we will be reading this book about snow."  I looked at my husband and said, "I love that all I have to do is bring out a new stack of books and she's excited to read."  You see, both of my kids hate reading with a passion, which absolutely kills me.  But, as soon as I bring out some seasonal picture books, my daughter just can't resist.  If you build it, they will come!  Am I right?

Here are a few of my favorite Snow-Themed books.

A Perfect Day by Carin Berger
Snowballs by Lois Ehlert
Snow by Uri Shulevitz
The Snow Speaks by Nancy White Carlstrom
That's Not My Snowman by Usborne Books
Flannel Kisses by Linda Crotta Brennan
Snow Happy by Patricia Hubbell
It's Winter by Linda Glaser
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Happy Snow Day!
(Now I hope we get some snow in the Seattle area!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chalkboard Thanksgiving Table

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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Little About the NAEYC Conference

Over the weekend I shared about my Dallas trip on my home blog.  It was such a wonderful opportunity to travel, learn more as a teacher, and present with a group.  It's an absolute dream to be able to attend the conference (which is really expensive - thank you LeapFrog), but to be asked to help present just pushes it over the top!

NAEYC is the National Association for the Education of Young Children.  This conference was specifically designed for the early childhood educators out there who wanted to learn more about teaching this age group.  There were over 700 different sessions offered over the 5 day conference.  We were not there all 5 days, but I was able to fit a handful of sessions into my time in Dallas.  The first session I attended was the one I was part of!

So, there we are!  Left to right, that's Jody from LeapFrog, Me, Jill from Tennessee, and Gina from Detroit.  We each had a roll in sharing information about technology and media at home and in the classroom.  One of the things I love about LeapFrog is that they aren't just an educational toy company.  Yes, they sell fabulous educational products, but they are also about sharing information with parents and teachers.  So, this session wasn't all about how to use LeapFrog products in the classroom, but it was more about how to make informed decisions when it comes to media and technology.  The big idea behind it, supporting teachers and helping teachers support the parents in their classroom, reminded me of the big idea behind Learning Path on the LeapFrog website.  I've been writing and taking photos for Learning Path, and it's not all about selling a product.  It's about sharing educational activities with families and teachers that they can do at home with their kids.  

Ok, back to the conference,

Our session went very well.  We had about 50+ people attend.  I really had no idea what to expect, but 50, or so, felt like a good crowd.  People kept coming and going during the presentation, which made me hope we weren't boring them to death.  After attending a few more sessions and talking with other teachers, I found out that many teachers scheduled their time so they could see as many different sessions as possible. Sometimes that meant splitting the time, beginning at one sessions and then heading to a new one half way through.  Overall, I think it went well.  Hindsight, there are things I would have changed, but I'm hoping there will be a "next time" so I can try them out!

After our session, I squeezed in as many sessions as I could.  I went to sessions on music in the classroom, issues and trends in kindergarten, Autism, reading instruction, and a special presentation of children's book authors. Oh, how I loved hearing the authors speak!

My favorite authors were Marla Frazee and Peter Reynolds.

Some of the must-have Marla Frazee books include Boot and Shoe, Boss Baby, Stars, and her newest wordless book called The Farmer and The Clown.  I can't wait to buy that one!  I love wordless books and this one looks so sweet!  Marla did a great job of telling her story.  She combined telling her life story with walking us through her writing process, and sharing how she turns life experiences into her illustrations.  Of course, she's a story teller, so you can only imagine that she told her own story wonderfully.  

Peter Reynolds books are very popular.  He has written Ish, The Dot, and Sky Color.  Those are on my "every teacher mush own" list.  Ok, confession time.  I may have gotten a bit choked up during Peter Reynolds' speech.  He is incredibly passionate about education and some of things he commented on were very powerful.  He reminded me of the power we hold in the classroom, as teachers.  We, alone, can make or break a child's year - or even beyond.  Here are some of my favorite Peter Reynolds quotes from his time speaking.

"Name your studio or classroom.  Take two words you love and combine them to make your name.  My company's name is Fablevision.  I combined those words because I love the idea behind them."

"Writing is an extension of thinking."

"Take your wisdom, dip it in a little art, and just start."
(That one can be applied to lots of different areas of life.)

"I don't believe in standardized testing. Kids are not data."
(I just have to plug my 2 cents in here.  I believe that some testing is good and essential in education.  We need to assess to see where kids are in the learning process and adjust our teaching to fit those needs. The high stakes testing that we are seeing, on the other hand,  is ABSOLUTELY  INAPPROPRIATE IN EVERY WAY, SHAPE, AND FORM. I could go on and on about my thoughts on this and tell you lots of stories about how our lawmakers are failing us in so many ways, but I want to stick to the happy thoughts about my great experience in Dallas.)

Going to Dallas and attending the NAEYC conference was right at the top of my list, when it comes to highlights of my educational career.  I was in Teacher Heaven!  I think the funniest thing I saw was the number of teachers who exited their session and went to the hallways, taking a seat on the floor criss-cross, to review their booklet and decide where they were going next.  There was plenty of seating at the conference and lots of chairs to choose from, but sometimes a kindergarten teacher is just more comfortable sitting criss-cross-applesauce.  I'll admit, I did the same thing.  At the end of the day, I didn't think I could handle sitting in another chair and I found myself a good spot on the floor.  What can I say... it's the teacher in me.

My biggest take-away from the conference about my teaching and even about my homelife is this:

I plan to take my wisdom (about reading, math, writing, baking, sewing, cooking, or whatever I'm passionate about), dip it in a little art (which every child needs more of), and just start.  
Thanks Peter Reynolds.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Firework Photo Journal on LeapFrog Learning Path

My Firework Photo Journal has been posted on the LeapFrog Learning Path site.  

Have your kids paint up a firework journal to get in the 4th of July spirit.  Then, after the 4th, print out a few favorite photos to add to the journal.  This is a great way to encourage your kids to keep writing over the summer!  Check out the LeapFrog Learning Path site to see the full how-to.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Farmer's Market

Farmer's Market season is finally here!  We have one at our neighborhood park every Friday evening.  I think it's the highlight of my kids' week.  Ok, lets be honest - it's the highlight of my week too.  At 3:00, every Friday, from June - September my kids take off on bikes or scooters with dollars in hand.  

There haven't been many booths yet, and only one veggie stand so far.  But I know more will be coming.  It's only the beginning of the growing season around here.  The cherries have been wonderful!  

Since there was only one veggie stand, the line to pay was really long. It was worth it though.  We also bought a half flat of berries and shared them with a neighbor.

I always think it's funny when my daughter gets that "hey, what a coincidence" look on her face when suddenly there is a stack of books about the farmers market on a table somewhere.  I think she truly believes that they appeared there by accident.  Well, it's no accident.  Strategically placed books, on topics of interest, always draw her in.  She claims she doesn't like reading, but can't seem to resist my picture book collection.

Whether you are heading to the beach, camping, or to the farmer's market this summer, don't forget to find some great books on the topic.  Strategically place them around your house so your kids will "find" them.  Maybe you'll even hear the same comments I do, "Hey, look at this!  These books are about the farmer's market and WE just went to the farmer's market.  Huh."

What a coincidence!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Favorite Camping Books

When we started our classroom camping unit, I looked around my classroom for camping related books.  I also purchased a few new books to go along with the unit.  Here are a few of my favorites!

The Discover Series CAMPING book is a very simple book, showing a picture of a camping related item and a word to go along with it on each page.  We did a lot of writing during Camp Read A Lot and several kids wrote camping related stories.  This book was a favorite resource because kids could use it to spell words they needed to use in their stories.

My daughter was a big fan of the Olivia series when she was younger, so we have lots of these books.  The kids loved this book because they could read it on their own too.

Oh, how I miss the days when my kids were little enough to enjoy watching Caillou!  There is always a great message in the Caillou stories.

Ok, this next book is my FAVORITE camping book!  I think we should write our own adaptation of the story and call it Mrs. Ross Goes Camping.  We wouldn't need to change the main idea of the story too much.  Mrs. Ross does not like bugs, wild animals, sleeping outdoors, or walking to the stinky bathrooms - and Scaredy Squirrel feels the same!

I love everything about this next book.  Camping by Nancy Hundal, is a perfect story of  seeing the joy in camping and it has beautiful illustrations.  The illustrations remind me of Ted Rand's work and he's an illustrator that I absolutely love!  This one is a MUST BUY!

Finally, we have a terrific alphabet book with camping related words.  The kids really enjoyed this one and one of my first grade friends even tried to make her own ABC book and used this one as her inspiration.

If you have favorite camping books that were not listed here, please leave the name of the book in the comments.  These books are great to read before you take a camping trip this summer!

Happy reading (and camping)!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Camp Read A Lot

Whew!  Camp Read A Lot is coming to a close and the kids have had a GREAT time.  Thank you SO much to parents who helped make our campers happy this week.  Our week started off on Monday morning with one of our parents checking kids in at the Camper Registration Desk.  A huge highlight was the camper mail that parents sent in.

As many of you know, I play a tiny bit of guitar... but nothing like one of our student's moms!  Our special guest had the kids rocking out with their air guitars and put my really slow- hold on until I find the right chord- rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider to shame!

The kids had a great time reading in our tents too.  I was so happy that one of our parents was able to bring in an extra tent because it was certainly a highlight of the week.  We had a different theme each day of the week.  Kids were able to sing campfire songs, read lots of different books about camping, do science and math activities around camping, write camping poems, and even go on a "hike" to find the perfect reading spot on our playground.

One highlight was reading under the stars.  We turned out the lights and did our buddy reading with flashlights.  I'm so thankful to have a great buddy class who will share fun camping ideas with us!  It made our week so much more special for the kids. 

You can't go camping without some really fun camping snacks too!  A HUGE thank you goes out to my parents of allergy students.  I really appreciate you sending alternatives so kids would not feel left out, but that we could make accommodations so everyone could be involved.

Campfire cupcakes were a huge hit!

Making S'mores allowed for a great connection to writing.  It was a perfect tie in to our Sequence of Events and How-To writing.

We also enjoyed trail mix on our hike around the school.  Over all, I'd have to say it was one of the best weeks of the school year.  Often times, at this time of year, kids are just done.  They are tired and ready for the year to be over.  Having Camp Read A Lot this week has been perfect.  Kids were excited to come to school each day and thrilled to find out about our new adventure for the day.  Thanks for your help, parents!!

Happy camping!