Saturday, July 25, 2015

Idea Books

My older brother is a very organized man that runs his own successful business and keeps track of many aspects of a complicated process. For as long as I can remember,  he's also been one to keep a calendar/journal that he carries with him. 

The original Idea Book

My older daughter, Maggie,  has always loved her uncle and they have a sill, laughter-filled relationship; however, he's also the person that will go into great depth when answering any question she has. They've had many, many complex conversations about nature and how things work. He's very patient. 

Inspired last year, a picture with invented spelling of 'pumpkin'

Over a year ago we were visiting him and Maggie got wind of his journal/calendar. She thought it was the coolest thing EVER. I have journals, but I tend to write just words and lists. Seeing my brother's book, which has sketches, cartoons, and words made her excited beyond words to have her own book. 

"Audrey is always tired"

My brother gave Maggie her own "Idea Book" and ever since she's been jotting down different ideas. Last Fall she was inspired by the pumpkins and her sister's nap schedule. The book has been around our house, mostly kept in her room, something that she picks up when she's feeling inspired by an idea or thought. 

"I'm always ready to be awake"
When she mastered some number writing, she decided to work to put the numbers in her book, all on her own. I'm a huge fan of invented spelling and have been so happy to see her writing about things she notices.

Inspired by Numbers
In her Idea Book there are many, many drawings and sketches that she's been inspired to think about. Flowers, fireworks, and just about anything else that we've done over the past 18 months. She has finally finished up most of the book that started this whole thing, the one my brother gave her. 

A happy wizard

Sometimes we talk about what she's put in her Idea Book, but mostly I just let her share when she's ready, which sometimes she doesn't want to.  My favorite part about the Idea Book is that it doesn't matter if her ideas are good or bad, meeting some conceived idea. Each and every idea is hers, making it unique, smart and limitless. 

Idea Book #2, ready for some great thoughts

Monday, July 20, 2015

If Rocks Could Sing

I've been a "rock nerd" my whole life.  I remember starting my collection with any rocks that sparkled, when I was about 5 years old.  I had a rock box that I added my precious stones to.  My mom used to ask, "Are you going to save those forever? What in the world are you going to do with those when you are an adult?"

I added to my rock collection in college. We went on a science excursion to a private island in the San Juans and the rocks were amazing.  I collected interesting rocks that were unlike any I had found before.  Soon after graduating college, I was on vacation and realized that there were entire stores dedicated to selling rocks!  I was in Heaven and found that I really DID have a use for those rocks, even as an adult.  My rock collection became part of my classroom and I've added to it for the last 20 years that I've been teaching.

I shared the story of my encounter with a stranger in the bookstore on my home life blog.  You can read the story here.  Well, the book that I fell in love with (the one that my new BFF bought for me in the bookstore) was a rock book.  If Rocks Could Sing is not just any rock book.  It's an ABC book dedicated to rocks!  How cool is that?

The rocks used in the book were mainly collected on a Florida beach over 10 years and they are all alphabet shaped.  Maybe I am just not observant enough, but I have never seen a rock shaped like a letter of the alphabet.  I think I'm on a new mission to find some though!!

I wanted to share the picture, above, because I wanted you to see the rock alphabet, but I also wanted to show the book jacket.  I always love to read the book jackets and about the author information to my students. I think it is very inspiring to young writers in the classroom!

At the end of the book, the author, Leslie McGuirk, shares a bit about her love for nature, the art hidden in the little rock treasures, and the process of collecting.

Here's the link, if you are interested in finding this book. Or you could just find a stranger in a bookstore with a wonderful heart, who wants to buy you a book!

I've recently added to my rock collection with two pieces of Obsidian

and, my new prize, a giant piece of pumice. (Yes, it really does float!)

I was inspired to purchase these pieces when we were in Sunriver, Oregon.  We visited the Obsidian Lava Flow and my true rock nerd-ish-ness came out.  Taking rocks from the National Park was not allowed, so I had to purchase the rocks from a rock shop in town.  

The Obsidian is absolutely breathtaking.  (I told you I was a rock nerd.)  It just sparkled in the sun and there were mountains of it!  It was like hiking across glass.  It cuts like glass too, so we had to be careful.

This next picture is a combination of Pumice and Obsidian, so it doesn't sparkle quite as much.

Honestly, this was one of the most amazing places I've ever been, and we just happened upon it.

So, now you can see why I was so excited to find some rocks at the rock shop and why I was thrilled to pieces to run across a stranger in a bookshop who wanted to buy me a book!  I'm a rock nerd and I'm just excited to share my joy with my kids and my students.  

For the record, I think my kids (especially my daughter) love rocks as much as I do.

How about you?  Do you collect rocks?  I know I have a couple of rock-nerd-friends who collect too.  We have a whole Facebook thread where we confess our addiction to collecting.  Hey, it's not a bad hobby!

Happy rock collecting! Oh, and I hope you'll check out that book and start your own rock collection.  I know I'm on a mission to find alphabet rocks now!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Summer Adventures

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share experiences that I have with my family.  I want families to see that EVERYTHING we do has an impact on our literacy lives.  From the time my kids were very young I've tried to encourage them to try new activities.  They helped me in the garden, made dinner with me, and helped with pets.  As my kids have grown, so have their interests.  I've had to move out of my comfort zone of my yard and kitchen, and into the great outdoors a bit more.  This summer, my kids are 14 and 10 and they have already kept me busy. 

School got out early this year, because we had zero snow days to make up.  Fortunately for us, the Summer weather started early too!  It's a running joke around the Pacific Northwest that Summer doesn't start until July 5th.  Well, this year it's been in full force since May and we've been enjoying every minute of it!

The garden and berry farms were our first calling.

We try to get our yard and garden in shape before the 4th of July, since we usually have some friends and family over for a picnic.

Due to our early Summer, I almost missed berry season!  The strawberries and raspberries came early this year so we didn't have as much time to make jam and freeze berries as usual.  If you have young kids at home, please check out this post on homegrown berries and and some of my favorite berry books.

We've been living at the beach lately.  I can honestly say that I don't have any books at home about playing at the lake, but I do believe that they will be able to draw on those experiences as they read and write later on. Paddleboarding was a new experience for the kids this summer.

We've all been enjoying a few short hikes around the area, including our furry friend, Cooper.  Even better than enjoying experiences with the family, is seeing my kids working together without trying to kill each other.  When we went to Wallace Falls, the kids wanted to hike down to the waterfall.  We could see them but didn't want to hike over the rocks.  I loved watching my oldest help his sister over the hard parts.  Trust me, that doesn't happen too often!

We've been able to take one vacation so far to Sunriver, Oregon.  The sunsets on our evening bike rides were amazing.  Even the kids stopped to admire the colors in the sky.  They quickly moved on, while I snapped a few pictures.

During our vacation I was reading Connecting Animals and Children in Early Childhood.  It was very fitting, considering the number of deer we spotted!

One of my absolute favorite adventures of our vacation was visiting the Obsidian Lava Flow.  Holy moly, was that place amazing.  I readily admit that I am a rock-nerd.  I've collected them for years and my daughter has taken to this hoading collecting too.  The national park we visited had the most unimaginable amount of obsidian and pumice that you could ever picture seeing in one place.  Because it was a National Park, we weren't able to take any rocks with us, but I did find some at a local rock shop later on.

The view from the trail wasn't too shabby either.

Ok, I said that hiking through the rock trails was one of my favorite adventures, but I haven't told you about the RIVER RAFTING yet.  Talk about an adventure!!! I loved every minute of it.  My kids are both pretty adventurous so this was a great experience for them.  My son tends to be a pretty good writer, when he actually puts effort into it.  I'm excited at the thought of him describing this adventure in writing.  Hopefully, he will have some sort of writing assignment when school starts up and will be able to draw on his experience.  (Sadly, 14 year old boys don't spend much of their free time writing, even with mommy's encouragement.  The extent of his writing over the summer usually consists of Instagram posts saying, "Cool Pic!")

Summer has barely started and we have already had so many adventures!  I can't wait to see what the rest of the Summer brings.  

Happy exploring!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

LeapPad Platinum Product Review

Oh, I can't even begin to describe my joy when a LeapFrog box arrives in the mail for me!  There are a few LeapFrog products that I absolutely can't live without in my classroom.

1.  The Letter Factory DVD
I've mentioned a time or 100 that this is the best product EVER made by any educational company.  I swear by this video and show it to my kindergarten class until they are singing the little songs that go along with every letter.

2.  The Letter Factory Board Game
Well, duh.  The game goes along with the DVD and it's just brilliant.  It is no longer made, but you can find them on ebay.

3.  The Tablets
I have now been the proud owner of every single tablet made by LeapFrog, and they just keep getting better.

I use the tablets in my classroom during several times of the day.  I have them available during our Center time for kids to play on, during our Literacy block when I want them using the ebooks, and during our Math Centers.  My favorite thing about the tablets is that even when kids are "just playing" and have no specific activities that I have selected for them, they are still learning all the time!  Kart racing is one of the favorite games for my kids because they can race against each other, while they are each on their own tablet.  Now, you would think that a car race isn't educational, but in order to power up their cars they have to solve math problems.  I'm telling you, learning is embedded everywhere!

The new LeapPad Platinum is one of the bigger tablets.  The LeapPad, LeapPad2, and LeapPad3 are not quite as large.  Personally, I really like the large screen and hefty feeling of the LeapPad Ultra and the LeapPad Platinum.  The LeapPads are super durable.  I can't even begin to tell you how many times they are dropped by my kindergartners each day!  My only complaint about the tablet itself is the sylus that is attached.  It has a squishy top on the stylus that is kind of cool, but it was torn up within the first month.  If the stylus is my only complaint, then I'm ok with that!

As for the content, here are a few of my favorite things:

*Kid-Safe Web - LeapSearch is a kid safe web browser that has age appropriate content picked by the LeapFrog Learning Experts.

*New Imagicard Learning Games - Ok, these are pretty cool.  The interactive trading cards come to life on the LeapFrog tablets.  Kids can use the camera to bring their characters to life and unlock more ways to play.

Some of the games include THE LETTER FACTORY (woo hoo!), PAW Patrol, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Ummm, I can hardly wait to see how the kindergarten boys are going to fall in love with the Ninja Turtle game!

*E-books - During our Daily 5 time of our kindergarten literacy block,  I tell the kids that I want them reading or listening to reading.  If they are using the tablets, their only choice is to pick an ebook. Although, I think I will add in the Letter Factory games this year.  There are tons of different options for ebooks.  Frozen is the HUGE favorite, but I also have a space book that is a close second.  I was surprised that the fairy tales stories are not chosen too often and that the Pet Pals IS chosen.  Kids surprise me sometimes.  I often think they will love one thing and then they pick something that I think won't be a favorite. Here's a picture of the Sophia the First book.

I'm even able to customize the Ultra Ebooks to the level of the kids in the class.  Now, THAT is a cool feature!

Overall, I have to say this is the best tablet yet!  It's one of those MUST-HAVE items for young kids.  I use these in my classroom, but my daughter also used them when she was younger.  As I mentioned above, I love that learning is constantly embedded into every single activity.  If there are two things your young kids need, they are: 1) The Letter Factory DVD   2) A LeapPad Tablet - and spend the few extra dollars to buy the bigger one.  You won't be sorry!

Happy Learning!

**The opinions in this post are all my own.  I was provided a LeapPad Platinum in exchange for reviewing the product.**

Saturday, July 4, 2015

4th of July Photo Journal for Kids

Are you ready for the fun and festivities of the day?  I know I am!  The cookies are baked, the fried chicken has been ordered, and 60 of my closest friends are coming for a picnic.  It's shaping up to be a fun day!

If your kids are anything like mine, they will eat too much, stay up too late, and be pretty grumpy on the 5th of July.  Here's a quick and easy project to do with them AFTER the festivities have died down.

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, July 1, 2015

Celebrating the 4th

CC, like most young ones I know, loves holidays.  She loves everything about celebrating - eating good food, visiting friends and family, and most of all decorating.  You can look in just about every room in our home and she has added her own brand of decoration in random places - an collection of orange streamers on the wall in our family room, a post-it in a bathroom with a smiley face on it, a card taped to the wall of the office that she addressed to the family, she even decorated her new playset in our backyard with squares of colored paper.  When we started talking about the 4th she started jumping around excitedly about decorating -you'd think I had just announced a trip to Disneyland! 
We jumped on Pinterest for inspiration, decided on a garland, and started the hunt for supplies.  Around here a lot of the fun is in the search!  We collected scrapbook paper, ribbon, glue sticks and got to work.  As the creating began, so did the learning.
CC decided on the pattern, naturally sorting by colors.  We talked about each color and the sounds in each.  Two of the sound/letter correspondence CC mixes up is /y/ and /w/ so it was a great opportunity to isolate the /w/ sound in white and decide on what letter makes that sound.  She is also reading CVC words so we talked about the sounds and letters in red.  All of this occurred in about a minute, with no prior planning on my part, just a little parental knowledge.

It was serious business once we got started.  White, red, blue, white, red, blue with a double check in there to make sure everything was going right. 

Great find motor practice folding, cutting, and applying glue for CC.  So much learning and she had no idea.  She was just over the moon that we were decorating for a holiday.  

The last step in our holiday decoration was for CC to cut the triangle shapes out of the garland.  I did some, she did some.  The don't all match, but I love them even more because they don't.  She was so proud of herself when it was finished.

Our garland headed straight for our fireplace mantle, where else.  It really added some color and pazazz!

Watching CC practice emerging skills, review mastered ones, and smile made my morning.  I wonder what else she will decorate before the holiday arrives??
Happy and safe 4th of July!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reading on the Road

On a recent trip to the library, CC picked up a book that included a CD and checked it out without me really noticing.  She usually wonders around the children's section bringing over books that strike her fancy until I let her know one more.  We don't have any real "rules" about how many or how big or what section the books come from. We have come home with some very eclectic mixes and other times books that are almost painfully the same.  This visit included the book Officer Buckle and Gloria with a CD.   We popped it into the CD player and had a listen. 

I may be coming to this party late, but this changed out car ride experience.  We are listening to great stories AND being entertained while running around in our car.  Glorious!
We discovered a whole section of the library, all be it a little section, dedicated to books with accompanying CDs.  The selection seems to rotate and keep us happily entertained.  Requesting a specific book with CD is another way we have kept our reading on the road fresh. 

Here is our most recent haul.  Some were old favorites and some were completely new to us. Either way, great! 
I think this was a win for us both.  CC can listen to great literature while we are driving and there is a little less whining and complaining coming from my back seat. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Language Development Through Story Telling

It's camping week in kindergarten and today we were telling campfire stories.  Now, I'm not a big fan of spooky stories, especially with the kindergarten crowd, but we did have a fun time telling funny stories.  Someone who walks into my classroom during this story telling time might think it's a fun activity, but not a lot of learning.  Storytelling, however provides much more than just a little fun.

Kids are natural story tellers, but as they grow it becomes harder and harder when it's not practiced regularly.  Without practice, kids become frozen with fear when they are given a blank piece of paper and asked to write a story.  When I became a teacher, I remember how much I didn't like teaching writing because I just wasn't skilled at story telling.  After 20 years of learning more and more about writing, I have discovered that one key to literacy is oral language development. I have become a better writer, myself, and I think my students are better writers because of the time we spend talking and telling our stories out loud.  

Today, we sat around the campfire and I threw out a few story starters.
*We all sitting around the campfire, warming up and making s'mores, when all of a sudden...
*It was breakfast time and we were drinking our hot cocoa when we heard...
*I couldn't believe what happened the day a skunk came to camp.

We told our stories together, asking different kids for ideas.  I would ask questions like, "Then, what happened?" or "What happened next?" or "How did it end?"  These questions led kids to keep going with their ideas and also show how stories have a beginning, middle, and end.

We documented our learning by writing our stories, but we could also have acted out our stories and taken pictures, made videos of our story telling session, or used puppets to create our ideas and document through pictures or video.  All of these methods are great ways to help kids reflect on their work.  

Camping brings great experiences, but if you are like me and don't care for camping much, you can always bring the story telling indoors.  Working on oral language development through campfire stories is a great way to help your child learn to love language and writing rather than fear the blank paper staring them down.

Happy camping!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Homemade Lemonade

Oh, how I love cooking in the classroom with my kids!  They were jumping with joy when they walked in the room and saw lemons and a lemon press.  Of course a few kids yelled, "What are we making Teacher?" (Yes, they still call me Teacher, even though it's almost the end of the school year.) I asked them what they thought we should do, and it didn't take long for the suggestion of LEMONADE to come up!

I started by showing them an online book about lemonade that was on Reading Rainbow.  Our school has a subscription to the service, so I can't share the link.  Then, we started squeezing lemons.  We needed 3 cups of lemon juice and all of our lemons made about 1/2 of a cup.  At that point I pulled out the bottled lemon juice and told them that we'd take the easy way out to come up with the rest of the juice.  (Although I think they would have squeezed lemons all day if I would have let them.)

Here is the recipe we used:
2 cups sugar
1 cup hot water
2 cups lemon juice
1 gallon cold water

Dissolve the sugar in hot water.  Add lemon juice and then cold water.  Stir.

We made our lemonade on a very hot and sunny (by Pacific Northwest Standards) day.  The kids were thrilled with the cold treat and really loved sharing with the recess teachers who are outside for most of the day.  

If you are interested in more lemon activities and books about lemonad, here is a post I wrote for LeapFrog Learning Path with more ideas.  Lemony Learning Activities

Now, let's hope the sun comes back out so we can enjoy our lemonade on a hot summer day!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Map Book

Have you seen this book?

My Map Book by Sara Fanelli is a great introduction to maps for young learners.  I shared this book with my kindergarten class and of course they immediately wanted to make their own maps.   The kids had several ideas that they wanted to try out.  They also said that they should add labels to their maps so people would know what the drawings were.  

We looked up several different examples of maps made by children on the Internet and the kids were inspired.  If you are looking up maps, make sure to look up Maps of Reggio Emilia by Children.  There are some amazing examples of kid drawn maps that took hours of collaborative effort.  In a half day kindergarten class, we didn't get too far on our maps, but several families told me that their kids continued their map making at home.

Happy map making!