Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How To Turn Playtime Into Writing Time

It's Parent/Teacher conference week in the school district I work in.  I love talking with parents!  It's one of my favorite parts of the job.  While conference week is exhausting, in the sense that I don't get home until 8pm on several nights of the week, I find it so inspiring.  I get to talk with parents about who their kids really are and give them suggestions for building their learning environment at home.  As I was chatting with a parent on Monday, she was telling me how her daughter isn't loving the writing process at home.  I shared several FUN ways to incorporate writing into everyday life, and this post popped into my head.

Here is the original post.

My daughter LOVES her horses.  We bought this beautiful barn/stable at a garage sale last Spring.  It was the best $15 I've ever spent!  My little girl will spend HOURS playing ponies and really loves the barn.  Over the weekend, she got out the blocks and made an arena for the ponies to do their tricks in.

She'd set the ponies up and start her story telling. Now, you should know that my daughter is a story teller.  For some kids, story telling does not come naturally.  They rely on their parents, friends, caregivers, or older siblings to model story telling.  My daughter, on the other hand, tells stories in her sleep.  Literally.  She talks all night long.  She talks to stuffed animals, friends, family, and one time even held a full conversation with a fairy, all while still asleep. 

As her barn and stable play was starting to wrap up, and I was ready to start a new sewing project, I decided to push her story telling to the next level.  It went something like this. 

 "Hey, if you'd like to, you could grab the extra camera off the counter and take some pictures of your ponies. That might be fun." 

She looks at me with a puzzled look.

"You could tell the same story you were just creating, but this time take pictures of your ponies in action.  I'd be happy to print them for you and maybe you'd even like to make a book."

Let the story telling begin!  My daughter spent the next hour, or so, taking about 100 pictures of her horses.  Her story telling was quite elaborate and she posed each horse for their own action shot.

When she was finished, she chose the 12 best photos and we printed them on the mini photo printer.  I've had this little printer forever and it's great when the kids what to be in charge of their own projects. You could, just as easily, upload them and send them to your local drug store for pick up.  Our local Bartell Drugs has on-demand printing that we use all the time.

Then came time for the book.  I really thought she'd want stickers, fun paper, or lots of markers.  Instead, she chose a simple, pre-made, book from the writing center and a pink marker. (I have a writing center set up in the house, filled with pre-made blank books, stationary, cards, envelopes, scrapbook paper, and lots of art supplies.)

She glued each picture into her book.  Most of the spelling was done in her own "kid writing" but when she came across a really tough word, she'd ask her brother. 

I didn't hover.  I didn't "play teacher" and tell her to fix things.  I didn't even remind her to use capitals at the beginning of sentences.  (Obviously!)  I just got out of her way and let her do the work of an author.  This was her book, her story, her photos, her way. 

When my daughter finished her book, she took pride in reading it to each of us.  I was thrilled that she was so proud of herself.  She knows that writing is hard work, especially when you've just finished kindergarten.  It really would not be appropriate if I asked her to correct her spelling, capitals, or go back and make revisions.  This experience was about building the confidence of a young story teller.  It was about play time turning into story time, and then to a writer's workshop.  I know there is a time and place to talk to her about the capital I, but this wasn't it.

When a woodworker goes into their workshop, they find raw materials and create something beautiful.  Kids need a writer's workshop to use in the same way.  My first grader built a story telling platform out of simple blocks and toy horses.  She created stories in much the same way a woodworker envisions the piece they are about to make.  Finally, she became a writer.  She used the story she had told through play, pictures she had taken, and a blank book to become an author.  She took raw materials and made something beautiful that she could hold in her hands.

What stories could your kids tell through their play?

Happy writing!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Reggio Inspired

Have you heard of Reggio Emilia, Italy?  I remember hearing a bit about this place when I was doing my undergraduate work, at Seattle Pacific University, in the 90's.  I was introduced to Reggio Emilia again in about 2000, when I was working on my Master's in Reading and Literacy.  The introductions were brief, maybe just a paragraph or two in a book.  About 8 years ago, I was chatting with a friend about typical teacher stuff and she was telling me about someone she knew who was going on a Reggio Emilia study tour.  That little conversation sparked my curiosity again. I remembered hearing something about schools in Reggio Emilia, but didn't remember what made them significant.  My reading about the Reggio Emilia approach started at that moment.

I started by reading Authentic Childhood, Exploring Reggio Emilia in the Classroom.

I discovered a favorite book about teaching art in a Reggio inspired manner.

Then, I discovered Playful Learning. It was like lights shining down from Heaven and angels singing.

I signed up for an online class in Creating Playful Spaces and started organizing my home and classroom differently.  I told families about the book and classes and showed them specific examples of how to incorporate Playful Learning into their homes.  It was right about that time, that I decided to create Love, Laughter, and Literacy. An early childhood literacy blog was just the thing I needed to help me really dive into issues and trends as well as support families.

So what does it mean to be Reggio Inspired?  And what's the story behind this type of learning?

The town of Reggio Emilia was virtually destroyed after WWII.  The people living in the town didn't want to wait for their government to figure out how and when to rebuild their schools, so they decided to do it themselves.  Brick by brick, and book by book, they built their schools.  They did it the way they knew schools and education should be built... with kids at the forefront.  This would be an approach to education that challenged and accepted the gifts that all kids brought with them each day.  We often talk, in education, about meeting the needs of the children.  In Reggio Emilia, kids are viewed as people who bring their own unique gifts and talents to the classroom, not just empty vessels ready to be filled. Teachers in Reggio Emilia don't "meet the needs" of their kids, they create experiences that enhance the gifts that each child brings.

Reggio Emilia schools help children learn in different ways from traditional American schools, but have inspired many to try their methods.  Reggio Inspired schools were born and study tours were developed to help educators learn more about the schools.  A Reggio inspired school is one where the teacher understands learning to be grounded in experience.  The environment is considered the third teacher and teachers set up a space that encourages inquiry. (Two teachers reside in each classroom.)  Every space is created in a manner that engages students and parents.  There are many more elements that make Reggio schools special, such the integration of transparency, the Hundred Languages of the Child, making learning visible through documentation of learning, and the amazing Ateliers and focus on the arts.

I'm taking baby steps toward my own Reggio Inspired classroom and home life.  Our homelife is grounded in experiences.

 My classroom, in my old school, had a designated Atelier, although there is not enough space in my new building.

Even without this dedicated space, there is still a focus on the arts in my kindergarten class.

 I am introducing more inquiry based learning into my classroom too.

You can see more photos of these projects by searching Instagram for #CTInquiry and #allaboutinquiry.

 I've been specifically focusing on my documentation of student learning through photography this year and it's been an amazing process.

I'm certainly not "there" yet, but I'm inching closer. (The schools in Reggio Emilia weren't built over night and my Reggio Inspired classroom can't be built that quickly either.)  High on my list of priorities is a study tour to Reggio Emilia.  I would LOVE to go in the next year or two... we'll have to see about that.  Meanwhile, I will keep reading and getting more inspiration.  I'm excited about a new documentation process that is coming to our school, called WAKIDS, and the possibilities for transforming my environment and structure to fit the needs of center based/inquiry based learning.  In my vision, it all blends together perfectly.  Only time will tell if I can actually make that happen!

If you know me from the educational setting, you've probably heard me talk about the Reggio Approach many times.  In fact, I think I see eye rolls once in a while when I bring up a new Reggio book I've been reading.  I'm inspired to make changes to my own class, but I also see a need for change in our entire system of education.  I was chatting with my principal yesterday and we were talking about the big push to get kids "college and career ready" but I think the entire system of education needs to define what that really means.  Careers are different than they were 20 years ago and they will be MUCH different when my kindergartners graduate from high school or college.  Are we really doing our kids a favor by forcing them to conform to the "standards" that we expect and testing them based on those standards.  (Yes, I believe that having common standards to teach toward is a good thing, but that getting to those standards needs to look different for every child. In addition, I DO NOT think that standardized tests are the way for YOUNG children to demonstrate their learning. Don't get me started on that!)

Kate, at An Everyday Story has a great description of the Reggio Approach on her blog.  Click on the picture below (photo from her blog post) to take you there.

I hope you are as inspired as I am to look more closely at the Reggio Approach.  It has changed my image of the child and deepened my understanding of how kids learn.

Happy exploring!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Making This Blog A Partnership

I started this literacy blog several years ago, when I realized that many of the posts on my home blog were turning toward education.  The followers on my home blog were mainly from the home decor, DIY, cooking, and gardening crowd.  With so many posts relating to reading and writing in the home, as well as the way we integrate literacy into the lives of our young children, I decided that a new blog needed to be born.

I came up with the name Love, Laughter, and Literacy because I really want families to know that literacy is more than workbook pages and the obligatory reading for 20 minutes every single day of your life.  Literacy is about integrating writing into your daily life, getting inspired by a book and using that as a spring board for a day in the kitchen with your children, or taking a trip to a local farm and creating a scrapbook page about your adventure.  You'll notice that the pictures in the header of this blog don't even show a book or a writing utensil.  I did that on purpose... our literacy lives are the sums of our experiences.  We write about what we know and read what we love.  Am I right?

My kids were much younger when I started this blog.  Our day to day experiences involved creating garden boxes, researching best vegetables for our region, drawing up garden plans, and reading fiction books about gardening.  My son is 14 now, and guess what... drawing up garden plans and creating scrapbook pages about our garden adventures have taken a back seat to basketball tournaments and hanging out with girls.  My kids have grown up and although my work as a parent is not done, my work as an early childhood literacy teacher is winding down in my homelife.  Of course, I'm still a kindergarten teacher, but writing about literacy in the home should also come from real life experience... not just what I think should be done.

That brings me to my big announcement!  I've decided to make this blog into a partnership.  I couldn't be more excited.  My mission has always been to inspire families to incorporate literacy in their everyday lives and I truly believe my partners have this same desire. Are you wondering who my partners will be?  Well, you'll have to wait a few more days.  While we are gathering ideas, writing bios, and taking pretty pictures, you can start getting excited about new faces, fresh voices, and fabulous activities that will be coming your way.  My partners all have strong backgrounds in education, but they also have something that I can't offer anymore.  They have little people running up and down their hallways, fingerprints on the fridge, and they offer a perspective of literacy to  parents with young children.  This blog was always meant to be about early childhood literacy, and while I can still bring my work from the classroom into this space, it will be wonderful to welcome people who are living in the moment of early childhood literacy.

I can't wait for you to meet my friends!  I'm hoping to have a blog post ready for their Love, Laughter, and Literacy debut on Friday!

Until then, happy reading and writing!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Inspiration For Art - A Playful Learning Space

I've been participating in an e-course called The Art Of Teaching.  It's a companion course to Playful Learning Spaces, which I took several years ago for the first time.

We are only in week 1 of The Art of Teaching, but it has made me think of the inspiration I took away from Playful Learning Spaces.  It was a wonderful e-course, which really inspired me bring the playful learning we do at home up to the next level.  During one of the weeks, we turned our attention to the art areas of our homes (and classroom in my case).  We have always had art materials at our house, but not REAL artist-quality materials.  I can't even begin to tell you the inspiration that came flooding to our kitchen table, once we had some high quality materials to work with.  You can read more about it at my home blog, Home is Where my Story Begins.


That's not where the story ends, though.  Through working with Mariah, I began learning about Reggio Emilia.  A teacher I work with also presented recently about the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education.  I was fascinated by the idea of creating a common area for art in my school.  In Reggio Emilia, Italy, each school has an art atelier, which houses high quality art supplies for kids to use.  The art area I was inspired to create in my former school, just outside of my classroom, was created with help from several teachers in our building.  It was a wonderful destination for the kids in our school.  Some kids come to add art work to a school project.  Other kids come at recess and just take time to create.  Of all of the things I miss about leaving my old school and district, my art center and the joy it brought to so many kids, is what I miss the most.

In addition to adding new art materials to our home art area, and creating our art atelier at school, we have also been learning more about creating art.  I'm REALLY not much of an artist, so when my kids want to draw or paint something I usually need to find directions.  We found some wonderful "how to draw" books at the library.  My son also enjoyed looking up "how to draw" videos on You Tube.  There was also a painting book included in the set of watercolor pencils we bought at Michael's.  I'm still not a great artist, but at least I can say I'm having fun trying!

The great thing about having our art supplies in caddies, is that it makes art portable.  When my daughter wants to take them outside to draw the trees, they can go along with her.  Right now, she enjoys sprawling out in the family room and drawing on the floor.  She usually has the iPad propped up next to her, and spend time asking Siri how to draw different thing.  Siri is pretty good at finding You Tube videos and images for her.

Happy art making!

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Beginning Chapter Books

When my son was in Kindergarten or First Grade, I decided to start reading a chapter book to him.  We had a lot of picture books around the house and I read to him multiple times a day, but I thought he might enjoy something like Magic Tree House or Mouse and the Motorcycle.  He was a beginning reader, at the time, and I knew that reading higher level books to children could be a benefit to their literacy development.  I was a second grade teacher at the time and had a large selection of chapter books for him to choose from.  I brought a stack of books home from school and let him choose one that he was interested in.  

We got about 3 chapters into the book, after a few days of reading, and it was clear that this was not enjoyable for my son.  Listening to a story with no pictures was just plain torture.  I remember talking to him about making mental images (movies in your mind) as you are listening to a story, but this was no help either.  When we hit chapter 5, we abandoned the book.  We tried a different chapter book, again with no success, and I decided it would be something we would have to pick up when he was a bit older.  

When my daughter was at the same stage, ready to listen to longer stories, Kate DiCamillo came out with the Mercy Watson series.   

These were the absolute perfect chapter books.  The story was longer and more developed, but there were pictures on almost every page.  Pictures are a good thing, when you are new at making mental images.  We breezed through the first book in the series and my daughter was begging for the next book.  These books were the perfect transition into larger chapter books.  

After we finished the Mercy Watson series, we moved onto Magic Tree House, but Mercy has always held a dear place in my heart.

I started reading these books to my kindergarten class this week. The giggles when Mercy takes off to go get warm toast with a great deal of butter on it, brings back wonderful memories of reading to my daughter when she was the same age,

Happy reading. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Using Photography to Document Student Learning

I love using photography to document student learning.  During our tree unit, I've been snapping pictures every time I get the chance.  I've been taking pictures of the kids at work, observing, describing, and writing in their journals.  One of our parents made a tree for our bulletin board and I thought it would be a perfect place to share our kids' learning.

When the activity for the day is finished, I try to have the pictures printed as quickly as possible.  Then, I ask students to tell me about the picture, describe what they see, and share any new learning.  This time for one on one conversation really helps me understand where they are in the learning process.  Some kids are full of scientific facts that they have learned, and can't wait to share!  Other kids use more descriptive language that we have been trying to incorporate into our Observe and Describe time.  Some kids look at me like I'm speaking a foreign language.  (Please tell me that I'm not the only teacher out there who know what this look is!)

It's been a great process for the kids, as well as for me.  I enjoy hearing what they have to say! Kids are so curious and this really helps me figure out which direction we want to take in our unit of study.  

I became interested in the documentation of student learning through my reading about Reggio Emilia.  Someday... someday, I will go there on a study tour and learn more about teaching through inquiry, documentation, the environment as the third teacher, and the hundred languages of the child. Sigh.  Someday.

For now, Amazon will be my friend.  Here are three books on my reading list. (Although my hubby just reminded me yesterday that, "Just because we have Amazon Prime, it doesn't mean that your books are free.  We still DO have to pay for them.")

Happy learning!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Playful Learning - The Art Of Teaching

Hey, teacher friends!  I've signed up to take an online class.  

Playful Learning is one of my favorite websites, books, and blogs.  I first took Mariah's Playful Learning Spaces class several years ago and I was hooked!  I couldn't wait for Wednesdays, each week, when Mariah would send out new videos and lessons. I was inspired and have made changes in my home and classroom that have stuck with me for years.  It was money and time well spent!

Well, there is a great offer right now!  If you sign up for The Art of Teaching workshop, you get the Playful Learning Spaces workshop for FREE!!!  The Art of Teaching workshop costs $48 and you get the $78 Playful Learning Spaces for $0!  Use the code ADDSPACES at checkout to apply the discount.

The Art of Teaching workshop will focus on theory, building community, and creating engaging lessons and I CAN'T WAIT to get started. The class starts on MONDAY, so you only have a few days left to register.  I'd love to have a few teacher friends do this with me!  It's a great opportunity to connect with one another through the online forum and assignments.  I'm not sure if this one will be Reggio Inspired, but most of Mariah's work tends to be inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education.  If you know me, you know I can't stop talking, reading, and learning about this.  Here's your chance to jump on board with me!

Click on the picture at the top of this post, or the button below to learn more about this online class or sign up!  I'm so passionate about this, that I've become an affiliate!

Happy learning!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Donors Choose - Please Help Me Fund My Cooking Project!

I've always been a huge fan of creating experiences for kids in the classroom, and I tend to like the messy stuff.  I love to paint, do shaving cream, break out the play-doh, plant mini-gardens, and COOK!  Yes, you read that right.  I actually cook with my kindergarten students every year.  While some kids have great experiences in the kitchen with their families, not all families love to cook or spend time in the kitchen.  Cooking and baking are two of my favorite hobbies, so I will happily spend time cooking with my kindergartners.

Well, here comes the problem.  You see, when I moved schools I had leave the convection oven behind.  It was purchased by another teacher who used grant money designated for the building.  Leave the building... leave the convection oven.  Here we are on the doorstep of spring, and I can't do my favorite cooking unit with the kids.  It's killing me, friends!  I can't even begin to tell you how many reading, writing, science, social studies, and math lessons come from this unit!


Have you heard of it?  It's a website where teachers can post a project and ask the public to help fund it.  I've been teaching this unit for years, so I have collected all of the cooking and baking supplies, as well as cook books, that I need for the unit.  The only thing that is missing is the oven.  I found a great convection oven through the Best Buy Education link on Donor's Choose.

With tax, processing, donor's choose donation, and shipping it will be just under $300.  It's portable and can sit on a rolling cart, which means I can share it with other teachers in my building.  (At my old school it was a very popular item at many different grade levels.)

Are you interested in helping me purchase this?  If so, for the next 4 days Donor's Choose will match any dollar amount (up to $100) that is donated to this project.  You need to enter the code SPARK at checkout.  If you are willing to help me out, I will be your best friend forever!  Here is the link to my project, if you'd like to help.

Thanks, friends!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Choosing Books for a 10 Year Old

I love teaching literacy in my classroom and it has always spilled over to my home life.  Our home has been filled with books, library trips, interactive writing centers, and book making.  My kids have always played along because (I think) I made it pretty fun!  Now that they are getting older, and more active, convincing my kids to curl up with a good book is next to impossible.  My daughter has to read several books this year for school, and finding a series that she likes has not been easy.  I searched for 10 books, that I thought she may like, and let her browse through them.  She set them all down and looked at me like I was crazy.  Nothing was of interest to her.

Our next stop was the local bookstore.  We asked the children's librarian for some suggestions.  She handed us about 5 books and my daughter browsed a bit. She settled on the book Trading Faces by DeVillers and Roy.  We took it home, and she started reading right away.  To my surprise, she actually seemed to enjoy the book!  She did not choose to read for fun, but she did get through the book without complaint!  Since then, we've purchased a few more books in the series.  

There is still not a lot of joy coming from my 10 year old, when we need to spend some time reading, but there is no whining, AND she actually told me she thought the book was pretty good!

Baby steps.

Happy reading!

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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