Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reading and the Rain

We live in the Pacific Northwest.  This place is part of us and because of that so is the rain.

A few days ago CC and I were going about our normal Monday-preschool, lunch and some afternoon playtime.  We had grand plans to go outside and checkout our neighbor's yard project, complete with rented tractor, and rubble/dirt galore.  I try to get her interested in the outdoors daily, which is no easy task because she would rather stay in.  The tractor was my hook and just as we were getting ready to venture out, the rain started.  It was the kind of rain that you can see in sheets and waves as the wind blows it every which way.  We stood on the porch and listened then decided to stay in.  But, what to do instead?

I decided to try something that we've done before with little success.

I love to read and so does CC, she just doesn't love to give it a go on her own.  When she does manage to get off my lap long enough for me to open my book it is usually short lived-like I only get one page read-short lived.  I have continued to try this with her, me sitting reading my book with her next to me 'reading' hers, because I want her to see a love of reading modeled.

To make the pot a bit sweeter, I heated up some hot chocolate while she picked a stack of books to read.  I wanted this to be a positive experience, after all.  CC picked a nice variety of books for herself, some picture books, a magazine (with a search and find that held her attention), a collection of stories, a photo album, a picture dictionary, and a wordless book.  I'm reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, in case you were wondering.

We snuggled up on the couch together, side-by-side and started reading.  I don't know if it was the rain, the perfect combination of book choices, or the hot chocolate but on this day I read 6 whole pages in my book!  I count that as a success both for me and for CC.

She was able to gain some stamina in her reading, see someone who genuinely loves to read, and had a positive experience.  I was able to take a breath, model for my daughter how important reading is, and dive deeper into my story.

Encourage your little ones to pull up beside you while you both read.  They may only last a minute, maybe even less, but it is a start.  I've been trying this for over three years and felt a bit more successful today. 

And, it all started because of the rain.      


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Day At The Beach

I'm always amazed at the way the beach can draw the most reluctant kids into exploration.  Last week, during our Spring Break, we took a short trip to Birch Bay.  The day we arrived was beautiful.  We played at the pool and then decided to check out the beach during low tide.  We went to the Birch Bay State Park and found a few people digging for clams, but not a lot to look at.  By the time we walked out to the water, the kids were complaining and wondering why I made them get out of the pool. Clearly, it was time to try a new beach.  We asked a few locals and found out that Semiahmoo beach had better tide pools, so we hopped in the car and took off.

There was so much to look at and explore at Semiahmoo!  Everything seemed full of life.  We watched the barnacles reaching for their dinner, collected rocks, got squirted by a few clams, flipped over rocks and found little crabs, and discovered baby sand dollars.

The kids couldn't resist wading in the tide pools!  There was just so much to explore.  The big kids were up to their knees in the water, collecting as many sand dollars as they could find.  The little kids were on the look out for baby sand dollars.  Me?? I was looking for starfish and chitons, while getting stuck (knee deep) in SUPER smooshy sand.  I have to admit, it was pretty hysterical! 

So much to learn and so much to explore!
I love a sunny day at the beach! 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Where We Keep Our Books

Being a mother of two young children, I have always worked to make sure that they both have full access to their own set of books at any given time. I find great comfort in reading and my older daughter, Maggie, almost five, can often be found reading in her room. 

My younger daughter, Audrey, a two year old, tends to 'read' books at a much quicker pace, and is a bit more reckless with how she treats them. We keep a bin of board books in the living room that she can keep organized in her own way and can help by putting them away when they're done. Although she's only two, she has favorite books and favorite authors. I have a bin of board books in the garage that I rotate for her.

In Maggie's room, we have a bookshelf that I scored for free when she was a baby that has proven to be one of our best places to store her books. I wallpapered the back of it and it has been full of books ever since. Every couple months we go through it and weed out books we're done with, forgot about, or are ready to give away. 

We try to read chapter books at night time and some of my old favorites I keep on Maggie's dresser, away from two-year old hands. 

Library books tend to have a floating life in our home, depending on how great of a book it is or where we last read it. Maggie's school is near the local library so we go there with great frequency and this means that we're often hauling books in and out of the house. For the most part we keep the books on her bedside table and back in to our library bag when we're done with them. That way they don't get too lost. 

 In our living room we have a bin of seasonal books that hold special books. I have bins in our garage that I use to rotate at appropriate times. It's always an exciting day when we change out these seasonal books because it means new books......or at least books we haven't seen in a year.

To me, books should be getting read, thumbed through and loved. I find great comfort in walking into somebody's home and seeing that they're readers. There are books on every subject, and there are also books written for all ages. This is just how we have books in our home for little people. 

Documenting Learning On Instagram

Are you on Instagram? I post pictures of home life, my kids, family vacations, and school life on my Instagram account. Come join me! My user name is homeiswheremystorybegins. I'd love it if you would follow me.

I've been using hashtags, which my 14 year old reminds me that using hashtags does not make me cool. Ha! I was on Instagram before the teen crowd had even discovered it!

#CTInquiry is a great one that is inquiry based. #teachersofinstagram, #allaboutinquiry, and #makelearningvisible are all hashtags that I'm starting to use.

Come join me, friends! Help me prove to my 14 year old that I have followers who are old enough to drive.

Search for me on Instagram. homeiswheremystorybegins 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Meet My New Partners!

Are you ready to meet my new blogging partners?  I'm so excited to add friends who are teachers, literacy lovers, and parents of young children as contributors to this blog.

I'd like you to meet Hannah, Angela, and Nicole!
Here's a little about them.

My name is Nicole.  I am a mother to a very curious, verbal,compassionate, and take-charge kind of 4 year old.  I am also a wife, homemaker, and former elementary teacher.  I love reading, literacy, and sharing this passion with my daughter.  Personally, I struggled to learn to read as a child and eventually got the hang of it thanks to Beverly Cleary - something clicked and I haven't looked back.  Knowing what I know now about early literacy experiences, I am providing my daughter with adventures that will fill her literary cup daily.

Hannah is a wife, mother, and teacher. Before she had children she taught elementary school for many years. Her love of all things literacy seep into all aspects of her life. Hannah, so devoted to reading, still falls asleep with her nose in a book each night. 

Hello, I'm Angela.  I've been a Kindergarten teacher of over 10 years, a loving wife, and a mom of 2 young boys. I decided my plate was not full enough so I decided to start blogging! Having been inspired by so many educators and parents over the years, I am now hoping to give back and be that same inspiration for others.

I can't wait to get started on our blogging adventure with these ladies!

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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