Saturday’s Sites

Here you go…some great sites I’ve found lately!

  • Shining Our Lights Preschool has a free idea to share for keeping track of your child’s reading skills, especially this summer.  If you do Word Study with your child, based off of Words Their Way, they recommend keeping a Word Study notebook.  We do this at this reading mama’s house and it’s another great way to keep track of what your child knows.
  • Do you have a preschooler at home?  Here’s a wonderful blog called A Mom With a Lesson Plan.  She’s got some great ideas.  I plan on using and posting some of her Letter Activities with NJoy soon!
  • I LOVE Michelle’s post on handwriting WITHOUT pencil and paper!  My favorite thing about this reading mama is that she posts videos for every letter to show you how to do it.  Thanks, Michelle!
  • She did it!  I Can Teach My Child came up with a way to use her toilet paper books into word family practice.  Check it out.
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More Butterfly Writing

As we’re wrapping up our study on butterflies, I wanted to post a couple of ways we integrated writing into our unit.  I have been SO proud of his attitude while writing lately.

1.  Butterfly Life Cycle

I read Becoming Butterflies by Anne Rockwell.  This book tells about the life cycle of Monarch butterflies and we compared it to what had happened with our painted lady butterflies.

He worked the butterfly life cycle puzzle from Lakeshore.  This served as a quick review.  I believe it is discontinued now, but I found the set at yard sale recently for $2.

I folded over pieces of paper and created a flip chart to show how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.  He used pictures and words from the book to help him draw and write the words.  Something I noticed is that chrysalid and chrysalis seem to be interchangeable.  Maybe I’m wrong…and if I am, please correct me!

On the top page, he wrote Becoming Butterflies.

Here are a couple of his inside pages:

egg- 1st page

butterfly- last page

This flip chart concept could be adapted and used with many different content areas.

Just a few that pop in my mind right away are:

  • retelling a story in order
  • helping a child understand where they live: city, state, country, continent would go on the pages and the child would draw pictures of those things on the inside flaps
  • writing math problems: for example, 4+5 could be written and when it’s  flipped open, the child writes the answer and maybe draws pictures or writes words to show how she got the answer

2. What Did You Learn?

I read It’s a Butterfly’s Life by Irene Kelly.  This is VERY interesting book.  For example, did you know that a caterpillar’s poop is called frass?  Some caterpillars can even “shoot” their frass up to 3 feet (we pulled out a yard stick to see just how far that was)!  There were parts of the book that were WAY over his head, so I paraphrased or skipped those.

Before reading, I told ALuv that this book contained very interesting and even gross facts about butterflies.  This really engaged him, as he wanted to get to the gross parts.

During reading, I kept commenting, “Wow!  I didn’t know that before!” or “That’s so cool!”  He made comments as well.

After reading, I asked him what facts he remembered the most.  We engaged in dialogue about this, as I shared mine.  Once he established his favorite, I asked him to draw a picture showing it.  I walked away as he worked, so as not to “hover” (as my husband calls it).

This is what he drew:

A green caterpillar with large eye spots.

Once he had his picture drawn, I asked him to tell me about it.  I helped him narrow down the sentence he wanted to write and I set him free to write it.  I listened.  No whining…no crying…not an utterance of  “But I can’t!”.  After a couple minutes of silence, I was intrigued.  I simply walked by to see what was happening.  He had already written two words: The caterpillar.  He had used the flip chart I mentioned above to spell caterpillar!  I was so proud!!

He used the Word Wall to spell several other sight words.  A few times, he did ask for help.  When he did, I modeled how to stretch out the words.  He said the words, too and wrote down the sounds he heard.  Stretching out words and writing down the phonemes is a great way to further develop a child’s phonemic awareness; a necessary skill for reading!

This is the final work:

The Caterpillar can scar othr animls uwa with thr big is.

(The caterpillar can scare other animals away with their big eyes.)

This reading mama’s favorite was UWA for away…brilliant!  Okay, so I am aware that he has a capital C at the beginning of caterpillar and that this “fact” isn’t entirely true…they’re really eye spots, but who cares?!?!  I could not stop praising him for his good attitude and hard work.  His handwriting looks amazing!  Just about a month ago, he didn’t even understand how to use the lines.  Now, he can use them independently!  Yay!

What do I think made such a big difference in a month’s time?  I believe it all boils down to best teaching practices that work in any content area:

  1. Modeling: If you remember, when he wrote in his journal about our butterflies, I modeled “correct” letter formation on a lined dry erase board; which I found at Target in their $1 bin last year.  He has also repeated the sentence strip handwriting activity; which gives him a good model with letter formation.
  2. Multiple Exposures:  I bumped up my expectations with him.  We write almost every day now.
  3. Meaningful Practice: Not worksheet after worksheet, but fun and authentic reasons for writing.

And…an old trick I had forgotten until recently:  Let him draw his picture first.   Drawing tends to be easier (and more fun) for kids at a young age and a less daunting place for them to start.  Encourage them to fill their pictures with lots of details.  When they’re done, ask them to describe their picture to you so they can verbalize their thoughts.  They may even allow you to label their picture.  Then, help them to figure out what they want to write down based off their picture.

"Doing School" with NJoy

NJoy is currently 2 years, 8 months.  And this little boy NJOYS learning.  He is actually borderline obsessive! 🙂  He has walked into our new schoolroom several times since its construction and demanded, “I want to ‘do school’!” (It really sounds more like “do cool”; since he can’t say his s blends very well).

Magnetic letter play

“Mommy, I need the pointer so I can point to letters.” – I hear this at least twice a day.

Sneaking in a quick ABC puzzle with Mr. Lamb before breakfast

Now that he’s taken to it, I’ve realized that I need to be more intentional with him.  While I sometimes still adapt things for him that I do with ALuv, I’ve begun separate lesson plans for him.  The awesome thing is that I’ve got PLENTY of amazing online resources to help me out.  You can visit the other sites and their amazing resources by clicking on the links with each activity.

Letters & Their Letter Sounds

Instead of going through the alphabet in order, I introduce letters and their sounds in more of a developmental order (I am planning to post more specifically about this soon).   Sometimes, I’ll start with the letter of the child’s name, but since we are studying butterflies, I decided to go with B.

Letter B Work:

Play dough Letter B Mat from here

Our letter Bb sound tub

For each object, I placed it on this Bb mat, saying the object’s name like this: /b/-/b/-bread.  For more ideas on using sound tubs, click here and here.

Drawing strings on the balloons- (I’m beginning to wonder if he’ll be a lefty like his daddy)

If splashing in mud puddles is NJoy’s 1st love, drawing strings on balloons has got to be a close 2nd.   So much so, that I have to be careful not to leave writing utensils within his reach because if he sees an o anywhere in the house, he writes a line coming from it and proudly exclaims, “Look mommy!  I made a balloon!”  Since we are studying the letter B, I created this page for him and put it in a sleeve protector so he could erase and draw again and again (and again!).  He requests to do this one several times a day.  You can download it here if you think your little one(s) may enjoy.

butterfly matching

butterfly lacing card

tracing the letter B

Do-a-dot Bb– this was his first time doing the dots in the circles and I was pleasantly surprised at how well he did!

Since ALuv really wanted to do it, I had him trace the upper and lower case B first, using the correct strokes for the formation of the letter.  He then had to do his dots in the same order.  (Gotta integrate that handwriting whenever you can!!!)

The butterfly and letter B activities in the former pictures came from Confessions of a Homeschooler.  This mama is truly amazing…and so are her free printables!

starfall’s letter B show

He also enjoyed the B Power Point show that Carisa created, but I didn’t get a picture of us doing that one.  You have to be a member to view it, but the membership is WELL worth it.  It’s only a one time fee of $15 and she adds new things quite often.

Sing a Song

We sing a lot over here!  Both my boys LOVE to sing.  I use songs to incorporate literacy quite a bit.  One of our favorites with the letter B has been Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee.  Another song we’ve sung for a few days is one that I adapted in my Christian Nursery Rhymes book: Ba, Ba Black Sheep.

NJoy colored the sheep (I only had him color the black, blue, and brown sheep in his first sitting.  I demonstrated how these color names start with B.)

We sang the song, substituting a different color for black each time.  After seeing My Montessori Journey’s February poem on the pocket chart, I decided to put our song on our new pocket chart.  It worked nicely.

Pointing to the B‘s in Ba, Ba

As we continue to “do school” this summer, I’ll keep you posted on the things we do.  Thanks for following this reading mama!

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

The cool thing about literacy is that you can integrate it with any other content area.  Take, for instance, the caterpillar kit we have from Insect Lore.  As a public school teacher, I did this and the students LOVED it.  I have to admit that I was quite fascinated with it myself. 🙂  Jenae from I Can Teach My Child mentioned it on Facebook and it gave me the push I needed to do it with my own kids!  It took about a week for the caterpillars to arrive in the mail.

Here’s how this reading mama integrated science and literacy:  I had ALuv make observations daily and when he noted a change in the process, he wrote about it in a journal.  Quite simple, really.  When I told him this is what we were going to do, he replied by excitedly saying, “Oh, I get to use a journal just like Sid the Science Kid!”

Below are just some pictures of the journaled journey from caterpillar to butterfly…I’ll spare you from every entry of his journal.

The caterpillars are black and little. – May 20

The caterpillars are bigger with stripes.  -May 23

They poop green poop.  They are getting fat. -May 24; Mom’s favorite sentence…what can I say?!?

The caterpillars are hanging upside down. -May 26

May 27

And finally…

Now they are butterflies! -June 6

I also had him write about some of the butterfly behaviors he noticed while they were in the habitat.  Here is a really cool picture and one of his entries:

If you look carefully, you can see the proboscis (straw-like tongue) coming out to drink the orange.

They are drinking the orange juice. – June 5

The process of getting him to write: After ALuv would make his daily observations, I asked him to narrow down what he wanted to write about.  He would tell me his sentence, then on my lined dry erase board, he would help me write the words.  (We stretched out the words, listening for sounds & used our Word Wall for sight words.)  Using my handwriting as his guide, he would copy the sentences.  And as you may have noticed, his handwriting is getting MUCH better!!  Yay!

Just a side note: For this assignment, I preferred that his spellings be conventional because this text will be read over and over.  There are other times where invented spellings are perfectly fine, like when he wrote HAPPE BERTHDA (Happy Birthday) to MBug the other day.

We released our butterflies on Monday of this week.  When one of our butterflies came out of his chrysalis, he had  a torn wing and was unable to fly away.

ALuv tried so hard to get the butterfly to fly, but he just couldn’t.

So ALuv decided we should keep him.  His name is officially Flutter and he still lives in our playroom.  He now has some green leaves and flowers from our yard to keep him company.

ALuv wanted to include one last page for Flutter.

I let 4 butterflies go, but not Flutter.  His wing is broken.- June 5

I left him to draw the picture on his own and was very impressed when I returned with the attention to details!  Usually, he draws the bare minimal and refuses to give me any details.  ALuv made a cover for his journal and we put the pages in order (this integrated some math skills as he had to look at the dates and get them in the right order) and we stapled it all together.

He was very proud of his finished product…See How They Grow

Here are a few of the read aloud books we read together during this process, yet another way to integrate literacy:

  • The Polliwog and the Caterpillar by Jack Kent
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • It’s a Butterfly’s Life by Irene Kelly (loads of cool facts in this one)
  • Becoming Butterflies by Anne Rockwell (Monarch butterfly)
  • Butterflies and Moths by Kathryn Knight (Target $1 bin)

Tuesday's Teaching Tip

“I have a 3rd grader and she still reverses her b‘s and d‘s.  My friend has a daughter in the 3rd grade who doesn’t do this and she told me that my child  shouldn’t be doing this anymore either.  Should I be concerned?”  This was a question a mama recently asked me.  And I thought it was a good one at that!

I probed further to find out that her child was reading and writing on a 1st grade level.  Developmentally speaking, this student was a 1st grader, despite what “grade” she was actually in.

My response went something like this (cliff note version):

“Your daughter is demonstrating the spelling behavior of a 1st grader because that’s the developmental level she’s in.  Students in this stage still do reverse their letters on occasion, so for her developmental stage, she is ‘normal’.”

We need to remember to look at the whole child as we observe and assess.  Instead of expecting literacy behaviors based solely off of a student’s grade level,  we need to make sure we take into account what developmental stage he is in.

As for the b and d reversals, it can be a source of embarrassment for kids who are the older grades, yet in a different developmental stage.  This is what I tell the students I tutor who struggle with this particular reversal: With a pencil, lightly write a capital B at the top of your page.  The lower case b will fit inside of it.  When you’re done with your writing, erase your B and no one will ever know that you needed it. 🙂

And a big P.S.– Even if this mama’s 3rd grade girl was developmentally in the 3rd grade, ALL KIDS ARE DIFFERENT!  We need to be careful that we avoid playing the comparison game with our kids.  It can negatively affect how they see themselves as writers and readers!

Tuesday’s Teaching Tip

“I have a 3rd grader and she still reverses her b‘s and d‘s.  My friend has a daughter in the 3rd grade who doesn’t do this and she told me that my child  shouldn’t be doing this anymore either.  Should I be concerned?”  This was a question a mama recently asked me.  And I thought it was a good one at that!

I probed further to find out that her child was reading and writing on a 1st grade level.  Developmentally speaking, this student was a 1st grader, despite what “grade” she was actually in.

My response went something like this (cliff note version):

“Your daughter is demonstrating the spelling behavior of a 1st grader because that’s the developmental level she’s in.  Students in this stage still do reverse their letters on occasion, so for her developmental stage, she is ‘normal’.”

We need to remember to look at the whole child as we observe and assess.  Instead of expecting literacy behaviors based solely off of a student’s grade level,  we need to make sure we take into account what developmental stage he is in.

As for the b and d reversals, it can be a source of embarrassment for kids who are the older grades, yet in a different developmental stage.  This is what I tell the students I tutor who struggle with this particular reversal: With a pencil, lightly write a capital B at the top of your page.  The lower case b will fit inside of it.  When you’re done with your writing, erase your B and no one will ever know that you needed it. 🙂

And a big P.S.– Even if this mama’s 3rd grade girl was developmentally in the 3rd grade, ALL KIDS ARE DIFFERENT!  We need to be careful that we avoid playing the comparison game with our kids.  It can negatively affect how they see themselves as writers and readers!

Sentence Strip Handwriting

Before I get into the nitty gritty here, I want to first say that ALuv is currently 5 1/2 years old.  It’s time for him to work on correct letter formation with the lined paper.  I like Michelle’s post, which reminded me to tell you that I didn’t start ALuv on lined paper.  His fine motor skills weren’t there, yet.  Lined paper would have pushed him and this mama off the edge!  We explored writing in many different ways.  His favorite way was by far the giant dry erase boards I have.

Now for the nitty gritty!  On Monday, I told you that I had thought of a way to have ALuv practice his handwriting.  I know you’ve been awake ever since then just wondering what I did…hehe.

As I pondered a way to have him practice his handwriting on the lined paper, it hit me!  Sentence strips have the same lined pattern as the paper.  And I had tons of sentence strips.  I got to work!

1. I cut apart sentence strips into 1 1/2 inch pieces.  You can find sentence strips at any teacher store.  I think I even saw some at Target the other day.

2. I wrote upper case and lower case letters on the pieces:

  • 3 of every lower case consonant (written in black)
  • 4 of every lower case vowel (red)
  • 2 of every upper case consonant (black)
  • 3 of every upper case vowel (red)

My mind started reeling.  This activity could also be a way to practice his sight words from his Word Wall.  He could even form short sentences to practice punctuation as well!

3. I cut out more pieces for punctuation

  • 2 periods (blue)
  • 2 question marks (blue)
  • 2 exclamation marks (blue)

4. I pulled out the letters & punctuation I needed for these three short sentences:

  • I love you.
  • I go up.
  • I see you.

I kept the sentences short & sweet as the focus of my lesson was more on handwriting than sight words.

5.  I placed all the letters on the floor and modeled with the sentence I go.  I picked the sentence strip letters, spelled the words, then wrote my letters/sentence on the dry erase board; showing him how I used the letters on the sentence strips as my guide to form my letters.

The dry erase lined board is one that I got at Target in their $1 bin last year.  An alternative to this would be to print a page off of this website and laminate it so you can write with a dry erase marker.  Or, you could simply use a pencil and lined paper.

6. I called out one sentence at a time and he got to work.  He manipulated the letters to form words then wrote each sentence.

He really liked this activity and kept commenting on how his letters looked like a first grader had written them!  I was encouraged by his enthusiasm.  We’ll definitely do this again with different sentences.  My hope is that as he gets more comfortable with his handwriting, we can write some longer sentences.

A variation that I thought of after our activity would be to laminate all your sentence strip pieces.  This would not only make them more durable, but would allow your child the ability to practice writing over top of the sentence strip pieces if needed.

NJoy wanted to be right there with us, so here’s what he did with his dry erase markers.  He’s REALLY into drawing balloons these days, so I let him have at it.  Coloring on the dry erase board is a treat for him because I rarely let him do it.  If he’s not overly-supervised, dry erase marker adorns everything in his path! 🙂

Hmm…Handwriting

As a classroom teacher, I was never drawn to open the pages of the handwriting practice workbooks that collected dust in the back of my classroom.  Part of me didn’t feel qualified to teach proper handwriting formation…I didn’t quite understand the importance of it.  And part of me felt like I could integrate handwriting into my writing time (via Writer’s Workshop) versus making it my writing time.

Several years later, I understand only a little better that “correct” (I use that term loosely) letter formation is important.  Just like holding the pencil in an awkward position can lead to muscle fatigue, so can writing letters “incorrectly”; especially as more writing is required.  But even now, as I’m teaching my own child to form his letters, I still am not that attracted to the drill of a workbook (and I do have one from Target’s $1 bin).

ALuv has known his upper and lower case letters since he was 3 and has been writing for over a year now.  So I felt it was time (developmentally speaking) to expect a little more out of him than the bare minimal.  I felt it was time to do some handwriting practice.  Oh, boy!

Here’s an example of ALuv’s latest writing adventure.  This was in response to a recent field trip to a local fire station with our MOPS group.  He was asked to write about his favorite part.  By the way, we’re still working through the how to hold your pencil part.  I did find some triangular pieces that slide onto the pencil, which REALLY helped him, but we seemed to have lost it.  I think I need to make a trip back to the teacher supply store and get some more!

“I likeT GetG In THe Fire truck.”  (I liked getting in the fire truck.)

He kept a good attitude through this writing task (and so did I!), even though he messed up his drawing.  We simply cut out the “bad” part and he was happy!

Here are the observations I’ve made about his handwriting from his latest writings (please note:  I’m not saying that any of these things are “bad”, as many of these characteristics are common for a child in his stage of writing):

  • he uses upper and lower case interchangeably
  • he doesn’t always form his letters “correctly”
  • he’s not quite sure what to do with the lined paper and some letters tend to “float” around, despite the use of our letter formation poster board

It was time for this reading mama to pull something out of my “magic writing hat” to get him to the next level in writing…but what?!?  I did have that $1 workbook from Target.  Hmm…handwriting.

Then that very same day, while I was supposed to be napping, the idea hit me like a 2×4 and I got up immediately and began working (I really do hate it when this happens…I needed the sleep!!).  I’ll share my idea with you Wednesday.  I think you’ll like it.  ALuv did…and it actually worked!

Spelling with LEGO Letters

MBug (11 months) gets up many mornings around 4 or 5am to eat, but then goes right back to sleep.  During such a feeding one morning last week, I was contemplating how I could combine ALuv’s obsession with Legos and my love for teaching reading.  As I mulled over how this could be done, an idea popped into my head.

Learning Objective: Child will manipulate Lego pieces to spell words and identify their “shapes”.

Since ALuv has a HUGE bucket of Legos (we easily have over 3,000), I knew he wouldn’t miss a handful of them!

Material Preparation:

1.  I collected the Legos.  My two “helpers” assisted me in pulling out the needed Legos.  Okay, so they really built cars while I did all the work, but good help can be hard to come by these days! 🙂  (If I’d only been as organized as Carisa, this would not have taken so long.)

2.  I sorted the Legos.  The Legos on the left side of this picture are for the short consonants, such as c, m, n, v, etc.  The red Legos in the middle are for vowels, and the Legos on the right side are for tall consonants (b, d, t, l, etc.) or consonants with a “tail” (p, q, j, etc.).

3. I wrote the letters on the Legos.  I placed all the Legos with the bumps facing to the right and wrote with an Ultra Fine Point Sharpie (permanent); which I found at Target.  So far, only the q has smudged; the rest have held up very well.

Here’s a picture of my finished blocks in ABC order.  If you’ll notice, I also included a red w and a red y for when they act as vowels.

One awesome thing about this is that the b, d, q, and g will not fit together if they are turned the wrong way, so it helps to limit their confusion.  I did, however, write all the b‘s on yellow blocks, the d‘s on light green, and the p‘s on white; just to solidify their differences.

Lesson Plan:

1.  We sorted the Lego letters by “shape” (short letters, tall letters, letters with “tails”).

2. I modeled how to click them together correctly so that the letters retained their “shape”.

3. I called out Word Wall words (sight words) and he built them.  These are the words he made: and, can, go, look, like, off, is, stop, the & you.

Once we got into the lesson, this reminded me of the Reading Rods I used in the classroom with my Kinders and 1st graders (only cheaper!).

Variation & Extension Ideas:

I knew NJoy would want to be right in there with us, so I made some letter blocks for him out of the Duplo blocks–upper case on one side and lower case on the other.  This way MBug could safely play, too, while ALuv’s smaller Lego pieces stayed on the table.

naming his letters

Worksheets are not my thing, but ALuv enjoyed spelling the words so much that I created a couple of worksheets for him on A to Z Teacher Stuff.  He did this one as independent work the next day.  He totally LOVED doing this!

For the worksheet, he had to: 1) Look at the words at the top, 2) Build the words with Legos & 3) Write the correct word in each word shape puzzle.

Saturday’s Sites

Okay, so I admit it: I’m a little cheesy with my alliteration in the title to this post, but you get the picture.  Each Tuesday I present a teaching tip, so I thought I’d use Saturdays to tell you about sites I think that are very helpful and/or pretty cool to this reading mama.

So, here are this Saturday’s Sites:

Free Printable Writing Paper– For PreK through 2nd grade

You Can Read! is a high frequency word program developed to help your younger reader (below age 5) master basic sight words.  (I think the current cost is $5).

Scholastic is running a deal right now.  If your child completes a MATH and a READING activity sheet, you can earn five FREE books from Scholastic.  I read the fine print, but couldn’t quite determine what kinds of books they are offering for free (I’m pretty sure they are trade books, but wouldn’t be surprised if they might be workbooks), but check it out for yourselves and see what you think.

If you search around on Scholastic’s website, you’ll find it’s loaded with great info and help for parents, like this article called 10 Non-Book Ways to Get Your Child Reading.

So, sit down…and enjoy the sites! 🙂

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