Thank you, Super Why.

29 May

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My children do not watch a lot of TV. I may have one of the only eight year olds who does not know that iCarly exists. Please do not let the cat out of the bag should you two happen to be chatting about television. We have stuck to PBS, Fresh Beat Band (more my obsession than theirs!), and Charlie and Lola. They have 30 minutes or so a day of screen time (my 4 year old gets an extra show in lieu of a nap), and they seem genuinely happy with it.

This is NOT a post patting myself on the back. This is a post giving credit where credit is due: to Super Why and other shows like it.

I have realized that my third child did not get the best of me. In fact, some days, even though we are home together for many hours at a time, she doesn’t get much of me at all.  My mind may be elsewhere, or I just don’t feel like playing or reading or being on.  And, she is my most independent child. She loves playing alone.

Last week, it dawned on me that Sophie did not learn her letters from me. I realized that my older two daughters have taught her all they know, and she watches Super Why at least once a week. It is this show that turned Sophie on to learning about letters. This show gave her the curiosity to ask me what letters are in her books and to ask me and her teachers at school to show her how to write her letters. She has begun to watch her sisters do their homework and then run to a corner to do her own “important work” in one of her many journals. I have often heard Sophie singing one of Super Why’s catchy tunes as she writes.

I love this! As a mom, I love that I can justify the TV I let her watch. As a teacher, I applaud the creators of Super Why.  This show has an actual benefit to her life as a reader and a writer. I know that while I go to make beds or write this blog, she is learning something valuable.

In the next blog post, I will show you how you can support your child’s newfound passion for letters and words—beyond videos and computer games.  I will give you some quick and easy ways to reinforce and extend what your child has begun to learn.  Stay tuned…

It’s been a while…

24 May

It has been far too long since I have blogged. Time just flies. I feel like I blinked and my kids are all growing up so fast…my baby just turned 4. In the last few weeks, I have realized that all the special moments with her as my little baby are almost behind me. I have made the conscious decision to make sure I enjoy all the moments that much more—with all of my kids, not just my 4 year old.

In these last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to sit and watch my kids from the sidelines. I have watched them in school performances, and just sat back and watched them at home.

My “first baby” is now in the grade that I taught when I first entered the world of teaching. Second graders seemed so old then! How can I have a second grader who does research, reads complicated books, and writes stories?! How is it possible that my first grader who did not read with confidence, suddenly reads with expression and total comprehension as she devours her favorite new series, Roscoe Riley? How can my 4 year old suddenly correct ME when I read her favorite books and skip a word?

Of course my kids have grown as people: emotionally, socially, and in other areas. Since this blog focuses on our children as learners, that is what I have been thinking about most as I observe them.

This past week, what has become obvious to me is how my kids have begun to teach each other. So, in the spirit of getting you more free time while at the same time fostering your kids’ emotional and intellectual development, I am going to give you a tip: make your kids take over your role at bedtime.

If you have older children, have your older children put your young preschooler to bed. If your preschooler is your oldest and you have a baby, have your preschooler try to put your baby to bed. If you have a preschooler or a toddler and no others, have your child put YOU to bed.

It seems silly, I know. This past week my oldest decided to put our 4 year old to sleep. It was helpful for me, since I was able to spend the time with my middle daughter. It was helpful to me, since I only had to put TWO kids to sleep and not three. But most of all, it was helpful to the two of them.

For my oldest, she was able to apply so many of her skills:

-she felt really old, mature, and responsible

-she was able to practice her own reading with expression and keeping it interesting for her audience

-she actually worked to teach her little sister to read! She read her one of our favorite books (Baby Happy, Baby Sad by Leslie  Patricelli) and made sure to point out the repetitive text

For the youngest:

-she learned a new book from a different teacher

-she felt mature and responsible, too. Mom was not present!

Above all, they bonded. In the way that reading is so special for parents and children, it is as special for kids to share this with each other. Sometimes, parents can be in the way of truly positive interactions between siblings. (Don’t get me wrong. Feel free to spy from the hall.)

This can work with any age children. I have been doing this with my kids since my oldest was four. You would be amazed at what your kids can do. (Just don’t forget to try to stand in the door to take a video. It is guaranteed to warm your heart!)

Let me say this again: try this to save yourself some work! Use the extra time to kick up your feet and curl up with a book of your own. The dishes in the sink will wait until tomorrow morning. I promise.

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Let’s pretend!

22 Mar

Does your child rush to the dramatic play area in preschool (and beyond)?

Do you ever think, “That’s great, but s/he never does that at home”? Well, try this idea to freshen up the play that happens at home–courtesy of one of my favorite blogs: http://imaginationsoup.net/2013/03/25-diy-pretend-play-kits/

I love these ideas for so many reasons. As I have mentioned in previous posts, play is key to children’s developing minds. It is how they make sense of the world around them. It is how they explore concepts and emotions, and how they understand roles they see in the world around them (parents, teachers, doctors, siblings, and even animals).

In creating these kits, kids are active participants in their own play. They are able to call upon their emerging literacy and math skills as they create. And above all, they are using their imagination. Depending on their ages, you may be able to just drop the idea and run. I plan to try to suggest the idea and leave my 8,6,3 year olds to their own devices. They will love it more when they have complete ownership.

Years ago, my oldest daughter was learning about flowers in preschool. Her teachers created a flower shop–complete with seeds, cash register, and fake flowers. My kids came home and recreated and extended the shop with what they could find at home. They filled envelopes with rice (called them seeds), made a cash register out of a cereal box, and wrote signs all by themselves. The creation took 3 days’ worth of play. The play: a whopping 12 minutes. At the time I remember thinking: “Can’t they just play???” But now, thinking back, I realize they did incredible “work” and the process was what mattered to them.

Dramatic play is how our children come to understand the world around them.

Dramatic play is how our children come to understand the world around them.

A friend recently shared with me something that Mr. Rogers said:

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

So, if you are home with your kids this week or next, consider creating a DIY Kit with your kids and then just let them play. If all goes well, you can go make yourself a cup of tea and reach for a good book.

I CAN read!!!

18 Mar

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Now that you have read my tips for preparing your child for kindergarten and beyond, here come the blog entries where I spew ideas at you. I want to show you that you can do all of those things in only minutes a day, minimal planning, with resources you already have. Above all, I want you to see how fun it can be and how rewarding it feels to know that you have given your child knowledge, skills, and confidence.

I am going to show you examples from my own day-to-day life. To be clear, I am not sitting at home planning curriculum for my children or sitting teaching my preschooler new skills for longer than a few minutes. We play a lot together, read together, chat, sing, play princess, house, and color pictures. Whatever skills I do teach her, arise organically. There is little planning involved in her intellectual experiences. It is true; much of what I do with her and with my others, I did do as a teacher. That by no means makes you unable to do this yourself at home.

In this blog entry, I will show you how I taught Sophie to read in 10 minutes. OK. That was just to see if you were paying attention. Of course I didn’t teach Sophie to read in 10 minutes, but I made her believe she is a reader. And that, my friends, is how a reader is born.

A few weeks ago, I decided to pull out a book that Sophie could learn to read herself. She has begun to be very interested in letter sounds as we work to complete alphabet puzzles, letter card games, and sing the ABC’s. I knew this was the next logical step in Sophie’s journey to become a reader.

I chose the book No No Yes Yes by Leslie Patricelli.  It is an adorable board book with only the words no and yes. Each page has a “no” (something kids should NOT do) or a “yes” (something appropriate). The pictures are so clear that kids can easily discern which is which.

Though I did not write a lesson plan for this bedtime read, I will confess I had objectives when I chose it off the shelf. I wanted Sophie to feel a surge of confidence as a reader, and I figured it would be an added bonus if she was able to recognize the words “no” and “yes” at the end of this experience. To explain what I did next, I will list the steps so you can try it at home with your child.

  1. I showed the cover of the book to Sophie and explained I was going to show her a book. I would read it to her first and then let her try reading it. “I can’t read! I am only 3!” My reply: “Hmmm. Let’s see if you say that when we are done with this book in a few minutes.”
  2. “This book is called No No Yes Yes. Let’s look at the pictures. It has stuff you are not supposed to do on the NO pages, and stuff you should do on the yes pages.” We then did a picture walk, which is a fancy way of saying we just looked at the pictures to preview the story.
  3. As I read the book to Sophie, we discussed the pictures. I pointed to the words as I read them one by one. (For more on the importance of pointing, see previous entry.) I made sure she saw I was pointing. A few times I said, “Look! This word must say “no” since it starts with an N.”

After a read through, I said “Do you think you can read it now?” Sophie picked up that book so eagerly and began to read.

Already, I saw Sophie demonstrating three or more “good reader” skills.

  1.  Sophie was already pointing to each word as she read it
  2.  Sophie was looking at the pictures to determine if it was a yes or a no page
  3.  Sophie was able to self-correct!

If she began to say yes, and she looked at the picture or  the word and saw an N and a picture of a baby doing something not okay, she self-corrected! When kids are able to develop this skill early on, they never lose it. In my opinion, a reader who learns how to self-correct early is a good reader for life. 

When Sophie was done reading, the smile on her face said it all. But in case the rest of the neighborhood or I missed it, she shouted: “I CAN READ!” She called her sisters in to celebrate, and the party hasn’t stopped.

Give this a try with your child.  Sophie is not unusual. Any child can do this given your attention for a few minutes and a good book. If you would like ideas for more wonderful books, or if you have your own, let me know! In my next blog I will tell you how Sophie and I took this book a few steps further.

It works!!

17 Feb

I had to share this note my 3 year old delivered to me on Valentine’s Day. She wrote it all by herself. I will confess, I had NO idea that the tips in my last post about memo boards would sink in with her this quickly, since I only began writing to her in the last two months or so.

As I mentioned in my last post, my notes to my three year old are formulaic and basically the same each day. “Dear Sophie, I love you. Love, Mommy.” Or, “Dear Sophie, today is (insert day of the week). I love you. Love, Mommy”

The look of pride on Sophie’s face when she read me this note was easily one of the best parts of my day.

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“I love you.”

Do The Write Thing

9 Feb

By now, if you have been reading my blog, you know my philosophy well: stop bringing your kid to classes to help her have a leg up in kindergarten. Schedule less structured time, and more play time. Enjoy your kids as much as you can, even on the days when it feels impossible, for they will be grown-up before you know it. Let your child have a stress-free childhood. PLAY. PLAY. READ. RHYME. COUNT. Play some more.

There is one last step in my list of ‘back to basic’ tips: write notes to your child. This is one of my favorite tips. I LOVE writing notes to my kids, and they love receiving them. I urge you to start doing this every day, no matter how old your child is. Even the youngest of preschoolers understands what a note is and is excited to receive a note or a letter, even if s/he cannot read independently.

In writing notes, you are modeling writing as a FUN means of communicating. You needn’t ask them to write back to you; in no time at all your child will take initiative in ways that will surprise you.

What is the educational value of these fun notes? For starters, modeling yourself as a writer is as valuable as modeling math and reading for your children. It helps your kids see the fun and applicability in a skill.  You are a role model in all you do; when they see you write, they want to write. When children enter school ready, confident, willing, and loving a skill, they will develop the skill naturally, quickly, and with little effort.

As importantly, these notes—no matter how short they are—help your child to learn to recognize high frequency words such as: good, morning, night, love, I, you, me, mommy, your child’s own name, etc. In my opinion, there is nothing that will give your child the upper hand in reading and writing more than this. And, it is fun learning. In fact, you and your child do not even have to be face to face to make this happen.

How can you add note writing to your daily routine without it feeling forced? How can you keep it fun and organic? I have a couple of suggestions I have been doing with my own children since they were two years old.

Stick a memo board to their bedroom door. Think college dorm message board. I began with writing notes that were simple and fun. As my kids got older, I added blank spots for them to fill in words and letters, told them to circle words they knew, letters they recognized. Then they started writing back, and even initiating notes before they left for school.

This is an invitation to a tea party that came in the "mail" under our bedroom doory very early one morning.

This is an invitation to a tea party that came in the “mail” under our bedroom door very early one morning.

This one made my day.

This one made my day.

I LOVE the writing process. It is fascinating to watch kids learn to express themselves in writing as they piece together letter sounds and words they know–or think they know. Sometimes what they write may make no sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to them. Empower them. Have them read it back to you.

Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is my daughter was nearly 4 and a half and very proud.

Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is my daughter was nearly 4 and a half and very proud.

Lunch box notes are always fun. For my three year old, I write the same note each time I write to her: “Dear Sophie, I love you. Love, Mommy.” She now knows the words love, dear, and Mommy.  For my older two, I write puzzles, math problems, word games, and notes.

A lot of the examples that I have mentioned mirror what I did as a teacher within my own classroom, but your notes do not need to do this. Even the shortest and simplest notes will help your young children to recognize and appreciate the power of the written word.

There are so many ways to extend all of this, but if I tell you all of my ideas now, you won’t come back to read more.  Now I hope I have hooked you in…

Until the next post, have fun and enjoy your new little pen pals.

You can always count on numbers to provide hours of fun (pun intended)

27 Jan

In today’s blog I would like to explore another tip. We have been focusing on social and literacy skills that your child needs to be a confident, happy, and successful kindergartener. Today I will touch upon number skills.

Just as it is important to talk to your child so s/he develops language and social skills, it is important that you count with your child so s/he develops number sense. Your children listen to every word you say, so you may as well make it count. (No pun intended, I promise.)

Counting with your kids is fun, crucial, and easy to do.  It is one of the most valuable educational space fillers you can do in such a short time. A minute a day can make a huge difference.

Here are some ideas I have done with my kids:

  • Count steps as you walk
  • Count buttons or snaps as you dress
  • Count buses or trucks as you walk or drive
  • Count babies at the supermarket
  • Read number books
  • Count out snacks as you prepare them
  • Surround your child with numbers: magnets, bath toys, blocks, and board or card games that involve counting and can be modified (such as UNO, BLINK, snail’s pace).
  • If your games use dice or spinners with numbers, be sure to have your child read the number or count the dots him/herself. It is good practice.

When my youngest was 2, she was able to count to ten and recognize numbers to ten when they were written. This was nothing I sat and taught her explicitly. She learned first to count by rote, but then was able to read the numbers when she saw them. How did that happen? When she learned to count, she was ready for the next step and was attuned to the numbers when she saw them around her. She watched us all play UNO, and in time even joined in.

As I am sure you know, any time you spend with your child is fun for him, no matter what it is. And when your child is having fun, you do too! You can sing your numbers, count backward or forwards, or even use numbers to pass time.

My three year old and I do a counting game whenever we have a moment of down time. I showed her once, and she asks for it all the time. She even taught her friend on a playdate the other day. Who knew it would be so fun for her? I will share it with you. It is simple, really. You and your child (or children) alternate saying numbers IN ORDER out loud. When someone makes a mistake, you correct it and begin again. Also, you need to start again if someone blurts out a number when it is not his/her turn. (Numbers and social skills in one game!) There are no cards necessary for this game, so it is easy to play in the car, at restaurants, in bed, the bath, etc.

You can also modify this game. Start with a number other than one, use it to teach your older kids to skip count by 2’s, 3’s, and 5’s, or count backwards. I used to have my 25 second graders sit in a circle and see how quickly they could count by 2,3,5’s. You could do it with your whole family around the dinner table. It is great fun, and never gets old. Give it a try!

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