Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year Sale

I'm having a New Year's Eve sale tonight until midnight. Everything in my store is 20% off. Happy New Year!!! Have a wonderful, safe evening.   

Click HERE to visit my Teachers Pay Teachers' store.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Easy to Make Picture Ornaments

It's that time of year when teachers are busy assessing, getting report cards ready, winding down the 1st semester of school.  But wait . . . we still have Christmas gifts to make for our parents and there is an "app for that."  Have you checked out the Grinch Cam for the iPhone?  You can choose from the different versions of card frames to create "naughty and nice" ornaments by taking your students pictures as the Grinch and then by choosing one of the other choices for the "nice" side.

Here is a great YouTube video I found that walks you through how to take the pictures.  My parents always love them and so do the students.  I print out a small 3x5 photo of both pictures and glue them back to back.  Laminate the cards and then hole punch them to hang on the tree.




If you are a Rudolph fan, there is an app for that too. Click for the Rudolph app.



Have fun taking pictures.  Let the countdown begin.  Thanks for stopping by!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Time for a Sale and for Traveling


It's time for the annual Teachers Pay Teachers Cyber Day Sale.  Actually it will begin on Monday, November 26th and continue through Tuesday, November 27, 2012.  Many sellers are participating including ME!!!  Everything in my store is 20% off and when you enter the code CMT2012 you get an additional 10% off my sale price which equals a 28% discount.  I will be EXTREMELY busy over the next 2 weeks presenting at conferences, but will hopefully get some new pictures on my blog of the ideas I am showing at these conferences.  Here's where I will be:

Great Lakes PreK-3rd Grade Conference - November 26-27, 2012
Illinois Conference for Kindergarten Teachers - November 29-30, 2012
Michigan Conference for Kindergarten Teachers - December 3-4, 2012
New England Conference for PreK-K Teachers - December 7, 2012
Ohio Literacy Conference for K-3rd Grade Teachers - December 10-11

And I will have the privilege of being around some amazing presenters:  Dr. Jean, Kim Adsit, Heidi Butkus, Vanessa Levin, Donna Whyte, and Jack Hartmann along with many other engaging presenters. But most of all, I will be surrounded by awesome, dedicated teachers just like YOU.

If you are attending any of these conferences, I would love to see you at my sessions.

Have FUN shopping and thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Teaching Nonfiction Text Features to Young Children

I wrote a blog post last March that continues to drive daily traffic to my blog.  What was it about?  It was titled Teaching Nonfiction Text Features and the Common Core.  Nine months later, I am amazed at how many teachers visit that post and my Pinterest board.  I am a numbers girl, so it got me thinking that this was a need for early childhood teachers.  Thus, I set out on my journey to create a couple of songs, Power Points, and multimedia files along with a specific unit to teach these features.  And after working on this project for at least 3 months, it is ready!
I have included sample pages that show visually how to use these pages in the unit.  Teachers can pick and choose which features to discuss and cover all from the perspective of the students.  And just for fun, I suggest that teachers create a nonfiction text features book about themselves along the way as a model.  And we all know that our students love that.

These are just a few sample pages that are included with this unit.  The students are able to create a nonfiction text feature book about themselves along with creating class books, nonfiction text feature guides, and recording sheets for research or literacy centers.

You have 2 choices of multimedia files and Power Point templates along with 2 mp3 songs.  If you want to add your students information to the Power Points, then finish the sentences and insert the song.  If technology is not your "cup of tea" then you have the option of playing the multimedia files and letting your students use created cue cards to present their information.

I aligned this unit with the Common Core State Standards for 1st and 2nd grade students.  It can be modified to use parts with kindergarten students as it is based on "All About Me" and can be bumped up to add more details for 3rd grade students.
Click HERE to view this product on Teachers Pay Teachers.  If you have any questions, please let me know.

Here is a quick peek at the multimedia files, songs, and Power Points provided in this unit.
Graphics by:
www.thistlegirlsdesigns.com
http://fancydogstudio.com
www.ccteachfirst.blogspot.com

Sunday, November 18, 2012

FREE Christmas Emergent Reader Set

I presented at the Tennessee Kindergarten Conference in Nashville on Friday.  We had discussions about the Common Core and teaching our kindergarten students to use capital letters and punctuation in their writing.

To help your young students be successful in using capitalization and punctuation, they must first learn to recognize it. I created 3 book sets to help your students locate capital letters at the beginning of the sentence, including the word "I" along with locating the period at the end of the sentence.  And to make it fun, they get to color their books too.

Young children sometimes need anchor supports to complete these tasks independently.  I created "I Can" cards for each book.  Copy and laminate these cards and place in your literacy center.  Teach your students to refer to the "I Can" cards as a way to teach following directions.

Click HERE to download your FREE copy of these books for your literacy centers.
Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Report Cards and Parent Teacher Conferences


Friday, November 8, 2012 is Fox 23 Day and welcome to the viewers who watched this morning.  The subject of today's segment was "what do parents do with the information they received from their child's report card."

If your child is struggling in any area, you need to meet with your child's teacher (if you haven't already) and come up with a plan of support for your child.  You need specifics on how you can help your child.  If you don't understand the terminology - ask.  Sometimes teachers get caught up in the "school" words or buzz words.  Just politely say - could you explain that to me?  They will appreciate your honesty and it will remind them to break it into more specific parts and to explain it better.  You, your child, and the teacher are a team.  It will take all of you to make the plan work.  If your child knows that you all are a team, he/she will be more successful.

Report cards vary greatly from district to district.  Some districts give a number system or letter system that is assigned to specific standards within a subject.  So instead of receiving an A, B, C, etc. in reading, the standards based report card could be broken down into these standards.

Recognizes high frequency words (sight words).

Use different strategies when coming to unknown words.
  
These strategies could even be separated into:

*Uses picture clues when reading.

*Uses phonics decoding skills when reading.

*Uses context clues when reading (other parts of the sentence, paragraph, etc.) to figure 
out unknown words.

*Reads familiar text fluently (appropriate pace, not to choppy, like natural speaking rhythm).

*Reads familiar text with expression (doesn't sound like a robot with a flat monotone voice) when reading.  This can show the students are comprehending what they are reading.

*Understands what has been read. (This is a comprehension skill.  Some students can read beautifully but when you ask what they just read, they can't tell you.  Or maybe they can't sequence the story or remember details of the story.)

And this is just for reading!  The same applies to math.  There are so many different standards that are within counting, adding, subtracting, multiplication, algebra and all of those typical skills we did when we were in school.

So how can you help your child over the next 6 weeks with all of the holidays coming near?  If your child is struggling, he/she needs to read, read, read.  If your child is not struggling he/she needs to read, read, read.  In order for students to become better readers, they must read everyday.  And the research is out there.  The more they read, the better reader they become.  Your child should be reading a minimum of 20 minutes at home each day.  The goal is to have your child to eventually read for the entire 20 minutes.  But if they are a struggling reader, it may take time to build up to that, so it is fine to take breaks in between. Jog in place, do some jumping jacks, play a follow the leader game and let your child be the leader!  Reading should be a pleasant event with the goal of your child loving to read. 

Children can increase their reading level by listening to their parents read to them.  The more they listen to stories and discuss what is happening, the higher their vocabulary skills become or the more words they become exposed to.  So you, as a parent or family member are crucial to your child's reading success.  Take pride in that fact and find some time during this busy upcoming holiday season to sit down and read with your child.

Children need to use different strategies to learn to read.  Some of them were named in the report card skills above.  The following information is the slide of the song that you heard on television this morning. These are a few strategies to encourage your child to use.  I know that as parents, many of us were taught to "sound it out" to read.  Phonics is an important strategy to use but it is not the first strategy that children use when they read.   The brain searches for patterns and for reading to make sense.  And young children will look at the pictures to figure it out.  That is ok.  We eventually want to build other strategies as more effective ways to read, especially as the texts get harder and there are fewer picture clues. Try using these strategies with your child over the next few weeks.  When they come to a word they don't know, stop and wait for a minute (I know that seems forever) before you rescue them.  Ask them which strategy will help them figure it out.  Go through each strategy with your child.  When my students figure out the "unknown" word, I always ask them which strategy they used.  They need to learn which strategies help them the most.  That is just as important as reading.
You can purchase this multimedia file at Teachers Pay Teachers .  Click HERE for the multimedia file.
Click HERE for the mp3 song version.  

Look at the picture.  (Does that give you any information about what the word could be?)

Skip over it.  (Keep on reading through the rest of the sentence.  Go back and read it again, seeing if you can figure it out this time.)

Get your mouth ready. (What is the first sound of the word that you don't know?  Can you think of a word that would fit there that starts with that sound?  Try and read it with that word and see if it makes sense.)

Look for the chunk. (Do you recognize any part of the word?  Have you seen a word that looks like that it?  If the word is caterpillar, can you read the "cat" and the "pill" part.  Try to read the sentence with those parts and see if that helps.  If the word is lake and you can read cake, can you take the "c" off and add the "l" sound to figure it out?)

Sound it out.  (At this point, I usually say what letter/sound or phonics patterns do you know in this word.  I tell them to slide through the word by saying the sounds.  Some words do not follow the phonics rules (there are many).  Sometimes they need to flip the vowel sound.  If they think it should make the long "e" sound because the word is bread, I have them flip to the short "e" sound and see if they can figure it out.  Ideally, they should be able to figure it out by the previous strategies above."

Does is make sense?  (This is the END result of reading.  Are their choices making sense?  If your child says the wrong word, don't instantly correct them.  (This is HARD for us to do.)   Let them finish the sentence.  Most times they will hesitate and back up to read it again.  PRAISE them for this and tell them that is what good readers do.  If it doesn't make sense, we read it again.
And here is the rhyme that I taught on air today for how to remember if it is a "b" or a "d."  There are many ideas out there for helping with these reversals of letters.  Reversals of these letters are common until 2nd grade. Some use the word "bed" as a way to help children remember with the "b" as the headboard and the "d" as the end of the bed.  Some teach that you can make a "b" with your left hand and a "d" with your right.  This one can be difficult if your child gets confused on left and right. I had a teacher at a conference where I was presenting give me the analogy for the letter "d."  I wish I knew her name so I could give her credit.  If you are that teacher reading this blog - comment at the end, so I can give you credit.  She said that she said the first circle is the door knob and the line is the door.  You can't open the door until you turn the door knob.

So here are the corny rhymes I made up to teach your child.  And yes corny, cheesy, rhyming songs help the brain remember, especially if you add motions/movement with it.

Letter b 
You can't trick me at all.
First the bat, then the ball.
(Use your hands as the visual that the straight line is the bat, and the circle is the ball.)

Letter d
You don't fool me anymore.
First the doorknob, then the door.


Thanks for stopping by!  Become an empowered parent and team member for your child's education.  YOU are one of the most critical ingredients in their recipe of success.  We teachers thank you for your time and investment.  You are greatly appreciated.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Be Nice to the People


October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Celiac Disease Awareness Month, and November is Diabetes Awareness Month. That is a lot for one girl to deal with. Yet everyday, my daughter Tessa does, and each day we celebrate her life. All of those things are just a small part of the dancing, singing, watching movies, going bowling, eating at Outback and Chickfila, while hanging out with her friends. She is so much more. Tessa captures our hearts and inspires us to live without complaining or to let those "other things" in life get you down. She is our hero. On Sunday, Tessa was an ambassador at the Tulsa 2012 Buddy Walk. Here's to 20 years of learning life lessons from "our girl." 
For every picture on this collage, there is a personal story attached.  Each picture is special for some pivotal point in Tessa's life.  Some are stories of great success, some are stories of struggles Tessa was facing (even while wearing a smile), and some were turning points in my career.

When Tessa was born, I was heading back to college to complete my teaching degree.  I will never forget that Sunday afternoon when I thought my teaching dream was over, and I would never become a teacher.  Little did I know how much I would learn from Tessa and how much she would impact my own teaching.  What did Tessa teach me?


*She taught me that imagination, hands on activities, and play are the cornerstone foundational pieces for increasing cognitive skills along with increasing language skills.  

*She taught me that it may take a lot of practice and humor before she masters a skill, and I need many motivational activities to help her do it.  
*She taught me that we are teaching, not testing.  Sometimes we get that backwards.
*She taught me that singing helps her retain information.  Put it to a song, and she can remember and recall information with a smile. 
*She taught me that she learns best with real photographs of concepts being taught.  
*She taught me that there are no gray boundaries.  There is only black and white.  Giving into the gray areas makes it hard for her to learn to make appropriate choices.
*She taught me that I can expect her to make appropriate choices on behavior, but I needed to teach her how to get out of a negative situation as much as learning how to prevent one.
*She taught me to think outside the box when trying to reach children who struggle to learn.
*But most importantly, she taught me that it's the little successes in life that are sometimes the most important to families of children with special needs.

I started presenting at conferences when Tessa was 4 years old (picture of her standing holding onto the bars).  I was asked to speak, from a parent perspective, about what I expected from her teachers.  That was also my first year to be a classroom teacher.  It was a small conference with just a few teachers, and I was very nervous doing it. But it changed my life forever and helped lead me down this path of presenting at teacher conferences all over the United States. 


So October is our month of reflection on the different struggles Tessa has faced medically and cognitively.  But it is also a time for celebrating the young lady she has become, and the impact that she will always have on me as a teacher and presenter and on the people that hear her story.


Tessa wants everyone to get along.  She wants everyone to be happy. Whenever her father gets impatient with other drivers, or her mom gets impatient waiting at the pharmacy counter or with people who "just don't get it", she always says the same thing. And instantly, she calms me down.  And in honor of her, I would like everyone to think about the quote that she wants us to all live by, "Be nice to the people." -Tessa


Thanks for stopping by.  Happy Monday to everyone:)


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Words Sorts and Reading

I am a HUGE word sort fan. I believe word sorts help children make sense of a sometimes unpredictable English language. Since our brains like to look for patterns and order, word sorts help children notice how words are the same and how they are different. And I feel they are more effective when the students already have the cards ready to sort instead of having to do a cut and paste activity.  We want children to use their time sorting and reading not cutting and pasting.

I made a new Monster Word Sort Games packet just in time for the last 2 weeks of October.  And yes, I did put it to a song with the tune : 10 Little Indians.  Click on the picture to see the words to the song.  It's very simple but will help teach the skill of sorting.  Always focus on how they are the same.  Then focus on how they are different.
This packet includes activities for whole group, guided reading or small groups, and independent literacy centers.  
Pictures of some of the activities.  There are 56 cards  (same color within word family) and 56 cards (mix colors within word family) included to sort along with sorting mats and a recording sheet to apply the skill.  Choose which cards will work best with your students' age and reading ability.  
To purchase the 70 page resource, click HERE.  The graphics are by: www.thistlegirldesigns.com

I also included the Common Core State Standards for ELA Reading Foundations for Kindergarten and 1st Grade Phonological Awareness and Phonics.

Thanks for stopping by.  We are having fall break in our state starting today.  Hurray for fall!  And it actually is starting to feel like it.





Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tell Me More About the Common Core






Hello to the Fox 23 viewers visiting my blog today.  What's today's topic?  We are discussing the Common Core State Standards.  The Common Core  initiative is a state led coordination by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practice and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  These standards were adopted in 2010 with a projected date of being fully implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.  Each state/district/school has set their own timeline for implementing these standards ensuring their school is ready by 2014.  So what this means is that your child's school has already begun to develop and implement these standards in the classroom while many are providing teachers with professional development, training, and collaboration time to align their teaching with these standards.

The standards are not a curriculum, but rather a clear set of goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills our students will need to be college and workplace ready.  Think of them as steps on a staircase where skills seamlessly build upon each other so there are no gaps in learning.

As a parent and educator, it's great to have tools to help us navigate this newer terminology. And with technology - comes the tools.  If your preference is to have the standards and information at your fingertips, check out the FREE Common Core Apps for the iPhone or iPad and Android below.  If you prefer to view items on your desktop computer, visit the Common Core State Standards website below or look on the right side of this blog and click on the Common Core gray bar.



For more information on the Common Core App for the iPad or iPhone click HERE.

For more information on the Common Core App for the Android click HERE

To visit the Common Core State Standard website click HERE.
You can search by grade level and subject area.  You have all of the Common Core standards from K-12 right at your fingertips.  If you have a child who is struggling on a 1st grade level, click on the same heading under kindergarten to see what prerequisites are needed to build up to this skill.  If you have a child who is ahead of the skills you are teaching in 1st grade, click on the same heading under 2nd grade to see what you can do to bump it up a level.  Think of it as a way to differentiate instruction.

So let's take a look at one area of Language Arts and see how it fits on the "staircase" of learning.

All children and adults have "opinions." Writing an opinion piece is now part of the Common Core State Standards.  Instead of introducing it in 5th grade, expecting them to master all 4 of the higher level thinking skills needed to write an opinion paper, we are providing young children the opportunity and exposure to learn this standard in a developmentally appropriate way in kindergarten.  How many times has one of your children or your students given you an opinion about something?  Probably all of you have experienced this.  So I am going to break it down and apply it to:

Common Core State Standards under Language Arts Writing

Text Types and Purposes

Kindergarten
1. Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book (e.g., My favorite book is…).


First Grade 
1. Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure.


Second Grade
1. Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section.

Third Grade
1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.
a.  Introduce the topic or text they are writing about, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure that lists reasons.
b. Provide reasons that support the opinion.
c.  Use linking words and phrases (because, therefore, since, for example) to connect opinion and reasons.
d.  Provide a concluding statement or section.

Fourth Grade
1.  Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
a.  Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create and organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer's purpose.
b.  Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.
c.  Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (for instance, in order to, in addition).
d.  Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.

Fifth Grade
1.  Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
a.  Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer's purpose.
b.  Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.
c.  Link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses (consequently, specifically).
d.  Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.

And you can continue all the way up through 12th grade seeing how each skill builds upon the other.

So what can be some topics to help your children learn about writing opinion pieces.  Consider the many times your students or your own children ask you these questions.
  
1.  I need an iPhone.
2.  I need a dog.
3.  Can I spend the night with my friend?
4.  I want _________ for Christmas.
5.  Can we have extra recess?
6.  Can I go to the movies with my friends?

Using the standards above, get your children talking about their opinion or question.  Talking and verbalizing their thoughts is the first step to getting them writing.  Writing is an organizational tool adults need in their everyday lives.  Yes, you may end up with some lawyers on your hands, but that is what the Common Core is about . . . preparing our children for college and the workplace.

Here is a video that a first grade class made about Mo Willem's pigeon series books.  I think they did a great job giving their opinions on why the pigeon should be the principal.


Mo Willems' Pigeon books are fantastic for learning about opinions and supporting details/reasons for doing things.  His books are very comical, dramatic, and theatrical as to why the pigeon should get to do something.  And if you want to meet Mo Williems in person, he will be in Tulsa on November 16, 2012, 7 p.m. at Central Library, Fourth Street and Denver Avenue to speak, answer questions, and sign copies of his books. 


Click HERE for a link to Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus at Amazon Books.

Thanks for stopping by.  Check back soon and follow my blog to learn more ideas about the Common Core State Standards.

Authors: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers
Title: Common Core State Standards (insert specific content area if you are using only one)
Publisher: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington D.C.
Copyright Date: 2010

Friday, October 12, 2012

Monster Reading & Math Fun

I love this time of year.  It's time for parent-teacher conferences, the children are settling into their routines, the weather is getting cooler, and next week is FALL BREAK.  I LOVE FALL!

One of my favorite units to do with my students is "Monsters."  We read all kinds of silly monster books, sing monster songs, and play monster games.

I've created a Monster Reading & Math Fun activity packet just in time for the festivities that await us during the last 2 weeks of October.  Our little ones are excited about Halloween, so this activity pack will fit right in with all of the fall fun.

 I've created 2 new books that should be easy to remember.  Monsters Everywhere is to "Oh My Darling Clementine."  This book has 2 sizes.  One 8 1/2 X 11 for whole group reading and a 1/2 size book for the children to put in their book boxes or to use as homework reading.  You can print the 1/2 size books front to back to save paper and print in grayscale to save on the color ink.  The other book is Our Silly Monster Book which is sung to "The Farmer in the Dell."  You can see a copy of my cute great-niece and great-nephew making their "BOO! Faces for my book.  The clip art is from www.thistlegirldesigns.com  
I included a craft activity that focuses on shapes.  The students may use the monster pattern or they may create their own monster out of the shapes pages.  We used dot markers to paint our monsters.  If you use dot markers, make sure to copy the monster template on card stock.  Regular copy paper will curl when used with dot markers.  You can also copy the monster template on colored construction paper or card stock to make a bright bulletin board.  Use the words from Our Silly Monster book to place on the bulletin board.  The children will enjoy lifting the monsters' faces to reveal a picture of themselves.
I love to use pocket charts for building sentences and learning concept of print.  The cards for the pocket chart are color-coded to help young emergent readers build the sentences. The art activity can be made using the monster template or there is a blank sheet for the students to design their own monster.  Use the words from Our Silly Monster to highlight your bulletin board.  What fun for parents to open the monsters and see their children making "Boo Faces."   

BOO! It's me!

BOO!  It's me!

Click HERE  to view Monster Reading & Math Fun.

Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Noise Level Control Anchor Chart

Ever have those days when the children just seem really loud?  You think to yourself . . . Full moon?  Barometric pressure?  Not enough caffeine?  No they are just loud.

This is a procedure I use in my classroom that includes a chant, motions, and a visual representation of what our voice level should be for different times of the day.

I start the chant by saying, "We're up here!"  And I put my hands up in the air.
The children then put their hands at the level they should be for the subject/activity and say, "We need to be here."

Outside Recess - Our voices are loud and we raise our hands above our heads to show that is the loudest our voice is.

Math Centers - Noise level is children busy, manipulatives quietly moving, but there is discussion amongst each other. Our hands are straight out in front of our shoulders representing our voice and noise level.

Literacy Centers or Reader's Workshop - Noise level is quietly working, on-task, whispering amongst each other as we complete our tasks.   Our hands go out by our knees representing where our voice and noise level should be.  The teacher needs to be able to hear the children who are working at the guided reading table.

Group Time - Noise level is off and we are using attentive listening.  Our hands point to the floor representing the lowest level of voice/noise level which is quiet - no talking.

This is the same version but just on a smaller one sheet chart.  I keep it close by to refer to as needed.
This is what it looks like on the wall.  I print the cards and tape them to a ribbon and hang from the wall.  I will sometimes have the student who is struggling the most stand by this wall and lead the chant.  And of course I always throw in my favorite quote from the Cat in the Hat:
Teacher:  It's fun to have fun.
Students:  But you have to know how.



Want a FREE copy of these cards/charts?  Click HERE to get them on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Kathy Griffin (c)  Copyright 2012  Graphics by www.thistlegirlsdesign.com &  teachersclipart.com

Thanks for stopping by.  Click to the top right to follow my blog.  I have two projects that are oh so close to being finished.  Hoping to post one tomorrow just in time for fall.



Monday, September 17, 2012

Winning the Homework Battle

Welcome to my new readers from this morning's segment on Fox 23 Tulsa!

Here is the video clip from this morning's program on Daybreak.



This post is for both families and educators, as we discuss the subject of homework.  Many parents need help when it comes to this subject, and sometimes teachers need to regroup and refocus our efforts to make sure the homework we are assigning is meaningful, relevant, and applicable to what we are teaching in the classroom.  Quite honestly, homework is a team effort on the part of the student, family, and teacher.  It takes all 3 for it to be successful.

How many of you (families and teachers included) need more than 24 hours in a day to finish all that needs to be done? I know I do! Most families today are very busy with varying schedules due to many outside factors.  Some are holding down 2 jobs, continuing their education, or just keeping up with the demands of life.  And if you have more than one child, then juggling your children's schedules becomes a fine art.  As the mother of 3 children, I know this subject of "Fitting it All In" very well.  I remember the days when all 3 children had homework, dinner needed to be fixed, clothes needed to be washed, and all 3 had different chauffeuring schedules from sports and extra-curricular activities.  The last thing that I wanted to do was be involved in a power struggle over homework.  I wanted my time with my children to be pleasant and meaningful. I wanted to curl up on the couch with them and read favorite stories and talk about our day. Since I wasn't an educator at that time, I fumbled my way through the frustrations of working with my children.  All 3 of my children had different learning styles and strengths and weaknesses. So here are some suggestions and ideas for parents to think about when you feel the wave of homework stress rush over you. And teachers, let's remember to make our homework respectful of our families time and make sure it is meaningful.

Reading Homework:  The research supports that children should read for at least 20 minutes each day.  The more they read, the better readers they will become.  But what do you do when your child is a beginning or struggling reader? Those 20 minutes can go crawling by and can seem like punishment for both parent and child. Did you know there are several ways for a child to read a book?  Here are some strategies for helping your child on the road to success as a reader and hopefully ease the "reading challenge."

Echo Reading - Parent reads one line of text, then child repeats.  This helps support your child with the language and rhythm of the story.

I Point You Read - Sometimes children want the struggle off of them, especially if it is hard for them.  Try to play this game.  Have your child point to the words as you read them.  It will either be choppy reading or speed reading.  This is a great way to model what good readers do.  Good readers read at the appropriate pace, so reading makes sense.

Choral Reading - Parent and child reads the text together.  Sometimes this reading is slower, as the parent might be just a second ahead of the child to support the reading.

Repeated Reading - Many parents say, "But my child wants to read the same thing over and over again."  That is great!  We all have our favorite books, favorite social media, quotes, information or news that we as adults enjoy.  Children do too.  And when a child reads a book over and over again, he is building his reading fluency and building his stamina at the same time.  Being a great reader takes practice.  Just make sure to tell your child that reading is only happening when you look at the words.  I have my students track the print they are reading with their finger or a special pointer.

Share the Reading - Do you have your own favorite stories?  You can help build your child's stamina and minutes reading by reading to her first.  Talk about the vocabulary or words in the story that she may not know.  Stop in between the story and ask her what she thinks will happen next?  Ask her why do you think the character (name the person) felt that way?  How would you feel if that happened to you?

Put it to a Beat or a Song -  Singing helps build fluency which is the pace and flow of the reading.  Try typing or writing out the words to a favorite song and have your child read/sing the song.  If they can sing it, they can be supported in reading it.  Go to the website http://www.kididdles.com/ and print out your favorite songs from when you were a child.  Look for sight words (words children need to recognize instantly) and practice the strategies above.

Fluency Fun Have you seen the app Voices?  It's a fun way to record your child reading.  They read into the iPhone.  When they are finished, they can choose which voice they want to hear.  It's a fun way to have them read a story and listen to how it sounds in different pitches, tones, and rhythms.  And of course it is fun for parents and teachers too :)

Spelling Homework:

Here is another question.  My child struggles with remembering his spelling words.  How can I help him remember?  This one depends on each child's learning style.  Here are some activities to try with your child.

If your child likes to move, play sports, and is active, add some movement to the spelling activities.  Write the spelling words on index cards, post-it-notes, or large enough on paper for her to see. Let your child bounce a ball while spelling the words.  Or use grabbers to add some fun and fine motor activities with the words.  Have your child hop, jump rope, or do other movement activities while spelling.

If your child likes music, put the words to a song. 

2 letter words, use the song "If You're Happy and You Know It"
If you want to spell my, say m - y, m - y
If you want to spell my, say m - y, m - y
It's as easy as can be when you sing along with me.
If you want to spell my, say m - y, m - y.

3 letter words, use the song "Three Blind Mice"
s - e - e, s - e - e
That spells see
That spells see
s - e - e spells see
s - e - e spells see
s - e - e, s - e - e

4 letter words, use the song "Boogaloo"
Can you spell the word what?
What's that you say?
Can you spell the word what?
What's that you say?
w-h-a-t, w-h-a-t, w-h-a-t
One more time!
w-h-a-t
w-h-a-t
w-h-a-t
Yeah!

5 letter words, use the song "Bingo"
There are 5 letters in this word and this is how you spell it.
h - a - p - p - y, h - a - p - p - y, h - a - p - p - y,
And that's how you spell happy!

6 letter words, use the song "London Bridges"
s - h - o - w - e - r
s - h - o - w - e - r
s - h - o - w - e - r
That spells shower.

7 letter words, use the song "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow"
f - a - l - l - i - n - g
f - a - l - l - i - n - g
f - a - l - l - i - n - g
That spells falling.

8 letter words, use the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"
b - l - i - z - z - a - r - d
That spells blizzard.
b - l - i - z - z - a - r - d
Singing this song is easy for me.
For its b - l - i - z - z - a - r - d
That spells blizzard
b  l  i - z  z  a  r  d
Spells blizzard!

If your child likes to draw, have her rainbow write.
Write the word in one color, then trace over the word with another color. Continue using her favorite colors.

The Perfect Place for Homework - Where ?

I love the book The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom.  It is a story about a little boy who tries to find the best place to read in his house.  He tries many different places until he finds the perfect place to read.  And it also goes through all of the scenarios for why each place is "not right."

So where is the best place for your child to do homework?  Know your child's learning preferences.  Does he like to sit in a chair when reading?  How about on a comfortable chair or couch?  Does she like to lay on her bed and read?  Think about where you read the best and allow your child to pick his own special reading place.  The only requirement is to make sure that there is adequate lighting and a quiet noise level.  I've built reading tents out of sheets or turned nap maps up to make privacy tents.  Children like the comfort of having their own special place.

If the homework requires writing, help your child choose the best place to write.  Talk about the need for a flat space to help support his arms and hands.  If your child needs help making choices, then choose 2 places you feel are appropriate and have her pick.

So should it be quiet or can the television and cell phones be left on?   I know that our children today live in a world of technology and many parents say their children have great focus when they are playing video games.  Playing video games uses a different part of the brain and keeps children's attention with all of the multi-tasking and constant feedback of sound and movement.  The same goes for television.  Make homework a priority and help them understand that they are separate activities. Set a specific time for your child to be watching television or playing video games.    Depending on your child's age, let him help plan the best time.  Sign a homework agreement plan or make a chart showing the schedule for the evening or week.  Celebrate their successes in finishing their homework by doing things together such as playing a game, going for a walk, or visiting the park.  Make sure your children know that homework is an important part of their day and that you are there to support them through it.

The Perfect Time for Homework - When ?

This one is a tough one for parents because we have to find the best time that fits into our schedule.  But here is something to keep in mind.  If your child is young, he needs time to unwind and play after school. It takes a lot of endurance and concentration to complete a full day of school activities.  Allowing your child to get in some physical movement and get rid of that burst of energy, will make "doing homework" much easier.  And eating a healthy snack before you begin can help too.  Most children go several hours from when they eat lunch until dinner time.  Providing a light snack can give the brain a jump start on attention and learning.   Waiting until bedtime can create children who are tired, cranky, and not ready to learn.

The Perfect Amount of Help - How Much?

Another question that I am asked frequently is, "How much should I help my child with her homework?"  Homework should reinforce what is being taught at school.  Think of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears.  It shouldn't be too easy, too hard, but "just right."  Your child should be able to do the work independently, but with your guidance.  And remember the suggestions above for increasing your child's stamina for reading.  Start with small goals of 5 minutes at a time.  If your child needs a break, do some jumping jacks, hop on one foot, or stand while doing the homework.

We Are Still Struggling  - When to Call the Teacher?

If your child is still struggling with completing the tasks assigned, contact your child's teacher to let them know about it.   The work may be too difficult.  Your child may have missed a lot of school due to illness.  There are many reasons that could be affecting your child's inability to finish or start the task.  Most importantly, keep the communication lines open with the teacher and ask how you can best support your child.

And remember, it takes all 3 to make homework successful:  the student, the family, and the teacher.

Thanks for stopping by.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Life's Special Moments

Today's post is going to come from the heart.  The teaching lessons are going to be life lessons. They're going to be about the important job we have as early childhood teachers and the impact we can have on our children.  And it's not about test scores.  Today, I am sharing a very personal glimpse into my life.

In 1992, my daughter Tessa was born.  And within 10 minutes of her being born, we learned she had Down Syndrome. The only experience I had of being around people with Down Syndrome was when my mother worked at an institution for children and adults with special needs.  I basically went into shock for about 48 hours not knowing what life had in store for my family. And frankly, I just didn't have a clue about raising a child with special needs.  But ultimately, I had one main goal for her.  I wanted her included in life in every aspect possible, and I wanted her to have great social skills.   At the time, I was going back to college to become a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher so badly, and I thought this event was going to keep me from reaching that goal.  Little did I know that my little package of joy would be my best teacher.

I could go on and on about what all that entails in setting expectations and holding the bar high in raising a child with special needs.  But I will save that for another time.  This mom is extremely proud of the young lady she became last night when she informed me that she had practiced a speech to say at my oldest daughter's wedding.  I was teary-eyed on the couch as she practiced it for me.  I asked her, "How did you think of this idea?"  And she replied, "I've been practicing watching wedding movies."  If you know my daughter, she can be very shy until she gets to know you.  But last night, she stood up in front of 200 people at the front of the room and gave her speech.

The quality of the video is not good as it was captured by my quick thinking niece (Thank you Kara).  And the sound is the same.  Here is her speech:

"My name is Tessa Griffin.  And I wanted to say that I love you.  And I want to say I love you. And I love you Brandi.  And I love you Shane, my brother.  Thank you."


So for all of you teachers who work with children with special needs, whether it be all day in your classroom, or for just part of the day.  Academics are important.  But to parents of children with special needs, social skills are what get you through life and lead to moments like this. Moments that are so special that words cannot come close to express how I feel. Learning social skills empowered my daughter, who has faced many challenges in life, to get up in front of a crowd and appropriately and effectively declare her love to her sister and new brother. And to politely say, "Thank you, " at the end of her speech.  No help from mom - no help from family - just something she felt was right.

Thank you for letting me share a part of my world with you.  As I watched one daughter become a beautiful bride, I watched another one take a step forward to independence too. Have a great week.  This mom is going to sit back and enjoy this special moment today.  And here is a special thank you to all of her former teachers who believed in her too.

Stop by again soon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fun Fall Apple Bingo Books

Are you getting ready to study apples, autumn, or Johnny Appleseed Day?  I made a FREE book for your classroom to the familiar tune of Bingo :)  Use the 8 1/2 x 11 book for whole group reading or place in your reading corner for independent practice.  Make copies of the 1/2 size black and white book for your students to color and use during guided reading, independent reading for just right books, or as homework practice.  Also, remember you can show the pdf file on your interactive white board or digital projector for the really big book approach.

Reinforce the short "a" sound along with practicing one-to-one correspondence for clapping by numbers.

These are both Common Core standards that we practice all the time.  HAVE FUN!!!

"IF THEY CAN SING IT, THEY CAN BE SUPPORTED IN READING IT."  Kathy Griffin

Follow my blog on the right side along with my TpT store to be notified of more fun materials to use in your classroom.


Click HERE to download your free books.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Early Childhood Advice on Teaching the Common Core State Standards

As school has started over much of the United States  or is in full swing with teaching procedures, two words seem to be causing stress for many early childhood teachers.  The "Common Core" State Standards are infiltrating our vocabulary, our planning, our assessments, and our instruction.

Don't get me wrong.  I am a BIG fan of the Common Core.  But we have to remain focused as early childhood teachers and remember that we teach young children.  Just because a worksheet says, "will help the students learn the "Common Core" or a book cover states, "will teach the "Common Core" doesn't mean it is effective.  Teachers are implementers of this instruction and need to remember what is developmentally appropriate and impacts student learning along with the method needed to teach it.

My youngest daughter has Down Syndrome, Diabetes, Celiac Disease, and a thyroid disorder.  I'm going to make an analogy of what I see happening to many teachers across the United States to Tessa having Celiac Disease.   When you have Celiac Disease, you cannot eat wheat, oats, or barley as it damages the intestine and causes a multitude of medical problems.  1 in 133 people in the United States have it and don't know it.  If you want to know more about Celiac Disease click HERE.

My daughter has to be on a gluten-free diet.  This was very difficult to do when she was first diagnosed in 2001.  Celiac Disease had been under-diagnosed for many years, but started receiving more attention around the time of my daughter's diagnosis.  She had to go completely gluten free.  One crumb could damage her intestines causing auto-immune diseases.  So off we went to the health store to try and find all of the gluten free items we could.  After all we were good parents, and we wanted to ensure that our daughter had what she needed. It was an expensive trip.  We thought we needed everything at once. And what we discovered was that many of the products were not edible - they tasted horrible.  We also discovered that fruits and vegetables were gluten free, Tessa loved them, and we already had them. We wasted a lot of money.  It took time to figure out what Tessa liked, tasted good, and was nutritious too.

Fast forward to 2012 and I feel that is where we are headed as teachers with the Common Core.  Let's step back and really internalize these standards and see what we are already doing that aligns and what needs to be added to meet the rest.  As a national presenter, I was very interested in the Common Core when it was released.  I wanted to see how my classroom teaching and sessions held up to the standards.  I found that I was already doing many of those things required in the standards and saw areas that I could enrich and take up to the next level.  But I really noticed that I had already been differentiating my classroom instruction to meet the needs of my students, so I had activities, songs, technology, and games ready to meet those standards.  I had embraced the move towards nonfiction text being a crucial part of teaching reading.

That's where we need to remain focused as educators.  We need to read the standards.  We need to use it as a lens to look at our teaching.  And then we need to make informed choices that look at the needs of our students and their learning styles.  They still need movement.  They still need choices.  They still need FUN!  Happy, motivated children learn more.  That's research-based.  Our classroom environments need to promote inquiry brain-based learning that allows for creativity and enrichment.  It needs to be open-ended with areas that require critical thinking. Worksheets do not accomplish this.  Hands on activities that require cooperative learning such as games, along with movement, dramatic play, and singing that are focused toward instruction, make a huge impact on student learning.  Students who are given time to read - read better.  Students who are given time to write stories  - write more effectively.  Students who are engaged in math activities that require critical thinking, problem-solving and promote showing their reasoning create mathematicians.

Nonfiction is HUGE and exposes our children to rich vocabulary.  But as we teach this vocabulary, which makes more sense . . . having our children act out the vocabulary during group time as we come to these rich words . . . apply them to different situations in our lives . . . find a word to connect this new learning?  Or sit down and do a worksheet where you draw a line to match the word to the meaning.  Which one would help you remember as a teacher if I was teaching new vocabulary during a professional development session?  Happy engaged teachers learn more :-)  They become empowered.  They become creative.  They connect it to their prior experiences. They go back to their classrooms and impact student learning.

I have many entries on the Common Core on my blog and will continue to bring ideas on how to meet the needs of your students while providing "hands-on" engaging activities to meet the "Common Core" standards.  As you search across Pinterest and other sites, use your early childhood lens that has now been adjusted to include the Common Core and choose your activities wisely.  And yes, I do sell products that are designed to teach the Common Core Standards along with many other wonderful teachers out there.   Just remember my first gluten-free shopping trip for my daughter Tessa.  I bought everything I could find that was available.  I had researched some of it but not enough.  I hadn't discussed it with other parents who had experience using these products.  And I ended up throwing much of it away.  

Here is an example of one of my products that I made that is "frequently purchased" on Teachers Pay Teachers and meets the Common Core State Standards for Reading Foundational Skills for Kindergarten and 1st Grade.  Let's look at it through the early childhood lens that has now been adjusted with the Common Core State Standards. I have the song and/or multimedia file "Five Word Families."  I've created it to produce a memory connection along with motions to make it auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.  I included technology.  I created a game/activity pack with word sorts, games, and activities to reinforce this skill during whole group, guided reading, and literacy centers.  I've created books with the pictures and words from the song to support early readers. I've given the students a "hook" to remember word families that end with the same sound/pattern along with a song/actions to support their learning of short vowel sounds and familiar word patterns. I've modeled (on a YouTube video) how to take this song and differentiate it to meet the needs of students who need a wide range of phonological awareness activities whether it be rhyming, letter/sounds, along with substituting the first sound in a word.  And my students and many other students LOVE it.  Of course, I am partial to it because my now 10 month old grandson loves it too :-)

So what I want everyone to take away with them tonight is that WE CAN do this.  I am your biggest cheerleader. We are doing a lot of it already.  Let's regroup, study, and reflect on our current teaching.  What can we do to impact student learning along with implementing the Common Core State Standards this year?  And how can we make that learning engaging for our youngest learners.  They deserve our best and we have it in us to teach.

Thanks for stopping by.  My favorite quote from the Cat in the Hat applies not only to our students but to teachers as well.  "It's fun to have fun but you have to know how."  We can have fun, create memories, and impact student learning too.  We just have to know how. Follow my blog as we explore these new standards together and keep the smile and laughter in our students' lives too.

Here is a short clip of my Five Word Families multimedia file along with the activity game pack if you want to learn more about it.  You can also look at the book set and mp3 song to put in your listening center or "just right" book boxes on my TpT store.  If they can sing it, they can be supported in reading it.  


Click HERE to view this on Teachers Pay Teachers.


Click HERE to view this on Teachers Pay Teachers.