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Friday, December 21, 2012

Writing Fun as Christmas Gifts

If you don't have any ideas for some fun, literacy-inspired Christmas gifts yet, it's not my fault. Ha! I know I've been loading you up with gift posts this month. Sorry, I guess I was just inspired.

Today I'm sharing a little fun gift I made for four of my nieces. They all enjoy writing, and "doing work", and sending and receiving mail. So I ordered some cute little mailboxes from Joanne's and then loaded them up with some neat office and writing supplies. I would have loved something like this as a kid!

I painted the girls' names in the side of their mailboxes, and bundled up all the various supplies. My kids have been watching me put these together and now asking for little mailboxes and stationary for themselves.

Photo by Polka Dot Chair
I think something like this one pictured above would be perfect outside my kids' bedrooms. I love the idea of stuffing all their junk in it that they leave around the house too! Hee. Check out more info on this idea HERE.

I hope my nieces have as much fun using their mailboxes and supplies as I had in putting them all together. Maybe I'll get some mail from them too! Ooo, I should have included some self addressed envelopes! Might have to go throw a few of those in!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Our Favorites At Christmas

We all know there are about a zillion Christmas picture books out there. Some are wonderful, and some... not so much. But every family has a stack that stays in regular rotation year after in their family; maybe because it's an awesome books, or maybe because it holds some special meaning for their family.  So today I'm sharing my family's favorite Christmas books, and why we like them so much.

If you have kids that love Legos, than you need to check out the Brick Bible series. My boys and I both love the cool Lego illustrations that bring a fun freshness to these Bible stories. And the text comes straight from scripture, so my kids aren't just getting some cutesy little re-telling.

This one is such a sweet story of friendship, and of giving a gift that truly has a lot of thought behind it. My kids love it, and it give me the warm fuzzies every time I read it... without being cheesy.

This is one of the more cutesy Christmas stories, but I like the way it talks about what the creche/nativity set is all about. It's a good discussion starter, and fun to read right next to the nativity set where you can play and discuss as you read. I like the message of it, but it's light and fun too.

I've been reading this one at Literacy Launchpad for several years. All the fun of The Jolly Postman with a Christmas twist on it. It's an especially fun read with kids that are familiar with their fairy tales, but could also be a good way to introduce some - read this book, then read some of the fairy tales it talks about. Maybe write a letter to one of your favorite fairy tale characters when you're done reading!

The message of this book is sweet and subtle. A Christmas tree that is too big for Mr. Willoughby gets trimmed at the top to fit his home. But instead of the top being thrown out - it gets recycled and passed on to someone else that needs a tree. This continues all the way through the book till a mouse family ends up with the teeny tiny top of the tree at the very end. So sweet, and I like that it starts a good discussion about not wasting, and maybe even about reusing and recycling things at Christmas time. 

I think The Night Before Christmas can sometimes be a tough classic story for kids to get into and enjoy these days. But this pop-up version makes it so much more fun and interesting to read through, at least with my kids. It's beautiful, of course, and I like just having it out as part of our Christmas decor!

Santa Mouse is a cute little book that my mom read to me and my siblings growing up. And it's a fun little tradition you could start with your kids of Santa Mouse leaving a present on the tree each year. This is much more my speed than the time-consuming Elf on the Shelf tradition!

And of course, who doesn't love The Polar Express? I remember my dad reading this at my house growing up every Christmas Eve. I can still hear his voice every time I read it to my kids or students. And now we have the version with Liam Neeson reading it, which is really beautiful to listen to as well. I like to have it one when we're just sitting around Christmas-crafting or eating our lunch. 

Now tell me your favorites! I love to add new ones to our collection!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ideas for a Reading Christmas

I'm always looking for ways to bring some reading fun to the holiday season. Things can get so busy, so working some ideas for encouraging reading into the holiday plan can make sure you don't get too busy for reading.

 Here are some ideas for a holly, jolly, reading Christmas:

 1. Check the events going on at your local library. Weekly story times often take a hiatus this time of year, but instead there's usually lots of holiday programs and activities going on.

 2. While attending a special holiday event at the library, go on a hunt for some great Christmas books. Some libraries will mark the spines of their books to make special titles (like holiday titles) easier to find.

3. Do a reading advent calendar, like this one here. Have you seen this idea? Wrap 25 Christmas picture books (they can be ones you already own), then allow your child to unwrap one each day and read it together as you countdown to Christmas.

4. Make books a part of your gift-giving tradition. Unwrapping a cool new book or two on Christmas morning attaches the right connotation to books - they are something to be enjoyed! Some families make gifting a new pair of pajamas a Christmas Eve tradition; perhaps pairing a new book with their snuggly pajamas could become part of the tradition as well. Think about subjects your child is especially interested in, or books in a series they might be specifically wanting. We might be gifting some fun magazine subscriptions in our house this year!

5. Start a tradition of adding a new Christmas book to your family library every season. Make a special trip to the bookstore together to pick it out. Maybe get some hot cocoa while you're at it, and make a whole date of it!

6. If you do Elf on the Shelf, incorporate some reading fun into your elf's repertoire of tricks. Perhaps he will get caught reading the kids' Christmas books? Or perhaps he will get caught reading to some of your kid's toys, like in this photo?

7. Gift some fun items to your child that help encourage reading. We're giving neat reading lights to our kids to encourage them to stay up late in bed with a book.

Another idea is the fun book timers for keeping track of their reading time (they are book marks that can be stored right in the book your child is reading).

How about a kit for creating their own books?

Or a fun bag for toting books to and from the library?

8. Give books as gifts to others with your child. How about for their teacher? Friends? Family? Ask for their input and help in selecting the right book for the people on your list this Christmas.

9. Make some festive sugar cookies with alphabet cookie cutters. Spell out festive words like "joy" and "merry" and then box them up and gift them to friends and family.  Isn't this pretty? You could also make fun alphabet ornaments and gift tags using a variety of different supplies and things. Get creative!

How do you encourage reading and literacy during the holidays?

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Pretend Reading Milestone!

There is a lot of value in the pretend reading our little ones do before the real thing starts. It is an important pre-reading milestone! You can get an idea of your child's understanding of how reading works when they are pretend reading. Do they hold the book right? Do they understand where the words are that they "read?" Do they turn the pages the correct direction? Do they understand that it's the same story every time they read it?

These are all important things for pre-readers to grasp in order for real reading to eventually happen. Reading to your child frequently and regularly will teach them these important print concepts and book handling concepts. Letting them "read" to you (or their friends, or toys, or whomever) will help as well.

Use these pretend reading moments to ask questions if you can, gently guide them in how to handle the book... and to just revel in the adorableness of this milestone!

As you can see below, my son has evolved through various stages of pretend reading. You can see his progression in the videos here below.

It started out as with My Little Reader not really understanding much about book handling, or which way the pages turn or the text is read. He just wanted to "read" too!

Then he began to understand that the print told the story of what was happening in the illustrations. But he still didn't have a handle on which direction you read the words, or even turn the pages.

He started to become a little more solid in his book handling. (He's reading to his brother, who is in the shower.)

And then he understood that the story in a book was always the same every time you read it. He could remember and then retell the basic points of a story that he heard read to him once or twice.

Now he can memorize, almost verbatim, most of a story after hearing it once or twice.He understands that it's not just that the story and ideas in the story never change, but that there are specific words in the text that tell the story exactly the same way every time. And he's now beginning to genuinely sound out and read some of the simple words in some books. In this video, he reciting most of the text from memory, but the rhyming words he is sounding out and reading.

Does your little one like to pretend read? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Friday, November 9, 2012

How Craft Projects Help Early Literacy

Each week at Literacy Launchpad we do an activity of some sort. Often it's a game that goes along with whatever literacy skill we are currently practicing, and often it's also a craft project that correlates with the story we read that week.

The idea behind the craft project is usually to give the students something fun to do that will help them remember the skill we worked on, and/or remember the story we read. It gives them a token to take home to be excited about and, to act as a conversation starter between them and their parents, so my students can share what they did in class that day.

I have had some parents get confused about why I prep a lot of the parts of our craft projects. For example, they wonder why I might pre-cut the parts of a construction paper animal. The reason for this prep is so we have enough time to actually complete the project within our 30 minute time frame for class. Also, the point of these projects isn't to teach my students fine motor or art skills. If I get too hung up on that stuff, my students miss the actual point of the projects we do in class together. 

What I have discovered over the years of teaching Literacy Launchpad is that our class projects also serve as a catalyst for great class discussions. It's tough to keep preschoolers' focus for an at-length discussion of our story, but give those busy hands something to work on and they will chat and chat and chat! The ideas and opinions they will share - amazing! The projects serve as a great jumping off point for lots of great discussions about the week's book, or about the skill we're working on. The best is when the discussions get really deep, or go in an interesting direction I didn't anticipate.  

So whether you're a teacher or a parent, consider a project to go along with your stories sometimes. But don't let the process of the project itself become the focus, use it as a way to get your kids thinking and talking! Keep the wheels turning as they are gluing and coloring and arranging... And see what brilliant ideas your kids start sharing!

What are some of your favorite projects that go along with stories you read your kids?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Beginning, Middle, End and A Spooky Month of Reading

My Literacy Launchpad students love a good spooky story... or a not-too-spooky story in this case. This month we learned about story structure and beginning, middle, end as we read some stories that had a hint of spook to them.

The month started out with some Creepy Carrots (Aaron Reynolds)What happens when a greedy little rabbit takes too many carrots from Crackenhopper Field? The carrots from Crackenhopper Field start following him and creeping him out... or do they? Is it just Jasper Rabbit's imagination? This one was the favorite for the month by a lot of my students. I loved reading it aloud, which was great because they asked me to read it many times over the course of the month! It's fun to vary my tone, volume, and inflections for dramatic effect with a spooky story!

We did a lot of practice with arranging the parts of Creepy Carrots in order - beginning, middle, end. The kids seemed to catch on really quickly to this concept. We made a poster where we broke up the parts of the story into beginning, middle, end. Then we made our own creepy carrots to take home with us, and put the parts of the story in the correct order on the back.

The next week we read Go Away, Big Green Monster (Ed Emberley)! Another hit with the kiddos! We read this one many times too! We played a game called "Monster Stomp" and then after our game we turned our classroom into a monster making factory. BUT... we weren't scared of our monsters. We could make them go away whenever we wanted. Plus, some of them were nice, friendly, smiling monsters. 

We continued to talk about story structure as we read The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything as our last story of the month. This read-aloud was hysterical, because I got some big jumps out of the students when I read the "Boo!!" part of the story to them! Every time! I love that. 

We had to remember all the parts of our story as we played a game where we pieced together the scarecrow from the book. We had a lot of laughs with that game, and got our scarecrow put together all handsome... errr scary! Then we made our own books. We had to remember again all the parts of the story, but we had the words in our books to help us. And now we can take our books home and make our friends and family jump when we read the "Boo!" part to them!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Picture Book Round-Up: What We've Been Reading Lately

Here's a few pics from our latest library haul. I've been trying to mostly include the books we have enjoyed, and skip the ones we didn't like so much... since we tend to check out a lot of books from the library and I can only post about so many of them.

This wasn't necessarily one of my favorites, but my boys loved it. I'm not sure what made them like it so much, but I think it was the sparse illustrations that combined photos of food and simple black and white drawings. They asked me to, "please find more books like this one."The book contains various food-related idioms that the illustrations depict in a very literal way. It's cute, but I didn't care for the flow of it. It was more of a list than a story, and reading it aloud felt a bit awkward to me. I was actually surprised my boys liked it so much because I thought most of it would be confusing to them, since I wasn't sure they had actually ever heard any of these idioms. The illustrations were pretty fun though, and I think that was what really sold my boys on this one. 

The style of this book reminds me The Jolly Postman, it's full of all kinds of fun pockets and letters to open and explore. It's probably a little more appropriate for a bit of an older reader than The Jolly Postman though. The story is a conversation that occurs over the course of a summer between a boy at summer camp, and his father at home. I read it to my preschooler and he really liked opening the envelopes and discovering the contents of each. It's a great book to use when studying correspondence or writing in general. My son has a little writing station where he likes to create letters for his friends, and this book provided some great inspiration for his work there! If my ESL third grader were a more proficient reader, this would be great for him to read and enjoy independently. Actually, he might be capable of tackling this one; I think I might let him have a go at it. The unusual format of the book makes it an extra-fun read!

I love a book that invites some good listener participation, as well as some good extension activities. And this is a great one for that! The story is about a little monkey that sets out a walk to his grandma's house and experiences a series of events along the way that alternates between good and bad, or "fortunately and unfortunately." It's great for inviting predictions from the listener. And it's fun for the listeners to "read" the "fortunately/unfortunately" parts aloud with you. I always love a book that lends itself to a good chart-making activity afterward, and this one is perfect. I would love to make a chart where the kids review each event from the story and sort them into "fortunately" and "unfortunately." 

What a cute story, perfect for Halloween time. A spooky, but not too spooky story! When the monster that lives under a little boy's bed goes on vacation, a substitute shows up. But the substitute is not scary enough for the little boy to sleep (funny!), so another substitute comes, and then another, and another... Finally the little boy's regular monster under the bed returns from vacation and he is able to sleep well once again. The various monster substitutes look pretty intimidating initially, but when they fully reveal themselves they're actually pretty funny and/or cute! This would be a fun read aloud, because it gives lots of opportunity to give the monsters some fun voices! I was going to use this one with my Literacy Launchpad students this month, but I decided it was a little too wordy and long for some of their attention spans... and for the little bit of time we have in class in each week. Definitely a good for bedtime at home though!

This is not your typical book about trucks. Yes, the illustrations are full of various construction trucks and machines. Yes, there are lots of fun truck and machine noises. But also, it engages the reader by asking them to answer a question/make a prediction on every other page. The page then fold open to reveal the answer in both text and illustration. I like that it gives interesting info about these trucks and machines that children readers/listeners might not have known. It keeps them interested and turning those pages! Plus, pages that fold open into large illustrations are always a kid pleaser too! 

Here's a fun secret agent story that any kid could appreciate. The style it's written in true secret agent style, and makes for a really fun read aloud. A stolen painting, flying to another country, parachuting off planes, being tied up and thrown off a boat... This book is full of awesome adventure, but it's not too long or wordy. It has a perfect pace! And your kids will enjoy trying to predict how it will all work out in the end. Will Jack save the painting and return it safely to the museum? You're kids will end up wanting you to read it again once it's done! Oh, and there's some great info at the end of the book about  the actual Mona Lisa and a time it was truly stolen; it was interesting for both me and my kids to read!

This one's a charming non fiction picture book that tells about many different kinds of seeds there are. It's a fun read that helps stretch kids' minds and take notice of all the kinds of seeds around us, even things in nature that might not realize are seeds! Again, another one that has a nice flow too it and isn't too wordy or long. I could definitely use this with my Literacy Launchpad preschoolers. It would be lots of fun to read and then head out on a nature hunt looking for seeds! Or perhaps just bring in a variety of seeds to let the kids explore after you read the story. There are also some good, brief, discussion-starting notes at the back of the book that help take the learning even farther. 

A modern spin on a favorite nursery rhyme. The original nursery rhyme is taken and elaborated on, but we see the old-fashioned concept from it (buying live animals at a rural market) put into a present day context (modern day grocery store and home with all our modern, present day amenities). Hilarity ensues as we witness these two things clash - live farm animals being brought into a modern, suburban-ish home. I found my boys and I having a discussion as we went through the entire story. "Oh my goodness, what's going to happen when she brings home that goose?" "Where's she going to put the cow?" "What does she need all these animals for?"It would be a great start to discussing all the various types of stores people shop at for the various different goods we buy. The kids could discuss where they buy their food and clothes, etc. This would be a fun one to put in your home living center! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Books About Books... For Teachers and Parents!

I love a good book about books... or about reading! I love gleaning new insights and wisdom, and discovering new picture books that I have yet to read (there are many of them believe or not)!

Anita Silvey, that authored this book, worked for years as a reviewer and editor for The Horn Book Magazine. She also worked as a children's book publisher. So this is a fantastic list, very thorough in the information it provides. Contains both picture book recommendations, as well as chapter book recommendations. I love reading people's lists like this, and comparing my own list with it! You can bank on this author's expertise and the recommendations she provides in this book!

I love this book! It's one of my go-to's. It's full of inspiration, information, tips, reviews, recommendations, lists, ideas. It's awesome. I love to read through it from time to time and then also keep it handy for referencing! In fact, that's why it's not in the photo at the top of this post; I didn't have it on my shelf, I had it handy for referencing!

This is THE book for teachers and parents that care about helping kids become lovers of books and readings. The research and data in it is extensive and sobering, and put out there in a way that is easy to understand and apply in meaningful ways. It also has ideas, suggestions, tips, inspiration. My copy is full of notes and highlights. It also has a treasury at the back of read-aloud book suggestions. If you only get one book about books, get this one! Everybody should read it!

This book was written by a 6th grade teacher that is passionate about helping her students learn to enjoy reading, now and for the rest of their lives. She details her methods for working toward this goal in her classroom with her students, and it's very brilliant and inspiring! I wish all teachers and schools were like this! The book might seem like one that would be geared more toward teachers, but I think it would be very helpful and motivating for parents. The ideas and techniques could be used in the classroom, or adapted to be used at home too! This one's a quick read too!

This one is written more as a teacher resource book. But again, as parents, we are also teachers of our children, and so that's why I feel these books are so relevant for parents as well. Reading especially is something that is essential to encourage at home, and to cultivate as a lifestyle in our children. This book has a lot of ideas for setting up the classroom, and coming up with literacy-rich lessons. But all that can so easily be modified from a classroom environment into your home environment. There are lots of photos, and the layout is easy to read and navigate through. Lots of great info and resources are provided in this one!

Written by an awesome children's book author, this one is a quick, easy read that's great for parents that don't have a lot of time to sit down for some of these bigger reads. It focuses on parents, but is great for teachers too, and could really help teachers with ways to encourage parents and families to be reading together at home. Small, but potent, this might be a great one to start with! No book lists of recommendations in this one, but it does include a list of Mem Fox's books which are great ones to go read!

This is a great resource book, and I think especially helpful for parents. Keep it on hand and browse through it and jot a few titles down before heading out the library or bookstore. Or bring it along with you to the library! Focuses on lists of various book recommendations from varying genres, but also includes splashes of info about reading and author info, and some interesting little trivia facts. A great book to keep your kids reading books they'll like!