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Monday, May 27, 2013

6 Beach Books + Literacy Skill-Building Activities!

Anybody else planning a trip to the beach this summer? Ocean? Lake? Pond? A DIY beach in you backyard? Or how about a make-believe trip to the beach?

Some beach reading can bring extra fun to your trip while also giving your children practice with those essential emergent reading skills!

  • Phonological Awareness
  • Alphabet Knowledge
  • Vocabulary
  • Print Awareness
  • Narrative Skills
  • Motivation

All You Need For A Beach (Alice Schertle)- We love Schertle's All You Need for A Snowman and this is a perfect summer counterpart! I love that the kids can participate by jumping in and insisting on each page that there's more you need for a beach than what the text tells so far. You could do great print awareness practice with this one by making a list as you read of all the things you need for a beach. Then let the kids do an art/craft project where they create a beach by working off the list you made together. You could check each item off as you add it to you beach art/craft project.

Flotsam (David Wiesner) - A wordless picture book in which a boy discovers a magical underwater camera that has washed up at the beach - Flotsam! What a discovery it turns out to be! This is a great book for introducing new vocabulary to your kids or students! Talk about what "flotsam" is (floating debris or treasures that wash up on the beach from the ocean). Then bring your own magnifying glass and camera to the beach and see what flotsam you can find. Who can find the most unusual flotsam? The largest? Smallest? Most colorful? Give your kids some book handling practice by putting your photos in a book and adding text. Let them read their book to family and friends. 

To the Beach (Linda Ashman) - Can't we all relate to this story? A family tries to leave for the beach, but has to keep turning back for all the things they keep forgetting to bring along. By the time they have everything they need, it begins to rain. They turn around and go back home. Then , of course, the sun comes back out, so they make a pretend beach in their own backyard. This is a great story to inspire your own backyard beach fun or pretend beach play! We read this one in class and practiced our narrative skills by retelling to story by acting it out with fun props. Then we pretended our classroom was our own backyard beach and we played like we were at the beach! It was a lot of silly fun!

The Boy on the Beach (Niki Daly) - I love this book! First, because it features children that actually look like some of my own children. Also because it's just a beautifully, perfect beach story. We see a "boy" on the beach playing and exploring in various ways. It opens up a great conversation of do's and don'ts at the beach. Do: splash, build castles, play in the surf, enjoy cool treats, bury each other in the sand... Don't: forget the sunscreen, run around so fast that your spray sand on other people, wander off and get lost... At the end of the story we learn the boy's name as he writes it in the sand. This book could inspire some alphabet knowledge practice and fun sand writing of your own! Write your own name in that sand and take a photo! How many different ways can you write each letter of the alphabet (big, little, fancy, with shells, with your body...)? Bring some glue and paper to the beach and write letters with glue on the paper; then sprinkle sand on the glue to make cool, sensory alphabet cards. Send the kids on scavenger hunts by writing a letter in the sand and having them find something on the beach that begins with that letter. There are many fun possibilities!

Commotion in the Ocean  (Giles Andreae) - Fun and catchy rhymes about animals that live in that ocean you might be swimming in. Rhyming = Phonological Awareness practice. Yay! Isn't it great when learning is so fun? Talk about which of these animals you think you may or may not see while you're visiting the beach. 

A Beach Tail (Karen Lynn Williams) - A young boy draws a lion in the sand and then promises his dad to stay by his lion drawing. He keeps his promise while also satisfying his desire to further explore the beach by giving his lion a very long tail! "Swish-swoosh" the lion's tale keeps getting longer and he keeps getting further and further away from his father. He finally has to use the tail he drew to find his way back to his dad. This story gave us an idea of something to play on our beach trip - we're going to draw trails for each other to follow with something fun to discover at the end! This book was such a delight. Definitely a new favorite!

This short list of beach books will have you practicing all those needed emergent reading skills! These are good skills even for my older, already-reading kids to practice. And all these games and activities are so fun that your children will be practicing motivation too as they see how much fun their reading is creating!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Make a Play Mat! Build Letter Knowledge!

My Little Reader has been really into Tonka's Chuck Trucks lately. They have a Chuck Truck show on Netflix, which is the driving the force behind this current obsession of his. 

I needed to keep him busy one day while we had a repair guy at the house and so I whipped out some big paper and some art supplies and we made a play mat together for his trucks and cars. 

I decided to give the activity an "Alphabet City" theme so we could work in some letter-knowledge practice as well! He loved it!

You don't need any fancy supplies to make this. Basically just some big paper and some crayons (see above). If you don't have a roll of large craft paper, the plain side of some wrapping paper might work as well. 

We rolled two lengths of paper out side by side to get the size we wanted, and then used the tape to attach the two pieces together on the back. Then we got to drawing!

Besides the alphabet stickers, we used whatever other stickers we had in our sticker box that might work for our Alphabet City. You could probably think of some cool ideas for your Alphabet City with a lot of those miscellaneous craft supplies in your art cabinet at home!

I just free-handed the road shape. My son told me what directions he wanted the road to go, then I drew it that way as best I could.
My son and I worked together to draw a variety of features on our mat: shops, library, pond, gas station, etc. Be creative, and let your child come up with the ideas as much as possible. My son was struggling to think up some ideas, so I drew some generic buildings and then pointed to each and asked, "What should this one be?" That helped kick-start his ideas. 

We named and labeled our buildings and locations as we went. We tried to cover as many letters of the alphabet as we could with our names and labels. I would say the name of a place to My Little Reader and then he would figure out the first letter(s) and find it on our sticker sheet. Then I would write-in the rest of the name next to the sticker (see photos above). 

The fun doesn't stop when you're done drawing!

This activity kept My Little Reader busy for hours. Literally. Try it!

Other alphabet play mat ideas your little one might enjoy making and then using with their toys:
- Alphabet Zoo
- Alphabet Kingdom (I'm thinking fairy and princess theme)
- Alphabet Jungle
- Alphabet School
- Alphabet Circus

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Grow Jack's Beanstalk in Your Classroom!

When I do one of my fairy tale units with my students, I tell them the story of "Jack and the Beanstalk" and use fun props. My magic beanstalk that grows to the ceiling is my favorite prop! This prop idea came from another preschool teacher that's a genius, and whom I absolutely adore. I wonder if she knows my students have been loving and adoring her beanstalk prop for years now?

You'll need everything mentioned in the photo here, plus some scissors, a pencil, a marker, and a sewing needle (don't worry, it's just to pull the fishing line through your fabric, no serious sewing involved here!) You choose the kind of fabric you want. I think I just chose a soft, cotton fabric that was on sale. Remember that Hobby Lobby and Joanne Fabrics always have coupons online!

I think I got about a yard of green fabric (maybe two?) and I drew a beanstalk on it that started in the bottom left corner and wound up to the top left corner with my pattern, then back down, then back up... And so on and so forth till I got all the way to the end of the right side. This way you use every bit of your green fabric. It's doesn't matter if your beanstalk is drawn and cut straight across the fabric, because it's all going to hang from the ceiling anyway and will be straight when it does. You can trace over your penciled pattern with a marker to make it easier to see, and then cut it out. 

Take the end of your clear thread or fishing line and thread your needle. Poke the needle through one end of your beanstalk. You just need to secure it so it can pull your beanstalk to the ceiling without coming undone. Secure it with a good knot. It doesn't have to look pretty, nobody is going to see it anyway. It just needs to hold. 

You'll have to measure or estimate how tall the ceiling is in the room you'll be using. Or how tall you want your beanstalk to grow. Your fishing line will need to be about twice that length. Tie your washer to the end where you cut it. The washer will weight down your thread so it stays low where you can reach it to pull. It will keep your beanstalk apparatus from falling down before you even begin. 

If you do not have a drop ceiling to use, you could secure a nail, or 3M hook to the wall to drape your fishing line over. If you do that, you don't have to worry about using a paperclip. Just make sure your nail or hook is high enough to inspire some awe in your kiddos when the beanstalk grows!

I pull the line and make the beanstalk grow, then "chop it down" myself, when I first tell my students the story. But when the story is done I let each student have a turn to pull the line and make the stalk grow. We pretend they're Jack and say things as they pull the line like, "Wow, _______, your beans really are growing! Amazing!" Then I hold the line for them and let them use the toy axe to swing at the stalk and chop it down (let go of the line when you want to let the stalk fall). Be careful when letting them swing the toy axe. I've had a student or two get bumped by some very enthusiastic axe-swingers!

At one point I was using my own homemade faux axe with my students. I made it with cardboard, the cardboard roll from inside an aluminum foil roll, some paint, and some hot glue. It worked great for a couple years, but eventually broke. 

We do this story the last week of our fairy tale unit, and it's always a fun finale. I hope it works great for you. Let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to answer them! And let me know how it turns out!

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