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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Getting Cozy In December

December is all about print awareness. We are learning about the purpose print serves and practicing our hand at "reading" and "writing" our own print!

Last week we read The Jolly Christmas Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg. I let the kids play with all the fun pieces in the pockets within the book. We played a game of Bingo (our version was called "MAIL") that had the finding each word on their game cards (with the assistance of pictures). After the game we "wrote" our own letter to be mailed or delivered ourselves. The kids adored getting to mess around with my notepads and fancy pens and envelopes.

This week we read The Three Bears' Christmas by Kathy Duval. The kids got a kick out of this fun twist on the classic fairy tale. After I read it to them, then they got their own rebus reader version to read with me. They all did fantastic with it! Better than I imagined. What really impressed me was how they all wanted to read it with me. I worried that it might be an activity that wouldn't really hold their interest, but they loved it and really took ownership of it. I sent them home with the assignment of reading it to someone at their house. They all seemed to take that very seriously, and so I can't wait to hear how their reading went when I see them again next week.

I had a blast making this fun little faux fireplace to take to class with me this month. The idea behind it was that I wanted to use this as a spring board for talking up the idea of curling up with a good book, in a cozy place, during the winter months. I brought in a bunch of Christmas books and laid them around the fireplace, and as they finished their work and headed over to have a look, I chatted with them about where they like to read at home. It kind of took a funny turn when I heard about some of the places their mommies and daddies like to read too (the bathroom). I love that my students have great reading role models at home! I will bring my fireplace again next week and see if I can entice a few more students to curl up with a book in front of it!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pinterest Finds

I have spent many a' evenings perusing Pinterest when I should be cooking up a blog post for y'all. So tonight I decided to kill two birds with one stone and share a handful of the fun stuff I've been finding on Pinterest. (Have you pinned yet? You must! But I'll warn ya, it's addictive!)

(Found here)

(Found here)

(Found here)

(Found here)

(Found here)

(Found here)

Thursday, October 27, 2011


October is a month of spiders at Literacy Launchpad. I've been doing my best to freak the kids out (in a preschooler-friendly, G-rated way) with these creepy crawlers. My favorite is my friend Harry that I bring along each week. He's a furry little fake spider, with a long tube attached to him, with a bulb at the end that you use to pump air through the tube that makes him jump and wiggle. I try to wear something that allows me to wind the tube through my sleeve and really freak them out when I make him move. But the first week in October I had on short sleeves and I still startled quite a few of my students. Then those very same students were startled the following week when Harry came back, even though they knew how he worked at that point. I love preschoolers! One little boy said, "It's a necklace! It's a necklace. It's a necklace... Right?" Hee.

We read The Itsy Bitsy Spider and The Roly Poly Spider to start off October. The Itsy Bitsy Spider lends itself well to some predicting practice. The kids like to see if they can guess what's going to send the spider flying. And The Roly Poly Spider is all kinds of fun, because it's kind of gross. So we have all kinds of fun ewwwing and ickking at each page turn. The kids all pointed out that this spider was "not a good friend." Indeed! Smart kids!

We reviewed and practiced the sequence of The Itsy Bitsy Spider with a fun activity in which we sent plastic spiders down a piece of a real water spout. This also helps connect this story to real life and make the story concept more concrete for the kids. Most of them ended up saying, "Oh! I have a water spout on my house too!" And then they could actually see just how a big gush of water might wash a spider out of a water spout.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Michael Finnegan

I'm still playing catch-up with keeping you all posted on what we've been up to in class.

At the end of September we wrapped up our Names unit with a book based on one of the most fun, rhyming, names, songs - There Once Was A Man Named Michael Finnegan. There are certain books that are just more fun to read aloud, and this is one of them. I kind of sang the song as I read the text. The kids stayed riveted the entire time. I love those kinds of lessons.

We made Michael Finnegan puppets out of paper plates, complete with whiskers that grow out and in again! So. Much. Fun. We sang the song lots of times as we played with our puppets. What wonderful rhyming practice!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Library Bags

Last month I bought some inexpensive canvas bags from Walmart, along with some puffy paints, and let my kids decorate their own library bags. The idea was to get them a little more excited about choosing their own books at the library since they would have their own personalized bag for carrying them.

It's been working great with my three year old. I bring his bag along on our weekly trips to story time, and he proudly throws it over his shoulder as he browses the book shelves during our visit. He has become more discerning in choosing his books lately. He used to just choose any old book off the shelf. Now he'll carefully examine each cover (the wrong way to judge a book, I know. Hee), and often put the book back on the shelf. Sometimes I'll pull a book off the shelf to suggest to him, but my selections have been getting shot down a lot lately. (In addition to my preschoolers book selections, I usually choose a stack of picture books on my own, that he doesn't get any say in.) Today he chose several books, but was particularly proud of a tiger story that he picked.

My older son has yet to make his bag. He was busy doing something else when we were painting and hasn't taken the time to sit down and paint his yet. My daughter has painted her bag, but has yet to use it. I'm still trying to figure out a good routine for bringing my older two to the library. It's tough to make it work with their school schedule, and the various other activities during the week. And it's even harder to force myself to do it, when it's like pulling teeth to get them to go. My preschooler that I've had since birth loves going to the library though. Tough!

I would love to hear how you work in library visits during the week with your school aged kiddos. Do tell!

Friday, September 30, 2011

We HEART Our Local Library!

My Little Reader and I have had our fair share of library story time disappointment. We did finally fall in love with a librarian at one library, only to have our hearts broken when she left her position at the library. And even though we did love her enthusiastic and engaging read alouds, the craft time following the story reading always seemed a bit lacking in thought and effort.

BUT now we have discovered Ms. Marsha at the library right across town from us, and we LOVE her story hours. She is able to keep her audience captivated (as captivated as you can keep several dozen toddlers and preschoolers) without shouting the words she's reading or rushing through the books. Her storytimes have distinct themes, and the crafts always correlate with the stories, and are well thought out.

I actually suggested to My Little Reader that we go to the story time at the library further away this week, because we had some books on hold, and he staunchly opposed me. He wanted to go to make "crafts" at "the small library." I didn't have the heart to deny his request, so we visited both libraries that day, and he had a ball.

This week there was a food theme to story hour. We missed the beginning (I can never seem to get anywhere on time lately), but made it in time for Marsupial Sue Presents The Runaway Pancake. Check out the pancake My Little Reader made. He insisted on making a face with the fixins, and then ate every last bite of it all.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Yes, You Can Play on the iPad

My kids have a technology addiction. Well, my older ones do. I am completely frustrated by this fact, even though I know I haven't had much influence over this addiction. (From what I hear, they were pretty screen addicted even in their native country.) And for several reasons I won't go into here, screens are just preferable over most other options for my adopted kiddos. And boy, is it ever harder to change an existing habit, or preference in someone, than it is to help guide those habits and preferences right from the beginning.

We don't forbid screen time, but we do try to limit it. It tends to not get turned on during the week because we are so busy with other things, but the weekends require the more heavy monitoring.

But there is one screen in our house that I don't mind the kids using as much; it's our iPad. We just recently purchased an iPad, and one of the main reasons for this purchase was to help make learning more appealing to, and fun for, our kids. We loaded it up with learning games and books and unveiled it.

The kids were initially thrilled about the purchase, but when they discovered that it didn't have all the junk games on it that they love so much on our iPhones (and that don't get to play anymore, because I'm tired of constantly being asked for my phone), it lost a little bit of it's initial appeal.

One of our criticisms of the iPad is that you can't really put restrictions on it, or have separate users like you can on a typical computer. So if my husband or I want to put a junk game on iPad for us, the kids end up seeing it and wanting to play it too. It's kind of maddening.

Despite it's drawbacks, if I can use something they're addicted to (screens), to help foster a love of reading, and to make reading and learning more appealing, I think it is a completely appropriate tool for them to have monitored access to.

Our favorite children's book for the iPad is The Monster At the End of This Book. The Tale of Peter Rabbit probably comes in at a close second. I have included some photos of My Little Reader and his cousins being read to on the iPad by their Papa.

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on iPads and eReaders. Like 'em? Hate 'em? What are your favorite books and educational apps?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Incredible Book Eating Boy

Last week was the first time I've taught a Literacy Launchpad lesson in over a year (visit my other blog here to get a peek at WHY I've been gone for a while)! It felt WONDERFUL to be back at it. You have no idea how much I was missing it!

We kicked it all off with The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. It's a fun book, and it works really well to begin a year of incredible reading. The kids all seemed excited about being dubbed "Incredible Book Reading Boys/Girls."

We played a game where we fed Henry's mouth books, and then when that didn't go so well (made our "Henry" sick) we fed his brain books instead. Of course, we first had to create some good books to fill up that brain of his. We ended up with books about dinosaurs, tornados, rainbows, and pumpkins to name a few.

This week it will be fun to see their reaction to getting to go to "reading class" again now that they know what it's all about.

Here are a few photos of us feeding Henry's brain.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reading Journals

As someone who enjoys reading, and enjoys reading to my children, I cannot believe it has never dawned on me (till now) to be keeping a record of the books we read. As I was driving home from visiting Chicago this weekend, I was thinking about how it would be nice to keep track of the books I have read. I started thinking about what a nice keepsake that might be for my kids and grandkids to have someday (I know I would love to see a journal of what my grandma was reading when she was my age). And then I started thinking about all the books I read with my kids, and all the fun we have talking about these stories and reading them over and over. And I wondered why I haven't been keeping track of all that! I am sad about all the reading memories I have let slip away from us, but I'm excited to go ahead and get going with our reading journaling NOW. Better late than never!

I found lots of suggestions online for what kinds of things you can reflect on and write about in your reading journal, but I plan to keep mine pretty simple. I would like to remember when I read the book, why I read the book, where I read the book (on a plane, vacation, at soccer practice), and then just some general reactions to the book. I would mostly like to use this journal as a way to help record my life. If it evolves into something more than that, fine, but I'm not going to put a lot of pressure on myself to be composing in-depth book reports on every book I read.

As far as journaling what my kids are reading, I plan to keep that simple too. I will follow the same basic guidelines as what I laid out above, but will include what my kids' reactions were, and any activities we may have done following and/or related to the book. I also might include what kinds of curiosity it sparked and what other books it may have led to us reading.
My children can't do much writing yet, so they can't contribute much to the journals yet in that regard, but I might try to have them add some drawings here and there.

I will probably keep it simple with some cheap, basic notebooks, unless I come up with some uber creative idea, or find a reading journal I just can't resist purchasing. You'll see I included a couple photos in this post of some cute ones I found online. You can purchase those HERE and HERE.

Ever kept a reading journal for yourself or your kids? Any tips or ideas to share? Chime in down in the comments! I'm all ears!

Friday, August 5, 2011

End of Summer Literacy Fun

My first summer with three kids was... interesting. I had lofty plans for activities and learning, but most of them didn't happen. We did have fun celebrating summer today though with some reading and a little field trip.

We got a couple books from the library about ice cream, and read a little on the subject before we headed out to visit our local dairy plant.

I must admit, we were a bit disappointed in our visit to the dairy plant. There was no actual tour. Their idea of a "tour" was to let us watch a video on how they make their various dairy products. Kind of lame.

But we took a picture with a (fake) cow!

And we got free ice cream! So it wasn't a total bust. Turns out they don't even make ice cream at the plant we visit. They make it in Chattanooga.

Anyhow, we decided to go up to the store and buy some rock salt so we could make ice cream ourselves. We found directions online for making ice cream without an ice cream maker (because we don't have one), using just ziploc baggies, rock salt, and then stuff pretty much everybody has around the kitchen (ice cubes, milk, sugar, and vanilla). I was pretty skeptical as to whether this was actually going to work or not, but it did! I ended up doing all the shaking, because the bags were too heavy for the three year old and my two big kids were busy teaching themselves the Cha-Cha Slide (don't ask). It only took five minutes though! And it was really yummy! Downside: It didn't make very much, and it melted REALLY fast.

Here's Isaac giving a "thumbs up" (we'll have to work on that) for his ice cream.

Other books about ice cream:
The Ice Cream King by Steve Metzger and Julie Downing
I Am An Ice Cream Truck by Ace Landers
Milk to Ice Cream by Inez Snyder
Wemberly's Ice Cream Star by Kevin Henkes
I Like Ice Cream by Robin Pickering
Should I Share My Ice Cream by Mo Willems
From Cow to Ice Cream by Bertram T. Knight
Ice Cream by Elisha Cooper
Yummy Ice Cream: A Book About Sharing by Emma Quay and Anna

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Guilty Confession of A Literacy Teacher:

None of my kids can read.

O.K. so one of them is only three, and the other two have only just recently moved to this country (from Ethiopia) and learned English. But in all honesty, I feel they should all be closer to reading than they are. My oldest daughter really wants to read and has a lot of anxiety about starting school again next month because she can't read. Problem is, she wants me to like zap her with the power to read and just be done with it like that. She is not very motivated to put the work in to actually figuring it out with me. She has actually told me numerous times that her brain is broken and she can't learn how to read.

Guilty confession number 2: I have actually considered hiring a tutor to teach my daughter to read.

I can't tell you how many people have told me how great I'm going to be at teaching my kids English, and teaching then how to read. I should be, right? I mean, heck, I'm the "Literacy Launchpad Lady" for crying out loud! But, my forte is more getting kids prepped for learning to read, and instilling motivation in them. I work with preschoolers who aren't at the actual reading stage yet. So when you put me and my daughter together, who already struggle to connect just as a mother and daughter, add the stress of learning to read (with all the anxiety surrounding it on my daughter's part), add a traumatized brain that struggles to retain info, add two brothers who have to be up in everybody's business all the time, and add the fatigue from all our summer activities... it's just tough!

Right now we're still just working on letter sounds. I think she finally has the letter names down. Progress! But yes, very slow progress.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fumbling Through Summer

Forgive me for my absence here. I'm new to the whole being a mom of three kids over summer break thing. It's time consuming. I'll be back. Promise!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summer Reading Programs and Summer Homeschooling

Summer is totally kicking my butt this year. Hence my lack of posts lately.

Took my kids up to one of our local libraries last week to get them signed up for the summer reading program. I was a bit disappointed. I signed them up as pre-readers since that's what they are. But I'm thinking I may have to go and see if they'll make an exception for us, and let them do the regular reading program. The pre-readers are given these little Bingo-type cards with various different activities on them and they have to cross 10 off to win their first prize, and then another 10 to get their second. The activities are so simple, and my kids are so eager to get their prize, that they had 10 crossed off in less than a week. At this rate, they'll have completed the entire summer reading program in less than three weeks. And it really isn't challenging them at all.

In other news, we are trying to start some reading instruction this summer (squeezing our lessons in between ESL summer school and swimming at the pool). We haven't made much progress yet. Much of the time I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall. It's tough when you've got one that is so easily discouraged, but yet puts hardly any effort into even TRYING.

Anybody else participating in a summer reading program with their kids? How are you liking it?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Writing Books, Preserving Memories

I stumbled upon a wonderful idea for preserving family memories while I was surfing the net for summer survival ideas to keep us busy once school ends for the year. I wish I could remember where I found this idea, but the gist of it is to keep a little drawing journal of family memories. The thought is that this is easier and less time consuming than scrapbooking, and so more memories can be recorded and preserved.

I loved the idea, and it also sounded like a great way to help the bonding process with my Ethiopian children, as we could read the journal together and have warm fuzzy feelings about the memories we have made.

When my kids initially discovered my sketchbook and box of crayons on my nightstand, they started asking questions, and even though I only had a few entries completed, I went ahead and read them my journal. I explained that I have been recording memories in my journal in the evening before I go to bed. Then I read the completed entries to them, and they LOVED IT! And since that first reading they have requested additional readings, and have also asked for their own drawing journals.

I just gave them their blank journals this week, and they are already filling them up. I love that they sit in their beds at night and draw in them, because I told them that's when I do my drawing. They tell me what they want to write in their journals, and then I write it down on a sheet of paper and they copy the words into their books (they can't write independently yet). Then they illustrate them too, of course!

My daughter even decided she wanted to type some of her text up on the computer last night. She needed a lot of help, but it was great literacy practice, as well as great computer practice!

I'm not a scrapbooker, so this is a perfect way for me to visually record some family memories. And it is all great literacy practice for my kiddos. Check out these photos from our journals:

Mommy's journal

Mel's journal

Mary's journal (note: the brown circles in the drawing of the pool here are coins that they were playing with... not poop, as it kind of looks like)

I also bought a journal for Isaac, but he's been falling asleep every evening before our journaling time, so his is still empty.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Caught Reading

I still don't catch my older kids reading much. But they also spend much of their time at school, so there's not as much opportunity to catch them reading (couple that with the fact that they still don't know how to read, and are still learning English). But here are a few snapshots of literacy going on around here.

Doing a puppet show at the library.

Drawn and written by my older son.

More puppet show.

Reading magazines at the library while Mommy browses the shelves.

Being read to by Cousin Kylynn.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why Don't Teachers Like Reading?

I am convinced that there is a large number of elementary school teachers out there that do not like reading. Or maybe just don't love it. Or is it that they simply don't know how to pass on the passion? What other explanation is there for why more children don't enjoy this pastime?

I'm especially bent out of shape about this today because I've been reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer while battling through trite reading logs with one of my children, and wading through mounds of ditto sheets that come home with them everyday. I hate, hate, hate the reading homework my child has to do. It benefits them in no way. All they're learning is that reading is boring and frustrating, and that homework stinks!

Why would someone that loves reading assign such homework? Especially when there is heaps of research indicating that time simply spent reading books of their own choosing (a student's choosing) is way more beneficial? Maybe there are a lot of teachers that aren't familiar with this research? But why aren't they familiar with it when books like The Book Whisperer are full of this info? Why aren't teachers who love to read, reading books like The Book Whisperer? And The Read Aloud Handbook?

Formal reading instruction is not my forte. My thing is motivating readers! So it's tough to see my child schlup through their reading homework week after week, obviously not enjoying any of it.

I didn't think I was going to have to worry about this kind of stuff. I thought I would be homeschooling my children. But that's not in the cards for my family right now, and so my task is now to do all that's in my power to show my children that reading is the bomb! And that they will be readers soon! I am all about supporting my children's teachers, but I also have a responsibility as a parent. I'm not saying we won't do the assigned homework (though with the crazy home life we have right now, that often happens), but I will tell my children the truth: that I don't like some of their homework assignment (while also explaining the good intentions the teacher had in assigning it), and that this is not what reading really is. Then I will spend as much time as I can taking them to the library, finding books that will interest them, and setting aside plenty of time at home to read with them. Oh, and being a reading role model too, of course!

How do you encourage a passion for reading as a parent? As a teacher? As a librarian? What books do you think should be required reading for teachers?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Budding Reading Interests

Since we welcomed two Ethiopian children into our family five months ago, I have been befuddled and unsure of how to get them interested in books. Neither of them can read yet, and our ESL teacher has actually strongly encouraged me not to do formal reading instruction (like phonics) with them till next fall.

Now that they're understanding English better and better each day, I have seen their interest in books start to bud. This is very encouraging to me!

We've been doing bedtime reading since they first came home (I remember my son asking me to read him a grocery store flyer one night when he still didn't understand much English). I also read to them at the lunch table on the weekends from time to time. And I try to read in front of them as much as possible, but there's not much opportunity for that (they keep me hopping).

We visit the library pretty regularly, and I'm excited for us all to participate in the summer reading program. Both my older kids recently got their own library cards and were pretty excited about that. Although, they are still more enthusiastic about checking out movies than they are about checking out the books.

I found a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid at a yard sale and starting reading that aloud to them recently. They are enjoying that, even laughing aloud at it. I just added the movie to our Netflix queue so we can watch it when we finish the book.

We had family come visit last week and my niece brought along a Calvin and Hobbes book. Both kids really liked that. My son especially liked it, even asking me to read it to him when he came home from school one day! (I don't ever get reading requests except at bedtime!) So now we need to go find some Calvin and Hobbes at the library... or maybe the Easter Bunny will deliver some.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Early Literacy Teacher Traning

I was asked to do my first ever teacher training recently! And although I was nervous, I was also thrilled that I was going to be getting out of the house to go contribute to society in a way that had nothing to do with my family (though I did end up referencing my children several times in my talk). I got to dust off some of my wonderful books, pack up my handy-dandy gigantic tote, and spend the morning in a building free of children!

For my first time leading a training like this, I think it went well. There are definitely some things I would like to change up for next time. But I think I motivated and maybe even inspired them a little bit... maybe.

One of the things I had them do was spilt into groups (according to the ages they teach) and brainstorm a literacy activity for one picture book (per group). A lot of their responses were ideas for using their chosen book to teach math or other such concepts. Ugh! This is exactly the kind of mindset I was trying to break them free from.

Why do early childhood teachers think a book always has to be turned into a theme that can be taught in each of their classroom centers? Or that books should be chosen based on the theme of the class' current unit? Is that now a part of getting your teaching degree? I think many of the "literacy" resource books geared toward these teachers are often to blame. It just seems to me that the idea of doing actual emergent literacy teaching with a book is a totally foreign concept. As if simply reading a book during circle time fills the early literacy teaching quota for the day.

Anybody else care to weigh in on this? Do you agree? Disagree?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Snow Days

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for about a week waiting to be posted because I couldn't get these stinkin' photos off my phone. Here they are though, and here's the post... finally.

Believe it or not we are about to have our ninth snow day here in our county of middle Tennessee. Ridiculous.

Today there was barely any snow and it was FREEZING outside. I wouldn't let my boys play outside because of it being so cold and the fact that they both seem to be teetering on the edge of possibly getting sick (one's been coughing, one's nose has been running all day).

I compromised with them by bringing the snow inside. I did that literally, and then I also mixed up some SnowWonder for them to play in.

Now my older boy (and my girl) aren't ever eager to be read to. But while the boys were playing with the snow, I went and got some snowy stories off the bookshelf. Mel was actually protesting my reading aloud, but once he saw that we could read and play, he was digging it.

I had them try out some of the things Peter (from The Snowy Day) did in the snow. Mel really liked that. He even tried making snow angels with his fingers. Later he got out some of his toy cars and drove them around in his bucket of snow. "Look, Mommy! Like in the book!" he said.

After I finished reading The Snowy Day, the story he had protested, he grabbed All You Need for A Snowman and asked me to read that one too! Both boys listened attentively while they continued playing in the snow. They asked questions, answered mine, and made plenty of comments.

I was happy to see one of my reluctant readers enjoying some reading. It warmed my heart on this cold, cold snow day.