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Friday, September 28, 2012

Helping Preschoolers Understand WHY We Read

The purposes of reading, and the joys that it can bring, are not always obvious to this latest generation of kids being brought up in a highly digital and immediately-gratifying day and age. So this kick-off month of September with my students has been all about exploring the concepts of why we read, how we read, and where we read books.

I feel like Literacy Launchpad gets better and better each year, and I think this month has been the best month of Literacy Launchpad ever. Really. I was pleased with how well these lessons worked, how well-received they were by the students, the conversations we had about books, seeing the look of comprehension and intrigue in each of their little faces. And it was just FUN. I really feel every one of my students has benefitted equally from the teaching parts of our lessons, as well as the fun and motivating parts of our lessons this month!

This summer I was coming up with all kinds of crazy-long book lists for Literacy Launchpad, more books than we would ever come close to reading in a year. But I have decided to try to squeeze in some book-talks each month for some of those books we didn't have time for, but that I wish we had.

The books that were selected to be read during class this month were:

Born to Read by Judy Sierra

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hill

The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom

We started week one off with talking about why we read. Our story, Born to Read showed how helpful reading can be, and how much fun too. Of course, with all the cool things we do in class each week, and all the wonderful books we read, the students are definitely understanding the joys of reading. I introduced the students to a variety of different types of picture books through some fun games like "Musical Books." This was a great activity to get us all talking about books and voicing some of our own reading preferences and opinions.

Week two we saw Rocket the dog learn to read, and discussed when and how we might learn how to read books on our own too. We talked about what things we first need to know before learning how to read. Did you know that a love of books is the most important thing needed to become a successful reader!? We're moving in the right direction! During this lesson we thought about what kind of books we might want to read at Literacy Launchpad this year and created our own book cover to show our opinion to the class. This project helped give me an idea of what kinds of units might be fun to do with the students the rest of the year. I want them to feel like they get a say in some of what we read. We practiced book handling as well this week by going on a scavenger hunt within various picture books. The kids did really great with this, I was very proud of them!

This last week of our September unit was all about finding the right place to read. I could really see it all coming together for the kids during this lesson. Each class group seemed very engaged in our discussion; there was great participation. I loved hearing about all their favorite places to read. We made fun pictures where we put ourselves in a picture of a place where we thought it might be cool to read a book. We colored in our pictures of reading places; these projects each week are great for giving our hands something to do while we further discuss our book of the week and the concept we're learning about. An activity for our hands also helps get those gears in our heads turning and gives us something special to take home and remember our lesson by. This week we also charted our favorite book of the month. We all got to express our own opinion by placing a vote on the chart of what book we liked best!

The rest of this year is going to be fabulous. I am so impressed with the progress my students are already making! Next month we're going to be reading some (Not-too) creepy books! There's one new title I'm particularly excited to share with the kids. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Using YOUR Writing to Inspire Your Kids

As I recently dug through an old box of school stuff that my mom had saved over the years, I found many fun treasures, including a handful of picture books that I created throughout elementary school. Some of these books were created for school assignments (Young Authors mostly). But others were created simply because I enjoyed writing, drawing, and creating. 

Reading back through them has been hysterical. But what's been really fun is sharing them with my kids. My boys and I spent a few days reading through them during bedtime story time, and they couldn't get enough of them. I guess they don't have very discerning taste in literature yet. But really I think what they enjoyed was that they knew the author of these books! Reading them gave them a deeper peek into who their mom was/is. And of course, they just enjoyed laughing at me too!

Using books like these is a great way to start some meaningful discussions about authors and illustrators and what their motivations are for writing their stories, what kind of person they might be, and how a passion for creating can start early. It also sets a good example to kids that anybody can be a writer. Even if you aren't published, you can still share your writing with others. Even if you aren't a perfect writer, or artist, you can still create books that others can appreciate and enjoy. 

 Share some of your stories with your children and/or students. Even if you don't have any creations from your childhood, create a story or book today! Create a story about your children! Then, once you've provided that inspiration, provide them with the supplies and opportunity to create a story themselves!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Picture Book Round-Up

It's been a long time since the last Picture Book Round-up. Over the summer there's slim pickings at the library most of the time, and so now that school is back in session, we've snagged great finds again. Here are just a handful of 'em.

I was skeptical of this book when I heard it was about manners. But it's done in a fun way and my boys both enjoyed it. They were wishing that could maybe have elephants, lions, or camels for parents for a day or two so they could go wild with no rules. Ha! But it's nice to read a fun book that also reminds them that their parents aren't the only ones with rules. The chart in the back that shows the rules for various animals was pretty fun too!

This book is written to the tune of Over in the Meadow, which I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of. But I really liked this Halloween version. Ghosts, witches, goblins, skeletons! The rhymes were clever and rolled of the tongue so easily, which makes it a really fun read aloud. My boys both had glowing things to say about the book as soon as I finished reading it. I might use this with my Literacy Launchpad students next month. Really liked this one!

Crisp and vivid illustrations in this one, collaged and with a great textured look. I really loved the illustrations! How many different onomonopias can you use to describe bird sounds? I wasn't so sure how I was going to like this when I started it. But the bird sound onomonopias were so fun; my little guy stayed glued to the book as I turned each page to reveal a new bird. There was counting, and discovering new birds, and making fun noises, and exploring each cool illustration... Even the way the text was laid out on the page became a visually interesting part of each illustration. The brief bird facts at the end were a pleasant discovery, as my son had a few questions as this intriguing book wrapped up and he wanted to know more about these cool birds!

We snagged this book at the library at the perfect time; there have been caterpillars and butterflies (or are they moths?) all over the place by us this past week. My son caught a caterpillar and brought it inside and watched it build its chrysalis. I remembered that we had this book and we sat down and enjoyed. It's basically a counting book, with beautiful Lois Ehlert illustrations. Simple. I think it would be wonderful in a board book format; toddlers would love this. Great for spring time... Or I guess for fall too! Ha!

One of those warm, fuzzy boy-meets-pet stories. A boy wants a dog, a duck wants to be a pet, so he dresses up like a dog. The duck is so adorable. I can't help but imagine gifting this book to a niece or nephew with a cuddly, plush duck to go with it. I mean, the illustration with the duck tear, and then the boy carrying the duck with the duck's head on his shoulder...? Melt my heart! I guess I'm just a sappy, softy. This is a great book to cuddle up with your little one(s) with at bedtime. I'm thinking about doing a pet unit too, and might use this book for that.

I had to grab this book when I saw it at the library because my boys are obsessed with ninjas (thank you, Ninjago). This story is clever, and funny, and just a hoot to read. This is the kind of book my boys and I love; it was a great discussion starter, and great for encouraging creativity and imagination. It's kind of off-the-wall and I love reading books that get my boys to think in a kind of off-the-wall way. And what kid doesn't love a story where the child protagonist is right in the end and gets to have a told-you-so kind of moment with their parents. This book delivers that. Ha! Love it!

A big ole game of "Telephone" between a bunch of forest critters, only the secret makes it all the way around without getting warped into something its not. The illustrations were very visually interesting. I loved how the illustrations showed a little dotted trail throughout the pages of the path the animals took. It was like a little map, and it had me thinking up fun craft activities that would be great to do with this book. Pair a map activity with a real game of "telephone" with your group you're reading to, and you've got a fun little story time. Definitely going to use this book for a lesson, either with my students, or just with my kids at home.

I'm pretty hard to please when it comes to alphabet books, but this was one I liked. The problem I have with most alphabet books is that they try to get too cute and clever with it, and it just ends up feeling awkward and doesn't work for me. This book doesn't do that. I love the illustrations of the alphabet letters; they remind me of the way I used to draw big block letters myself when I was younger. I could see doing fun art projects that mimic the illustrations in this book. There's a quaint simplicity to this book that is sweet, but still beautiful. And the illustrations are perfect for lingering over with your little one on your lap and talking about the letter names, sounds, and what each of the letters are doing on each page. This book begs to be read over and over, taking your time. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Stop Just Filling the Pail. Start Lighting the Fire.

This school year I am trying to be intentional about doing some "homeschooling" with my four year old. Last year I felt like the time we had together, just the two of us, slipped away without me even realizing it. I don't want that to happen again this year.

So I went to my local teacher store, picked out a cute little preschool lesson plan book, and eagerly starting jotting things down in it. Pinterest has also been a helpful motivator in my planning.

But what I am daily reminded of as I strive to implement my plans with my son is that his enthusiasm for, and reception to, learning is greater when it is fueled by his own interests. And this is one of the benefits of doing "homeschooling" on any kind of level you might be doing it on, right? Not being slave to a rigid, group lesson plan, but instead being more free to take your child's interests into consideration?

We've all heard it before: teaching your child to enjoy learning new things is the ultimate, most valuable, number one thing you can teach them. So it doesn't matter so much what I teach my kids, as much as it matters how I teach them. By loosening my grip on what I've written in my fancy little lesson plan book, and following where my son's interests lead him, I'm giving him something infinitely more valuable than just the subject knowledge and skill of whatever we might be studying. I'm giving him a thirst for more knowledge and skills. That's a gift that will carry our kids further than we can imagine.

Lighting the fire in your child that fuels a passion for learning is not a lesson you can plan in even the fanciest of lesson planning books, I'm discovering. But here are some things I'm figuring out as I go:

- Having a plan of some kind is a good place to start. When I was completely unintentional last year, we didn't do much of any meaningful learning and exploring. Planning something gets us going in some kind of direction, and gives my son's imagination and curiosity a place to launch from.

- Start with something you know your child is interested in. My son had been asking to watch dinosaur shows on Netflix a lot recently, so that was our first "unit." We checked out tons of dinosaur books from the library, we've been learning all kinds of things about dinosaurs, and we've been creating fun dinosaur projects.

- Be flexible. I had planned some more dinosaur projects for today, to continue with our unit. So we went on a walk to gather sticks for "dinosaur skeletons." My son suggested that we could use the sticks to make letters of the alphabet. "What a great idea!" I told him. When we got home he didn't even care about making dinosaur skeletons anymore, so we just made letters and words with our sticks! Perfect!

- Read, read, read. Reading stimulates curiosity. Take them to the library and ask, "What should we read about this week? What kind of books do you want to get?" If they don't know, offer up some suggestions. "Hey, you've been asking a lot of questions about the solar system, do you want to get some books to read about that?"

- Use current events in the news, or events from your child's own life to spark curiosity. Maybe you want to learn more about Mars, maybe your family just got a new dog and you want to learn more about how to care for it. Draw those important connections between reading and learning and your child's own life!

- Validate your child's ideas and interests. By letting your child direct what you read about and explore together, you are letting them know that those things are worthwhile. You will be building your child's self-esteem and encouraging them to ask more questions, explore more topics, and find new interests. I love to see my son's face light up when he suggests an idea and I get excited about it with him. When we've spent time doing activities that he had the idea for, it makes him beam! And that makes me beam!

What topics has your child been interested in exploring lately?