On the first day of school I always take my class on a little walk around the classroom to show them where everything is. At the writing center I stop at this mailbox.
I have the little flag up and a child usually notices and says there must be mail inside – if they don’t, I point it out. I open it up and inside there is a handwritten letter from Rosco saying that he came to visit our classroom, and that he loves alphabet letters, and he will be back. It is signed with a dog paw print stamp. Of course the children have never seen Rosco so they start guessing what kind of animal left the paw print.
The following day when the kids come – or after lunch the same day – there is another letter saying that he loves reading the alphabet letters in our classroom, and he’s sorry he missed us again.
I put several letters in the mailbox over the first few days. Finally I lead the children to decide to go on a hunt around the building to see if anyone else has seen Rosco or knows who he is. I know some people do a gingerbread man hunt – this is similar. We go around the building – the office, music room, gym, library, etc. asking if anyone has seen Rosco or knows about him. Of course we run into children that I have had in the past and they are very excited. We end up in the Media Center and find little blank books that Rosco left for us to write alphabet letters in.
The next day when the kids are at whole group time I stop and say “Did you hear that?” The kids get really quiet. I walk a little and pretend to listen and say “I think I hear something!” Right away kids usually start saying they do too and someone usually guesses it might be Rosco. I used to keep him in a cupboard, now I have a puppet castle for my teaching puppets. I go around listening and finally tell the kids that I think the noise is coming from the castle. I open it a tiny bit and slam it shut. The kids love it when I get more dramatic. I tell them they won’t believe what is in there! Finally I bring Rosco out – already on my arm.
Rosco was one of my first teaching puppets and I really love him. He goes all the way up my arm and has a great, easy to use mouth with a suede red tongue. At the beginning I was not as comfortable using puppets and never gave Rosco a voice, he just whispers to me – I did get over that and most other puppets do talk.
There is a lot of discussion and controversy about the correct order to present the alphabet to children. I understand all the valid reasons different programs present, but I chose to present the letters in alphabetical order. My main reason is that I believe children need to build on previous learning. In my district, most children come to school singing the alphabet song – or most of it – even if they don’t recognize letters. Also I wanted them to be able to think about what comes next – so alphabetical order worked for me.
The first day Rosco actually visited he brought an apple, and I had prepared a tray with small cut up pieces of apples to give each child a taste. He also had a construction paper capital A in his mouth. I found alphabet stamps that had the lower case letter and a picture stamp for each letter. I stamped the lower case letter on the paper A, and had parent helpers precut one for each child. We had an Ellison die cut machine, but we hand cut these because I wanted a very tactile friendly (?) shape for the children to handle.
Rosco went around the circle and gave each child a bite of apple and I asked why he brought an apple and an A and children always shouted that apple starts with A. Then I asked all the children to stand up on the circle. I sat in my chair and the children walked by me, as they got to me Rosco licked their cheek with his rough tongue and handed them a paper A. I stopped when I got to a child who’s name began with A and Rosco whispered to me and then licked that child twice! The kids loved it. I told them if they did not want to be licked to just say “No thank you,” and Rosco just handed them a paper letter.
After that I just put Rosco back in the castle and the kids put the paper A’s away. Then I showed the children how to make a sign language A. I loved exposing children to sign language, it provided a challenge for children who already knew letters and was great for fine motor dexterity.
It only took a few minutes. Depending on the group of children and how quickly I wanted to go, sometimes I would do one letter right before lunch, and another at the end of the afternoon – so it only took 2-3 weeks to go through the whole alphabet. I sent home this letter to parents:
The second day Rosco brought a ball. Before we got him out of the castle we talked about how we ate apple for A. I asked the children what they had done with their paper A’s and called on a few. I showed them that I put my A on the wall, along with the names of the children in our room who begin with A.
We talked about who would get 2 licks. Then I said I thought it would be fun to change everyone’s name to start with B. I didn’t start this the first day because vowels make it more difficult. So Rosco came out and bounced the ball to each child – one at a time. Then they walked around the circle past Rosco and I, and he gave them a B – changed their name to start with B (Began for Megan, Bustin for Justin, etc.) and licked them – giving 2 licks to kids who actually started with B. I loved playing with their names like this and soon children began changing their own names – an easy way to include phonemic awareness.
One of the letters I left before they met Rosco invited the children to write to Rosco, and promised to answer their letters. Usually only one or two children made an attempt to write before they actually met Rosco, but they eventually wrote to him a lot. They had to include alphabet letters and their name – not just a drawing because Rosco loves letters. In order to answer them easily I created a bunch of little form notes – probably about 5 different sheets like this:
Here are a few more:
I just run them off on different colored paper and cut them apart – it only takes a second to write the child’s name, stamp a paw print and put it in their mailbox, but it is very motivating! When kids start seeing other children get these notes lots of kids start to write to Rosco.
Here are some other materials you might be interested in.
What I did each day with Rosco was always determined by these stamps. That way when the children took it home, it gave the parents an opportunity to talk with their child, and helped them remember what we did.
I also sent home the sign language chart for parents.
We talked about how we could get Rosco to come out of the castle each day. I reminded the children how much he loves alphabet letters so we would sing the alphabet song (building on prior knowledge) but STOP before we said the letter we would receive from him that day. That made the children stop and think about each letter as we were singing it. We also went back to the letter A and talked about what we did for each letter – we ate apples for A, bounced a ball for B, played catch the cow for C, drag the dog for D, etc.
I loved this so much because it used so many learning modalities – kinesthetic, visual, auditory, tactile… and it was fun and engaging for all kids whether they knew letters already or not. Over the years many parents told me how they used the letters I sent home creatively to decorate their basement or child’s room.
Although my primary teaching objective was upper case alphabet recognition, other children were picking up the lower case letter stamped on the paper A, or thinking about sounds through the activity we did, being exposed to phonemic awareness through changing names, being motivated to write for a reason in the letters to Rosco, or learning sign language. All children were engaged, having fun, and learning at their own level.
I kept putting up the paper letters and children’s names as we went through the alphabet. After all letters were on the wall we learned to sing the alphabet backward – the kids loved that too – and in order to do it they had to really look at and remember the name of each letter.