Most of you are probably familiar with the Starfall program, if you haven’t seen it, please go to Starfall.com and check it out. Here is a little history of how I began using this program. I taught half time Kindergarten for many years, then my district made the choice to change to all day/alternate day Kindergarten. This was still a half time program but the children would come Monday, half of Wednesday, and Thursday OR Tuesday, half of Wednesday, and Friday. It was still half time Kindergarten but the children got the experience of having lunch at school, and riding the bus with older siblings both morning and afternoon. I was not a fan. Especially at the beginning of the year, the children were very tired in the afternoon. We needed to fill every minute they were at school with meaningful activities because the next day they wouldn’t be there! If a child was absent, he essentially missed 2 days of school. Another issue was that families sometimes failed to develop a school routine, they would often allow children to stay up late because the next day was not a school day and they could sleep in. But then they weren’t ready for bed that evening so they didn’t get to bed early enough on school days either.
(Sorry – this is turning into a long story!) After teaching all day/alternate day for a couple of years the district dropped the half day so the children would come 2 days one week, 3 days the next week. That was when I did a little research on full time Kindergarten, and provided statistics on what was being done in our county, then I wrote a proposal to teach a fee based full time program, that was officially called half time Kindergarten and half time childcare. It was great!!! Of course it was unfair because parents who couldn’t afford it were unable to send their children full time, but for me it was wonderful. The childcare portion of my day was licensed by social services, who limited my class size to 24 children AND required me to have a paraprofessional aide for that portion of the day because they have a 1:12 ratio for childcare in our state! So not only did I have fewer children – I also had a half time aide.
I chose to call my mornings the childcare portion of my day, so I would have the parapro when the children were the most fresh and could do their best work. The afternoons were lower key and I did extension activities, because the curriculum was exactly the same as for the half time classes. We all know that it really takes full time Kindergarten to cover all the benchmarks anyway.
That first year I was the only teacher in our district teaching this program, so I really had freedom to choose how to run the full day, and what to do. I found that the children were going through the curriculum faster than they had with half days (duh!). By January all of my class was confident with letters and sounds, and were ready for more. We were using Writer’s Workshop but this was before Reader’s Workshop was around. I had very strong feelings that I did not want my classroom to look, sound or feel like first grade! That was when I found the Starfall website.
My favorite part of the Starfall program were the little books that are available to order. In the Starfall online store these are called cut apart/take home books. They cost 99 cents each if you order 20 or more. For that 99 cents you receive a set of 15 full color small books that you tear out, cut in half, fold and staple for each child.
The books are also available for free online – for the children to read on the computer or for you to print in black and white, but I loved having colored pictures for the children because it made them seem more like real books.
Here is a sample of one of the two pages of the first book:
Here is one of the books folded up.
What I liked about these little books was that they picked up right where the children were – they knew letters and sounds, had phonemic awareness and some sight words. We made tons of books in my class, but these books were not predictable, they were not a pattern, they really required the children to think about letters and sounds and all the reading strategies we had learned. The first 5 books concentrate on short vowel sounds – Zac the Rat uses short a, Peg the Hen uses e, etc. The next 5 feature long vowel sounds, starting with a – lots of chances to talk about silent e! The next book uses “Bossy R.” Then there is a book that uses 2 vowels together, I taught the old rhyme “When 2 vowels go a walking, the first one does the talking”. After that there is a book that features the Y sound at the end of a word. One warning is that each book is a step up from the preceding one, so it goes very quickly — the sentences get longer and more complex but I gave the children a lot of support and we read and reread them together.
I haven’t spent much time on the website in a long time, I’m not sure if they give you direction about how to use this program, but here is how I used these books. I had an Epson printer that was able to print sentence strips!! Everyone was jealous!! I typed the text of each of these books and each week I put the words to one of the books into a pocket chart. We read it together as a class. This gave us lots of practice pointing to each word, I could model thinking out loud about how to decode a new word, it was great reinforcement for our reading strategies and gave us lots of time to practice reading fluently – and what that really sounds like .
Sorry – the only picture I could find was before I knew I had a printer that would print sentence strips, so I just enlarged the font. I also cut apart one of the books and put the pictures next to the text. Sometimes I used a pointer and pointed to the text, sometimes I called on children to come up and use the pointer to point to each word.
This was actually the way I introduced retelling a story. Of course we had been retelling stories all year by talking about the beginning, middle and end, or story elements, or acting it out, or sequencing it, or telling our favorite parts, or lots of other ways. But when we were reading these Starfall books it looked and sounded just like retelling a DRA leveled book. I told the children that I was going to try to remember all the important parts of the book and tell it to them in my own words, and keep it in the right order. I turned my back to the pocket chart and told the story. Sometimes I forgot part and they loved to tell me! I kept one story in the pocket chart for a week and we read it at least twice a day, and I would choose children to retell it. On the website I also ordered one set of these books in a larger size, so sometimes I read it to them from a real book instead of from the pocket chart.
Then I would set aside time to pass out the books to the children and have them read the book to themselves, and then to me or my parapro.
Alas, all good things come to an end, after a few years our district went to full time Kindergarten and I lost my parapro, and increased my class size! By then we were also doing Reader’s Workshop, but I found that these books worked well incorporated in that too. I know that the children were all reading on different levels, but by reading and rereading these in the pocket chart the children gained a lot of confidence. It was much harder for me to sit and hear each child read individually, but they learned so much by reading with their partners!
Of course I included leveled books and the children got to choose books they were interested in too, but these Starfall books gave our class a chance to read together, reinforce reading strategies with our whole class, and all the children gained a lot of confidence in reading. We practiced what it meant to be a good reading partner, how to help a friend who was trying to figure out a word by reminding them of our reading strategies, and treating each other kindly even if someone was having a little more trouble reading.
Reading partners sometimes read the book together, sometimes one listened while the other read, sometimes they took turns reading a page. They also practiced retelling the story to each other. Then they got to take their book home! I liked to send home the books at the end of the week we had been practicing it, but sometimes I wanted to keep them in their reading folders for another week or so. I always ordered a few extra sets of the books so I would still have some in the classroom even after the children took them home. I sent home a letter telling the parents about how we were using these books and encouraging them to listen to their child read at home.
I did not have my classes use computers a lot in Kindergarten. I had 2 (outdated) computers and access to appropriate programs but I just valued so many other activities more than computers for my young children. We did go to the computer lab once a week, so everyone got exposure, and most of the children had computers at home. But the games and activities on Starfall are really good, and I did have children use them on our classroom computers sometimes. The website really offers a lot, take a look if you get a chance! There are worksheet pages that go along with these books too, I didn’t use them, but they go along with the skills that the children need to read these books.
I liked using these books but of course there is no substitute for great literature!