The Main Idea

I have been having so much fun volunteering in my grandson’s First Grade classroom this year.  I get to work with small groups of children during Reader’s Workshop, and I love it.  Over the last few weeks I noticed that several groups of children have trouble identifying the main idea of a text.  This week I spent some time researching on Pinterest and other wonderful sites for helpful ideas.  I found that many of the lessons available to teach Main Idea deal with informational text.  There are wonderful posts if you are working on this, but I was trying to help these students find the main idea in stories.


I found lots of examples of this fun idea!

Collect a few objects that all relate to one idea and put them into a bag.  Take them out one at a time and ask the children to figure out the main idea of the bag.

The main idea might be a farm:


Or the main idea might be school tools


Or it could be baking cookies:


I would take out the least obvious thing first, building up to the thing that will give the children the biggest clue.  For example,  with the farm idea I would start with the fence, and save the farmer for the last item I showed the children.  For the school bag I would pull out a crayon or pencil first, and save the school bus for the very last thing.

I think this activity would be helpful by giving the children practice in thinking about what all the items have in common.  The items in the bag are the details that all go together to tell the main idea.

When the students get the idea of this activity I might add a writing component.


I printed these 2 on a sheet to save paper!  It is pretty straight forward and simple.  The children would list a few of the items and the main idea of the bag.  For the final sentence I would expect the children to write something like “all these things belong on a farm,” or “you use all these things to bake cookies.”   Part of the reason I like this activity is because it does make it seem very simple to figure out the main idea – it kind of takes the mystery out of it, although of course it gets a bit more tricky when they are looking for the main idea of a story.

Here are a few more ideas for Main Idea Bags:



Suggestions  3

A similar idea that could be used to introduce Main Idea is to show the children an illustration and asking “What is the most important thing going on in this picture?”

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For this illustration the children might say “the animals are at a circus,”  or “the animals are in the circus.”  Then you could ask what they see that gives them that idea.  This gives them practice determining the main idea and identifying supporting details.

You could begin with a very simple picture that clearly shows the main idea.
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And also show them some pictures that they will need to think a bit – I love this illustration from Lorinda Bryan Cauley’s book Clap Your Hands, where the characters are all whispering secrets!

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Of course you would need to be clear that you are only talking about the main idea of that picture, and for the main idea of a book you have to look at the whole book.

It might be helpful to use photographs – even photos taken in your classroom.

Here is a writing activity that could be used with looking at illustrations to find the main idea.

illustration writing



I intentionally did not crop this photo.  I would expect the children to see that the main idea is the children driving vehicles down the ramp.  They might talk about things they see like the Christmas stockings, the Dad sitting on the floor and the edge of the Frozen Castle.  This would be great practice in talking about how to figure out what is the most important part.  There are often details that are not important and the children need to be able to figure that out.   I would discuss which details support the main idea.  If I used the writing activity with this photograph I would explain that the details they list should be things that help them know the most important part of the picture.

Two Words

I came across another idea that I thought might help children think about the main idea.  The basic idea of this strategy is to challenge the children to tell a story using 2 words.  For example, they might say “fell-playground,” and the story they are telling would be about an accident at recess.   “Bike-park” might be about riding their bike at a park.  “Grandma-cookies” might be about baking with their grandmother.  I would discuss how the 2 words they chose tell the main idea of their story.

One teacher asked her children to write a 2 word story about what they did over the weekend.  You could have them write on small pieces of paper, then collect them and draw one out at a time and ask the children to tell the details of their story.

You could also have the children share their 2 word story with a partner, first reading their 2 words, then adding the details.

Tomorrow is my day to volunteer in Owen’s room!  Maybe I’ll get a chance to try out a few of these ideas!



Christmas Crafts!

We had a fun craft day at Nana’s house today!  In case you are looking for a few festive ways to interact with your little ones and create keepsakes and memories, I thought I would share a few!



This was probably my favorite from today!  I sent some recent photos to Costco and had them enlarged to 8 x 10.  After trimming each face I glued it onto posterboard.  The kids added gold hand print antlers, red noses, and their signatures!  They are precious!  Trying this with the 2 and 3 year old tomorrow!


I found these empty bulb shaped ornaments at a craft store.  The kids filled them with glitter pom poms, curled ribbons, small pieces of scrapbook paper, sparkly pipe cleaners and foam cubes with letters on them.


I bought these red chargers at Dollar Tree.  Regular acrylic paint worked great to make the reindeer handprint.  The kids added black feet with their pointer finger in paint, and the face and antlers with a Sharpie.  I think I might go over the Sharpie writing with glitter glue to make the black show up a little better.  Also maybe a thumbprint tail?  The kids used a small circle sponge in white paint to make the dots.


Each child took 3 tongue depressors (wider than popsicle sticks) and glued them together at the corners.  The trunks are brown posterboard that I put through my crinkle machine.



Then they painted the “trees” green.  After they dried the kids added buttons and foam stars on top.



You might have seen these thumbprint reindeer.  We made individual ones for each child, but I wanted one with all 5 grandchildren on it.  I started with a clear ornament and coated the inside with white paint.  Details were done with a Sharpie.


Equal parts cinnamon (from a dollar store!) and applesauce makes a wonderful dough.  After cutting out the shapes I used a straw to make a hole so these ornaments can hang on a tree.  They take a couple of days to air dry.  I borrowed this photo from Pinterest because I didn’t have one of my own.


I used to make these as parent gifts on white muslin fabric when I was teaching Kindergarten.  I sewed a casing at the top and hung it from a small dowel.  So cute!

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These handprint snowmen have gotten very popular.  You just paint the child’s whole hand white, then hand them an ornament and help them gently close their hand so each fingerprint can become a snowman.  After the paint is dry details can be added with Sharpies.



Another photo that I borrowed from Pinterest, but I loved doing this craft with my Kindergartners too.  I used to print them on light blue paper, then laminate them.  Instead of drawing on the eyes we used to glue on jiggly eyes and a real pom pom on the hat.

It was a really fun day, making Christmas memories with my grandchildren.  Owen really loved the crinkle machine.  He left this crinkled sign on my door before he went home.


Super Heroes!

The Commerce Township Library started off their summer reading program with a really fun Super Heroes Day!



There were lots of fun activities and projects.


They provided precut masks that were cut out of different colors of thin foam sheets.  Small holes were punched on each side and elastic string was tied onto each hole to hold the mask on.  Lots of great materials were provided to decorate the masks – stickers, foam stickers, markers – but the FAVORITE was glitter glue!

Fist jpg

The kids loved putting on these “HULK” type gloves and crashing through cardboard blocks and large Legos.

They were also invited to draw any type of Super Hero they wanted to.  Anna drew Super Blue-y – based on her favorite stuffed dog.



I loved these capes made from brown paper grocery bags.  These were also precut in a simple cape shape and ribbon ties were attached at the top.  Larger stickers were provided, along with markers and more glitter glue!


I’m always happy when they include movement activities in the fun.  They taped and tied red string in a crisscross design to make a pretend laser course for the kids to crawl through.  Another fun detail was the Super Hero duct tape they used to hold the string in place!

Thanks Commerce Library, for another great day!

Tying Shoes!

Years ago we used to practice tying shoes in Kindergarten..  That just doesn’t happen any more.  Between large class sizes, increased curriculum, and the prevalence of velcro fasteners it is no longer a priority.  I used to encourage children to tie, and to help tie each other’s shoes.  I had a ‘Shoe Tying Experts’ board displaying the names of those who could tie (and who could help someone else!)  We celebrated when someone mastered the skill.  But still there were many kindergartners who needed help.  Shoe tying is really a one on one skill to teach anyway.

Yesterday Owen’s teacher showed me a new, easy way to tie shoes!  I have always been a  ‘make a loop and wrap the other lace around it’ kind of girl, but I did know about the two bunny ear method.  This new technique is an even easier way to use those bunny ear loops!

The first step is to pull the laces OUT of the top hole on each side of the shoe.


Next take the end of the shoelace and push it into the top hole from the outside.  Just stick it in a little way.  Repeat on the other side so both laces are looped back into the inside of the shoe.


Now pick up the loop that was made on each side and cross them over, one on top of the other.  Leaving the ends of the laces inside the shoe.


Tuck the top loop under the bottom loop.  Hold the loops and pull them tight.


Now pick up the two new loops and cross one over the other again.  Once again tuck the top loop under the bottom loop


Pull the loops to tighten again.  This is much easier than when you tie in the conventional way because there is a bigger space to tuck the loop under after you tighten the loops the first time.


Straighten the loops – you need to turn them sideways a bit, and pull the ends out of the top holes.


Now your shoe is tied with a double “knot” that won’t come undone easily!   So unless you have a problem leaving your top eyelets empty – this might be a great way to teach the kids in your life how to tie!

Jack and the Beanstalk

One of my favorite things to do for Earth Week and Spring was to plant seeds and watch them grow.  Large lima beans work great for this, and before planting I always soaked beans in a small amount of water for a few hours, and allowed the children to investigate and explore them.  When the beans are softened it is easy to remove the seed coat, and to open them up and see the roots and shoots inside.  Here is a great recording sheet I found on Pinterest for the children to label the parts of a bean.


And of course studying beans leads so nicely into the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk!   I found another great idea on Pinterest that combines Jack and the Beanstalk and planting beans!


Here is a page of castles – the children could color them, add cotton balls or fiberfill clouds, then tape them onto pencils or straws and push them into the cup where they planted bean seeds.

castle project jpg

Fairy tales are a wonderful way to encourage children to retell stories.  It’s always fun to read lots of different versions, and then compare and contrast them, but I love just telling fairy tales first.   It is always great to have pictures to use on a magnet or flannel board.

jack-beanstalk-flannel-board (1)


jack-beanstalk-flannel-board 3

Thanks to pre-kpages and Scrappin Doodles for these images!

Here is a link to a simplified version of Jack and the Beanstalk that I liked to tell.

Story copy

I also love to have the children act out stories, here are some pictures of the characters you could use for headbands or necklaces.

Characters 1

Characters 2

Here are some pictures that could be used for sequencing or retelling the story too.

sequence  You might put these pictures onto writing paper, and ask the children to write a sentence about what is happening in each picture.

story pics

My grandson in Kindergarten this year has been learning about persuasive writing.  I thought it would be fun for the children to discuss and write about whether Jack was right or wrong to take the hen and magic harp from the giant.


Here are some giant footprints.  They could be copied onto construction paper or cardstock and tied onto the children’s feet to retell the story, or they could just be cut out and used to measure things or distances in the classroom.

Giant feet


I hope you have a great time celebrating Spring and loving the earth!

Shh! We Have A Plan!


A friend blessed me with a wonderful new picture book by an author who was unfamiliar to me.  Shh!  We Have A Plan by Chris Haughton is an adorable simple story with remarkable illustrations.  Right away I started to think about how I would have used this book in Kindergarten.

The basic story is how 4 friends were walking in the woods, trying to catch a bird, and each character had a different plan.  This is a wonderful picture book for young children to “read” to themselves because the pictures easily portray the story.  There are only a few words on each page, many of them common sight words, and there are repetitive phrases throughout the story.

Because of the simple text and repetitive phrases I thought this would be a fun story for the children to act out.  Here are some simple pictures of the characters that could be stapled on headbands, mounted on a dowel, or worn on a string around the children’s necks.



The 3 largest friends say “LOOK!  A bird!”  The smallest guy says “hello birdie”

Then the larger 3 people say “shh  SHH!  We have a plan.

ready one, ready two, ready three… GO!

These phrases are repeated through the book.  There are also simple motions:  tiptoe slowly, climbing slowly, paddling slowly; that the children could act out.


This book would be great for teaching simple inferences – what time of day do you think it is?  What do you think he plans to do?  The plans concocted by the characters are shown by the illustrations, not by the text.  They can tell why the characters are holding nets.  In general the text does not tell what is going on, the reader relies on pictures.

This book also encourages children to draw on their prior knowledge – they can identify the bird cage, ladder and log that are used, but not named, to try to capture the bird.  They will recognize that the character holding up an open palm is gesturing the others to stop.

Another way to retell this story would be a simple cut and paste activity that focuses on beginning, middle and end – or problem, events and resolution.

Sequencing sheet

Sequencing pics

There are 2 sets of pictures on this page, each child only needs one of each item.

The fun ending of this book lends itself to the idea of a circle story, or coming up with new plans!

Catch squirrel


My favorite  part of this book is that the smallest friend had the best idea – he kept repeating it, did not get involved in the other characters plans, and in the end his plan worked very well.  I think this could lead to some great discussions about how everyone has important ideas, and listening to each person, and valuing their contribution is important.  We might discuss that although that character appeared younger and smaller than his friends, he still had the best plan.

On his website Chris Haughton provides some coloring pages and activities as well.



I especially like this page full of bird parts.  Children can choose different pieces to put together and design their own beautiful bird – or they could just draw or cut and paste their own creation!




My grandchildren loved hearing the story – we had to read it 3 times right away!  I hope you love it too!  Can’t wait to read the other books  by Chris Haughton.


The Pigeon Party!


Our family spent another fun evening at Commerce Township Community Library celebrating the Pigeon, and other favorite Mo Willems characters.  If somehow you haven’t met and fallen in love with these books, take some time to look at them.  All of my grandchildren love them, from 15 month old Max to 6 year old Owen; and I know they will keep enjoying them for a long time.


Here are a few that were on display at the Pigeon Party.  Our favorites are probably Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Knuffle Bunny, but we haven’t read them all either!

They began the special evening by reading a Mo Willems book and giving the children a chance to try out some special dances:  Piggie Jiggle, Twist and Snout, Air Piggie, Shakin’ Bacon, Happy Hooves, Elephant Slide, The Shy Guy, The Funky Trunky, Jumbo Gumbo, and Rob-Gerald 3000.

After dancing the families were free to explore all the great centers that were set up around the room.

Paper bag puppets

The kids loved making paper bag puppets, they could choose either the Elephant or Piggie.

pig puppet


elephant puppet


Duckling They had fun pretending to be the duckling or the pigeon trying to “eat” a cookie.  The head with an eye was glued onto a spring clothespin and the children counted how many pom poms they could pick up.  Some of the pom poms were decorated to look like chocolate chips – or nuts?

Knufflebunny pics

The illustrations in the book Knufflebunny, and Knufflebunny too are photographs with the characters drawn into the scenes.  For this activity the children chose a large photograph and colored and glued on any characters they liked.  There were lots of background photos to choose from, as well as a whole bunch of characters.


Bird on head

The children enjoyed trying to walk carrying a paper nest filled with plastic eggs on their heads.  I am not sure which book this is from!  I need to check it out!

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This Mad Lib activity was great for the school aged children who attended.  Even the little ones could make suggestions to fill in the blanks.

Elephant and Piggy

I loved seeing what all my grandchildren drew and wrote in their cartoons.

Let's Draw the Pigeon


elephant  drawing



The children had fun making play dough clothes to cover up the Naked Mole Rat!

Mole rat

There are lots of wonderful ideas for extensions of more Mo Willems books on Pinterest, and also on Mo Willems’ website.  Thanks again Commerce Library!




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