Thanks Miss Julie!

I had been looking for a library story time for Max.  The problem was that most nearby programs began at 11 a.m. and I had to pick up Max’s sister Nora from preschool at 11:30.  Finally I found a time that worked great at the West Acres Branch of the West Bloomfield (MI) library, and they allowed residents from nearby communities to join in!   I loved having this special opportunity for Max, and I was very grateful and impressed by Miss Julie – the story hour teacher.

This story time was special because Miss Julie has really mastered the art of presenting to preschoolers.  She understands early childhood development, she is always well prepared, and her enthusiasm and attitude make it so much fun for the children.

Each week there are between 25-30 children who attend this free program, along with their respective adults!  The little ones range in age from small babies to 4 year old preschoolers, with an occasional older sibling visiting too!   One of the challenges Miss Julie takes in stride is that this room also contains dramatic play equipment, built in along three sides of the room.  There are some children actively playing throughout story time, going back and forth between the program and playing.  There are many other disruptions, such as parents calling their child’s name across the room, phone conversations taking place within a few feet of Julie reading a story, upset toddlers and babies… but Miss Julie just smiles and goes on with her program.

Because Julie understands that young children need consistency and feel secure when they know what to expect, she has a basic format that she uses each week.  She begins the program by encouraging the children to move around and stretch different parts of their body – that also helps them develop self and body awareness.  Then she sings/chants a simple tune:

Come on everybody clap your hands, come on everybody clap your hands

Come on everybody cause we’re gonna read a story, come on everybody clap your hands.

Then she changes it to stomp your feet, pat your knees, wiggle your body, etc. and the final verse is:

Come on everybody take a seat, come on everybody take a seat,

Come on everybody cause we’re gonna read a story, come on everybody take a seat.

Julie uses a wonderful combination of noticing individual children, acknowledging those who blurt out or come up very close to her, and ignoring disruptive behaviors.   Some parents sit on the floor with their kids, others sit in small chairs or stand next to tiny babies in strollers.  Some children are very attentive and follow every move and direction, some come and go, others seem oblivious of the fact that a program is going on in the room.  With so many children and adults in the room, what could be chaotic and unmanageable just seems to work out okay.

Each week Julie has a theme and choses an appropriate story, movement songs and a simple craft that all tie together.  She usually has at least two books that go along with the theme, but often only reads one with the group.  Sometimes she is able to sit down and read to the group, but occasionally she has to stand up to read, carefully holding the book so the children can enjoy the pictures.  Her voice is strong and loud enough for the children to hear without sounding like she is yelling over the crowd.  Her enthusiasm and inflection make listening to the story fun for the children.

What impressed me the most from the first time I brought Max to this story time is how well Julie manages transitions.  After releasing their wiggles, the introductory song ends with the children sitting down ready to hear the story.  She often follows the story by passing out finger puppets that encourage the children to interact in a thematic song.

Sometimes she uses recorded songs for the children to sing along and dance, other times she just plays and sings with them without music.  Her use of technology is seamless – she prepares a playlist on her phone or iPod and simply presses the button to play the next song on a reliable, small speaker.  I never saw her take any time away from the children to find the song or materials she needs – her preparation and organization are remarkable.

I also appreciated the wonderful materials the library made available for these preschool story hours.  I especially loved the amazing variety of finger puppets they shared; and they always had enough for every child.   She always has all the materials she plans to use organized and close at hand.  The first time I took Max I thought he would cry when it was time to give the finger puppet back, but she had the children trade in the puppets for scarves (or rhythm sticks, or another play prop).

Julie gives the children opportunities to follow directions with the materials she shares.  She uses concepts like fast and slow, quiet and loud, up high and down low, as she plays along with the children.  Sometimes she encourages them to make letters by holding the two rhythm sticks in the shape of a V or a T.  The music and songs she uses go along with the weekly theme.  Sometimes she adapts a familiar song to go along with her theme – like instead of 5 Little Monkeys swinging in a tree – 5 Little Fish swimming in the ocean, along came a shark… hungry as can be!

The last thing she passes out to the group every week is small bottles of spill proof bubbles that must need to be refilled often!

After a few minutes of enjoying the bubbles and songs she encourages the children to return the bubbles by singing their good bye song.

“We had some fun and now we’re done!  Good bye!  Good bye!”   Of course you could use any good bye song you like, but it is a clear, friendly signal that story time is over.   Following that the children go out into the main part of the library where materials are organized and available on tables to make a simple thematic craft.

Julie circulates around the room and stops to notice the colors or techniques children are using, and appreciating their effort.

Attending story time each week has been a highlight for Max!  He calls it Story School and always gets excited when Friday comes along.  I just wanted to tell Miss Julie thank you… Max loved it!



Back to School – with a special GIVE AWAY!

Welcome copy

I LOVE DJ Inkers clipart and fonts!  When I was teaching I was often known as the Queen of clipart!  I loved to use different fonts and add fun clipart to everything I printed.  All of the clipart in this post – in fact most of the clipart I have used in my whole blog has been from DJ Inkers.  I also have an embarrassing amount of fun fonts, and my favorites are from DJ Inkers!

DJ Inkers has a brand new website with LOTS of fun smiles for Back to School!  Here is a link so you can check it out!

I have been having fun with one of their most popular clipart sets – Kidllywinks – and I have made a few things for the beginning of the school year.  The BEST part is that DJ Inkers is going to let me GIVE AWAY this amazing clipart set to one of my readers!  So exciting!

In order to be part of this raffle to win a Kidillywinks clipart set, you have to do a few things:

1) Follow one of DJ Inker’s boards on pinterest

2) Like DJ Inkers on facebook

3) Join one of DJ Inker’s email newsletter lists.

 You can enter the raffle by clicking here!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please leave a comment about how you would use this clipart too!

The winner will be chosen on August 2, 2016!

I am so excited to be able to share this chance with you, I hope you all take the time to check out DJ Inkers and subscribe to their newsletter.  They have FREEBIES every month!

Here are a few examples of things I’ve made using Kidillywinks clipart!
Daily schedule Kdg

This is a sample Kindergarten schedule.  Parents often ask for a general idea of how the day will go, and it’s a lot cuter with the clipart!

I used to ask the children to draw a self portrait on the first day of school.

First day


You are probably familiar with this beehive rhyme.  I made this easy, fun project using Kidillywinks clipart too!  I like this simple project because although it is very easy, it gives you a chance to observe the children’s cutting skills and they can practice counting forward and backward.  In my classes the kids always had a wide range of previous experience and expertise in academic stuff.  I also liked doing some fun, simple projects to help the children relax and gain confidence in those first long days of school.

hive poem


I just printed out the beehive and bees, then I taped a fold and tuck baggie onto the back of the beehive.


Just for fun I cut the door so it would open and you can see the bees inside the beehive.


Here is the master

revised hive

I used to make a lot of simple board games for the children to play at centers.  Playing games is such a good way to encourage taking turns and cooperating.  Moving a game piece requires one to one correspondence, using dice or spinners gives practice recognizing numerals or standard configuration of dots.  It always made me smile that I could give the kids the exact same game with different clipart on it and it seemed like a new game!  Here is a sample of a simple board I liked to use.

blank 3

Here is it with some Kidillywinks back to school clipart added.

Blank school gameboard

This game reinforces naming shapes.

Shape gameboard

Adding Kidillywinks fall clipart makes it fun to name letters!

Letter gameboard

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your summer!

Good luck on the raffle!





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.


Pete the Cat


We got to meet Pete the Cat!

Commerce Township Community Library hosted another fun evening event, this time our activities were all about Pete!  We started out listening to Pete the Cat:  I Love My White Shoes, by James Dean and Eric Litwin.  If there is anyone out there who is not familiar with this set of books, please  check them out.  I still like the first two best, and our activities featured the White Shoes and Four Groovy Buttons.  After the story we were free to visit the stations that were set up around the community room.  I really appreciate all the work, and thought that goes into setting up and organizing these special evenings.  They carefully think through the details and that makes everything go so smoothly.


Our first stop was this center where we acted out the story by stepping into “a large pile of strawberries!”  and continued around the circle until our shoes were white again, even though they were wet – and it was all good!  It was fun to hear the children using the language from the book – even 19 month old Nora chants off “Goodness no!”



Next we did the color ring toss.  the rings were painted paper plates, with a hole cut in the center.  We tossed them over painted paper towel tubes that were held upright on another plate.   I called the paper plates “buttons.”  They did a lot of rolling away!



Next the children made Pete the Cat hats.  All the crafts and games were fun and appropriate for the age range of the children who attended.  As soon as our kids put on their hats they ran over to Pete who was walking around the room, to show him what they had made.




Next we made Pete the Cat stick puppets.


I had not seen glue bottles like this before.  They have a small brush attached to the lid, and they worked pretty well, but the glue bottles have to be more than half full.  In my classroom I was always looking for the best way to glue!




There was a good selection of Pete the Cat books to read, along with a few other fun cat books.


This was a fun button race game.  We played it on a magnet board, there were two rows of colored buttons – one along each side of the board.  Each player took a Pete marker and began at the bottom.  Then we took turns rolling the special die.  We would land on a colored button or a message that told us we had to go back, or take an extra turn.  The player reaching the top button first won!  This could easily be a table game too.



I found the picture of Pete the Cat online and put 6 on a page.  I thought they would be great to put on popsicle sticks as pointers too!

Pete pointers 


This was all organized so nicely!


And the kids loved it!

It was such a fun time.  There are lots and lots of Pete the Cat activities on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers.

Harper Collins offers some wonderful bonuses too!  At‎   you can download 5 of the songs that go with the books, and one video – for FREE!  I have White Shoes and Groovy Buttons on my phone and my grandchildren love to listen to them in the car.  Basically the song downloads are read alouds of the entire books.images-5

When I was searching online I found these Pete the Cat images that would be fun to use in lots of ways.  Children could color their shoes different colors, or make a board game similar to the floor game we played.  These cats could be glued onto folded paper to make stand up game markers.  Here is another activity I came across.  You might even make a graph showing which shoe color is the most popular with your children.




Another idea I came across was to ask the children to write about where their button might roll, if it popped off.


Thank you Commerce Library, and thanks Pete!



More Fun with Nursery Rhymes!

Nora is exploring Nursery Rhymes!  At 18 months she loves to play with some plastic Humpty Dumpty and Old Woman in the Shoe toys.  She has no concern about memorization or rhyming – she just loves to manipulate the toys and yell out “Humpy Dumpy!”  But I know that she is developing essential language skills when she explores the rhythm and patterns of these rhymes.   She is gaining phonemic awareness as she plays with words, she is learning vocabulary when I explain words like broth, fleece, fiddle and curds and whey.   She is starting to sing some of the rhymes and she echoes the inflection of our voices as we emphasize different parts of the rhymes.  Nursery Rhymes are part of our culture and I think it is important for children to experience them.  In Kindergarten these rhymes can be used to enhance early reading skills in lots of ways.

One of my favorite ways to use Nursery Rhymes was to retell them.  Each rhyme is really a miniature story that children can act out, sing or retell from memory.  They gain confidence in retelling when they are repeating something they are so familiar with.  I was very excited to find some wonderful clipart images of Nursery Rhymes on my Kidoodlez Early Years CD.   Most of the pictures I am sharing are from this CD, please visit them at

Here are some pictures of the characters from a variety of rhymes that could be used as necklaces or stapled onto headbands.  When the children act out these short rhymes they are speaking, listening and moving.  Because they are so short it is easy to take turns and let lots of children actively participate.

HumptyThe child playing Humpty Dumpty could sit on a low table or stool, then “fall” off!



MuffetA stool could be used as a tuffet., along with a bowl and spoon for the curds and whey!

JackJill The children could hold onto a bucket and pretend to climb up a hill,


You could draw a large shoe shape on paper for all the children to try to fit into!


For this retelling I would put moveable hands on the clock so the children can turn the hands and point to 1:00.

Hey Diddle

Hey Diddle 2 Of course the cow would need a moon made from something like yellow construction paper to jump over!

Boy Blue

Boy Blue 2

It would be fun if they had a real horn to blow, and you could cut out some corn for the corn field and flowers for the meadow!  The haystack could be taped onto a chair and Little Boy Blue could “sleep” behind it. 

NimbleI had an antique looking metal candle holder that we used with this rhyme.  As each child jumped over we changed the rhyme to include his or her name.  “Owen be nimble, Owen be quick!”

You could also make stick puppets with these characters by taping them onto paint sticks or tongue depressors.

I also created some small stand up figures to go along with each Nursery Rhyme.  You could run these off as they are, or cut them apart and use them as stick puppets too!   Children can manipulate these figures as they retell the rhyme.

Humpty Dumpty


Here is Humpty’s wall along with the haystack from Little Boy Blue.

wall haystack

Little Boy Blue 

Boy blue

Old Mother Hubbard 

Mother hub

cupboard hill 

Jack and Jill

Jack Jill

Jack Be Nimble


Little Miss Muffet

Muffet spider 

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mary Lamb 

Hey Diddle Diddle


Diddle 2 

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe

woman shoe

Tuffet shoe

Here is an example of the stand up figures from Little Boy Blue.


I did a bit of cut and pasting to make pictures that the children could cut out and put together in the right sequence.  Using these pictures would also be helpful for kids learning the rhymes.

Mary Lamb sequence

Little boy blue seq

Humpty Dumpty Sequence 

I also used this great clipart from DJ Inkers to make a couple of  rebus stories for the children to read. 


Humpty rebus 

Mother Hubbard rebus 

Nursery Rhymes provide great practice with concepts about print, one to one word correspondence and early reading.  Because the children sing and memorize these rhymes most of them are successful “reading” them.  I loved putting the words into a pocket chart or posting a large copy of the rhymes on the wall for children to read.  I put together this sheet of characters that could be taped onto tongue depressors or popsicle sticks to make reading pointers.  Great for reading the room! 

Nursery rhyme pointers


I was thinking that I would also like  to keep a set of these sticks in a can at circle time.  It would be fun to have a child pull out a rhyme for the class to remember and recite when you have a few minutes to fill.


Here is a die I made that you could use to reinforce the rhymes or put at a center.  You could run this off on cardstock and tape it together.  When I wanted to make a cube that was more sturdy I got 2 empty milk cartons from the school cafeteria.  I cut them off so they were square cubes, and pushed one inside the other.  Then you could cover it with paper or contact paper, or just glue the pictures onto each side.  These milk carton cubes are almost indestructible!


I also made this little board game as another opportunity to practice the rhymes.  The children could use buttons or coins as markers, and a spinner or die.

Board game 

Here is another activity, the children need to identify which pictures are from the same Nursery Rhyme.  There are 2 pictures that go along with the first picture in each row.  The children cut them out and glue them on so there are 3 in a row from each different rhyme.

Matching game 2

Matching game 1 

I don’t really think that Nursery Rhymes are the best way to introduce or teach the skill of rhyming because there are really not very many rhyming words in these chants, and the rhymes are far apart.  But they can be good for reinforcing rhyming.   For this activity the children cut apart the pictures and find the 2 words that rhyme and then glue them next to each other on the recording sheet.

rhyming game 2

rhyming game 1

I found these small fold up books at Kidzone, please visit their site for more great ideas!






I hope you can use some of these ideas to have fun with Nursery Rhymes with the children in your life too!


Poems and Fingerplays

There are so many valid, important reasons to use a lot of poems and fingerplays with young children.  First of all, they are interactive and fun, they help get children’s attention and participation and keep them engaged.   Poems and fingerplays are also great ways to expose children to rhyming and new vocabulary.  Some fingerplays encourage counting, or counting backward.

We all know that different children learn through a variety of styles, and you can present poems and fingerplays different ways too.  Sometimes you might just chant off a poem, encouraging listening or echoing back; which is great for auditory learners.  You might add physical movements – whole body movements, or hand and finger movements as you recite the poems; that suits kinesthetic learners.  I also love acting out poems and nursery rhymes – or having 5 children stand up and sit down one at a time with a count down rhyme.

I found the easiest way to keep most children engaged and participating with simple poems and rhymes is to include pictures.  When you allow the children to hold and manipulate the pictures as you recite the poems you are incorporating auditory, visual and kinesthetic styles, and the kids love it!

One of my favorite sources for clipart is DJ Inkers.  If you are not familiar with their great products please check them out at  Most of the clipart I am sharing on this post are copyright by Dianne J. Hook.  I know you will love her pictures too!

photo 2 (7)

Here is a book I made for my grandchildren that holds pictures to go with a bunch of different rhymes.

photo 1 (10)

I printed off a copy of each poem and pictures to go along with them.  I bought a 1 1/2 inch binder and these clear plastic sleeves.  These probably would not hold up if a classroom of kids were taking the pictures in and out, but it works great for a family.  When I used these at school I laminated the pictures and kept each poem along with the pictures in a 9 x 13 inch manilla envelope.  For my grandchildren I put the poem into one plastic sleeve, and the cut out pictures into another.

photo 1 (6)

photo (19)

I cut small pieces of magnetic tape (from JoAnn’s or Michael’s) on the back of each piece.  If you are more comfortable with a flannelboard instead of a magnet board, you might put a small piece of sandpaper on the back of each piece and that works great too!

photo 3 (5)

You can use a large pan or cookie sheet as a magnet board too.

photo 2 (8)


Here is the cover I put into the clear cover on the outside of the binder.  I have made these books for several families and usually put the child’s name on the cover.

Here are some of the poems I included:

5 Little snomen fat

5 snowmen2

5 snowmen1

You could also laminate these pictures and call on 5 children to hold the snowmen.  I put the sun on a tongue depressor – or made a larger one on a paint stick.  When we recite the part that says “out came the sun and melted one” a child holding the sun touches the snowman, then we removed that snowman from the magnet board, or if kids were holding them – that child sat down.

We often made a project by folding paper to make a pocket and cutting out 5 snowmen and a sun.  The children could keep their snowmen in the “snow pocket” and act out the poem at home.

Five Monkeys



More monkeys



Five Green Frogs

frog pic1

frog pic2

Five Ducks

5 Duck pics


hive pic


Here are a few more poems that I enjoy doing with children, but I didn’t use pictures with these – we just did the motions!

Tommy Thumbs

Ten Fingers

Open shut

Grandma's glasses

Crackers and Crumbs

shapesI had songs about shapes that I shared on another post, and used these simple shapes to go along with those songs.

Coming soon – Nursery Rhymes!

Thank you to Dianne J. Hook and djinkers for allowing me to share their wonderful clipart, please respect their copyright.  They allow me to share these images because I do not charge for any of the things I share with you.  They do offer a license at a reasonable price, please check them out at

Strategies to Get Kids Talking!

I know I’ve been on a tangent about oral language lately – but I want to share some ideas that I thought were fun ways to get all children talking.  I attended a workshop presented by some teachers from New Zealand and I was really excited to hear how much they emphasize oral language in their classrooms.  Here are some notes I saved from their talk that basically reviewed what we know about the components of a balanced literacy program.

But after that they modeled a game they called “Share Wear.”  One of the women told a story about buying a shape controlling undergarment that she was wearing.  Her story was detailed, sequenced and very funny.  Obviously if she were modeling this strategy to a group of children she would probably choose a different item of clothing but her story was very effective at the workshop.  Then she challenged teachers in the workshop to come up and share a story about an item of clothing that they were wearing that day.

Several teachers came up to tell their story.  Most of the volunteers did not give many details, and the presenter stopped them to ask questions.  She would go back to the beginning of their story, repeating it and adding in the new details – so we had a chance to review the sequence too.  Here is an idea of how it went:

Teacher:  “I was walking through Macy’s and I saw this sweater.  I thought it was cute so I bought it.”

Presenter:  “When were you at Macy’s?”

Teacher: “On Sunday, I stopped at the mall after church.”

Presenter:  “Oh, so after you went to church on Sunday you went to the mall and you went into Macy’s?”  “Why did you pick that sweater?”

Teacher:  “Purple is my favorite color.”

Presenter:  “Okay – so after church on Sunday you went to the mall and went into Macy’s and saw this sweater that was your favorite color, purple.  And why did you wear it today?”

The presenter asked a few more questions and kept repeating the basic story and sequencing in the details.  She did this with several teachers – she asked different kinds of questions so the stories weren’t all just a repetition of where they bought the stuff.  Some of the volunteers told a detailed story on their own so sometimes she only asked one or two things.  It was a very effective way to model how to scaffold a child’s story.

It is fun to do this activity with any age group – we did it at a staff meeting after this workshop.  It works very well with young children because they often have a story about who bought them a shirt or why they picked out their shoes.  Giving them a concrete topic and scaffolding them with pertinent questions helps all children feel good about talking in front of a group.

Another strategy they shared at the workshop was called Treasure Box.  They brought a simple box filled with ordinary, easy to find items.  Here is one I made for my children.

I just used an old pencil box that I had in my classroom.

What you put into the box is really NOT important.  Just try to find things that children will relate to or make a connection to.

At the workshop they passed the box through the group and encouraged everyone to take out an item that reminded them of something or that they made a connection to.  The group of adults at the workshop told great stories related to the items they chose from the box, but they modeled how they would extend what a child might say by asking questions and helping them to elaborate.  I think it might be a great way to introduce the comprehension strategy about making a connection also!

I liked to use the Treasure Box game at circle time but it takes a long time to give everyone a turn.  You can call on a few children each day until you get through the group but sometimes after choosing  two or three children to talk in front of the group,  I asked every child to pick an item, and talk with their partner about it.   Of course you aren’t able to scaffold and extend those stories if they tell them to a partner – but it is an effective way to get every child talking.  This could look like a new game  to the children if you picked seasonal items – like things for Halloween, then holiday items, etc.

Using puppets is another way to elevate the amount that your children talk.  I have some puppets that I use as teaching tools – they live in my “castle,” but I also had about 30 other puppets that were available for children to use during free choice time.  Puppets were not a center in themselves, but instead children were free to choose a puppet and take it with them to the writing center or the listening center, play center, blocks, etc.  I did not allow them at the sand table or playdo in order to keep them clean!  I found that the kids who did not often talk to other children in our class were much more likely to talk when they were holding a puppet.  They talked to the puppet and they also used the puppet to talk to other children, it was really fun to watch.  Before I made the puppets available to children they saw me using the puppets as teaching tools, and we had used some to retell stories.  We discussed how the puppets would behave – and how just as children would never growl, yell or bite each other, the puppets would not do those things either.  If a child was playing too wildly I would just tell the child that the puppet forgot the rules and had to be put away.

I tried several ways to store the puppets so the children could have easy access.  Finally I bought a tunnel shaped net storage unit from IKEA, it had about 4 sections with a hole to reach into each section.  It had a velcro fastener at the top to hang it.  It worked pretty well, but eventually I put a basket under it so if the children couldn’t fit the last few puppets in they could just put them into the basket.

I loved beginning Writer’s Workshop by using ideas from the book Talking, Drawing, Writing by Martha Horn and Ellen Giacobbe.  They give detailed suggestions about encouraging oral storytelling before asking the children to write.  Along with giving all children opportunities to speak in a safe, warm environment, and scaffolding their stories to help them be successful; they also modeled and practiced simple drawing with their children.  That book gives some good management ideas like writing each child’s name on a clothespin that is clipped on a basket or box.  When that child shares a story his/her clothespin goes into the box until every child has a turn.

In my class one child was designated the Special Helper every day.  I sent home a monthly calendar that showed the schedule and also told something that child would be asked to do at circle time.  The first month they brought in something to show and tell but it was in a bag.  The other children would ask questions and that child would answer in a full sentence.  Check out my post titled Special Helpers if you are interested in other things they did through the year.  Each month the children were given a task that required them to speak in front of our class.

Singing songs and doing fingerplays is another great way to emphasize and value oral language.  The children learn new vocabulary and often learn new information through songs and poems.  We all sing and tell poems – you might want to tell parents how much that enhances their child’s oral language!

Dramatic play is another of my favorite ways to encourage oral language.  Research has shown that children often use much higher levels of oral language and more sophisticated vocabulary when they are engaged in dramatic play.

at the blocks …

playing with vehicles …

and most of all when they take on roles and interact in socio-dramatic play.

Another way I encouraged the children to talk with each other was at the very beginning of the day.  We had no children who walked to school, most rode the bus, a few were driven by parents – so most children arrived about the same time.  After they took off coats, hats, etc. (in Michigan this can be quite a chore!) and completed morning routines like lunch choice, taking care of notes, etc.; they sat at the circle and just had time to visit with each other.  I know many teachers like to give them a paper to complete as they arrive, and some allow the children to go to free choice centers right away.  I liked using this time as a chance for the children to greet each other and just talk a bit before I started circle time.  Sometimes I put out books for them to read, later in the year I set out chalkboards for them to write or draw, but they were free to talk while they read or wrote.  I rarely had a problem with children running around the room – they enjoyed having this time to talk and usually came in and sat down appropriately.

Another strategy I used to encourage oral language was to take pictures of stuff going on in our clasroom.  I would just take a bunch of random photos – it is great to just be able to print them out – for years I had to take them to be developed!!  Sometimes I would glue the pictures onto a larger paper, other times I would just hold up one or two photos and ask the children to tell me what was going on in the picture.  I liked this because I could take pictures of a child that I hadn’t heard much from in awhile, and that child would usually volunteer to talk about what he/she was doing.  I found that most children love to have their picture taken!

Sometimes I would ask a question and go around the circle giving every child a chance to answer.  At the very beginning of the year I might just ask a simple question like “What is your favorite color?”  Then I might write a sentence on chart paper using each child’s name – “Megan’s favorite color is pink.”  That is a pretty easy low risk way to get all children participating.  You could also graph their answers.  Later you might ask a more complicated, open ended question – by then the children are used to sometimes waiting for their turn, and that everyone is expected to share their thoughts.

We also used to have “Wish you well time.”  I got the basic idea from Conscious Discipline, although I used it differently.  I liked this strategy because it not only encouraged children to speak, it also helped these egocentric little ones think about other people.  I told the children that wishing someone well means thinking good thoughts and wanting that person to be happy.  Sometimes we wished people well because we were celebrating something with them, other times we wished people well when we were concerned for them.  We sang a little tune – roughly to the tune of the Farmer in the Dell.

We wish you well

We wish you well

All through the day today

We wish you well.

We sang that song at the beginning and the end of our Wish You Well time, which only lasted a few minutes.  The children would say “I am wishing my uncle well because it is his birthday today.”  Or “I’m wishing my grandma well because she is in the hospital.”  They could not share something about themselves, only someone else – and I also eliminated pets because I was getting a lot of well wishes for dogs and cats!  I really liked doing this with my classes, we did it about once a week or so when we had a few minutes of time before the buses or a special.  I really liked how children began noticing and thinking and talking nicely about other children in our class as well as people in their neighborhood or family.

The class Playful Literacy reminded me that creating a safe environment and being a responsive listener are essential when you want to encourage children to extend and elaborate their speech.  Here are some of my notes about specific ways to be verbally and non-verbally responsive.

Demonstrate responsiveness

I hope this gives you a few ideas about ways to get every child talking!

Understanding Oral Language

Our girls are starting to talk.

They seem to understand almost everything we say – they will follow simple directions like “take this to Mommy,” or “bring me your sock.”  When asked they will give a high 5 and they are delightful clappers!  It is so amazing to watch this blossoming of understanding.  They use a few sign language signs – for ‘more’ and ‘all done’, and of course ‘bye bye’.  They can say Mama, Dada, and Nana (hooray!) and every day they say a few more words.   They learn most of these new words when one of the adults who is absolutely crazy about them says the word slowly with exaggerated lip motions.  None of us even thinks about how silly we might look.  We repeat the word and point to the person or object – and when they approximate the sounds we usually clap and smile and say YES! as we repeat the word back to them.  It is so much fun!

So I was particularly interested when I came across some great information about oral language that I had saved from a workshop that I really valued.  I took a class called Playful Literacy and You, that helped me take a close look at different portions of literacy development.   I thought the information was presented so well that I became trained to present the workshop to other teachers.  On another post, under Parent Education, I printed some handouts that I prepared to share the information from this series of classes with parents.

Maybe we heard a lot of this information about oral language in college, but I found it really helpful when I wanted to talk about a child’s language abilities to a parent, or when I was trying to put my finger on exactly why a child was having trouble speaking.  So I decided to share some of the information from my presentation with you.  I hope some of you find this helpful.

One of the research studies that was quoted in this class was published as Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Lives of Children – by Risley and Hart.  It was really astounding to see the impact of low level language in the homes of children and compare that to children coming from homes that were rich in language experiences.  Knowing that, and knowing your community helps teachers understand how crucial it is for them to provide enriching experiences for their class, to do our best to help all children become successful.

This chart refers to the language in the home that the children are exposed to, not the amount of words produced by the child – I hope it wasn’t confusing.  It just shows the difference in parents who make the effort to talk to their child a lot.  Receptive language comes before expressive language – children who are hearing lots of talk have been shown to not only speak more themselves, but have much higher potential for success in school and beyond.  And this is not necessarily related to the family’s economic status.  In some affluent, large homes parents have installed intercom systems to call their children for dinner because they are off playing in a separate “wing” of the house.  Those children aren’t being exposed to nearly as much language as others who are playing in the kitchen and talking with Mom while she gets dinner ready.


Kids learn a lot from television, computer games and other children, but research shows clearly that the most effective way for children to develop language skills is through positive interactions with adults in a safe, comfortable environment.

I put some information in a chart form to give a basic idea about how language usually correlates with physical development.

development chart

Of course every child is unique and there is a wide range of exactly when children develop all these skills.

This information about the four areas of language explained terms that I often heard our speech and language teacher use.  Basically I knew what semantics, syntax and pragmatics meant, but this helped me understand it all better.  When a child was having language difficulty that went beyond articulation problems,  I found it helpful to be able to tell the speech teacher that I though his problem was his syntax, or whatever!

I really didn’t remember learning about this hierarchy of language in school, but it reminds me of  Bloom’s Taxonomy of higher level thinking skills, I think it correlates nicely.

This made me really think about the types of language I used with my Kindergartners.  So often we are giving directions, or reminding children of rules, or telling them what to do.  It really made me aware of ways I could use higher levels of language every day.

We also discussed the back and forth, 2 way nature of conversations.

This chart gives some ideas for scaffolding the children to the next level of conversation.


I hope some of you find this helpful, I think I’ll go talk to my grandchildren!

Let’s Let Them Talk!

A Kindergarten girl came home one day at the beginning of the year and her mother asked her how she liked school.  “Not so much,” she replied.  “I can’t read, I don’t know how to write, and they won’t let me talk!”

I used to tell parents that little story and it always got a laugh, but I worry that it is a little too true.  With all the curriculum standards and fidelity to purchased programs, along with pressure to have all children achieve predetermined literacy levels we have a tendency to ask children to become focused listeners, high level readers and prolific writers, but not as much attention is given to developing their oral language.  We know that oral language is the foundation for all literacy skills.  We share with parents that emergent writing is very similar to emergent speaking – we need to accept their beginning efforts and build on their successes.  But we don’t give all children enough meaningful opportunities to talk.

Research shows that the most effective teaching method is TO, WITH and BY.  No matter what information or skills we are teaching – first we model so the children see and hear what we expect.  Then we engage them in the process, doing it along with them.  Then finally we give them lots of time to practice independently, but we are still close by to encourage and keep them on the right path.  As far as oral language, I think we do a good job on the TO and WITH parts, but we don’t always think of enough ways to give each child lots of independent practice.  Too often I found myself reminding the children to raise their hand and wait for their turn, or be a good listener.  And it’s no wonder – with up to 28 children in my room it was difficult to find the time to encourage each child to gain confidence in sharing their ideas.  But when I remind myself that the whole mystery of literacy is based on this vital concept I know that it is our responsibility to value the development of oral language by spending time on it.

Here is a description of typical language and literacy standards, published by NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children.)

Language and Literacy

Here is a description that I used in our district.

Aside from providing lots of time for all children to practice speaking in your classroom, the most important thing you need to consider is the emotional climate.  Some children are more timid, and for them to speak out in class means they are taking a risk – a risk that their idea won’t be valued, or someone might laugh, or they won’t be heard.  I considered it one of my most important responsibilities to make every child comfortable and confident to share their ideas.  I worked on setting a positive emotional climate in my classroom from the very beginning of the year.  First of all I tried to model how I respected the children.  When a child spoke to me I tried to always bend, kneel or sit to be at their level, and I tried to maintain eye contact while they were talking to me.  Of course that can be so hard when you also have to use those eyes in the back of your head to keep all the other children engaged, or on task, or out of trouble!  At circle time I sat on the carpet for most discussions, so I was at their level.  I tried to remember to monitor my tone of voice – sometimes I did feel a bit irritated or aggravated or impatient – but I didn’t want my voice to reflect that.  Every year I had at least one impulsive little bunny who just couldn’t stop herself from blurting out her ideas, which were sometimes pertinent to our subject, other times totally random thoughts!

And there were other kids who had perfected the art of elaboration – it took them 20 minutes to tell you their Grandma had come to visit.  What a challenge to encourage all children to share their ideas, and at the same time help others to know when and how they needed to participate – all the while trying to value everyone’s input and keep them all engaged.   Sometimes I used a puppet who was over excited, or had hurt feelings to demonstrate these ideas to the children.  I really liked using role play because then the children were doing the talking while they acted out the scenario.

One great strategy that we all use is to turn and talk to a partner.  I found that I did this more often when I took the time to teach the children how to do it.  It can be a great way to give every child an opportunity to talk instead of just calling on a few to share their ideas, but if it takes the children a long time to find a partner and get situated, they really don’t have much talking time.  Sometimes there were arguments or hurt feelings when one or two children wanted a different partner.  Through the years I found that some groups handled this better than others.  Sometimes I could just say turn to your neighbor, but even then some children turned right, others turned left.  With some groups I actually needed to assign talking partners so there was no question or choice involved, and of course we had to decide what we would do if a partner was absent.

I called this sitting “eye to eye, knee to knee.”  There are lots of descriptions out there, the important thing is to show the children exactly how you expect them to sit, and what it looks like and sounds like when two children share their ideas.

I took this picture when we were role playing what it looks like – that’s why only 2 children were facing each other.  At the end of our discussion time I encouraged the children to give each other a “pinky hug” for being a great talking partner.

I found that when I helped children learn to quickly find a partner, get into position, stay on the topic and take turns in their discussion I wanted to use this strategy often.  They loved it and it was an efficient way to give every child a voice.  Sometimes after turning to talk I would call on a few children to tell me what their partner had said – because we were also learning that being a partner meant also being a good listener.  Just like everything else, it pays off to take time to model and practice your expectations.

Sometimes we used a similar strategy that we called Walk About, Talk About.  Instead of sitting and facing each other, the 2 partners would link arms and walk around a specified area of the classroom while they talked.  The novelty of this encouraged the children to look and sound very serious in their discussions, and of course they loved it!

I am having so much fun watching my grandchildren develop language skills.  I have lots more time to appreciate each stage than I did with my own children!  It has made me think a lot about the impact of a nurturing adult who gives the child undivided attention and unqualified encouragement.  I am a very lucky Nana!!  I have lots more to share about oral language – still weeding through my old files!