What They Like and What They Need

I wish this photo was a bit more clear but my grandson, Owen, took this selfie on his Kindle and texted it to me.  I am so very grateful for technology that lets me keep in touch with them.

I also don’t think you can over-appreciate the value of playdough.  From my two year old grandson Calvin to my eleven year old grandson Owen, they all love playing with playdough.  Of course what they do with the playdough looks quite a bit different – it is a very versatile material!!

Today Owen used playdough to make a Millenium Falcon – he’s a huge Star Wars fan.


I thought it was great and asked him if he had a Star Wars mold.  He did not, and  he took the opportunity to tell me step by step how he constructed it!

First he rolled out the dough to the thickness he wanted.

He used this tool to cut it into a circle, which he traced from the playdough lid.

He sent me all these pictures – I hope I am remembering the steps correctly – he really should have his own blog!

This is how he made the compressions.

He told me he made a cylinder for the cockpit, and two triangles for the things that stick out in front (sorry Owen, I don’t remember all the terminology).  I thought it turned out great!

I think it is really important to have a good balance between allowing your child to do things he or she likes and chooses to do, along with the activities you think he or she needs to reinforce skills.  I also think it’s important to try to make those skill reinforcing activities fun too – especially when they are working at home.  (But the teacher in me would have loved to ask Owen to write a step by step HOW TO book.  I know he is a bit old for that but he was so good at breaking it down and explaining it to me!)

Sometimes you can blend the two – what they like and what they need.  For example you could bring out alphabet cookie cutters, or  a pencil to write numbers or multiplication facts in the playdough – but sometimes they just want to play.

I am trying to give my daughter ideas to help her kids in the areas they need a little practice or reinforcement.   She mentioned that although Max is doing great with sight words and sounds, he could use some practice with lower case letters.  He has been able to name upper letters for a long time, and can identify most lower case letters too.  But most books are written with primarily lower case letters so it is important that they are really confident with them.

I sent her these letter cards to print and cut apart, to play a memory game.  Some lower case letters are the same as the upper case, except for size; like s, o, x, u, z.  I knew Max was confident with those.  I also was trying to limit the number of cards for the game.  If this is still too many you could use half of them at a time – or pick the ones that are tricky for your child.

I printed all the lower case letters on these fish cards – to make a game of GO FISH.  Two or more people can play this game – you would need 2 copies of each letter.  Start with 5 or 6 cards and the first player asks if the other person has a letter that matches one in his/her hand.  If they get the match they put the pair down, if not they pick another card from the fishing pond – pile of cards!


Another idea would be to attach a paperclip to each fish.  Then make a fishing pole by tying a piece of yarn or string to a dowel and attaching a magnet to the end.  All the fish should be face down and the child uses the fishing pole to “catch” a fish.  If he or she can name the letter they keep it, if not tell them the name of the letter and it goes back into the pond.

One more idea I gave my daughter for reinforcing lower case letters was to cut apart the sight words Max is able to read.  Put each word into an envelope and ask him to put them in order to spell the word.  Then ask him to name each letter in the word.  I printed them so they are easy to cut apart.  Try to cut all the letters about the same width.

This is also a good activity to practice reading the sight words.  When the kids are writing and use one of these sight words they should be able to spell it in “book spelling” too.

The most important thing is to have fun with your kids!


Everything Counts!

Everything does count.  All the conversations, all the explorations, all the read alouds, all the explanations, all the togetherness, they all count as teaching and learning.

You might not realize you are introducing new vocabulary and different sentence structures when you answer your child’s questions.  You are teaching science concepts when they watch you pretreat laundry stains or turn juice into frozen popsicles.  You are demonstrating many math concepts when you talk to your child about time, use a measuring cup or set a timer.  If sitting down and working on worksheets or projects doesn’t work for your family you are still educating your child through all the ways you interact every day.

But there are also lots of opportunities to COUNT every day!   (Okay – so that might not have been the smoothest segue!)   Still, numbers are an important part of our lives. 


You could try asking your child how many ways they can show the number 5.  They might even think of some creative ways to show it.

Another idea would be to ask your child to count all the places in your house where there are numbers.    If they are interested, they could make a list – or even take a digital photo of the places or things in your house that have numbers.   You could print the pictures and make a simple book using sight words.   Here’s what that might look like:

Here is the blank template, print the two pages back to back, cut them in half horizontally then fold the pages together and staple.

You could print more copies of the second page if you want to make a longer book.

This recording sheet might encourage your child to go around the house and count these objects – then record the number.  They will be using a bunch of number skills!  Counting, 1:1 correspondence, numeral writing!

For kids who are ready to read and spend a little longer on this activity here is another list:

When they are done counting you might talk about which things they found the most of, which were the least amount,  or if there were the same amount of any things they counted.  If they are ready you could even ask something like “how many more spoons were there than boxes of cereal?  Ask them if they were surprised by how many or how few of the things they found.

If you are looking for a fun activity today you might like to try playing with shaving cream.  You can spray it directly on your table or counter – you will end up feeling like it is good and clean – or you can spray it on a cookie sheet or tray.

Push up your child’s sleeves and let them draw, scribble, mound it up, and have a good time!  They can even practice writing letters, numbers or sight words!  If it gets on their clothes it dissolves quickly.  I would just advise them not to slap it or clap foamy hands because it would sting if it went into their eyes.  Nora and Max had a great time!



Learning at Home

It’s been a long time since I sat at circle time, put words in the pocket chart or led the line down the hall to music class; but I still miss Kindergarten.  I have spent these years loving and playing with grandchildren, and I am missing them so much during this time of social distancing.

My email and Facebook stream are filled today with wonderful suggestions of how parents can spend this time with their children – all the skills and types of learning that they can reinforce.  Pinterest provides an amazing wealth of tried and true lesson plans and learning materials.  But even though so much is available I decided to share some of the ideas I have been emailing to my daughter to do with Nora and Max who are 7 and 6, and at home missing out on 2nd grade and Kindergarten.

All parents are asked to keep reading to their children.  Research shows that it is the most important thing you can do.  I thought it might be helpful to share a few ways to discuss a book you read with your child, or one that your child is reading on his or her own.  It’s helpful to see how much they really understand.


Of course sometimes kids just want to hear the story.  You might want to pick out a few questions or check in with them part way through the story to see how well they are comprehending.

Another easy thing to do is to keep track of the weather.  There is no right or wrong way to do it – you could make a weather “clock” out of a paper plate with pictures of sun, snow, wind, rain, etc. around the outside.  Then cut out one or two “hands” that you can turn to the appropriate weather every day.  Fasten the hands to the middle of the plate with a brad fastener.  Or you might want to graph the weather:

There is really no such thing as a typical child in any grade.  In Kindergarten there was a huge range in the skills had when they began school.  Every classroom is also different, and although the school year is more than half over it’s impossible to guess what they are working on.  I started out by asking my daughter to do a few things to get an idea of where her Kindergartner is as far as alphabet recognition, sounds, writing, sight words, numeral recognition, etc. It’s hard for me to know what ideas I can give her until I had more of an idea what skills he is confident with.  This is true for all children, but Nora is very verbal and loves to read, so I had more of an idea where she is and what she might enjoy.

I asked my daughter to ask Max to read these lower case letters.  You can tell how confident your child is by how they read each letter.  I included 2 different types of the letters a and g.


I also asked him to write both upper and lower case letters.

To get an idea of how well he can write phonetically (sound spell) I asked him to label these animals.

Then I sent him this sheet where he could look for things around the house that begin with each letter, and draw and write in each box.

I also asked my daughter to have Max write numerals 0-20.  All of this gave me a good idea about his skills and confidence.

No matter what activities you are doing with your child they are constantly learning and growing.  Repeating activities or practicing skills they already know helps them gain confidence.  Your child will give you cues about what they enjoy working on and things they need to work on.  If you introduce something they are not ready for it is fine to stop and do something else.

After these assessment activities I started sending my daughter ideas of things to do with both children.  I will share some of these ideas soon.  I just want to encourage all of you to take a deep breath, smile at your child often, give lots of hugs and encouragement, and enjoy this gift of time.


Tape Town!

Tape town

Commerce Township Community Library presented another fun family activity called Tape Town.   They filled the entire multi-purpose program room with colored tape that was used as roads for match box szied cars.  Throughout the room they set up all kinds of fun towns!

tape town 1

tape town 2

tape town 3

tape town 5 

Our girls LOVED Fairy Tale Town!

tape town 6 Owen’s favorite was hands down the Monster Truck Rally!  They created small foil cars by pressing squares of foil over a car and carefully removing it.  Then the children used small Monster Trucks to crash over them!  Who wouldn’t love that?

tape town 4

At each town they displayed several books that were related to the town.  It was so fun to see the children playing and parents reading throughout the room!  Another great evening!



Our Snoopy Library!

photo 2

I have wanted to have a Little Free Library in our yard for a long time.  If you aren’t familiar with this idea, check out http://www.littlefreelibrary.org for an explanation and lots of photographs.  The whole concept is to provide a watertight, weatherproof box of some kind, and fill it with books.  Then people in your neighborhood, or visitors, can borrow a book.  There is no check out system, if someone decides to keep a book that is fine, I am just happy to encourage people to read.   Some people will bring books back, others might even donate books to the library.

We live on Beagle Drive, so my husband built a Snoopy mailbox many years ago.  We really love to watch families walking with strollers or with kids on bikes who stop and enjoy looking at Snoopy.  Now we hope they will pick out a book to enjoy too.

Owen wanted to help put up the new library.


So we put it into the wagon for him to wheel out to the front of the house.  Lily and Anna got into the action too!


They lifted it onto the post, and screwed it on the little platform.  It does rock a little bit, so Mr. Fix It is working on a stabilizer!  He assures me it CANNOT fall off, but it does move a little.


We ordered a customized sign, but decided we should add a coat of polyurethane before we nail it onto the library.


We added this little paved brick area because I wanted people to be able to park their bikes or strollers off the road while they look at the books.  Then I couldn’t resist this cute little bench!

I can’t wait for our first “customers!”


Easter Fun


We had a wonderful Easter celebration on a delightful sunny day!   The best day to get all the grandchildren together ended up being on Saturday.  Owen likes to see an agenda of the activities that I plan, so I typed it up for him (and to help me remember!)

Easter activities copy

Bunny hats were the first thing on the list.


I wanted to make a variation on a traditional egg hunt for a few reasons.  The range in ages gives the older kids a big advantage in a regular egg hunt.  The parents really didn’t want the kids to get tons of candy inside the plastic eggs, and the kids all participated in a couple of other regular egg hunts at other parties and in the community.  So I decided to make it into a clue hunt.  I numbered and decorated 6 paper lunch bags, and filled enough eggs for each child to open one at each stop.  Since Max is so little I just put 4 eggs into each bag.  There were a few pieces of candy in each egg, and there was one egg that contained a written clue inside each lunch bag.

hunt JPG

I gave each child a little bucket to carry to hold their eggs and the candy that spilled out when they opened them up.


We just handed them the first bag of eggs, and the clue inside one of those eggs led them outside.  They went to places like the swing set, under a tree, in the mailbox.  Owen read the clues and they all took off running for the next destination.

hunt read

They ended up back inside where they found bags full of prizes.

hunt end

The next activity was our Easter Parade.  I got out crepe paper streamers, foam Easter shapes, artificial flowers, paper plates, and other supplies.  They had fun decorating the bikes, wagons, stroller, and even our son’s wheelchair that was part of the parade!


They had a great time waving to all the cars that passed by.

We came back inside and made Tumble Bunnies, a craft I found on Pinterest.  I precut the shapes and the children colored them, then we folded and taped them with 2 marbles inside.  The directions recommended using a textured surface but the ones we made did great flipping over going down these ramps.

tumble bunny


Here is the template I got from Pinterest.  I found it on many sites there.

Tumble Bunnies

We went back outside to play with our parachute.   We played with balls I got at a Dollar Store, and each child took a ball home.



Back inside we played a Memory Game.  I set out a tray of things like a plastic Easter egg, a bunny, a jelly bean, a crocheted egg, just things I found in my Easter decorations.  The children looked carefully at the tray, then they turned away and I removed one thing.  They tried to figure out what was missing.

I included another old favorite activity – Froot Loop necklaces – they love to make and eat these!

froot loop A

We played a game of Hot Potato – passing around a bunny shaped bean bag, and trying not to be the one holding it when the music stopped.

We also did a cooking activity that I found on Pinterest too.  We used Grands Biscuits, some recipes use refrigerated crescent rolls or frozen bread dough, but they are all basically the same.  I loved this activity because it gave us a chance to tell a very simplified story of Jesus and the resurrection.

Each child rolled out one biscuit to about a 5 or 6 inch circle.  We painted on melted butter with a basting brush.  Then we put a marshmallow – which stood for Jesus, in the center of the circle, and sprinkled on a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.  We gathered up the dough to seal the marshmallow inside.  I told the children that Jesus rose from the dead and was not inside the tomb the next day.  We wondered together if the marshmallow might be gone too.  We sprayed a baking sheet with nonstick spray and dipped the biscuit bundle in more melted butter and placed it on the tray and sprinkled it with more cinnamon and sugar.   We made enough rolls for each family to take a tray home, and bake them for Easter morning breakfast.


They turned out great!  One of my favorite parts of Easter this year was a text message my son sent.  Lily was so excited she yelled “Yook!  Jesus isn’t there!  (Still perfecting the L sound!)

Of course we had to dye eggs too!  It was a great celebration!

egg dye 2


I hope your family enjoyed a wonderful, safe and fun celebration too!


Some Kids Won’t Say Sorry!



I bought this book in honor of one of my grandchildren who is often pretty resistant to saying “I’m sorry.”  I know that refusing to say sorry is not that unusual, and that the issue can become a battle of wills – which no one wins.  In Samantha Berger’s book, Martha’s family deals with the problem by leaving her out of fun activities and she decides to give in and apologize.  I thought this book could be followed by brainstorming and writing about a time you should say “I’m sorry.”  Here is a writing paper you might like to use.



The whole issue made me think about what is really important here.  I believe that children need to realize that their actions affect other people.  They need to develop compassion and learn to care about how other people feel.  I’m not sure rattling off an insincere “sorry” really accomplishes those goals.  But there is another part of the problem, apologizing is considered good manners and common courtesy.  When a child refuses to apologize adults might look at him as uncooperative and even unkind.

I came across a blogpost that suggested requiring a child to do or say two kind things to make up for one unkind action or word.  Here is a link to the post in you would like to read about it:


I think you will have to copy and paste it into your browser because I don’t know how to insert a link (sorry!)

I think this idea has some merit – it offers good opportunities to talk about how the other person feels, and what the child did or said that was hurtful.  It also encourages helpful and kind behavior.  But it doesn’t really help the child conform to the social expectation of apologizing.  It kind of sounds like if you do something nice it makes up for doing something hurtful.

In my Kindergarten classroom I often used role playing for situations like this.   Sometimes I would take on a role and exaggerate it myself.  I might ask a child to pretend he did something unkind to me, and then refused to say “I’m sorry.”   I would tell the child that I didn’t like what they had done.  I would tell them that it was hurtful.  I got into my role and acted a little silly, to make the kids laugh and get involved with the role play.  Then I would stop and ask the class what the other child should do.  Then I would prompt the child to say he realized he had done something hurtful and wouldn’t repeat the behavior.  Sometimes I would re-play a scenario that happened in our classroom.  Role playing several times helps children become comfortable with the language.  It raises the expectations of the class that we will treat each other kindly and be helpful and not hurtful.  It gives the children a chance to practice saying “I’m sorry.”

I still think the bigger issue is helping children learn to treat each other, and adults, with compassion and respect.  Role playing can help with this.  I also took every chance I could to talk about how characters in a story were feeling, in the classroom I would take the opportunity to talk about how children felt when there was a problem over a toy or an issue on the playground.  This is something I brought to parents’ attention too, young children are naturally egocentric, but we can help them begin to think about other people’s feelings by talking about characters in books and on television.

Here are two other books that I used in my classroom.



Our school adopted the Bucket-Filler program one year.  This book uses the idea of filling or emptying other people’s buckets when you are helpful or hurtful.

Heartprints, by P.K. Hallinan, really emphasizes how people can help other people feel good by doing acts of kindness.

I love both of these books and used them every year with my Kindergartners.

I just heard of a resource book called Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes… by Scott Turanksy and Joanne Miller.   The emphasis of this book is helping children learn to honor other people.  I am fascinated with this idea.  I looked up the definition of honor – it is to regard someone with respect.  I love the idea of teaching children not only to tolerate each other, but to honor each other.  I haven’t read the book yet, but the reviews were very positive.  Here is a link to copy and paste if you are interested.


So what are they doing about my little grandchild who refuses to say sorry?  They are practicing at home.  They are noticing every time anyone else says they are sorry and talking about it.  They are encouraging and praising.   They are appreciating all the wonderful things he does do, and loving him just the way he is.

Building Children’s Brains

brain work child

I am very excited to share a wonderful resource with you.  I’m sure you are all familiar with some of the extensive brain research that has impacted how we teach, and even how we relate to children in the last few years.    I got permission to share an audio recording with you that explains brain development in very understandable language.  Dr. Joan Lessen-Firestone, the Director of Early Childhood Education at Oakland Intermediate School District here in Michigan, presented this information and the CD I received was sponsored in collaboration with the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health, the Michigan 4C Association, and the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health.  Dr. Firestone is a wonderful teacher, and I have listened to this information again and again.  I also made copies for my adult children before they had babies of their own.

01 Building Brains 1

Dr. Firestone gave me permission to share this information.  I hope you will listen to it and share it to help build a basic understanding of brain development.

I have been thinking of all you teachers so much the last few weeks, with many of you working on report cards and holiday celebrations, and then with the devastating events that have overtaken the news.  I wish you all a wonderful and peaceful break from your jobs, and special times with your families.  I know you never really quit thinking and planning even when you aren’t in school each day, but please take time to enjoy your blessings.

Merry Christmas!

Delightful Dinosaur Day

Dinosaurs are fun!

I am always on a campaign to bring more fun to early childhood.  I am very familiar with the amount of curriculum and expectations that govern the time young children spend at school, but I just really believe that teachers need to advocate for play and fun.  I shared a book we made about dinosaurs in an earlier post, now I am sharing a parent/child activity day that my kindergartners loved.  I think these parent/child days are one of the most effective ways to educate parents about how children learn and things they can do with their child at home.  If you are new to my blog, please check out other parent/child activities like Cowboys, Outer Space, Transportation, Oceans, and Pirates.

Here is our invitation:


When I planned these special days (or evenings) I tried to include activities from many areas of the curriculum, language arts, science, math, and social studies.  We usually began the day by showing a little of our every day circle time routines, then we did a fun song, story or poem that got parents and children actively involved.   For Dinosaur Day I passed around a basket that contained simple dinosaurs cut from construction paper, and everybody took one – parents and kids.  Then as we sang this song, they stood up and did the motion.

Tune – If You’re Happy and You Know It

Printable version:

If you have ..

Then we did an enthusiastic version of  Dino Pokey (think Hokey Pokey!)  I really encouraged parents to get up and do this with the kids.  I always practiced it the day before with the children.
 Dino Pokey

Here are some very simple clipart pictures of these dinosaurs:

5 dinos clips

Next I quickly went over the activities that were available, passed out a check off list, and gave each child a paper bag to collect his/her work as they went between the classrooms.  We usually decorated the bags ahead of time.

I repeated this parent/child activity many times and usually changed a few activities, but here is a simple description of the activities from one year.

description of activities

I also found a list of things to do in my files, so I thought I’d share that too!

I printed directions for each activity and posted them on 3 sided signs on the tables containing the materials for the project or game.  Here is a picture to show what the 3 sided signs looked like:

I didn’t save all of these directions, but here are a few.

activity directions

Some activities required a recording sheet, like Bronto Boats.  The children placed small dinosaurs in different colored boats, after predicting which boat would hold the most dinos.  They recorded their results on this paper (2 on the page).

Bronto Boats

We also play Dinosaur Soduku

Dino Soduku

The kids made up a dinosaur story with a beginning, middle and end.

Here is an assortment of dinosaur clipart:

dinos clipart

More clipart


This boy was tossing beanbags into the swampy basket!

Check out the stegosaurus hat – they glued spikes to a piece of adding machine tape that went down their back and was fastened to a headband.  We put a stegosaurus head on the headband.

Here are a few more resources that I found in my files.  I hope you find something you might be able to use.


Here are a few songs and poems about dinosaurs!

I hope you find some time to play dinosaurs with your class too!


Parent Education

I went to college because I wanted to teach young children.  I have always been much more comfortable singing silly songs, reading stories or playing with puppets in front of a class of 4-6 year olds than speaking to a group of eye-contact avoiding adults who are secretly checking their email messages.  But still I felt responsible to share information with my Kindergarten parents about basic child development, how children really learn, and child management strategies; along with keeping them updated about what their child was learning and how they were progressing at school.

Parenting is very hard work, and many parents don’t have much support or easy access to information unless teachers of young children educate the parents too!  Oprah Winfrey often says that when people know better, they do better.  I think the best way to teach anything is to SHOW, not TELL.  Parents who volunteered in my classroom sometimes told me that they learned a lot just by watching circle time, that was such a special thing to hear!  Two or three times each year I asked every child to bring an adult to school for a half day.  I called these Parent/Child Activity Days.  They were always based on a theme and the activities the parents and children participated in covered lots of subject areas of our curriculum.  First we went through some of our morning routines – calendar, morning message, etc. so parents could see what their children did each day.  When I planned the activities I always included a cooking project, large motor play, reading and writing for a reason, constructive play, science experiments – including charting information, math games, art experiences, etc.  By coming in to school and interacting with their child the parents could see how the children learned by doing.  Over and over I would hear parents say “We could do this at home!” about an activity they particularly enjoyed with their child.  Under the Theme section of my blog I have shared some of these parent/child activity days.  I have a few more that I will still post.  I loved these special days or evenings, and families told me they did too.  But not all parents were able or willing to participate.  I knew that I had to share information in lots of different ways.

The most basic thing I told my parents was to read to your child.  You really can’t tell them this enough.  I love this poem and often posted it where parents would see it.

Read to me

There are lots of ways to encourage parents to read to their children.  You could send home ideas of books children might love – especially around holiday gift giving times.  You might want to include a little description or excerpt as well as giving them the titles and authors.  You could attach a note with suggestions of good books along with book order forms.  I found that when I read and reread a book – and it became a classroom favorite, many kids asked their parents for their own copy.

I sent books home as often as I could.  I tried to set up a system of sharing books overnight that the children could manage independently – because I just never had time to check books in or out.  Of course, you lose a few …  but I think it’s worth it.  I don’t remember where I got this list of 100 suggested books – I think it was from a public library.

Here is a copy if you would like to print it:

100 Books to Read in Kdg

Just like everything else, you have to think through your motives – sometimes my goal was just to get parents to read wonderful, exciting, fun stories to their children.  I wanted them all to fall in love with reading.  Other times I wanted them to read simple, emergent stories with sight words that the children would recognize, or a repetitive pattern for the children to chime in.  I wanted parents to understand different components of a read aloud – from left to right progression of print, using picture cues, making connections, understanding the story elements, and retelling main events.  I knew that the more children are exposed to reading, the better readers they will be.  Children are so lucky when they have parents who take the time to read with them.  I tried to reinforce and encourage and praise parents as much as I could!  I think it helps to acknowledge how busy they are, and how difficult finding time in their schedules can be.

Quite awhile ago I wrote a post about Kindergarten homework, I shared monthly read aloud game charts, and suggestions of things parents can do with their children through each month.  Just search Kindergarten Homework if you would like to take a look.  Along with those calendars and charts I also sent home information that might be helpful for parents.  One year my professional goal was parent education, and that is when I developed these handouts.  Much of the information I shared came from a class called Playful Literacy and You, by Dr. Kara Gregory.  I tried to put some of her ideas into a form that might help parents of young children understand how children learn and things they can do to help.   I sent one of these handouts home about once a month.  The first year I used these I gave each parent a folder with a label on the front to collect these papers through the year.  I was hoping that might make them value the information more, and even if they didn’t read it right away they might take a look at the folder later.  I am happy to share these with you.

13 Reading to Your Child

1 Play and Literacy

2 Play and Literacy

3 What is the best way to learn

4 Play and Playful Learning

5 Six Kinds of Play

6 Understanding Language

7 The Uses of Language

8 The Development of Conversation

9 -Support. Oral Lang. Dev

10 Strategies to Support

11 Phonological Awareness

12 Print Awareness

14 Handwriting

16 Dev. Written Lang

I wish you all a wonderful school year, filled with excited children who are ready to learn, and supportive parents who want to be partners with you in this terrific journey!