I'd like to welcome you to the blog page. Throughout my twenty plus years of teaching kindergarten I have always felt the need to seek out information, develop new techniques and innovate.
I hope to pass along some useful ideas. My goal is to seed your mind with an idea that you then nurture. Incorporate it as you will. Teachers, you know your students. Parents, you know your child.
Jot down the idea on a sticky, put it on your desk or monitor, and revisit it when you have the opportunity think about it further. So again, welcome teachers, parents, and home schoolers.
I like the ease of access and sheer variety of children's books available online and through apps. Yet, there is a certain feeling that comes with shopping with your child for books, and then holding and reading that book together. It's a wonderful emotional and tactile experience. I have dozens of books on my iPad and computer, but reading with a child should be a quiet experience unencumbered by concerns over connectivity and battery life.
I hope that teachers and families will continue to invest in a collection of paper books for their students. Then take the time to find a quiet place to read together and make memories. Give books as gifts and write your best wishes inside so the child will remember who gave the book and when.
"For Gina on her 5th birthday
with Love from Grandma"
The technology of paper books will never become obsolete. You will never have to update the operating system, or make sure the battery is charged. It's more forgiving if you drop it, or sit on it, or leave it in the hot sun for an afternoon.
My wife and I have kept all of our daughters favorite books safely stored awaiting the day when they will reclaim them to read to their children, relive their own childhood memories, and create new ones.
Students need ready access to the books they bring home from class. My solution is to provide each child with a “HOME Book Box”. I bought colorful file boxes from Office Depot and printed out a full-sheet label to personalize each box. When I hand out a box to each student I also include a couple of sheets of stickers they can use to decorate the box. Students like stickers! I buy them at the dollar store.
We always read our “decodable” books in class multiple times during the week. I don’t like to send home books that the student is not familiar with. Reading as a class and individually throughout the week allows me to help them be successful in the secure classroom environment.
Each child gets two copies of each book. I stamp one book “SCHOOL” and the other “HOME”. I had the re-inkable stamps made at Office Depot. The “SCHOOL” book stays in the student's classroom book basket. The “HOME” book goes home on Thursday as homework.
I often ask the students, “When you are finished with your homework where should you put your books? In the fridge? No! In the bathtub? No! Under the couch? No! Where? I hope they respond “In my Book Box!”.
The students are often reminded to take out their Book Box when relatives and friends come over so they can practice their reading read with them. Most everything in the box should be something they can be successful reading. Reading to family and friends is great for building confidence.
In my classroom our motto is "Use the Clues". It's a way of reminding ourselves to look closely at an unknown word we are trying to read. What's the first letter sound? The last letter sound? How long is the word? Is there a picture that can help? Students need to be taught to use strategies. They learn to rely on the skills they have to decipher the words they are reading.
I have found that establishing routines in the classroom and at home has improved the learning experience for students. Students thrive when they know the expectations for them and it creates an environment for quality learning to occur.
Having a specific time and place for learning allows the student to concentrate on the content of the lesson and not the logistics of when and where the lesson is going to take place. Pick a consistent place and time for learning activities. In class, have a structure to your day so that the students will know the expectations and transitions will be smoother. My students know what is coming during their day and during their week. They know calendar time is first, followed by snack, then centers, and so on throughout the day. At home, pick a place and time for learning and be as consistent as possible. If it's at the kitchen table after dinner, and it's convenient, that will be the learning spot and time and nothing else happens then. Taking the occasional break from the routine is OK, but changing from day to day, time to time, and place to place is confusing and difficult for the student and difficult for you as well. It's better to miss an occasional day than to change the routine.
My goal as a kindergarten teacher is for students to learn to use the tools for successful and lifelong learning. This means that kindergarten students are like apprentices in the workshop with the teacher. Some of the tools they must learn to use are:
One of my favorite examples that I use to explain this compares the words "mouse" and "rat". The words begin and end with different sounds. Often, if there is a picture or drawing present, a student can't tell the difference between a mouse and a rat. That's when I say "Use the Clues" and walk the student through the questions they need to ask themself about the word.
Students need to become independent readers right from the start. As they are taught the skills, remind them to use those skills. This promotes the self-confidence and self-reliance that helps make a successful and lifelong learner.
I don't like having a cluttered classroom. Boxes and papers stacked everywhere. Too much furniture.
This clutter impedes the flow of children and adults. It is also a safety hazard in the event of an emergency evacuation. Clutter can also prevent the teacher from surveying the entire room at a a glance, and you always want to see what is going on.
The idea of reducing clutter also extends to "visual clutter". Walls and ceiling cluttered will all kinds of distractions. Especially in the front of the room where you teach from. This may look festive, but ...
Too much visual stimulation is not conducive to promoting concentration, especially for those students who have yet to develop their attention skills. If a student needs to look up and around the room to get needed information, concentration may be interrupted.
I put helpful information on each student's desktop. Using desks helps students learn responsibility for their own space. Each Friday we have desk cleaning to make sure the desks are emptied of papers, old bananas, etc. and then wiped down. There are many commercial desktop helpers you can buy (from Really Good Stuff and others). I include an alphabet sheet, a letter sound sheet, the student's name, hundred chart, number line, etc. I laminate the sheets and tape them down with clear box tape.
Encourage your students to find the information they need without looking up. Teach them strategies they can use to figure things out for themselves ("Use the Clues"). Supply these materials for home as well, and instruct parents on their use. Check with the next grade level teachers to see if they will allow your students to keep copies of these materials with them while they transition to the next grade.
In my classroom we practice letter names, letter sounds, and sight words every day. I make the time to practice those items because it's important that the students know these skills so well that they don't even have to think when they need to use them. Early in the year, of course, we devote the amount of time necessary to initially learn them. Thereafter, it takes only a few minutes a day to review those skills. These primary skills ("tools" as I often call them) must be rote. Yes, as we get to the 100th day of the school year students begin to groan and complain that they know these skills already. Yet they often lack fluency. Set the expectation that these skills will be practiced each day and then do it.
Helping students to learn "sight words" is important to reading success. Incorporating those words into reading, and reviewing them in class is good practice yet often does not offer enough exposure to the words to help students remember them readily.
In my classroom I have students sitting in groups of four. In order to offer more exposure to the "sight words", I place a small basket in the middle of the group of the four students. Throughout the year as we introduce "sight words" I place a laminated index card with the word printed on it into the basket. The students spontaneously use the words to read by themselves, or to challenge their classmates at reading the words. I do no more than let the students know that I have placed new words into the baskets. Left to their own devices they naturally study the words. It really works!
I have found that the most effective way to encourage reading is to make sure that your student has books available at the appropriate skill level. If you want your student to be excited about reading he/she needs to be successful right from the start.
Therefore, you need to supply books that the student can actually read in some way. As your student learns some simple sight words, e.g., the, to, I, my, this, and a few letter sounds (s,t,i,a,p,n) he/she will be able to read simple books by relying on those words and sounds ("The cat sat" or "The dog naps"). Students are often frustrated that they are not really "reading" a book. So help them really "read" a book! One or two words per page? Not a problem. When they finish reading you say "You are a reader!". "You read that book all by yourself"! Make a big deal about your student's accomplishments.
You can even begin with books that have no words and have the student relate a story to you based on the pictures. Fold some blank paper and make your own books. Can't draw? Use stickers or pictures from magazines and newspapers. Family photos, "This is my mom", "This is my dad". Have the student draw the pictures and help write a simple story. "The Animals" written and illustrated by (insert your student's name). "The cat.", "The zebra", with his/her name as the author and illustrator just like on a "real" book.
Where else do you find such material? One suggestion is to visit the site Reading A to Z (readinga-z.com).
This subscription site allows you to print out books at a wide variety of skill levels. Make an investment in your child's education. They also offer a free trial. These books can be printed out and read over and over again. There is also a site I like, "speld-sa.org.au" which has many leveled books and related materials for free download.
All of this takes time and effort on your part. Make the time,
and take the effort.
Early reading success is essential.