Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Take Home Literacy Packs: A Great Way to Involve Families!

Every year, many teachers worry endlessly about how to develop a trusting relationship with the families of the students in their classroom, and how to get them involved in the classroom.

There are so many ways to give families an active role in their child's education; they also become a partner with the teacher throughout the school year.

For example,
  • Invite them to do a read aloud for the students in the classroom;
  • Encourage them to chaperone field trips;
  • Have them share their jobs with the students to model real life experiences;
  • Create a blog that is updated weekly with helpful resources and news;
  • Get to know the interests of the families and integrate their ideas into the curriculum if possible (such as a parent who is interested in sustainability helping out during a sustainability unit);
Of course, to get parents participating in the classroom you must communicate, communicate and communicate some more! Keep your interaction meaningful and pleasant; families may become embarrassed and frustrated if they feel that too much is expected of them.

A great idea for incorporating family participation in the classroom without having them come into the actual classroom is to send home literacy packs throughout the year. A literacy pack is usually a a file that includes several books and activities on a certain topic that can be enjoyed by families and their children. It is extremely easy to use because all of the materials have been premade with directions.

Recently, I created a take home literacy pack for the topic "Counting and Numbers". It is extremely easy to make and can be reused throughout the year again and again. It doesn't have to be elaborate, all of the items are inexpensive.

For this literacy pack, I have used a expanding file folder to hold the books and activities. Included inside are:

  • 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo by Eric Carle
  • One Too Many by Gianna Marino
  • Bag of colored popsicle sticks
  • Bag of assorted "creatures" (for use with paper cups)
  • 10 paper cups, labeled first, second, third, etc. 
  • Number cards
  • Number-Word cards
As you can see, there are many materials for use at home. Families can easily use the literacy pack with their child and be assured that they are helping them learn critical skills; they have a powerful role in their child's education and this should reflect in their communication with the teacher because they have taken the time to prepare materials and include families in their child's learning. Not only parents can use this pack; other family members, such as siblings, can also easily do these activities.

So, what activities can be done with this pack? Ideally, there should be an index card with each bag in the folder that tells families how to use the materials, and a letter to the family in a folder/journal explaining the purpose of that particular literacy pack and how it will help their child.
  • Read the books together;
  • Use the popsicle sticks to make different shapes. Increase the number of sticks each time and discuss what shapes are made and how many sides it has;
  • Arrange both the number and number-word cards in order (1-10);
  • Count the "creatures" by twos, fives, and tens. Free play with the items and make up a counting or number game;
  • Play a guessing game: Line the cups from first to tenth and hide a "creature" under one of the cups. Have the child guess which cup has the "creature" by using first, second, third, etc;

    While I have chosen two counting books that I enjoy, any books can be used. Some other excellent counting books are More than One by Miriam Schlein, The Icky Bug Counting Book by Jerry Palotta, Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats and Anno's Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Getting the Most Out of Books

    I have fond memories of spending countless hours with my mother reading books. While fiction is the preferred genre of books for children in classrooms today, I was an avid nonfiction reader. I could not get enough of the books my mother would pick out. The world was full of amazing possibilities I hadn't thought of; a book gave me many answers!

    When I think about classroom libraries, this scenario comes to mind. Fiction books are great, but to appeal to all students you need a good variety of books available in the classroom.

    But literacy does not stop with just reading a book! There are so many possibilities that educators and parents can use to further the benefits of reading a book which I will discuss here.

    An activity can be made for literally every book that a child will read. One of my favorite options for furthering information gained from a book is to use sensory tables. Not only do students remember information better, but other skills are gained depending on the activity.

    Here are some great examples for what can be done with a book and a sensory table:
    Another great way to further learning is to incorporate art activities:

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Phonological Awareness: What is it and why is it so important?

    If you have a child in preschool to second grade, you may have heard teachers mentioning the words "phonological awareness". While you may be unaware of what phonological awareness is, it is good to have a basic understanding. Phonological awareness is actually a crucial set of skills that are typically mastered as a child progresses through preschool to second grade. A crucial part of phonological awareness is phonemic awareness.
    • Definition: Ability to attend to and manipulate unites of sound in speech (syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes) independent of meaning.
     A crucial part of phonological awareness is phonemic awareness.
    • Definition: Ability to attend to and manipulate phonemes, the smallest sounds of speech. 
    But what does it really mean? How does it look? Lets see some examples!
    • Abi has a set of pictures in front of her. She matches each picture with another picture that rhymes. 
    • Mr. Mustafa is leading his class in a syllable activity. As he says each word, they clap the syllables. 
    • Natalie is sitting with her teacher during group time. Her teacher says the word "cat" and asks her what sound is in the middle. She replies, "/a/". 
    Phonological awareness is very important to master. The English language is made up of sounds, and our writing system is based on these sounds. Without mastery of these skills, reading will be difficult.

    There are several ways to incorporate phonological awareness activities, at school and at home.
    • Books: Find books that play with sounds. There are many children's books that focus on alliteration, rhyming and sound substitution. 
    • Poetry: Many poems rhyme. Children can add to the rhyming after the poem has finished to create their own rhymes. 
    • Songs: Songs can be great to play around with sounds. Some good examples are: Willoughby Wallaby Woo, Down by the Bay, Apples and Bananas and The Bee and the Pup.
    • Games: Many games can be adapted to work with sounds in words. For example, I Spy may be used to find words that begin or end with a certain sound. 

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    Literacy is More Than Books!

    When we think of literacy, most people automatically think of books. While books are an important part of becoming literate and reading will be the building blocks of learning throughout life, there is so much more to literacy than reading books in the classroom or at home.

    Early childhood presents many opportunities to do activities to extend literacy from books into other domains of learning. Having a narrow view of literacy and just incorporating books in the classroom is a waste of opportunity! Blending literacy through several mediums and curriculum in the classroom engages the class in a meaningful way. Not only will literacy improve, other areas will improve too.

    There are several different things that can be done to extend a literacy activity:
    • Incorporate a short video clip relating to the book being read. For example, if the book has an alligator as the main character, a clip with an alligator can be used. Make sure it is engaging!
    • Singing and dancing are amazing ways to get some exercise while exploring a topic. Try to find songs that connect to the book being read and get the crowd participating and having a good time!
    • Fingerplays are great for fine motor skills. There are many classic fingerplays that can be adapted to whatever is needed; or you can simply make your own!
    • Storytelling is fun and interactive. Children pick up on intonation from the teacher and enjoy seeing their teacher act in a fun and silly way to portray a story. 
    • Dramatic play is a must! Children display their understanding of the story while adding their own unique take.
    • Art is very flexible and literacy can be incorporated into any art activity. For example, children focusing on letters of the alphabet may write them with their fingers in colored shaving cream. 
    Exposure to books and the joy that comes with reading is an awesome thing that your child will carry with them throughout their lives. With these connections to interactive methods of exploring literacy, their experience will be even better.