Other Activities To Do Instead Of Explicitly Teach Letters

I’ve written a lot lately about teaching my daughter preschool. 

Read about my initial thoughts here. 

Read about the curriculum I’m using here. 

Read about a few things I’ve learned in the process here. 

While it’s easy to focus on learning letters during this age of a child’s life, it’s not the end goal. Here’s what I wrote: 

“Learning letters and numbers isn’t the goal of preschool. Playing is the purpose of preschool, and throwing in the letters and numbers is just an added bonus. I was reminding myself often that just because my daughter still didn’t know that R says rrrrrr by the end of two weeks, it doesn’t mean the two weeks was a fail. We played, we sang, recited poems and painted. So much paint! The purpose of the R unit wasn’t to engrain the letter or sound into her mind, it was to expose her to a new letter, maybe recognize it, and most important- to play.”

Today I wanted to make a list of activities to do with your kids beside teach letters (that can still promote letter awareness and learning). 

Paint. We are BIG advocates for paint over here at our house! Super washable Crayola paint is our go-to. Paint on paper, paint on windows, paint in the bathtub, paint outside. PAINT! Paint flowers, letters, silly faces, rainbows, animals, numbers, and more. 

Other artistic outlets such as coloring, cutting and gluing, paper folding, etc. 

Sensory bin activities with different fillers. I’d list them all out for you, but I’ve already made a post for that!

Play outside. Discover the world, and talk about it. Talk about the green grass, the blue sky. Wonder why dandelions grow in your yard but not the neighbors? (This was an actual conversation I had with my daughter. Maybe a sign that we need a little more weed killer??) 

Build with blocks, build forts, build with safe items from the pantry. Talk about bigger and smaller towers and the letters on the packaging or the colors you are using. 

The blocks featured are sumblocks

Go on a walk. Discover new places, see new people, and have different experiences outside of your home. 

Keep letters around your home to be involved in play.

I’ve said it multiple times in multiple posts, but never forget the fundamentals: 

  • Talk
  • Sing
  • Read
  • Write 
  • Play 

These five incredibly important points create readers. And not just a child that can read, but a child that loves to read. Let’s stop the pressure of children learning letters at a young age, and start creating reading lovers. 

A few more resources: 

Reading Before Kindergarten- Is It Really Necessary?

Tips On Activities With Young Learners

What Is Play-Based Learning?

“The whole world opened up to me when I learned to read”

Mary McCleod Bethune

Books We’ve Recently Added To Our Home Library

I recently added new books to our little home library and wanted to share some with you.

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai. I wrote about Malala months ago and what an impact she had on opening my eyes to new cultures. When I found a children’s book I could read to my kids, I knew I needed it!

Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman was also top priority on my list. My daughter is an avid Doc McStuffins watcher and in one episode they feature Bessie Colman and her accomplishments. I knew it would be fun to dive a little deeper into her history!

Who Was Jackie Robinson? A good old “who was” book! Are you catching on that we are trying to learn about people here? A chapter book is hard for my almost 3 year old to take in right now, but it has great information that I can pull from and teach her about Jackie Robinson.

The Hike was recommended to me by a dear friend. It ties in great science by labeling plants and animals subtly throughout the book, and shows great diversity, which is always important!

Addy A Heart Full Of Hope is an American Girl story about Addy, a girl growing up in Philadelphia during the Civil War. I tried reading bits and pieces of this to my almost 3 year old, but she lost interest and did not understand well enough what was going on. It’ll be a fun, quick read for me, and one that will sit patiently on our shelves until she’s ready to pick it up.

This Is How We Do It is a book so well loved by many! I hear this book recommended more by friends than most any other book. I have been wanting to buy it for quite some time, so once I decided to expand our library this week, I knew this one was on the list! We are currently on back order for it and anxiously awaiting it’s arrival!

Young, Gifted, and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes From Past and Present was recommended to us again by a good friend. This one has by FAR been our favorite! The illustrations are ravishing and the information is incredible. This book again featured Bessie Colman, already a hero of my daughter’s, and Michelle Obama, who too was featured on Doc McStuffins. Simone Biles, Stevie Wonder, Rosa Parks, and Zadie Smith are just a few of the others you get to meet along the way.

I love the history, science, and diversity each of these books bring to our little library.

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

Harry S. Truman

Reading Before Kindergarten- Is It Really Necessary?

Reading before Kindergarten- is it necessary? Is it beneficial? Is it something parents and educators should be spending their precious minutes with the children on? As time goes on, more and more pressure is put on parents to have high academically achieving children and preschools across the nation are meeting this “need” by giving kids an academic-based preschool in exchange for a play-based preschool.  

I’ve been hearing an ad for a local preschool in my area that boasts “We will have your kids reading before kindergarten!” and every time I hear the ad it makes me angry that they are adding to the social pressure put on parents for having a reading four or five year old! No parent should ever have to feel inadequate because their child isn’t an early reader. It goes without saying that this is not a preschool I can support.

Reading to her horses, even though she can’t read! What great pretend play that will eventually lead to reading.

Did you know that if your kid is reading before kindergarten, studies have shown that by 2nd grade they don’t have much advantage over kids who learned to read in kindergarten? Did you know that teaching your child to read before they are ready can actually drive them away from reading and make them a worse reader in the long run? It may be exciting at your mom group to brag about how academically advanced your child is, it’s exciting to celebrate your kid’s accomplishments! But that shouldn’t be shadowing out what they truly need. 

I have even felt the pressure myself and my daughter is not even 3 years old yet. I see friends with kids similar ages who can name letters and sounds so easy, yet my daughter is just barely showing a small interest in letters and not even close to knowing what they are or what they say. This is discouraging because I have read to her every day and she has been exposed to letter for years now!! But she will pick it up in her own time. Until then, she is establishing her love of reading, and that is more important than letter names right now.

Reading before kindergarten is not bad by any means! If your child is genuinely showing an interest in letters and words and stringing them together to read sentences, by all means, let them fly!! When it comes to teaching kids to read, let them lead. 

There are so many other things we can and should be doing with our kids instead of pushing reading on them. First, back to the basics that create lifelong readers, and some of my favorite things to do!

Talk 

Sing 

Read 

Write 

Play 

These fundamental skills build the learning basics of reading. Talking and singing with them will do more in the long run than pushing letter learning on them. Giving them genuine time to play, build, and make-believe will do wonders. Play is a child’s work! It’s how they learn and grow. 

Choosing an academic-based preschool and even kindergarten robs them of their most needed resource- PLAY! Let the kids play, really play! Mary also wrote out 5 lessons her kids taught her about play that is also helpful in this situation! I also loved her perspective of Kindergarten readiness from a teacher AND a parent standpoint when her daughter was almost kinder age! She has amazing resources and tips for us. 

Other things you can focus on with your child that promote kindergarten readiness instead of reading: 

Sensory activities

Writing, drawing, coloring, and painting 

Puzzles and problem solving 

How to maintain and hold a conversation 

Establishing a love for books and being read to 

Build positive relationships with books- from the beginning!

Let’s take the pressure of reading off kids! Let’s play and sing and let the kids lead! Choose a play-based preschool, give them books, point out letters in your daily life, and when they are interested, let them read! 

What are your thoughts on reading before kindergarten? Do you as a parent feel the social pressure of early reading? 

A Review On Vooks- Virtual Books

After a week or so of social distancing, we were losing our minds being so stuck at home! Anyone else? One of my solutions was to sign up for Vooks- Storybooks brought to life. They have a first month free trial for parents- Or first year free for educators! I’m not an active educator right now, so I did the first month free and wanted to share my findings with you. Please note that blog posts from Honors Grad U are never sponsored or endorsed. These are my honest, true thoughts and feelings on our experience. 

A quick rundown of Vooks. Basically a “virtual book” of sorts. Imagine those YouTube read alouds that others so generously post for us, but with small animation of the pictures and the words lighting up when read. Here is one quick example of this cute book by Zack Bush.

Some of the pros:  

Good selection for browsing if you aren’t looking for a specific book. 

Great way to introduce audiobooks, can be a scaffolding method into them. 

Downloadable- Don’t need data or wifi to use the app. Great for parents! Also useful for teachers for the days when technology or the wifi is not on your side. 

No ads!! 

They hear various accents and voices that I’m not capable of doing. 

It’s a good change of pace and a novelty way to read a book.

It can be empowering for a struggling reader to still be able to read books without the pressure of having to know every word. 

Cons: 

It can be hard when you need specific books 

They weren’t used in our house often- However, I could see that changing in a classroom. I know I’ve had multiple times in my teaching experience that I needed two minutes to find the missing papers, or set up something I forgot for a lesson, and a quick Vooks would have done the trick to give me the time needed. 

It isn’t a great replacement for a book, it’s just a more “book version” of a movie by using the same text, lighting it up, and using slightly less animation. 

My 2.5-year-old didn’t find them engaging, so I ended our membership when the free trial was over. Please don’t take this as an end-all for every kid! She may like it again in 6 months. She’s 2, she doesn’t really know what she likes. 

They weren’t quite as engaging as a movie because it was less animation, and not quite as engaging as a book because I found the animation often took out the deductive reasoning books usually offer and didn’t have the book “feel” to it, more a movie feel.

Overall, they were fun when it was free! And if I were teaching I would definitely be taking advantage of the first year free to give it a try. However, I did not feel like it was useful enough to pay the monthly subscription fee. Please remember I am one human with one opinion, I strongly suggest you take advantage of the free trial as well and decide for yourself how you feel about it. 

I wonder how these pros and cons will change as my kids are older, and if they were used in a classroom setting instead of in my home. Have you used Vooks in your classroom? If you have, please tell us your experience in the comments below! 

Featured photo from Vooks.com

Why Are Labels So Important For Early Readers?

Labels. What’s the deal? Why are they important, especially in younger kids? 

I always knew they were important, but I was able to witness firsthand just how impactful it can be for children. 

In my daughter’s room, we have labeled many of her everyday objects. 

My daughter’s dresser of clothes
The magnetic chore chart on our back door of daily tasks my daughter does
A close up of the magnets for the chore chart
Her favorite puzzle that I added labels to

For each of these items, she has a visual of what exactly the object is or contains. If she pulls out her bin with socks, she knows it has socks. 

On her chore chart, when she sees the picture of the t-shirt, she knows it means she needs to get dressed. 

At 2.5 years old, she cannot read, yet words are present on each of these objects. Are the labels just for me? Absolutely not. At first glance, she didn’t pay much attention to them, just the pictures, but as time went on she started noticing the words and letters. 

“Mom, this says pig.” she would tell me while she held the pig puzzle piece up. 

“It says…. Dishwasher.” when she would move her magnet to “done” after helping me with the dishes. 

Eventually, she stopped focusing so much on the picture and started focusing in on the words.

A study was once done on kids being read picture books at an early age. It tracked their eyes to where they were looking on the page during the story. Kids who did not know how to read yet focused solely on the pictures for the entire story, paying very little attention to the words. Kids who had a very basic foundation skill of words and reading but could not read yet went back and forth between the words on the page and the pictures, trying to put the two together. While kids who could read focused mainly on the words and less on the pictures.

By putting these words and pictures in front of her, I’ve given her the opportunity to see the connection of words with objects and it took very little effort (or even teaching) on my part! She loves to look at each label and read them to me. Most of the time she doesn’t say it exactly right as it reads, but the purpose is that she’s trying. 

She’s gained confidence in her ability to read, it’s not something that’s just for older kids and adults. 

She’s putting together that letters grouped together can create words. 

She’s gathering that words have meaning and can represent objects. 

She’s recognizing familiar letters in the words and seeing them put to use. 

Is she actually reading? No. But she’s laying down the crucial foundational skills she needs to get there. 

And we’re getting there with one simple, simple aspect added to her day- Labels. Never underestimate the power a labeled object can have on an early reader. 

My Book Review on “College READY: Get The Most Out Of Your College Experience”

High school and college students, this post is for you! Teachers and professors of high school and college students, you’ll want to listen too. I recently read a book targeted toward high school seniors, but I believe is beneficial to any students, even those well into college. 

College READY: Get The Most Out Of Your College Experience by Mitchell Nicholes is a book written by a recent college graduate who takes apart different parts of college step by step in an easy to read and comprehend way. He covers topics such as discovering you why for college, setting SMART goals, and the ins and outs of funding and financial aid in college. The writing is fairly casual, making it a text that doesn’t need to be deciphered, the information comes across easy and sometimes in bullet points for ease. And with only 37 pages, putting this in the hands of students would not be overwhelming. By the end of the book, they should feel confident in knowing more about schooling, budgeting, and goal setting. 

It covers a vast audience, not just high school seniors. Researching college and the preparation it entails can start at younger ages before high school. And on the other end of the spectrum, students beyond their freshman year in college can benefit from this book too. I was well into my sophomore year of college before financial aid was even on my radar, and this book would have been a great tool in my research on what FAFSA was and the jargon it brings along with it, which is why this book needs to be in the hands of every student with undergrad and graduate schooling on their minds.

There is a whole chapter on career choice and progression, and that itself is why any college student at any level needs this as well. He covers everything from choosing the correct career for you to figuring out salary after graduation. If you won’t take my word for it that this book is worth your time, take it from a paragraph in the book itself: 

“The sole purpose of this book is to equip you with the knowledge and tools to get the most out of your college experience and set you up for success in life. So many people go through different journeys in their life without a plan, and essentially just end up “somewhere.” Think of this book as a guide. Utilize the knowledge you learned to discover what you need to do to get the most out of your college experience and set yourself up for success in life!’

-Mitchell Nicholes

You can buy the paperback or Kindle version of this book on Amazon. 

Read Aloud Books In A First Grade Classroom

First grade holds a special place in my heart. During my college years, I always said I would never teach as young as first grade, I wanted a job in fourth or fifth grade. However, a long-term substitute teaching job for first-grade students fell into my lap after graduation and I absolutely felt like I had to accept. It was nerve-racking and pushed me to my limits some days, but overall I grew from the experience and loved every minute I had working with those kids. 

While I believe that every age of the student should have the opportunity to learn through read-aloud, I especially loved reading them to my first graders, because the majority of the time it was their first experience hearing these books. Also, whether it was their first time or the 100th time hearing the text and seeing the illustrations, they still were full of excitement to sit down and read every day. 

Oftentimes I found myself reaching for picture books for these students, almost as if I was underestimating their ability to take in a more complex text while being read to because of their current reading level. There were a handful of students reading easy chapter books in my classroom, therefore anything longer than 20 pages seemed outlandish. It’s also a time commitment to read any book that takes longer than a day to your students. I was very wrong, and I am thankful for the day I came to this realization because after finishing the first chapter book I read out loud for them, and watching their excitement come to life for this book with their want of more information once it was over made me realize I should have been reading them chapter books from the start. Here are a few chapter books we especially enjoyed in that first-grade classroom, both whole class, and small groups. 

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White 

Wayside Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar 

Amelia Bedilia by Peggy Parish 

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osborne 

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

The day we finished Charlotte’s Web in our classroom, I had a handful of students crying silent tears for Charlotte the spider. Almost every student drew pictures of the animals and we hung them up throughout the classroom to remember this book that we shared together. We even had a movie day to watch the book come to life! Having a great read aloud in the classroom can be so rewarding and empowering to your students. 

What ways have read aloud books benefitted your classroom? What are some of your favorite read aloud books for younger grades?  

Photos by goodreads.com