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

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

Fun Ways To Read Wordless Books

Wordless picture books are some of our favorites around here. Taking a little extra time on each page to study the beautiful illustrations and let your imagination run is a great way to switch up reading for teachers and students. 

Two of my favorite wordless picture books are Wolf In The Snow by Matthew Cordell. A book about a young child and wolf pup that both become lost in a winter storm, but eventually are led home with the help of each other and their families. Also, A Ball For Daisy by Chris Raschka which is a fun, light-hearted book about a dog named Daisy and her adventures of finding the perfect ball. 

What are some ways to read these books? 

A simple silent reading. Sit back, flip pages, and let the students figure out the storyline by looking at the pictures. Turn it into a writing activity by having them write out the story afterward. 

Use your own narration as you flip through the book. Explain what’s happening, point out fun details, and become the storyteller. 

Turn on fun music that goes well with each story. 

Have different students explain what is happening on each new page of the book based on the illustrations. 

Make up a song that goes along with each page for the students to sing while you read. 

It’s fun to watch how the same story can change the storyline just a bit with each new way it is read. Different interpretations and different emotions can come out based on different perspectives. Books with no words can be magic because of this.

How do you use wordless books in your classroom? What are some favorite ways you’ve used them?  

Looking into the Bond We Make with Literature

My daughter stared at a stack of library books with fear in her eyes saying, “No, mom. No!” as she grasped her favorite yellow book in her arms. How To Babysit A Grandpa has been on repeat over here for a few weeks now. I have a sneaky suspicion that it has something to do with the fact that her grandpa babysat for some time while I was out of town. 

I was annoyed with her persistence to continue reading the same book I’ve read at least 100 times today. Don’t get me wrong, I know the benefits of repeating text. However, we had Caldecott Medal books, Christmas themed books, and books about animals that go on wild adventures. How in the world could she not be excited about them? 

I attempted to pick up the books and briefly explaining what was happening in them. “Look! Santa is eating the cookies the kids left! I love cookies, do you love them too?” 

Nothing but fear came from her. 

“Oh! There is a puppy in this book! She looks like our puppy! Do you want to come to see?” 

Instead, she backed up, clenching her book even tighter. 

Why was she so hesitant about these fun books? We have a giant library of kid books at our house and she is very familiar with all of them. She’s well versed in Dr. Seuss, fairy tales, and how to babysit grandpas, so why was a few new books such a red flag on her radar? 

It took me a few days to understand, but finally, it clicked. She found safety in her books. She’s the kind of kid that thrives on predictability and sticks to what she knows. Venturing beyond brings anxiety, even in the form of books. She needed the comforting words of How To Babysit A Grandpa and she knew she could count on each different colored animal in Brown Bear, Brown Bear. There was no indication that these new library books would give her what she needed from them. 

So how did I eventually coax her into giving them a try? I stopped pushing. 

I left them to her access where she could see them always. We built up the predictability of these books by showing that they would stick around. 

I let her see me reading them. 

I referenced them often as we talked. “These cookies we made are yummy! They remind me of the cookies in the book about Santa!” 

When she finally did show interest, I didn’t push, I let her explore on her own. When she was ready, I joined her. 

We kept the books checked out for as long as the library would possibly let us keep them. By the time we had to return them, we didn’t make it through every page of every book, but we did read a significant amount. Then we filled our bag with new books and started the process all over again. 

This experience made me truly realize what comfort we can find in books. For the third-grader who is going through a really hard time with family troubles, Roald Dahl may hit right at home for her. The first-grade student who wasn’t quite ready to be away from her mom for a full day yet might be flipping through the pages of Goodnight Moon over and over because she can hear her parents voice reading it to her. Maybe a high school student continues to check out The Hunger Games from the library for the 6th time that school year because he feels confident in his ability to read the storyline and is intimidated by other similar series. 

Books can have a huge impact on anyone’s life, especially kids. They bring a sense of safety, security, and predictability into their lives. It opened my eyes to realize that books can be scary, and books can be comforting, it all depends on the situation. 

How do you encourage hesitant readers to try something new? Have you been a hesitant reader before too? 

Ten Ways To Switch Up Your Read Aloud

I am all for promoting a good read-aloud in every classroom from daycares to high school students. I know the power and lessons picture books can hold when you choose the right one. However, I am also aware that simply reading a picture book to students can become mundane and routine when done often, so here are a few tips on how to switch up how you share books with students. 

  1. Felt board stories- For those that aren’t crafty (like me), check Etsy for links to buy sets of felt storyboard characters. Or grab a crafty friend or two to help you create fun sets yourself.    
  2. YouTube videos of books- The majority of popular picture books have at least one YouTube video of someone reading the story. There are whole YouTube channels dedicated to read-aloud books, sometimes with music or discussions at the end.
  3. Vooks- This is a subscription for an animated book collection of popular picture books, however, last I checked it was offered free for teachers for one year. It seems worth checking out. 
  4. Guest readers- For those parents, friends, and community members that are wanting to help in your classroom. How exciting would it be to have a REAL firefighter read a story about what firefighters do? 
  5. Students draw as you read- Let their imaginations do a little work, ask them to illustrate the story as you read. 
  6. The student reads- If you have students that are strong readers that wouldn’t mind a little time in the limelight, give them a chance to read their peers a quick story. 
  7. Coloring pages that go along with the story- I distinctly remember in 2nd grade my teacher read aloud Charlotte’s Web while we colored pictures of pigs, mice, cows, goats, and spiders each day and we hung a few favorites around the room. It brought the story alive in a new way, especially as it became part of our classroom. 
  8. Puppets- They don’t have to be extravagant. Put a sock with some button eyes over your hand to speak as the pigeon in Pigeon Drives The Bus and suddenly your student engagement skyrockets because it’s a little different and a little new. 
  9. Act it out- Once the story is over, let a few students act out their interpretation of the story. 
  10. Change Your Location- Changing up how the book is read seems to be the first idea of increasing engagement. However, changing something like location can amp up the excitement of the book as well. A dear friend of mine once brought her students outside bundled up and ready for a cool fall day while they sat under a big tree watching the falling leaves, and read aloud to them Fletcher And The Falling Leaves. What a magical way to have a story truly come alive for kids. 

What fun ways do you switch up reading for your students? How else do you increase engagement in your students while reading?