Secrets of the Apple Tree

girl climbing apple tree picks fruit

I’ve been on this Earth for many years now,
Long enough to witness the different stages of life, multiple times.

The one I’m perpetually drawn to is childhood. 
The innocence of a child is unlike any other
Because they pick and climb and run and scream
All without a single worry about what tomorrow brings.

Always running.
Always climbing.
Always wondering.
Always growing. 

It doesn’t matter the time, the decade, or the season,
I’ve discovered one constant truth-
That children need movement and play and risk. 
They are drawn to me for that exact reason.

The constant I am in their lives, 
And have been in the past for others,
And will continue to be in the future 
To those that wander in. 

For I am the apple tree
That has nourished bellies
And held strong for endless climbing. 
My leaves provide them with shade 
And my branches hold them sublimely. 

As the years go on, 
As children grow,
I know they will lose interest with time.
But I worry not. 

The next generation will come
And pick and climb and run and scream.
All without a single worry about what tomorrow brings.
For there is a gravitational pull that an apple tree yields.

Risk and reward.  
Peace and tranquility. 
Havoc and uncertainty. 

We truly were created for one another,
The child and the apple tree. 

Photo by Zen Chung

The Different Ways We Learn

Sight words are such a buzzword in our household right now. And if you’ve had a kindergartener before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

Each day my daughter comes home with new worksheets, readers, and other various activities that have to do with sight words. Her teacher also sends her home with a new set of sight words to play with and master from home each week. We’ve had a lot of fun learning these words through the games and activities we’ve come up with together

The way I tend to learn best is repetition, repetition, repetition. If I read the words over and over, say it, spell it, rush through them on flashcards again and again, and then I will never forget the words. My mind has to see the word, deconstruct the word, put the word together again, and then it’s set in there forever. 

Because this is how my mind works best, this was the basis for a lot of the activities I chose to do with my daughter. The more exposure, the better! We were doing so much repetition of the words that I was surprised and frustrated when I started realizing that what we were doing wasn’t sticking. When quizzed on the words, she wasn’t able to recall what the words were. 

To be honest, it made me feel like a failure. I have all of this background in teaching and I can’t even figure out how to teach my own child some sight words. 

One night, my husband lovingly stepped in. He took out the sight word flashcards and they started making sentences together using only sight words. They would make a sentence, read it, and then create a new sentence, repeating the process over and over. Eventually, they pulled out the sticky notes and added CVC words like cat and dad. They spent about ten minutes doing this activity and while they were having fun and bonding, I was doubting his ability to get anything to stick beyond their current work. But nevertheless, I let them have their time. 

The next evening we pulled out our sight word Jenga game, and immediately I was shocked. She knew the words! All of them! We had done so many different activities and nothing was working, but suddenly in one day, it all clicked for her. 

I approached my husband about it afterward and he told me he was playing a word game with her in a way that he would learn the new words best. By application. By seeing them as a part of a sentence and reading them together with other words. 

In my mind, this made no sense. How can she even read the words if she hasn’t spent the time memorizing them beforehand? 

But in both of their minds, the path using real-life applications worked. I was trying to lead her down my own road of rote memorization for learning, while she desperately needed real-life application.

The concept that everyone learns in different ways is something I know and was taught how to work with during my undergrad. But when it came to my own child, I just assumed her mind worked the same way mine did. I was giving her varying activities to do, but the process for all of them was the same. Repeat the words over and over and over until eventually, you memorize them. 

After my revelation, I started catering to her learning style better. 

We continually made up sentences with sight words. We read books filled with sight words. We even wrote our own book using sight words! Anytime we were looking at words and sentences on cereal boxes, in grocery stores, etc., we pointed out the sight words and read them together. 

More application. Less rote memorization. 

It was a great, simple reminder that all minds have different systems and routes for learning. Yes, even our own offspring sometimes. 

And if we can take some time to figure out each individual mind and the route they personally need to take when they are struggling to grasp a concept, it can make all the difference in the world to them. It may even turn them into a little, tiny reader. 

Photo by James Wheeler

To the Parents Newly Entering the School System: You’ve Got This

I spent many years going to school to become a teacher. More specifically, a public school teacher. I wasn’t opposed to private or charter schools, but I did feel more of a draw for public schools. Maybe because that was my school experience, so that’s what I felt the most comfortable with? 

During my undergrad, I was able to spend time in around 5 different public schools and 1 public charter school in the Cache Valley, Utah area. It gave me a good look into the amazing, the good, the bad, and the ugly of our public school systems. 

When it came time to register my oldest for kindergarten, I was excited for her to start in a public school that I felt so drawn to! (For the record, I was open to her attending private or charter, but it’s not a feasible option in our current location.) We walked into the halls of the school on a mid-May day and could hear students practicing songs for their end-of-the-year program. We could physically feel the spring itch everyone had, ready for school to be out for the year so that summer vacation could officially commence. It made me so excited! We took the registration papers from the front desk, filled them out, and received all of the information we needed to know about the first day of school in the fall. 

The summer went on with constant excitement and conversation about starting school. I realized that as the day came closer and closer, the more nervous I felt. I tried not to let this show to my daughter, she was just one giant ball of excitement, and I knew if my nerves were showing, she would take them on herself, and that was something neither of us needed. 

Our school allowed parents to request teachers, but we were new to this town we were in and didn’t even have anyone we could ask for their opinions on which teacher to request! I assumed all four kindergarten teachers were probably amazing because it really takes an amazing human being to choose the profession of a kinder teacher. But when it came down to it, the reason I had so much anxiety about sending my daughter to school was the amount of control I had to give up as a parent. 

I’ve tried really hard not to be a helicopter mom to my kids and allow them as much independence as possible, which can sometimes be hard to do when you just want what’s best, easiest, and safest for your kids! However, research article after research article will tell you how important it is for children to have independence, opportunities for decision-making, and even moments of failure or risk. 

What ended up being the hard part for me was the fact that I had complete control over who was taking care of my children at any given time in their lives. Anytime we had babysitters, extra help with our kids, had to leave them overnight for something, or even just child care during work hours, I was always able to have a very large choice in the matter. When we chose a daycare for our kids, I took the time to tour and interview various daycares near us to choose which one I felt most comfortable sending my kids to. 

When it came time for my oldest to start public school, it wasn’t a matter of “tour various locations and interview many people to make the best possible decision.” It was a matter of, “This is where the boundaries say your child should go to school, so this is where you will go. Furthermore, we will assign teachers to the students.” 

Okay, it wasn’t that harsh. A lot of school districts will allow you to change schools and/or districts if you go through all of the right steps and paperwork. And they did allow requests for teachers. 

But in a large way, I really did feel like I was giving up so much of my voice and control over who my child spends time with and what she is exposed to all day every day by sending her to public school. It was daunting and anxiety-inducing. 

However, we are almost three months into it, and I’m realizing that it’s okay. 

It’s okay for her to be around a good diversity of safe adults within a public school. 

It’s okay for her to choose who to play with at recess. 

It’s okay for her to choose not to eat her lunch sometimes. 

It’s okay for her to grow and develop a relationship with her teacher, even if I didn’t handpick that teacher. 

So to all you parents that are new to any school system. Yes, even those that homeschooled for years and years and made the jump out of homeschooling and into public, private, or charter school. 

I see you. 

It’s hard and overwhelming to make this huge adjustment to your life. It’s overwhelming how many decisions are being made that you just cannot be a part of. It can be fearful to wonder what happens in those school hallways for all of those hours that you’re not there with your child, especially if you’ve been accustomed to staying home all day or most of the day with them. 

But it’s also so, so good. For both of you. And it’s okay for both feelings to exist at the same time. You’ve got this. 

Photo by Vlad Vasnetsov

Sight Word Games For the Early Reader in Your Life

With my oldest in kindergarten this year, sight words have become a big part of our daily life. She’s practicing them at school and then we have a list at home that we can work on as well. And as I’ve written time and time again, “Play is a child’s work.” So we don’t just buzz through sight word flashcards as fast as we can, we use sight words in our play. Here are a few games we’ve come up with together to help along the way. 

Sight word board game: My daughter and I made this game together in a similar way to how you would play Candyland. There are two ways you can play it- make your own cards with sight words written on them to indicate where your next square is. Or, roll the dice, move forward that many spaces, and read the words as you move. For pieces, we use Bingo tokens, various board game pieces, or small toys. Yes, Skye and Chase help us play this game! If you know, you know!

Sight word Jenga: We bought a few of these tiny tumbling tower sets from Dollar Tree and wrote various sight words on them. Once we pull a brick out, we read the word, and once the tower has tumbled, we take turns making sentences with the words we pulled. We did multiple sets so we could add in more sight words as they learn them in class. I plan to do CVC and CVC-e words someday when she’s ready for that. 

Sight word sentence builder: I bought a pack of sight word flash cards for cheap on Amazon to save me the time and effort of making my own. We use these cards, plus a few index cards with words we decide to add, to create fun sentences. We also use our Jenga blocks for this as well! This one is my daughter’s favorite way to play with sight words! 

Sight word seek and find: For this, we use our sight word flashcards, or sometimes I’ll write them out on sticky notes and use those instead. One of us hides the sight words and then the other one finds them while reading out which word they found. Pictured here is your classic “hide it in the Christmas tree” move. The amount of random toys I pull out of our Christmas tree at the end of the holiday from various hide-and-seek games is unreal!

Sight word seek and find + builder: This game is a two-part game! I place sticky notes with letters throughout our family room, then she is required to find the letters and build the sight words out of the letters. This one took some scaffolding. In the beginning, it was just a letter here or there omitted in sight words that she had to find, but as she got better and better at it, she started spelling her own words with less prompting. 

Sight word hopscotch: This one can be as intricate or as easy as your time and energy allow. We’ve done this quickly outside with sidewalk chalk, quickly inside with our flashcards, or intricately with painter’s tape boxes taped out on the floor or full sheets of paper with the words written on them taped to the floor. SO many different ways to do this one! While jumping from square to square, we read the words. 

Sight word beanbag toss: This one is a simple one we like to do in addition to the other games we’ve been playing. I simply just lay the flashcards out on the floor and my daughter takes a beanbag (or a soft toy, stuffed animal, etc.), tosses it at a card, and if it’s touching the card she reads the word, then she is handed the card. If she doesn’t read the word correctly, she tries again!


Not only are these sight word games building awareness of words, but they are also utilizing fine and gross motor skills, moving around the room, and using, deconstructing, and building these words in ways they haven’t before. Learning sight words isn’t reading. It’s memorizing. And play is a child’s work, so in order to work through memorizing these words, they must play. 

What sight word games would you add to this list? 

Playing Preschool Round ✌🏽

A few years ago I started Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool curriculum with my oldest. She was about three years old at the time and I wrote my review on the curriculum here. 

And now I’m back in the same position with my second child, utilizing our Playing Preschool guide once again! We trekked down to our storage room in the basement and pulled out the tape, dot stickers, pipe cleaners, and paint. We even dedicated a little corner in our home and call it the preschool room! 

Our Melissa and Doug calendar is set up on the wall and we start off our preschool day with poems and songs just like we did in the past. 

This is my second time around with the Playing Preschool curriculum and I am impressed all over again! It truly is learning through playing. As Susie from Busy Toddler promises, there are no worksheets and nothing complicated. It’s just everyday supplies gathered and utilized to help little minds grow and learn. A few things I’ve learned the second time around: 

  • I’ve taken the pressure off of myself to accomplish every single activity outlined for the day. Some days we get through it all, other days I see that learning isn’t happening and we need to take a break for the day. 
  • The repetition of one unit for two weeks can feel really… redundant for adults. After the 7th day of the apple theme, I didn’t want to look at or talk about apples ever again! But the repetition for those preschool-aged minds truly is crucial for learning. 
  • One of my cons on my last review was the hard time I had finding books to use because the pandemic shut down a lot of resources for finding what I needed. However, this time around with libraries open, it’s been much easier. After going through each of these units a second time, I’m more aware of what the needs are with the books used and can change and adapt the books as needed. 
  • The most important part of the entire Playing Preschool curriculum is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong! 

Have you purchased Playing Preschool? What are your thoughts on the curriculum? 

Stop Pushing The Books And Let Them Take it at Their Own Pace!

You guys, I love reading. I love reading so much that I have consumed (and completely finished) 47 books this year. If I were to include the books I’ve skimmed or started but didn’t finish, I’d be somewhere near 60+ on the number of books I’ve read this year. 

From the time my oldest was born, I have tried so hard to instill a love of reading in her. I’ve done everything the professionals tell you to do for kids to enjoy reading. I don’t ever push books on her, I let her take the lead on what to read, how to read it, and when to read them. I never turn down an opportunity to read a book if she’s bringing one to me. Yet still, she’s seemed very disinterested in reading and learning to read. 

It’s been hard for me to have such a love for reading and watch her not care as much. She’s now five years old and started kindergarten this last fall. It seems like an opportune time to introduce chapter books with a little more depth and story to them, but those turn her off even more! I always dreamed of the day I would sit down in a big recliner with my child and read Charlotte’s Web for the first time, but that day feels so distant to me right now, which is disappointing. 

However, I’m doing my best to create a safe, fun environment around books for her, so I’m working every day on not pushing the literature! Instead, we spend plenty of time surrounded by books, all throughout our home at the school library, and the public library. I model reading for her by reading my own books. We also spend a lot of time looking through picture books but not reading them, which is always a win, too. 

Do you have a kiddo that doesn’t love reading whether your own child or in your classroom? How do you help foster a love of reading and an environment of support for them? 

Friend or Foe? Fidget Toys in the Classroom

Fidget Toys: the very thought can make teachers (and parents) groan and roll their eyes. From stress balls to fidget spinners, there always seems to be some new gadget taking over your classroom. Should they be banned? Should they be embraced? The debate has been ongoing ever since stress balls first gained popularity in the 1980s. The practice of using sensory tools, however, has been around for much longer. Baoding balls originated during the Ming dynasty and were used to reduce stress, improve brain function, and aid in dexterity development. Before weighted blankets, there were Turkish yorgans which date back to the 16th century. The average winter yorgan weighed anywhere from nine to thirteen pounds. Komboloi, or “worry beads”, were used in Ancient Greece to promote relaxation.

While these sensory tools might have been around for centuries, the science behind them has only recently been looked into. Dr. Anna Jean Ayres first identified Sensory Integration in the 1960’s when she noticed there were children who struggled with functional tasks who didn’t fit into the specific categories of disability that were used at the time. She developed the term “Sensory Integrative Dysfunction” to describe the problems faced by children whose brains struggle to receive, process, or respond to sensory input. Sensory input instructs us on how to respond to our environment and there are consequences from being over or under-stimulated, especially for children who are still learning how to process these cues. When confronted with bright lights, messy or cluttered spaces, and loud noises, children can become agitated and retreat to quieter spaces; whether that is physically finding relief in a less stimulating area or by shutting off their sensory receptors and essentially shutting down. When stimulation is restricted, as is common in a traditional classroom, children will find their own ways to meet their sensory needs. Teachers know exactly what this looks like: tapping, bouncing up and down, kicking, touching everything and everyone, chewing on pencils, making noises, or getting out of their seat to go on some made-up “but I really needed to throw this away” mission.

This is exactly where fidget toys come in handy. (Ha! I didn’t even realize that was a pun until revising this post). And I’m not talking about fidget spinners in all their noisy, distracting glory.

It might be counter-intuitive to think that doing two things at once can enhance a student’s ability to focus on their lessons but evidence is slowly backing it up. One study demonstrated how increased movement boosted the cognitive performance of children with ADHD. Another found that students who used stress balls had improved focus, attitude, social interactions, and even writing abilities. The trick with fidget toys is finding those that don’t require so much brain power that they pull focus from the main task. How many of you have your own fidget methods that you revert to without realizing? Do you chew on pencils or repeatedly click your pen? Perhaps you doodle or bounce your leg. We all have different ideas of what an optimal “focus zone” looks like and it’s important to help students discover their own learning styles and preferences. It’s important for adults too–I decided to invest in my own fidget toys a few months ago and I always keep one at my desk. 

Looking out over your sea of pupils, it can be a little overwhelming to try and figure out their individual needs but as I always say, “When in doubt, ask it out!” As you go into a new school year, reach out to the parents and ask what has helped their child calm down in the past. Do they have a history of thumb-sucking? They would probably respond well to chewelry or rubber pencil toppers. Having a quiet space in your classroom or noise-canceling headphones would be good options for children who need time alone in their room to defuse. Some students need physical contact in order to stay grounded so pressure vests or weighted lap pads would benefit them the most. 

Another great way to learn your students’ individual learning styles is to involve them! Have them complete a task while adjusting the volume of background noise and have a discussion about which one was easiest for them to work with. Give them fidget toys to use while reading to them or showing them a video and then ask them if they were able to focus better or if it was a distraction. This also helps your students develop self-regulation skills. Giving your students access to different sensory tools allows them to stop seeing them as toys and start to recognize when they really need them.

If this sounds like wishful thinking, there are lots of people who would agree with you. Fortunately there are also lots of tips and tricks out there to help you integrate fidget toys into your classroom. Here are some of the most common ones that I encountered in my research:

  1. BOUNDARIES. Work with your students to come up with rules for the fidget toys that they are willing to follow. Post the rules somewhere in your classroom as a visual reminder.
  2. Have a variety of tools available to the class. This can prevent jealousy among students and allows you to use discretion in deciding what toys are actually beneficial. 
  3. Find toys that don’t produce noise or require sight to use. The kids should be able to use their hands or feet to fidget while using their eyes and ears to learn.
  4. Be patient! Once your students get used to the sensory tools in the classroom, the novelty will wear off and they’ll be less of a distraction.
  5. Remind your students that “fair” isn’t the same thing as “equal”. Different people have different needs and it’s important to support those needs.

Ultimately the choice to integrate sensory tools into your classroom is up to you! The fad fidget toys will come and go, but there are plenty of tried and true options that can really work wonders when properly used.

Are fidget toys a menace to society or a misunderstood ally? What challenges or successes have you seen come from them?