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

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. 

Sincerely, Your Substitute Teacher

Dear Teachers, 

We see you. We see the work you put in. We see the sacrifice you make in providing your classroom with materials paid for out of your pocket. We see the extra janitorial work you do before, after, and even during class. We respect the amount of time you put into the learning of these students, spending hours before and after class writing lesson plans, making anchor charts, calling parents, and prepping for upcoming days. 

When we walk through your classroom we see smiles on your student’s faces. We see their excitement for learning and how hard you’ve worked to get them to this point. Your love and respect for your students are tangible by the way they talk so highly of you. We see how much you care about them too by the work you’ve put into each detail, their personalized name tags, the extra study chart you made when you realized they didn’t quite grasp concepts right away. We see it in the way you leave us notes about specific kids and their behaviors we need to be aware of- the students who are more difficult or the students who are big helpers. You know them, you know who they are and what they need. We see the sticky notes you leave for yourself about upcoming community events your students are in or the reminders for passing out those extra homework papers you’ve made at least 5 copies of this week since they all seem to mysteriously disappear in backpacks. 

We know you’re still an excellent teacher even though you had to take a sick day, or a personal day for conferences, vacation, or to visit family. We know you miss your students just as much as they miss you. We see what an accepting and inviting culture you’ve created in your classroom by the need your students feel to have you back.

We as substitute teachers are privileged to enter your classroom for sometimes as little as a few hours a day. We are given a tiny window of your space and we respect your noble work. So teachers, dear teachers, we see you. We respect you, and we are proud of you. Keep doing the great work you are doing, because you are the best teacher for this classroom. 

Sincerely, 

Your Substitute Teacher 

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?  

What If Inquiry-Based Teaching Isn’t Always The Right Answer?

Inquiry-based learning has become more of a common practice throughout schools. It encourages asking questions, thinking deeper, and applying the material to personal lives. Inquiry-based learning is flexible because the student is the leader for where the conversation and learning leads. It can have higher engagement because the student can take the material where they want it to go. 

This type of learning is so beneficial in some studies. However, are there times when inquiry-based isn’t best? What are the parameters for inquiry-based versus direct instruction? 

Teamwork and group projects are where inquiry-based flourishes, students can collaborate, ask questions, and use the skills developed in inquiry learning to look deeper into the subject. 

Science lessons based on experiment and discovering new ideas is also a great platform for inquiry. 

Discussions on subjects are where inquiry-based can blossom. Promoting questions with long or different answers can assist in deeper inquiry, instead of direct, one-word answer questions. 

However, are there times inquiry-based learning isn’t the best way? Where does direct instruction fit into the school day? Here is a great rule of thumb- throw out inquiry-based as soon as you see a student struggling. It’s important to note that struggle is good when using inquiry because it can lead to more learning breakthroughs for the student. The struggle that causes red flags is the kids who are constantly struggling, the kids on a lower reading level than their peers, or the ones who cannot seem to grasp the concept enough to participate in these discussions. This is where direct instruction needs to happen. 

Imagine a struggling child who is constantly poked and prodded with questions about letters and sounds in order for them to inquire more about it, eventually leading to them knowing what the letter names and sounds are. If they are already behind, more inquiring isn’t going to help them. It’s a powerful tool to directly tell them what something is and how it functions over and over until it clicks. Once they can grasp this complex concept, they can continue to move up and work on each concept until eventually, they can participate in inquiry discussions. 

Sometimes, kids don’t need more questions, they just need direct information. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for inquiry-based learning, and plan to write more on the subject matter. But I am also an advocate for doing what is best for the student. 

What is your rule of thumb for direct versus inquiry learning?