Monday, July 24, 2017

So You Want Your Students to Love History

Witness of my Ignited Love for History

Spring Semester of my last year of college, I had completed my student teaching and was preparing to graduate when my professors invited me to present to a crop of aspiring teachers in their 3rd year.

  "What topic do you want me to present on?"  I asked, feeling flattered.
  "We want you to share ideas about how you create lesson plans.  How you come up with your lessons.  We know you love history..."

I did, indeed.  Science was fun, Math and English were par for the course, but creating History units excited me to no end. 

Hadn't I talked a fellow student-teacher into dressing up as Cleopatra for her Egypt Unit?  And hand-painted her Egyptian necklace?   Hadn't I fried up bannocks in front of my class during a review presentation for Native Americans? 

 As I stood in front of that class of my own peers, I began sharing about lessons that thrilled the senses.  I went through the five senses one by one and talked about how to write a lesson that excited each one.  Pencils scratched all over the room as my fellow students began taking notes on how I came up with lessons I cared about. 

My temperament and personality are unique in the teaching profession.   I'm aware of this, because in a group of about 50 teachers that all took a personality test, I ended up in the minuscule group of 4,   labeled the "Artistic ones".    What's that mean when I stand up in front of a class? 

 I know what you're thinking:  "I bet she had one of those sorta disruptive, crazy, artistic classrooms, where everyone's doing their own thing, and it's crazy...some teachers can do that, I could not..." 

Haha, actually, I couldn't do those kind of classrooms either.  More power to them.  Nope, my classroom was quiet, well-managed and we usually did whole group activities.  I was jealous of my students' attention and insisted on a well-behaved class.  I required their interest and engagement.  Sometimes I had to work for it...but I needed them to not be a student like me.  

 Confession:  I was an indifferent student.  I was that kid, the one with glazed eyes.

Blessed to be a quick study, I did not put out extra effort and was satisfied with a few B's and mostly C's.  I did not have an innate drive to thrive in academics.  High grades and teacher praises were shrug-worthy matters.  At home, my older sister already fulfilled my parents' expectations with A's on every report card, and I was content to find another way to shine: usually doing something artsy.  The few teachers who found a way to light the fire of my interest were the ones who discovered that, if allowed, I would blaze trails with creativity. 

When I began teaching, it was the kids with the glazed over eyes, who I saw as my personal challenge.  What was required to light those fires?  That's what I asked myself.  The answer was most often, lessons outside of the "Read and Answer Questions" box. 

 Time for a Mountain Man unit?  I threw my hair in a braid and tucked it under a coonskin cap, changed into jeans and knee-length leather moccasins, and drew "stitches" around my ear with an eyebrow pencil.  Then, when my kids entered the class, I sat with my legs all man-spreaded and tried an "Old West" accent while I told the story of my (Jedidiah Smith's) battle with a bear.  There were no eye-glazes that day. 

Confession:  I still try for this approach in the lessons I create with my students today:  Which of the five senses can I light up today?  I do not practically succeed each time. 
Life interrupts and the best creative lessons often take the most effort and time to pull off.
But...when I can, I do. 

Because...why only read about Egypt's hieroglyphs when you can try to make them yourself? 

 Wouldn't it be easier for students to learn the agricultural crops of a country if they sample them in a meal first?

If you have an ancient tale kids need to remember, how about letting them turn it into a graphic novel?  The artistic ones might even be up for lengthening the tale, if allowed to.  

 If teaching Black History Month, play a version of the old hymn "Go Down, Moses" before explaining how Harriet Tubman alerted plantation slaves to her presence and willingness to lead them to freedom.  If the students read the lyrics themselves, all five verses, ask them why the song was relevant to Harriet and her people. 

This works for other subjects, too, by the way, even if my love doesn't shine as brightly in those areas.  You can always call in outside experts if you can't do it well, yourself.  For instance, science...When studying about the human body and digestion, I thought it would be cool if we got a local vet to share about the digestion system. 

I called one up and got even more than I had hoped for.  He offered to do a dissection and show the digestion organs inside a mouse.  I said, "Sure!" and let him take over my class as I opted out because of a weak stomach. 

My students had the option to leave if they couldn't handle it anymore.  About five of them ended up joining me in an outside room, but the veterinarian and any potential doctors in my class had a fabulous time together. 

One more confession, before I sign off: 

Confession:  With all of my own innate creativity, I did not find my love for history on my own.  Like every other subject area, I was indifferent to history all through elementary and high school.  It took a teacher, a college professor in my case, to ignite my love for it. 

He'd been teaching for years and like me, was indifferent to tests and grades.  Tests, schmests: Use the cheat sheet he provided.  All he asked was that we show up for his class and take notes on what he shared.  And did he share.  He brought history to life for me, in a way no one ever had.  He turned history into a story of humanity that was real and important and relevant.  I never missed a class.

But what he did and how he taught, ignited a love that not only sent me all around my continent to see historical sights.  It started off a chain reaction to inspire that same love in others. 

Take a moment.  Think over a stale lesson.  Which one of the five senses can you use to ignite a child's world?  To make that lesson alive and relevant?  There's always a way to turn an eye-glazed and indifferent student into a trail-blazer.  And as teachers, you already know how much fun it is to succeed at that. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sam the Ram, Looking Slick!

It's been over a year now since ole "Sam the Ram" became "mad at me" and with that fierce little frown, a whole new line of supplemental activities for "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" was born!

To be honest, Sam needed a bit of sprucing up so that he could keep on delighting children.  Recently, our collection of FREE sample supplements got an upgraded cover:

It's been great to see the response with which our supplements have been received!

Due to customer demand, we had to package our entire set of activities for the first 50 lessons in a bundle for ease and the reviews on this have been fabulous!  Yay!

In fact, I had to get busy creating another nine packets for the next bundle, "After Fifty through After One Hundred", because I have definitely been hearing the requests for these activities.  

Most of you are familiar with the Reading Program, and I can promise you it has been easier to come up with engaging stories and entertaining activities with the broader range of sounds I have to work with, having once hit lesson 50.  In fact, I'd like to show you a few of these new stories...

Here is the Mini Book that comes with the After Seventy-Five Packet.  Look at that pink car!  There just isn't anything more fun than a horse named Molly, stealing a pink car and driving it into a tree.
 My graphics chi is definitely improving!

Another change we see as our supplementals progress through the lessons, is the ability to move on to more standard looking fonts in the stories.

Because the classic fonts are introduced at this time in the Reading Program, and they are introduced along with the entire alphabet of letters, I decided children should get the chance to use their deciphering and decoding skills as they match letters in a variety of fun fonts.

This offers excellent practice with old letters and new, and gives you great opportunity to share the names of the letters as you go.

The last change that we see in these latest supplemental packets, is the opportunity to observe words in both the font from the Reading Program and let kids match it with the exact word in a new font.

And the crafts included in these great little packets tie in perfectly with the stories from the program.

All in all, we've come a long way since Sam, but the overall reach and appeal has, if anything, increased.  We're super excited to bring Sam back and look forward to another great year as we finish up these reading supplements and bundle them all up for a final product.

Look for this by the end of summer, 2017!  And thanks, for helping make Sam such a success!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Creating Roman Mosaics for Art and History

We have been studying Ancient Rome for our homeschool history, and decided to experiment a little with Roman Mosaics.

Our first experiment involved pieces of construction paper that we cut into tiny squares.  We filled them in a little haphazardly onto a piece of paper I'd hastily drawn a ship on.  It was fun and gave the kids the basic understanding of what a Mosaic consisted of.

But after some thought, I decided to create a more carefully planned Mosaic project for us (and for you!) in order to practice mosaics in a more mathematical, planned way.  This packet is for sale in our store, but let me run through it here, so you get an idea of what it takes to complete. 

There are three options for kids to choose from in the packet.  My daughter chose the Roman flower.  My son chose the Roman Ship.  Each child who is planning on completing a mosaic will need two sheets:  their design page, and the sheet that contains the tiles or "tesserae" that they will need in order to fill in their design.

There was a lot of scissor cutting involved.  I helped my five year old daughter to cut out her tesserae.  I'm not sure this would be the best craft for every five year old.  My daughter leans toward the artsy side and she enjoyed this immensely, but I actually set the age rating on this packet for 5th, 6th and 7th.

My son cut out ALL of his little tiles before he began gluing.  I'm not sure this was the best way to go.  The Roman Ship Mosaic is probably the hardest of the three options and involves the most tesserae.  But, he was determined with his system and kept all tiles of a color together in small piles as he cut the rest.

The Roman Flower has three different varying shades of pink or red, and there is a legend which explains which letter on the design goes to which color.  "Wine" or "W" was for the darkest red.  "Pink" or "P" is for pink, the lightest, and "R" or "Rose" is for the medium shade of pink.  So, you can work in a bit of color vocabulary with your lesson, which might be helpful.

We used regular, generic old glue-sticks and it worked just fine.  I do recommend card-stock for your print-outs to make it a tad easier for the tesserae to be picked up and glued down.

The tiles are small, but it looks so nice as the designs start to come together!

And the finished designs are beautiful and yet help convey the time and effort that it must have taken the ancient Romans to complete their own intricate works.

Check out our latest store addition:  Roman Mosaics for Art and History!  And share with us in the comments, how you explore Ancient Rome in your supplements and activities.

Friday, May 19, 2017

So You Finished "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" - What's Next?

There are many great phonics programs out there that assist in the early reading process.  We love this one by Distar:  "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons".

We have created many supplemental packets for helping your child stay engaged throughout the program and help liven it up with activities and crafts.  But here's the question I often hear from customers:

"We finished the program!  Now what?"

 So I'm going to take a moment to share what I have learned works well once you have finished this program.  These ideas might be helpful for other reading programs, too.  But this particular post is tailored to "How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons".

BOB BOOKS:  In another blog post, I have mentioned the helpful BOB books.  These are not only helpful during the program but as supplemental reading materials after the fact, as well.

EARLY READERS:   One of the best things to do once you have completed the program is to get your child reading small books that they can find success at reading.  There is an entire section in your local library dedicated to these books.  It is called the "Easy Reader" or "Early Reader" section.

I found that my son had created an assumption in his head upon finishing the program:  somehow, he believed the only book he could read from, was the "Teach Your Child to Read" book.  So I needed to get him reading very easy readers to give him confidence to try reading outside of his comfort zone.  Let me share with you some of our favorite Early Readers:

These are the "Elephant & Piggie" books by Mo Willems, a brilliant children's author.  My kids love them.  We have checked out every one of these at one time or another.  I usually read them first out loud (if I can get to them first) and we all giggle over them together.  Then, my son pours over them on his own, and eventually is reading them out loud to his sisters.  Sometimes, I have him keep track of the books he reads with a Reading Log.

READING LOG:   Reading Logs are great when children are just discovering they can, in fact, read.  They are logging the books they have read, concretely.  Most Reading Logs require the child to print out the title of the book they have read, the name of the author and illustrator.  Some ask for the number of pages read and there's usually a place for the child to draw a picture from the book.

I eventually created my own Reading Log because we finished the one I had purchased.  There are many nice Reading Logs you can use, and it is good to vary them if you can, so your students don't get too bored with the daily practice.  I tried to create one that included all my favorite parts and gave the kids room to doodle or color if they wished.   There are several pages as options, some in color and some in black and white.  Plus, it's a Freebie in my store.  So, please, take advantage of it to get you started. 

But what about additional follow-up?  In "Teach Your Child to Read...",  the program makes silent letters small and therefore easily recognizable as silent letters.  They become easy for the children to ignore in this way, and I think it is a strength in beginning reading.  However, it is also something that needs to be addressed with a later program.

As the children get older, they might require a bit more reinforcement on the phonics rules regarding some of these silent letters.   For instance, let's spend a little extra time covering that when you see "ea" together, it almost always makes the long e sound.  Or, when you see a C-V-C word with an "e" at the end, the "silent e" almost always makes the vowel say its own name. 

CHALL-POPP PHONICS :  Let me suggest one of my favorite next level phonics programs:  The Chall-Popp Phonics series.

The Level A book (seen above) is very easy, very basic, a reinforcement of capital and lower case letters and sounds.  You *could* skip level A, if you believe your child has a solid mastery of the "TYCTR in 100 EL" program.  If you want a little reinforcement on the names and writing of capital letters and lowercase letters, then start here.  It doesn't hurt your child to spend some extra time here, and they will develop quite a bit of confidence as most of the activities will be quite easy. 

With my younger Kindergartner, I decided to take the time to do it while she was also in process on the "Teach Your Child to Read" program.  I like her having pages to do with ease.   And I like reinforcing her knowledge.  She can confidently have added practice before entering into the next level.

Most children will be ready to jump right into Chall-Popp, Level B (generally considered a 1st grade level).   Here you will get the added reinforcement of those phonics rules that cover silent letters and how we say sounds.  This will give the added practice needed.

WRITING:  The next thing to focus on is writing.  Have your student practice writing in just about any form, and every day.  If your student is not able to enjoy the creativity stretch of coming up with his or her own creative ideas to write about, consider buying some grade level appropriate writing prompts.

First up is this lovely Seasonal Bundle of Writing Prompts from the TpT store, Miss Martin's Classroom

These would be an excellent introduction of writing for our students who have just finished the "Teach Your Child to Read" program. 

They have a few lines for text and attractive images for kids to color or decorate as they would like. 

Miss Martin's Classroom has many writing prompt options to choose from. 

You can try out a small packet of one season, or purchase a larger bundle.  This one that I chose to show as an example is obviously for the four seasons.  Again, a perfect starter for next year!

Here's an awesome set from another TpT store for encouraging Narrative Writing

These great writing packets can be found at Raise the Bar Reading.

You will want to check out her preview for this particular bundle to get a closer look at everything included in this 76 page packet. 

When your child is ready to take that step into writing stories beyond one or two sentences, THIS is the bundle that will offer everything you need to help teach how to plan, form and begin writing narrative. 

If you're student is home-schooling, another great writing activity would be to find another homeschooling student for a pen-pal, so two students can write snail-mail letters back and forth.  Writing becomes very relevant to young children in this way, and besides:  it's so fun for them to get a letter addressed to their own name show up in the mailbox!

I try to vary what I use for writing, to keep interest high, because I have found there to be a bit of complaining about having to practice this new skill, at first.  But it is so important!  
Writing and honing the confidence of writing in students is an important facet of the reading process.

SIGHT WORDS :  And lastly, I like to use Sight Word practice to heighten fluency and practice of those basic little words.

 Here are a couple of games and activities that can be done with Sight Words from the TpT store,  Just Ask Judy.

Getting children to do activities like rolling dice and graphing their sight words is wonderful for mixing it up.  Printing sight words is fine, but how much more fun to make a game out of it? 

This has over 99 pages and is chock full of games with high frequency words (sight words). 

You can get a taste of it with this FREEBIE:  "Spot the Difference Free Sampler" 

These Sight Word Freebies are incredibly helpful to try out, because you don't always know what will work best for your particular student.

Some students might also respond to creative activities, such as in this "Sight Words Free" by Cherry Workshop.

But giving students plenty of opportunities to try a variety of activities, will just reinforce the sight words all the more.

Be sure to leave a "Thank You" in the form of a nice review for these teachers who are sharing their tried and true methods with you.

They will appreciate it so much!

This should be enough to get you started.  If you have additional ideas or favorite products that you love to use after your students have completed the "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" program, please share it in the comments.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

How to Teach the Letter A

   The time has come to introduce my youngest daughter to the alphabet.

   Being the youngest, she has grown up watching her older brother and sister do their schoolwork and has been chomping at the bit for awhile, even though she is only three years old.

   There is no right or wrong age to begin teaching your preschool child early reading skills.  It has a lot to do with the individual child and their eagerness and excitement to learn.  All the same, while our letter of the week packet has a lot to offer three year old's, they definitely cannot do all the activities in it by themselves, as yet.  But let's look at what a smaller child can do.

   With young children, there are so many ways for them to experiment with letter-sound relationships.  The way I like to begin teaching the letters, is with a story.

   Let it be known, I didn't coach her to cry when the kitty "disappeared", but this does demonstrate one of the reasons why I use a friendly animal character to accompany children on their alphabet journey.  Glimmercat helps children to learn because young children love familiarity and routine in the midst of newness, and this is exactly what this friendly kitty establishes.

   So, I introduced my daughter to Glimmercat and shared the first story of how Glimmercat slipped off the letter A on her way to pick apples, and now she had a solid mnemonic introduction to the sound of aaaaa (short a).  At that point, she was ready for flash cards.

   There are only four flashcards in our Letter of the Week packet.  We try to keep it simple.

   I recommend letting children work together on these, after you first introduce them.  That way they are practicing "reading" the little words, connecting the letter words to the pictures, and feeling just a little important about all their knowledge in the process.  See what this looks like here:

Now that we have practiced our flashcards, there are millions of ways to learn just a little bit more about letter A...children will see and recognize it in street signs, they can cut the letter A out of magazines or junk mail, they can draw it in sand at the beach or in salt in a pan, they can point it out in the stories you read to them.

Speaking of stories, let's look at a few of the stories I love to read out loud and include in my letter A week!  I try to focus on one of the A subjects from our flash cards each day, so I have found fun children's books for each.

Feel free to print the above list out and keep it on hand the next time you go to the Library to check out some letter A books!

Interspersed with these books, you can purchase our Letter of the Week for A packet and print out easy crafts and activities for children that tie in perfectly with the subject areas in these stories.

Although some of the activities in this packet are intended for older children, (as mentioned) some will work perfectly with little ones, too.  Let's look at those!

This one above, is our Path of Motion Practice sheet.  I laminate this sheet (using clear contact paper from Dollar Tree) and then my daughter can use a dry erase marker to follow her arrows.  It's the perfect size for her small hands!

I believe it is important to teach the correct way to make letters from the beginning, but not at the cost of enjoying the writing process.  My daughter had several days of working on her letter A practice sheet.  Each time, I would remind her to follow the arrows.  Now she does the big letter "A" and the little letter "a" on her own, correctly.  And as you can see, she is able to do them perfectly:

We don't over-do this, by the way.  At age three, little ones can be done in five minutes or twenty.  My daughter is anxious to do "her work" because she watches her old brother and sister doing theirs.  To her, this makes "work" a delightful and exotic experience in her life.

We want to keep it that way for her!   Here's how we do that:  Crafts...

A is for Alligator

Simple Puzzles...

A is for Ant!

And anything Edible you can fit into your Letter Fun!

A is for Apples and Apple Pie!

As long as you fill your learning times with these engaging experiences, little ones will be able to handle more challenging attempts like this one with our Letter Maze that we modeled in our Teaching Lesson here:

Keep it fun!  Keep them coming back for more!  Children are already geared towards wanting to learn.  All we have to do is steer them in the right direction.

If you feel you need more concise or scripted lessons, those are also offered in our Letter of the Week packet, where we walk you through five days of fun learning experiences for each letter. 

Check out our store for more information about our Letter of the Week packet for A.

And feel free to share your own ideas in the comments...what do you love to include in your letter A curriculum?