Category Archives: Building Readers

Three Little Pigs

The next time you share the story of the Three Little Pigs, don’t just tell it, have the children be a part of it!  These masks are inexpensive and easy to make.  And the kiddos have a blast as they step into the story!

Start out with some simple supplies: a toilet paper tube, felt, scissors, glue, a Sharpie, and yarn or elastic string. (Oh, and the hole puncher and pencil were sluffing class when the picture was taken, but they’ll come in handy too.)

For a pig snout, cut the tube so that it’s not quite in half.  I would use the piece on the right for the snout.  Then trim down the other to match and you’ve got two snouts from one tube.  (It works out to about a half-inch strip cut out of the center of the tube.)

Punch holes in each side of the tube to aid in stringing it later.  Use your pencil to mark how wide your tube snout is and then roll the tube along to measure how long it is.  You’ll end up with one long rectangle to cut out and then glue around the snout, covering the sides (and the holes – don’t worry, we’ll get to those later).

Set the snout down on the felt again and trace around the outside.  That extra little bit from the pencil will push the outline out a bit and create a circle that is slightly larger, which is exactly what you want.  Cut out the circle and draw on those cute piggie nostrils with your Sharpie.  Then glue the circle to the top of your snout.  (Be sure to align your nostrils with the holes you punched for your string.) 

If you’re using yarn, snip the felt over the holes and thread the yard through, knotting at the holes.  So you’ll end up with two yarn strings that can be tied together.  If you’re using elastic thread, thread it through a needle and feed it right through the fabric and the hole and knot it at each side, creating a band to be stretched around your child’s head.  For the wolf, follow the same directions, but use a full tube.

Enjoy acting out the story with the children you love and teach.  After acting out the basics of the story, let them continue the story or create new stories in their dramatic play.   Not only is storyacting more engaging, but it builds comprehension and fosters language and literacy skills for our budding readers.

Now that’s one fierce wolf!
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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, Uncategorized

Dr. Seuss’ Birthday is on the Way!

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Dr. Seuss.  Not only is his writing creative, humorous, poetic, and lovably quirky, but as an educator I’ve found it to be the perfect vehicle for promoting phonological awareness, a critical skill for building readers.  With his birthday looming just around the corner (March 2), this is a popular time of year for all things Seuss!

Last year I wrote about some of my favorite Dr. Seuss activities in these three posts:

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Five Favorites…To Start

A Triple Scoop of Seuss

This year, I went looking around the blogosphere for some new ideas and found some I can’t wait to try! 

  • An entire Dr. Seuss unit from Chalk Talk, with 40 pages including patterns and printables!
  • Make a hat like the Cat in the Hat using an oatmeal canister with these pointers from Frugal Family Fun Blog.
  • Amy lists some irresistible ideas at Serving Pink Lemonade (Thanks for including mine by the way!)

Do you celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday?  What are some of your favorite activities?  (Feel free to add your links!)

Top photo by EvelynGiggles.
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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, Unit Themes

Turn to an Old Custom for a New Tradition on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has never really been my favorite.  I’m no Valentine’s Grinch, I’ve just always been stumped by the traditional gift choices.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy chocolate, but there’s only so much a body can take. Flowers are nice, but I always prefer to get them as a surprise rather than an obligatory bouquet.  Neither of those really works for my husband, and while marketers have assured me nothing would say “I love you” like a new iPad, that’s not exactly in the budget.   And what do you get for the kids?   There’s not much room left in their junk drawer to accommodate another googly-eyed pencil topper or plastic trinket.
  Then a friend of mine shared a fantastic family tradition.  Apparently, in Spain (where she lived for a time), the holiday for lovers is known as the day of the book and the rose.  Though held in April, this holiday is similar to Valentine’s Day, in that it is set-aside for expressing love.  But as the name implies, the custom on this holiday is for couples to exchange flowers and books.  BOOKS!  Now there’s something meaningful I can get behind!  Not only is it something within a manageable price range and something worth keeping around for more than a few days, it’s also a gift that feels much more personal than something cliché from the seasonal aisle of the nearest store.


Since my husband and I both love books, a love we’ve worked to share with our children, we’ve decided to make this a tradition in our own home as well.  So now, each Valentine’s Day, we select a book for each other, as well as books for each of our children. Sometimes the book choice expresses love (I Love You Stinky Face is one of my favorites for kids), reflects an interest the recipient is passionate about (our three boys are getting books about ninjas, dinosaurs, and outer space this year), or it may be a way of recognizing and supporting someone’s goals (my husband is often keen to tie my book in with one of my New Year’s resolutions). And of course, there’s always room for books that are just plain fun to read!

We serve up our books alongside a special breakfast like toast cut in heart shapes and topped with raspberry jam, a simple treat my boys go crazy for.  If you’re feeling more gourmet, try out something like Cinnamon Baked French Toast or Homemade Cinnamon Bread served with a breakfast smoothie, all from the Pioneer Woman.

Try out this old custom as a new tradition at your house! 

What other Valentine’s Day traditions are among your favorites?

Top photo by Piotr Bizior.
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Filed under Article, Building Readers, Uncategorized

Author Study: Robert Munsch

Robert Munsch grew up in Pennsylvania, in a big family with nine kids.  Well, to be more accurate, Munsch specifies that he lived in Pennsylvania when he was young, and that he never really did grow up at all.  The prolific author struggled through most of his schooling, but always had a passion for writing.  He particularly enjoyed writing poetry, both the serious and silly varieties.  But writing was his past time, not something he, or anyone else, really valued at the time.

Fast forward a few decades, and you find Robert Munsch working in day cares and preschools, captivating children with his storytelling.   On his official website, Munsch recalls,For ten years I did this without thinking I had any special skill. After all, while I made the best stories in the daycare centre, most of the other teachers made better play doh. I eventually got a long list of stories I told, but I never wrote them down.”

Eventually, Munsch found himself working in the lab preschool at the University of Guelph  in Ontario, Canada, his boss (with some prompting from his wife, a children’s librarian) gave Munsch two months off to write down some of his stories and send them off to ten publishers.  One accepted his manuscript and an author was born.

Robert Munsch enjoys connecting with kids and often draws his stories out of experiences and conversations with some of his smallest fans.  It’s this connection that makes his stories so authentic and appealing to kids of all ages.  His child-like imagination and sense of humor combined with his storytelling style make his books some of the best on the bookshelf.

With over 25 books to choose from, picking the best titles by Robert Munsch is not an easy task.  Between my own children and those I’ve worked with, I think I’ve narrowed it down to my three picks.

The Paper Bag Princess (Classic Munsch)

The Paper Bag Princess.  Who doesn’t love a good story about a princess who saves herself and calls the superficial prince a “bum”?  At least that’s what I like about it.  My boys just love the dragon and the way he gets tricked into using all his fire and all his energy, causing him to be anything but fierce.  It’s a unique story and a clever plot.

Mmm, Cookies!

Mmm, Cookies!  This story really lends itself to Munsch’s storytelling style.  It includes sound effects (which I always add actions to) and it’s an easy one to get the kids to join in.  You can read a full summary and story activity for this book here.

Alligator Baby

Alligator Baby.  Kids love this book!  It’s a silly story (of course) about Kristen’s parents who accidentally go to the zoo instead of the hospital to have their baby.  Exhausted, they make several trips between their home and the zoo, trying to bring home the right baby.  By the end, their home is full of baby animals, and Kristen saves the day by retrieving her baby brother from the zoo.  The story is hilarious and the pattern in the text keeps kids engaged.

What’s your favorite book by Robert Munsch?
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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, language activity

Five Ways to Make Literacy Learning Meaningful

I was just re-reading this old article  from a 2005 issue NAEYC’s Young Child magazine, written by Susan Neuman and Kathleen Roskos, leading researchers in the field of early literacy.  The emphasis of the article was on the importance of creating meaningful experiences through which children can truly engage in the process of acquiring early literacy skills.  In reference to the 1998 joint position statement created by NAEYC and the International Reading Association outlining developmentally appropriate practice in literacy instruction, the authors write: 

“The research-based statement stresses that for children to become skilled readers, they need to develop a rich language and conceptual knowledge base, a broad and deep vocabulary, and verbal reasoning abilities to understand messages conveyed through print.  At the same time, it recognizes that children also must develop code-related skills” (phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, etc.).  “But to attain a high level of skill, young children need many opportunities to develop these strands interactively, not in isolation.  Meaning, not sounds or letters, drives children’s earliest experiences with print. Therefore, the position statement points out that although specific skills like alphabet knowledge are important to literacy development, children must acquire these skills in coordination and interaction with meaningful experiences (Neuman, Bredekamp, & Copple 2000).”

How do you promote a culture of literacy, ensuring that children are learning elements of literacy within the context of meaningful experiences?  Here are some ideas I had.  I’d like to hear about yours in the comments as well.

  • Read, read, read.  Read books together, taking time to talk about what the words mean, how the characters feel, and what might happen next.  Point out words or letters that are particularly meaningful.  (“Can you find a ‘W’ like the one at the beginning of your name?”  “It says ‘stop’ four times on this page!  Here’s one.  Can you find another?”)
  • Play with words.  Incorporate words — spoken and written — into play.  Have print-rich props (menus, phone books, signs) and encourage writing with paper, pencils, typewriters, chalk boards, and clipboards.  In addition to incorporating literacy into your dramatic play, try playing games with the sounds in the words you use as well.  For example, stretch out the sounds in words (phonemes) and see if your children can put the words back together to discover the mystery word.  (“Put your hand on your h-ea-d.”)
  • Find it all around.  Find letters on your cereal boxes, words on signs, and rhymes that fall into place in a a book or in your regular conversations.  Involve children in the many ways we interact with words each day.  Cut words or letters from packaging and create a word wall or letter file.
  • Write it down.  Let children see you writing words.  Dictate their stories, label your room, send them notes, create lists, write out recipes, and post the words to songs.  Even if you think your children don’t read, they are building connections between what they see, hear, and experience.
  • Talk, talk, talk.  A child’s vocabulary is the key to finding meaning in their experiences with words.  Invite genuine conversations with your children.  Use new words and talk about their meanings or illustrate their meanings within your conversation by using synonyms.  Talk with children instead of at them.  Develop ideas and explore new possibilities.  Quality conversations mean you speak up instead of talking down to kids.

How do you create meaningful experiences while building literacy in the children you love and teach?

You may also enjoy reading the series: Why Don’t You Teach Reading: A Look at Emergent Literacy

Top photo by Aline Dassel.

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Too Many Toys











Spencer has too many toys!  He gets them from his parents, his friends, his Auntie Mim and Uncle Fred, Grandma Bobo, Poppy and Grandiddy.  He gets them at school, at the dentist, at the doctor, and at the drive-thru. 

The Spencer I’m talking about is the character in David Shannon’s fantastic read, Too Many Toys .  Though the similarities between the Spencer in the book and my own little guy with the same name is so eerie, there are times I wondered if David Shannon might have been in our home recently as part of an undercover research mission.  This might as well have been a custom-made book!

Spencer’s mom (both the real one and the fictional one) finally has had enough with all those toys!  But when she suggests getting rid of a few, Spencer (both the real one and the fictional one) resists, hesitates, and negotiates.  Finally, they whittle down the toy supply, which is when Spencer discovers that the very best toy he has is his own imagination.

I picked up this book as I was shopping for the “something to read” portion of our kids’ Christmas list.  Our family has been David Shannon fans for a while now, reveling in the David series as well as Alice the Fairy and the Trucktown series he collaborates on.  His stories are always clever, funny, and portray childhood in a way few can.  So the familiar cover illustrations staring up from the bookshelf were quick to catch my eye.  A few page flips in and I was sold!

It helped that just a few days before picking up this book, I was having a very serious discussion with my boys about why no one could actually get every single toy in the world for Christmas…even if they were the very most well-behaved children in the history of mankind.  Couple that with the main character’s name and the all-too-familiar request to thin out the toy collection, and this book buy was a no-brainer.  This one will certainly be sitting under the tree at our house this Christmas, and I’m quite sure it will be a frequent favorite at storytime as well. 

If you too can relate a little too well with Spencer’s mom and dad (both the real ones and the fictional ones)  Check out this guestpost by Mandi Ehman of Life…Your Way at Blissfully Domestic for Decluttering and Organizing Children’s ToysThinning the toys before Christmas can be helpful.  I have friends who have had great success with their children sorting out their toys to make donations to those less fortunate and others who finally had success only when they promised their children all procedes from their contributions to the family yard sale.  At my house….for now we operate on the “hide it in the trunk of the car for a few weeks, and if no one asks for it, drive it on down to the donation center” method.  It may not be perfect, but it seems to maintain everyone’s sanity.

How do you keep from having too many toys? 

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Filed under book activity, Building Readers

Take a Trip: A Song, A Graph, and Safety Talk

If you’re exploring a transportation theme, here’s a fun little ditty about transportation I found years ago.  (I didn’t write down where I found it, so if you know the original author let me know!)  It’s a fun piggy-back song, to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle:

Take a bus or take a train,

Take a boat or take a plane.

Take a bike or take a car,

May be near or may be far.

Take a rocket to the moon,

Just be sure to come back soon.

This is a fun song that the children enjoy and it gets them thinking about the different types of transportation.  I like to write the words up on chart paper and then have a picture to go with a few of the words.  I’ve attached pictures here.   As I’ve said before, I don’t offer these because I think I’m a talented artist, but because they’re done.  (Sometimes done is better than perfect!)

After getting familiar with the song, I’ll often ask the children about the rhyming words in the song.  Then we’ll talk about other words that might rhyme as well.  On another day I may ask about words that start with the same letter and sound (bike, bus, boat).  As the children become more familiar, I may remove the pictures and have them add them above the corresponding words.  Even if the children aren’t “reading” I think it’s valuable for them to make the connections between the written and spoken words and their meanings.

Now if you want to get more bang for your buck (and who doesn’t?), you can also use this song as a springboard for a math activity.  Use a few of the pictures from the song as the base pictures for a graph.  Use the post-it method or unifix cubes to count out one-to-one how many people in your group have used each type of transportation in the song (or just a few if you’re worried about attention).  If you’re working with just one or two children, have them survey people!  Create a sheet with the pictures and have them record hash marks as their respondents answer about the types of transportation they have used.  They could ask people in your own home, or make some phone calls to friends and family!

Graphing with young children not only teaches them that specific skill, but reinforces one-to-one counting (one object to one number), greater than/less than comparisons, and representational thinking.  If you’re currently working on recognizing written numbers, you could cap off your graph with the written numbers of the totals below the pictures.

And last of all, what would a unit on transportation be without a little talk about safety?  This is another activity I picked up years ago.  Place a ball or a marble inside a cup.  Tell the children that this is them inside a car.  “Drive the car around on the floor (making the requisite car noises, of course), and then make a sudden stop (and yes, you have to say, “Errrrrch”).  Thanks to Newton’s law about objects in motion staying in motion, the ball will roll out of the car.  Talk about what that could mean for them.  If they’re in a car and the car stops, they will keep moving and could fall over or even out of the car. 

Now ask who buckles up when they take a trip in the car.  Give the ball some buckles by taping it in.  Drive the car around again and make some sudden stops.  As Newton would explain, that object in motion has now been interrupted by an equal and opposite force.  The ball stays safely in the cup.  Talk with your little ones about the importance of wearing seatbelts so that they can stay safe in their cars.

Singing, literacy, math, science and safety, all in one unit!  Who says preschool is “just cute”?
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Filed under Building Readers, Fingerplay, Learning through Play and Experience, math activity, music and movement activity, science activity