Thank you for visiting.  We have MOVED.  The new, permanent address is:


Please make a note of it.  :)

Hopefully, I'll see you there soon.


Silver Lining.

Unless you've been under a rock the past few days (and with the temperatures nearing Hades levels in most of the U.S. under a rock might be the coolest place to be), you've certainly heard about Border's Bookstores closing. A pang in my heart at hearing the news would be an understatement. Sure, I buy most of my books on Amazon, but there is nothing like entering a giant bookstore and perusing the goods… perhaps this is why they’re going out of business.

Being a male kindergarten teacher, I’m usually lucky enough to avoid the tchotchke overload most primary school teachers are inundated with during the holidays. When kids ask me, “What do you want, Mr. _______?” I usually reply, “I wouldn’t love anything more than a nice picture from you.”

I get the picture and a Border’s gift card.

With the Border’s near me closing soon, I dug out all my old gift cards. I’m not a candidate for the Hoarders television show (Sorry, Elise), but I do collect these cards and forget about them. I set off to Border’s with a bevy cards to stock up on some picture books. Hey, I had to use them before they were no good and what better silver lining could I find than picture books?

Here are some of my finds:

Cloudette by Tom Lichetenheld - Speaking of silver linings, this sweet book about a little cloud named Cloudette warmed my heart the moment I picked it up. Smaller than the other clouds, Cloudette finds the advantages in being littler. Plus, I don't have any fiction books for our Water Cycle study and this fills that bill perfectly.

Scardey Squirrel by Melanie Watt - If you've never read Scardey Squirrel (it's a series), you are truly missing out. Scaredy is, well afraid of almost everything. In each book, he learns to be a little braver and finds there is much the world has to offer. Of course, this is only after he panics and plays dead. The illustrations and simple text are hilarious and you're kids will adore Scardey's many warnings and adventures.

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates - Well, I love books, so this title grabbed me immediately. Dog loves books so much he decides to open a book store. Things don't go quite as he planned, but that's fine with dog, as long as he has books, he'll be just fine. I can't wait to share this book with my sprouts to help foster their love of books.

Mitchell's License by Hallie Durand and illustrated by Tony Fucile - The cover of this book demanded I pick it up. Mitchell, a small boy (Three years, nine months, and five days old to be exact) never wants to go to bed. One night, his dad decides maybe if Mitchell could drive to bed, he'd actually go to sleep. Dad is the car and Mitchell takes an amazing ride on his way to slumberland. Children will relate to this story about not wanting to go to bed and be delighted by the retro drawings that seem to leap off the page.

Mitchell's License

Perfect Square by Michael Hall - I've read a few reviews of this book and was happy to see it smiling at me on the shelf (really, the cover smiles at you). This book about all the different things you can make with a square of paper is a perfect beginning of a lesson on shapes and the craft creates itself from the story. For the crafty, but especially the uncrafty (me!), this book is a no-brainer.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean - This is quite simply my new favorite book. Pete's a cat with new white shoes. If you've ever seen the joy on a sprout's face when they get new kicks, you will adore this book. Unfortunately for Pete, he steps in a few items that change the color of his shoes. No problem. Pete loves his shoes so much he sings about them - no matter what color they are. My students are going to love predicting the changing colors of Pete's shoes (he stepped in blueberries, what color are his shoes now?) and singing along with Pete and me... 'I love my white shoes! I love my white shoes! I love my white shoes!'

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

So, 'Good-Bye' Border's. I'll miss you, but I'll think of you often when I'm reading some of my favorite stories.


Literacy Beginnings - Guide

If you're a little... well unorganized like me, you might appreciate this. Here's a table with all the chapters and where to join the blog party. Remember, it's never too late to buy the book and join our amazing discussion. Enjoy!

Literacy Beginnings Book Study & Blog Party
Chapter 1 Hosted by Pre-K Pages
More thoughts from Brick by Brick
Chapter 2 Hosted by Teach Preschool
More thoughts from Pre-K Pages
Chapter 3Hosted by Brick by Brick
Chapter 4 Hosted by PreKinders
More thoughts from Pre-K Pages
Chapter 5Hosted by Pre-K Pages
Chapter 6Hosted by Pre-K Pages
Chapter 7Hosted by Brick by Brick
Chapter 8Hosted by No More Worksheets!
Chapter 9Hosted by Pre-K Pages
Chapter 10Hosted by me!
Chapter 11Hosted by me!
Chapter 12Hosted by Growing in Pre K
Chapter 13Hosted by Pre-K Pages
Chapter 14Hosted by Pre-K Pages
Chapter 15Hosted by No More Worksheets
Chapter 16Hosted by PreKinders
Chapter 17Hosted by Growing in Pre-K
Chapter 18Hosted by lookatmyhappyrainbow!
Chapter 19Hosted by Pre-K Pages
Chapter 20Hosted by TeachPreschool
Chapter 21Hosted by PreKinders

Grab the button below:

book study blog party

Literacy Beginnings - Chapter 18

Writing can contribute to the building of almost every kind of inner control of literacy learning that is needed by the successful reader.” – Marie Clay

Whoa. Read it again (I did). All early childhood educators know the link between reading and writing is seamless and the sprouts in our rooms seem to show us the marriage between the two skills everyday. Chapter Eighteen of Literacy Beginnings, The Reading-Writing Connection describes the way “the ‘slowed down’ process of writing allows young children to closely examines aspects of print as they write.” (page 176)

The entire chapter breaks down into great detail twelve steps teachers can use to help support young writers bridge the gap between both areas of literacy. Instead of summarizing each step in detail, I’m choosing to list the steps and how I incorporate them into my classroom. Bear with me, there are twelve!

1. You use language to tell your message. Storytelling (without books) is truly a lost art. Many times, as I think I’m ‘rambling’ on about something, I stop and realize the class appears captivated. I’m actually telling a story about my dog, family, or friends. We model these ‘small moments’ each day before Writing Workshop. (We use the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for writing)

2. You can hear the individual words in a sentence. Our morning message isn’t written on a board. Instead we use a pocket chat with each word written on an individual sentence strip cut to size. Children visually see each word separate from another and eventually, they construct each sentence using the word cards.

3. You use white space to show readers each word in your sentence. The authors talk about using a popsicle stick or some other concrete object to help writers with the space between words. In my kindergarten class, we use a finger. I know, it’s hard for many children to hold a finger down and also write the next word. We model placing a finger to show you the space and then removing your finger, but remembering the space it occupied. It takes a lot of modeling, but it works.

4. You place letters and words on a page in a particular order that shows the kind of writing it is. We do lots of different kinds of writing together as a class. Lists, letters, notes, charts, even maps all make up our daily writing activities and help demonstrate the different purposes for writing.
    (a student's map from Katy and the Big Snow)

    5. You can say words slowly to hear each sound. The ability to stretch words out effectively and with confidence is directly related to children’s knowledge of letter sounds. I’ve written about the amazing Megan Milani’s The Three Habits of Highly Effective Reading Teachers before. This is the method we use to master letter sounds quickly and all I can say is it works.

    6. You can listen for the order of the sounds in each word. As our school year progresses we go from seeing only beginning sounds on the paper to ending and eventually middle sounds from many writers. Each morning in our circle we quickly go around practicing hearing and identifying beginning, middle or ending (but not all) sounds. Short bursts of repeated practice provide greater skills in writing.

    7. You think about the letter or letters that represent each sound. See number 5. Megan’s methods quickly and effectively help children learn the sounds and letter symbols (not necessarily letter names) to become successful readers and writers.

    8. You think about what the letter that represents each sound looks like. Again see number 5. We also use shaving cream to practice letter formation because it smells nice, is messy, and FUN.

    9. You use what you know about how the letters look to make their forms on paper. Take a guess. See number 5! Using this book as eliminated many of the ‘letter of the week’ activities I used to do. We still talk about letter names and practice handwriting, but by using the daily ‘Sound Chant’ with a large blown up poster of the alphabet (more information is in the book), my students learn the letter sounds and how to write them quicker than I ever imagined possible.

    10. You can write some words you know quickly. In addition to letter sounds, The Three Habits of Highly Successful Reading Teachers has a method for teaching sight words. There are multiple lists and you can decide how many words and lists to use with your class. For my kindergarten group, we ended up completing the first two lists, which totaled eighty words. Amazing.

      11. You use what you know about words to write new words. We are constantly finding words within other words. Kids love this and we call it being a ‘Word Detective’, which just sounds more fun. When you can read a word inside another word (for example ‘man’ or ‘an’ in ‘many’) you empower young children to take off with their literacy skills.

      12. You have a variety of ways to construct words. Rhyming is a fun way to play with words. Each week we learn and sing and new nursery rhyme, often playing with the words and constructing new rhymes. It’s fun and helps expand their understanding of how words and sounds work.

      Clearly, these skills are developed in the home and classroom over time, so be patient! I fear I’ve advertised Megan Milani’s book more than the one at hand! Trust me, it’s a wonderful read for any elementary teacher and the more tools in our toolboxes (or books on our bookshelves) the better we are at designing and delivering high quality, engaging instruction.

      When it all comes together and you're getting ready to say goodbye and you get this:

      You know it's working.

      Grab the button below:

      book study blog party


      Literacy Beginnings - Chapter 11

      Chapter Eleven of Literacy Beginnings, Using Interactive Read-Aloud to Support Emergent Readers, goes deeper into the cornerstone of any early childhood classroom, reading aloud. The opening line of the chapter sums up the importance of the task at hand beautifully, ‘Reading aloud to children is the best way we know to teach them to love books.’ (Page 114)

      This is a long and important chapter. I’ve tried to be brief and not too academic in my summary, but I apologize in advance if I’ve failed on either account.

      As with all areas of academics and social skills, children enter our classrooms with a variety of experiences. Luckily, even those with limited exposure to books can catch up quickly when the read-alouds are engaging and frequent. Some key points teachers need to remember when planning read-alouds (summarized from page 114):
      • Read-alouds should happen at least once a day, two to three times if possible.
      • Plan read-alouds thoughtfully, don’t just grab whatever book is closest (there is a nice table, Text Characteristics to Consider in Selecting Books to Read Aloud on page 117)
      I have to comment on the first point briefly. My kindergarten program is full day, so I have my sprouts for about seven hours. It is not unusual for us to read five, six, even seven books aloud a day. Don’t let the numbers sway you from using literature at every moment possible. I use books to start lessons, prompt writing ideas, enrich math, science, and social studies, and as a way to settle down my group.

      Selecting Texts to Read Aloud

      The authors encourage teachers to select simple texts without complex themes as these might bore or confuse younger listeners. I have to agree. I’ve made the mistake in my own classroom of choosing a book that appealed to me for emotional reasons only to find the exact themes that drew me to the book were lost on my class. That being said, towards the end of kindergarten, I’ve had a lot of success with books that tell a simple story and explore deeper themes (such as my new favorite, The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen).

      The book reminds teachers to include different types of books such as poems, songs, rhymes, wordless books, and non-fiction and informational texts. They also include an extensive list of books with relating themes that would interest emergent readers. I had a slight laugh when they mentioned Bill Martin’s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (page 116). This book, introduced to my class the first week of kindergarten is always a class favorite. Most of my sprouts memorized the alphabet book and were able to read and sing it over and over. The video version was a huge hit and provided that critical link between music and text.

      Interactive Read-Aloud Routines

      Starting off with the basics (all children sitting on the floor, looking at you, etc.) this section is really a primer for newer teachers. It’s a good reminder of what I like to call ‘Good Listener’ behaviors. I frequently use the “turn and talk’ strategy explained briefly on page 118. Quite simply, by having the children turn and talk to a neighbor about a question you pose, it allows everyone to be heard and more shy students to think and process a reply before contributing with the entire group.

      Using Interactive Read-Aloud as a Teaching Approach

      Ah, here it is, the meat of why we read aloud to children. In an effort to keep my write up brief (I fear I’ve failed miserably already), here are the basic components of using your read-alouds effectively. (Page 119)

      1. Plan opening remarks.
      2. Stop to invite quick comments during reading
      3. Discuss text after reading
      4. Plan and engaging, related activity following reading (art, writing, drawing, cooking).
      Here are my thoughts on how I approach each of the corresponding above in my classroom.
      1. After hearing more than a few sprouts exclaim, “I read that book already!” I learned a new way to introduce a book from a colleague – “What do you know about this book?” This invites children who are familiar with a text to participate and not feel like they’ve ‘seen and heard it all before’.
      2. It takes time as a teacher to develop a good balance between stopping to discuss and interrupting the ‘flow’ of a story. Sometimes I find myself leaning too much towards discussing the book with my class and it negatively impacts the enjoyment of the book. Be careful. Find the balance.
      3. We always have a conversation after completing a story. Often (at least in my room) time seems to evaporate and when I finish a book and look up at the clock, panic sets in. At the very least, I ask everyone “What did you think of the book?” They reply with a thumbs up or thumbs down. Usually we have more involved conversations, but sometimes time just runs out.
      4. Oh the crafts! I have self-diagnosed craft-phobia. I see the teachers around me do crafts with their class day after day, piling up paper, glue, glitter, pom-poms, and a plethora of other materials. My one piece of advice to early childhood educators on this topic – don’t feel you must ‘out craft’ your peers. Sometimes a simple drawing and sentence reaction shows more about a child’s understanding than you could have guessed. A whole group activity (acting out a story, making a Venn Diagram comparing it to another book, etc.) can be just as engaging and insightful.  Also – doing less crafts means less prep work for me and when we do make something (usually once or twice a week) the kids think they’ve been given candy and soda.  
      One simple craft activity I do each year is creating stick puppets and a setting (including all the key story elements - three bowls, chairs, and beds) for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  We read many versions of the story and compare and contrast them with the original.  This project usually takes at least a week to complete.  We practice alone, in pairs, and groups.  We use it during parent conferences to demonstrate our retelling abilities.

      A strategy for older children – sometimes I like to give my class something to think about while I read. During my opening remarks, I might pose a question and then we talk about it after reading. This often involves deeper comprehension strategies and higher level thinking (Sequence – “What happened first?” Conflict – “What was the problem in the story?” – “What was the solution?” etc.) I like to preview such questions before reading. It helps keep listeners engaged and thinking while we read.

      Don't forget to 'earn your Oscar' - a phrase I coined when I began teaching kindergarten.  If you sit there and read the book like you're about to fall asleep, nobody (even four and five-year-olds) are going to buy it.  You have to give in and let yourself enjoy the book.  Use voices!  Read with feeling?  After all, you're competing with the latest Nintendo DS game, the local amusement park, and the latest 3D movie. That book has to spring to life when you read... 'EARN YOUR OSCAR' - at this point, I've got a cabinet full.

      At this point, I also have to mention a book by a new literacy guru I’ve discovered - Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor. In the book, comprehension strategies are taught using concrete objects to anchor children’s understanding of more abstract ideas. It’s a wonderful book and I will be using many of her activities next year in my classroom!

      Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading

      At this point, I fear I may have lost many of you with my lengthy write up. The chapter concludes with ideas of book activities (character puppets, dramatic retellings, art links, etc.) and encourages rereading favorite texts and providing a spot in your room for displaying books you’ve read. This can encourage children to retell familiar stories using the pictures and eventually words.

      I’ll sum up the chapter with the quote from page 114.

       “Reading aloud is the foundation of literacy.” – Don Holdaway

      How do you use read-alouds?  What tips or tricks to you employ?

      Grab the button below:

      book study blog party


      Literacy Beginnings - Chapter 10

      Chapter Ten of Literacy Beginnings, an introductory chapter, Learning to Read: Three Critical Areas of Early Learning, outlines the three critical areas involved with learning to read. We all know introducing children to books, concepts of print, and story language can never begin to soon. Many children arrive at preschool and kindergarten without these crucial foundations in place. Fountas and Pinnell explain the areas and then provide activities and examples for each in your classroom.

      As I’m a visual guy (I love charts, graphs, and anything that organizes information for me), I’ve decided to break my discussion of this chapter into Theory and Practice as it relates to the classroom.

      1. Story Awareness

      Theory: Quite simply, story awareness is the understanding that books have meaning and tell stories.

      In Practice: Wordless books are an amazing way to promote story awareness. Fountass and Pinell suggest many, but my favorites are Alexandra Day’s Carl series. Sitting with a small group or even one on one with a child, I might model how the pictures tell a story and then ask for them to contribute their own ideas about what’s happening. For older kids who are ready, these wordless books are a wonderful way to begin writing exercises without having to worry about illustrating.

      2. Language Awareness

      Theory: When children begin ‘talking like a book,’ using the pictures to retell familiar stories, they are beginning to understand that written text, when read aloud, sounds different from ordinary speaking.

      In Practice: Nothing helps develop the understanding of language awareness more than interactive read-alouds (Chapter Eleven dives deeper into this practice). The authors suggest simple stories, but also encourage us to find those with more complex language to "stretch children’s knowledge of complex sentences, such as those in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse.” (page 109)  I couldn’t help but smile when I read this as the book, and all of Kevin Henkes, are a personal favorite of mine.

      Fountas and Pinnell also suggest finding several books in a series (such as Tacky the Penguin) to help children begin to understand characters and build relationships with them. They offer many other examples to point you in the right direction.

      I found this video of a teacher doing a read aloud in a first grade classroom in Deleware. It really illustrates the ‘interactive’ part of reading aloud.

      3. Print awareness

      Theory: When children learn to enjoy stories being read aloud, they begin to understand a multitude of concepts of print. The book has a wonderful bulleted list of the plethora of concepts even the youngest learners begin to grasp (page 110). They call their list ‘early reading behaviors’ and stress the internalization of them.

      In Practice: Big books, big books, BIG BOOKS! Kids adore big books. The pictures are giant… so are the words. Big books give teachers a whole lot of bang for the buck (they’re usually expensive, but I’ve found Scholastic will let you use points to order them for free). What better way to explicitly model concepts of print as well as introduce comprehension strategies than with pictures and text easily seen by every child.

      As we read aloud, it’s important to remember to stop and point out details we may find obvious. During the first few weeks of kindergarten, I always make a point to talk about the spaces in between words. I often point to each word as I read it aloud, reinforcing one to one correspondence. If I have children that have little exposure to books, I will talk about the cover, how I read the text (direction and return sweep), and turn the page. Every part of reading the book is a ritual to be explained, enjoyed, and exalted.

      Finally, as they do with every chapter, Fountas and Pinnell summarize the key points of the chapter for the reader... always a nice touch with a large text.

      Tomorrow, in Chapter Eleven, we’ll look more closely at the heart of every early childhood classroom – the interactive read-aloud.

      Grab the button below:

      book study blog party



      'The beginning is the most important part of the work.' - Plato

      A few weeks ago, a group of bloggers (including me!) began a book study of the new Fountas and Pinnell book, Literacy Beginnings: A Pre-Kindergarten Handbook. When Vanessa from Pre-K Pages asked me to participate, I was unsure at first. The books subtitle after all is ‘A Pre-Kindergarten Handbook’ and I teach kindergarten. What would this book have to offer me? Well, five chapters in, I’m so grateful I decided to join the party.

      If you teach kindergarten, or even first grade, why would this book be valuable for you? Here are a few reasons I’ve realized so far (I reserve the right to come up with more as I go deeper into the book):

      1. I do teach Pre-K. Depending on what type of area you teach in, many of your students haven’t attended a formal preschool. Usually, close to half my sprouts fall into this category. They’ve either attended an in home daycare (not a preschool) or simply been home with a family member (awesome, but also not a preschool). It’s not unusual for many kindergartners to march in the first day not knowing a single letter, number, their name, or how to hold a pencil. Welcome to Pre-K inside your kindergarten classroom!
      2. If you can’t walk, you can’t run. If you can’t run, you’ll never fly. Just like anything, the foundation of literacy is the most critical base of knowledge our youngest learners will build upon. As a teacher of young children, having a deep understanding the stages of literacy development will only help your planning and delivery of instruction.
      3. Confirmation is key. Who doesn’t love knowing what they feel in their gut is right for kids (play, play, PLAY!) is the right way to go. Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell are highly regarded as the experts on literacy instruction. Read the book. Know you’re on the right path.
      4. Everyone can use more tools in their toolbox. The book is packed with ideas and activities to add to your repertoire. Containing countless songs, rhymes, poems, and book lists, you will not come away empty handed. It’s also filled with pages of student work examples and reproducible pages for you to use right away in your classroom. It’s worth the price of admission.

      So there you have it. I truly believe any kindergarten teacher can feel confident in spending their hard earned cash on this resource… and I’m only about a quarter way into the book. I’ll be hosting a few chapters in the next few weeks and I can’t wait to read the rest of the book and see what my fellow blogger friends have to share with us. It's never too late to sign on.  Buy the book. Join the party. We’re having fun over the summer learning about literacy. I promise you won’t be disappointed.