Saturday, August 18, 2018



All aboard for Letter Land! The next ten days I’m going to be sharing alphabet activities on my blog because this time of year the ABC’s seem to be the starting line in most pre-k and K classrooms.

I have been at this rodeo a LONG time and I want you to know there is NO one correct way to introduce letters or teach children to read. Just take a look around you and you’ll see people of all ages who know HOW to read and they learned TO READ with a variety of different approaches, materials, and reading programs.

Many people ask me questions about how to introduce letters. Should you do capital letters first? Is there a specific order you should follow? There is NO definitive research to support one particular strategy. Children come to you with so many varied experiences and skills that one size will not fit all. There are two principles that I think are important.

First, make it authentic! Teach letters in context and connect with children’s names, units of study, nursery rhymes, and other interests. For example, a trip to the pumpkin patch would be the perfect time to talk about Pp. Talk about the letter Jj when you say Jack and Jill. If your football team is the Falcons discuss the letter Ff.

Second, make it playful and challenging. Use hands-on activities, songs, movements, and games to stimulate multiple senses. Blocks, play dough, puzzles, and magnetic letters are much more REAL than a worksheet or computer game.

Finally, remember that children take it in and take it in and take it in – and then something comes out! They don’t all learn in the same way at the same time, so you have to provide a variety of opportunities to learn.  The key is to keep it fun and make them feel successful.

Over the next ten days I will suggest simple tools that will provide children with multiple experiences in learning letters. Purposeful practice for automaticity (aka repetition) is important for skill mastery so you will want to do these activities many times.

Note! Although I’ll be focusing on alphabet letters, please “harvest” these ideas and make them work for the age and interests of your students. For example, if your children are proficient with alphabet knowledge, use these ideas for sight words. For younger children adapt these activities for learning colors and shapes.


Envelope Puppets
Seal an envelope and cut it in half as shown. Write the uppercase letter on one side and the lowercase letter on the other side. Sing the “Hokey Pokey” with the letter puppet.

     You put your (letter) in,
     You take your (letter) out,
     You put your (letter) in
     And you shake it all about.
     You make the (letter sound)
     And then you put it down.

*Listen up! Tell children when you say words starting with that sound they can hold up their puppet. When you say a word that doesn’t start with that sound they should keep the puppet in their lap.

*Have children write a letter on one side and draw an animal that begins with that sound on the reverse side.

*I Have - Who Has Alphabetical Order?
Seal 13 envelopes, cut them in half, and then write the letters of the alphabet on the envelopes. Pass out one or two envelopes to each child and have the child with A say: I have A. Who has B?
The child with B says: I have B. Who has C? And so forth.

*Let children hold up their letter as you sing different alphabet songs.

*Use these puppets to make CVC words.

Paper Plate Puppets
Staple two paper plates together 3/4 of the way around. Write a large uppercase letter on one side and a lowercase letter on the other side.  Or, just write the uppercase and lowercase together on one side.  Children wear these on their hands and hold them up when their letter is sung in an alphabet song. 

*You can also use these to make CVC words or sight words.

Letter Man
Letter Man (or you could make a Letter Lady) is easy to make and sure to capture your students’ interest. You’ll need a small swinging trashcan, felt scraps, googly eyes, pom poms, craft glue (E6000 works great), and magnetic letters.

Decorate the trashcan to look like a man similar to the photo. Spread magnetic letters out on the table. If children can identify a letter they can “feed” it to (put it inside) Letter Man. What a fun way to assess the letters that children know! 

*What’s My Sound?
Place the letters inside Letter Man. Children can take turns pulling out a letter, making the sound, and saying a word that starts with that sound.

*Alphabet Center
Put Letter Man (full of letters), paper, and pencils in an alphabet center. Children take turns choosing a letter and then trying to write the letter.

*Feed Letter Man
Ask children to feed Letter Man all the letters that are blue… feed Letter Man all the vowels… the letters in alphabetical order…and so forth.

Have children spell their name or sight words and then feed them to Letter Man.

*Sing this song to the tune of “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” as you put letters in the trashcan.
     I know an old man who swallowed a (name letter).
     What would he say if he swallowed a (name letter).
     (sound), (sound), (sound) – (name letter).

Note!  If you don't have a trash can you can use a plastic jug or other container.

Friday, August 17, 2018


After all these years I still get excited when I think of something new. So, here's a new twist on something I've shared a gazillion times. I call them "Friendship Bears."
Are these cute or what???

Use the attached pattern to make bears for the students in your classroom. Take photos of their faces and run them off to be about 2 1/2" or to fit in the bear's head. Glue their face on the head and then write their name on the body. Start each day by singing the children's names in the song below to the tune of "Twinkle Little Star" as you hold up their bear.

(1st child's name) (1st child's name) who do you see?
I see (2nd child's name) looking at me.
(2nd child's name) (2nd child's name) who do you see?
I see (3rd child's name) looking at me....

You could also sing their names to the tune of "Good Night, Ladies."

Hello (1st child)!
Hello (1st child)!
Hello (1st child)!
We're glad you're here today!

Hello (2nd child)! and so forth...

Shuffle up the bears and then hold up one at a time to dismiss children to centers, to line up for play, etc.

Partner Fun
Randomly pick 2 bears at a time for partner projects.  Partners could read together, play a game, draw a picture, or do another activity.

Sign In
Place the bears in a basket near the door where the children enter the room each day.  As they come in, they find their bear and then practice writing their name on the sign-in sheet.

If You Give a Kid a Hammer...
If you give a child a hammer, she'll find a million things to hammer.  If you make these friendship bears, I bet you can come up with lots of other ways to use them in your classroom.  (Gosh, if you laminated them you could use them all year.)  Please email your ideas to me and I'll share them on my blog.  I can't wait to hear what you come up with!

P.S.  If your class has another animal theme you could adapt this idea.  For example, if your class is "the bees" you could use a bee pattern.  If your class is "the dolphins" make dolphin friends.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


I was searching for something on an old blog and I found these ideas from a few summers ago. They are certainly worth repeating and adding to the tricks up your sleeve.

When a child gets hurt…
The Booboo Whisperer (Kim Brodie)
When a child comes to Kim in tears with a booboo, she sits them down and says, “Lemme have a chat with your booboo.” She holds their arm or leg and pretends to have a conversation with the hurt spot. “Now, listen here. You need to stop hurting my friend ____. Stop it now!” It always calms the child and gets her to smile while the others gather around and show empathy.

At the end of the day…
Good-bye Handshake or Hug (Cathy Richardson & Jeanette Wannop)
Children give the teacher a handshake or hug before they leave at the end of the day.

When children finish their work early…
I’m Done Jar (Deb Rocco)
Put pictures of activities that children can do if they finish their work (puzzle, etch-a-sketch, easel) on sticks. Place these in a jar that says “I’m Done.” When children finish their work they can choose a stick and do that activity.

When a child does something great...

Awesome Sauce(Marilyn Borden)
Get a pump dispenser of lotion and make a new label that says “Awesome Sauce.” When kids do something great give them a squirt!

To start your day in a positive way...
Sharing Good News (Jessica Williams)
Write children’s names on craft sticks and place in a jar that says “Good News.” The teacher starts every morning by sharing her own “good news.” The children clap or cheer for her. Next, she pulls a stick and the class sings, "Tell me something good!" That child shares their good news and then the class does a cheer. The teacher pulls the second stick and they sing, "Tell me something good" and then cheer. Do three children each day and then put those who have had a turn in an envelope and start all over again when everyone has had a turn.

To encourage reading…
Rock Solid Readers (Cathy Richardson & Jeanette Wannop)
Children earn a polished rock (from the dollar store) for every 15 books that they read. Young children love to collect things and you could get a “class granny” to sew little bags for collecting or purchase small bags at the dollar store.

If a child doesn’t know the answer…
I Don’t Know 
Here’s a tip for getting a response from a child who is hesitant or typically replies, “I don’t know.” Just say, “Well, if you did know what would you say?” Nine out of ten times they will give you an answer.

If children need to work on scissor skills…
Scissor Wizards (Sandy Spoon)
Buy cheap drinking straws and let the children use these to practice cutting. They make a “snapping” sound that the children love when they cut. Keep the straws in a tub and they can cut and recut until they are tiny pieces that can be used for stringing on plastic lacing.
Note!   This really is fun!  They make a cool sound and pop all over.  Your kids will love it!

To reinforce numbers or letters…
Little Red Number Box (Sarah Wilson)
Put magnetic numbers in a metal tin and then sing the song as you pull out a number. Then count to that number.
For example: I wish I had a little tin box to put a 6 in. I’d take it out and count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and put it back in.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


One of the enduring rituals in early childhood has been sharing time. Most children love to be the center of attention and talk in front of their friends. However, you can reinforce important speaking and listening standards with some of these ideas.

Show and Share 

Instead of “bring and brag,” focus show and tell on a specific theme you are studying, such as a letter, science concept, shape, etc.

Provide a child-size podium (old music stand) for children to stand behind when they speak.
*Let children stand on a giant block to speak.

Have children close their eyes as friends take turns sharing. Can everyone remember one thing at the end of sharing time?


Ask children to come up with three clues about what they have brought from home. (Parents could write these for young students.) After giving the clues, friends try and guess what it is.

Let the class ask 20 questions about show and tell items. Tally their answers on the board.

*The person sharing can make three statements about what they have brought. The class then gets to ask them three questions about it.
Show What You Know
Try “show what you know” where children can demonstrate what they have learned about a theme. They could do an art project, make up a song, do a skit, make a video, etc.

Hint! Designate a special shelf or table in your classroom where students can place their show and tell objects for friends to look at later in the day.

Specific Time
Assign students different days of the week for sharing time or designate one day for show and tell.

Here are a few other ideas I found when I searched old blogs.

Rhyme Bag (Hieke Klapwyk)
Send home a brown “rhyme” bag with each student and ask them to fill the bag with two items that rhyme. At show and tell time, each student removes one item from their bag. Classmates must guess what the second item in the bag is by naming objects that rhyme.  


Show and Tell Challenge(Maribel Mohr)
Use gift bags and staple a note with a challenge, such as a letter, three dimensional shape, numeral, etc. Pass out the bags to the students at the beginning of the day. At the end of the day they can share what they've found.
*You could also send these bags home for the children to do with their parents.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Every year around this time I hear horror stories about primary grade children having several hours of homework each evening. The child ends up crying - the parents end up yelling – what’s the point?

First of all, if a young child goes to school and sits and listens and works and learns for six hours, they deserve to do what they want when they get home. The need to play, move, laugh, yell, imagine, and be KIDS!

Homework should teach children responsibility. Homework should be a tool to help parents see what their child is doing at school. Homework should extend learning from the classroom to the home. Homework should be MEANINGFUL!

If I were in charge of the world, primary grade children would NOT be allowed to spend more than 30 minutes on homework each night. They might be asked to read 20+ minutes and then have ONE other assignment. I would try to make the assignment engage with the parent and connect the real world with what’s going on in the classroom. For example, the assignment might be to ask their parents what a veteran is and to find out who the veterans in their family are. The assignment might be to ask their parents how they use math in their jobs. The assignment might be to cut out a picture from the newspaper and write one or two sentences about it. Drill and kill worksheets should be banned!

My daughter brought up the point that many parents WANT homework and are impressed with lengthy assignments because they think it will make their children smarter. In the book Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators,Teachers, and Parents, Harris Cooper put together a variety of research studies on homework. He found that in elementary school, homework has almost no impact on academic achievement. In middle school, the results are mixed. In high school, moderate levels of homework can help the learning process.

Here are some ideas that might encourage children to develop responsibility and positive attitudes about homework.

Tic Tac Toe Homework

Make a tic-tac-toe grid and put a different assignment in each section. Children can do as many activities as they choose, but they must do at least 3 to get tic-tac-toe by the end of the week.
Hint! This is perfect for the parents and children who actually “like” homework because they can do all nine.
Homework Folders
You will need a pocket folder, crayons, and markers to make a homework folder. First, let children decorate the outside of their folders. Trace around their “left” hand on the left pocket. At the end of each day children put completed work in that pocket and it is “left” at home. Trace around their “right” hand on the right pocket. Use a homework sheet similar to the one below. Fill out assignments for the whole week and place it in the “right” hand side of the child’s folder on Monday. On Friday save homework sheets in children’s folders. Review with parents at conferences.

Weekly Homework Sheet

Monday ________________ Tuesday ______________

_______________________ ______________________

_______________________ ______________________

Parent Signature/Comments Parent Signature/Comments

_______________________ ______________________

Wednesday_____________ Thursday_______________

_______________________ ______________________

_______________________ ______________________

Parent Signature/Comments Parent Signature/Comments

_______________________ ______________________

Clipboard Homework

Each child will need a clipboard that she can decorate with her name, stickers, etc. Each night clip the homework assignment to children’s clipboards. (Think outside the box with interactive activities, rather than worksheets!) Make sure parents know that their job is to look at the clipboard each night, help their child with the assignment, and send it back to school the next day.

Monthly Calendar
Send a calendar home at the beginning of each month and ask parents to complete at least ten activities and return by the end of the month.

Note! You can download these free on my website

Monday, August 13, 2018


This is definitely a difficult blog for me to write because I’m always hesitant to give advice when it comes to behavior issues. You really need to know the age level, classroom situation, and individual child before passing judgement. However, someone recently requested I make a few comments on what to do when children don’t sing, so I’ll do my best.

First of all, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I capturing the children’s attention? Am I enthusiastic? Would I want to sing with me if I were a child? Are my songs engaging and FUN?” No matter how entertaining you are, there might be one or two children that don’t participate. My best advice would be to ignore them. I don’t think you should ever force children to sing or make it a power struggle. Focus on the positive with comments like, “The more you sing the happier you will be.” “Singing is good for the brain and will help you learn.” “Music helps us love each other.”

Second, think about why a child might not be singing. 

*If you’ve ever taught a selected mute (child who refuses to speak), you might as well accept their silence because there’s not a thing you can do about it. 

*Perhaps a child feels shy. Give them a little time and they may feel more comfortable and confident in joining group activities.

*Divide and conquer! Sometimes you’ll have two children that will sabotage everything you do when they sit next to each other. Separate them!

*Have a little chat and ask the child why she isn't singing.

*Ask children what their favorite song is and incorporate that into your music program.

*Provide musical instruments or other props that might get children involved. (This could be as simple as paper plates or tissue paper streamers.)

*Offer a wide range of music and movement activities, such as chants, dances, exercises, hand clap games, etc. There’s usually some special song that will capture their interest. (“The Banana Dance,” “Pizza Hut,” or my cheers usually do the trick for me.)

*Discuss the issue with parents. Sometimes the child won’t sing at school, but they sing the songs at home. By providing parents with lyrics to songs they can enjoy the music at home with their child.

*One first grade teacher said she used a behavior system in her classroom where the children moved their clothespin from green, to yellow, to red. The students learned if they were on yellow or red and they participated enthusiastically in music they got to move their clothespin back up to green. She said it worked like a charm for her.

Every class, every child, every situation is unique. Put on a happy face and act like singing is the most fun thing in the world!!! Because it is!!!

Sunday, August 12, 2018


O.K. It's important to listen to children, but tattling can be like a fire out of control. To prevent negativity/aka “the squeaky wheel” from getting too much attention, it’s important to have a discussion with your class at the beginning of the year about what is an emergency. If someone is in danger of getting hurt, then it’s an emergency. (One teacher said she used the “3 B Principle” – bathroom, blood, or barf!!!) There are also several good books out now that help children understand when it is appropriate to tell the teacher and what happens when you cry wolf. (A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue by Fran Sandon is adorable!)

Check out some of these ideas that teachers have shared with me. And, never ever forget to have a sense of humor!

Leave a Message
Put an old phone on your desk for children to tell their concerns. Explain that you’ll listen to your messages at the end of the day. You might even want to have a directory.
Press #1 for the teacher.
Press #2 for your parents.
Press #3 for the principal.
Press #4 for the President…etc.

Write It
Get a spiral notebook and write “Things the Teacher Needs to Know” on the cover. When children come to tattle hand them the book and say, “Write it all down and don’t leave out a thing.” If they say, “I can’t write,” respond with, “Well, just draw a picture and don’t leave out a thing!”

Comment Box
Put a box, notepad, and pencil on a shelf. Explain that when they want to complain or make a comment they need to write it on a piece of paper. They must start their sentence with a capital letter and end it with a period if they want the teacher to read it at the end of the day.

Lunch Bag
Open a lunch bag and set it on your desk. When children come up to tattle say, “Go put it in the bag. I’ll listen at the end of the day.” (Yes, trust me! They will go over and talk in the bag.) At the end of the day put the bag next to your ear and pretend to listen for 15-20 seconds. Then wad up the bag and throw it in the trash as you say, “That’s the end of that!”

Tell the Mirror
Place a small mirror on your wall and when the children start to tattle say, "Why don't you go tell that little boy/little girl in the mirror?"

Tattle Time
One of my favorite stories about tattle tales came from a teacher many years ago. When her students tried to tattle she’d smile and say, “I’m sorry. Today’s not tattle tale day. Wait until May 14th and then you can tell me.”

Another teacher said she used the concept of an Oreo cookie for tattle tales. The child reporting had to say one nice thing, then the tale, then another nice thing.

Tattle Toy
Choose a stuffed animal or puppet to listen to children’s complaints and tattles. Be sure and name the character. Explain that when you are busy they can always tell Teddy (or whatever) their problems. He’s always there waiting to be their friend.

*You can also let them tell a plant or other inanimate object.
Here’s another great idea for tattle tales. Put a photograph of the President on your wall and say, “I’m just your teacher. Why don’t you tell the President?” You won’t believe it, but the children will walk over and talk to the picture!

Sometimes a sense of humor is the best solution to a problem. Keep calm and laugh inside!