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Friday, September 30, 2011



It’s almost October lst and that means there will be lots of new activities up on my website.  One thing I wanted to focus on was how to use traditional children’s games to reinforce skills.  Here’s a snippet of what you’ll find this month at


Do you remember the old game where you placed chairs in a circle and walked around until the music stopped?  If you didn’t find a chair you were OUT!  This is a similar game that can reinforce letters, words, colors, math facts. etc. Write letters, words, math facts, etc. on paper plates.  Scatter them on the floor.  Play some catchy music for the children to dance to.   When the music stops each child finds a paper plate and picks it up.  The teacher randomly points to various children to identify the information on their plates. 
*If the child is unsure about what is on their plate invite them to “ask the audience.”


Seven children come to the front of the room and are given a flash card with a word or whatever on it.  The rest of the class places their heads down.  The seven tiptoe around and place a flash card by a friend before returning to the front of the room.  The seven join in and say, “Heads up!  Seven up!”  Children who received a flash card stand up and read their word.  They then guess who gave them the card and switch places.


Divide the class into two teams and have them stand on opposite sides of the room facing each other.  Give each player a flash card to hold in front of them.  The teacher goes to one team and asks, “Who do you want to call over?”  The children select someone from the opposite side and say, “Red rover, red rover, send word right over.”  The child holding that word walks, hops, tiptoes or jumps to the opposite side.  The game continues as sides take turns calling words over.


Draw a hopscotch frame on a paved surface.   Write letters, words, numerals, or anything you want to reinforce in the sections.  Children take turns hopping as they identify the information in the squares.
Hint!  You can make an indoor hopscotch on a shower curtain liner.  Use an erasable marker so you can change the information in the squares throughout the school year.


You will need a bean bag or small sponge ball to play this game.  The teacher says a letter and then tosses the ball to a child.  That child must name something that begins with that sound before tossing the ball back to the teacher. 
*This game can be adapted for rhyming words, colors, math, social studies, and other skills.

Divide the class into two teams.  One team is “X” and one team is “O.”  One child at a time from each team comes forward.  The teacher asks players to answer a question, identify a word, etc.  If the player gets the correct answer they get to make an “X” or an “O” on the board for their team. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Yesterday I was invited to sing at Frierson Elementary on Johns Island, SC.  Those of you who live in Charleston know I try to do one free concert every week in local schools.  Singing with children is my JOY!  Take a look at these faces!
I'm sure there are times in your day when you want to pull your hair out, but that's the magic of singing a song.  A gift from the heart is always received by the heart.  And that's how children receive the love you give them with a song, story, or poem!  So shut your door and sing LOUD today!

Here are some locations where I will be this coming school year.  I’ll look forward to singing YOU a new song!

11/14/2011  TN Kindergarten                           Nashville, TN

11/15/2011  “Rock, Rhyme,                          Lexington, KY
                        Write, and Read”               

11/19/2011   Lehigh Carbon                        Schnecksville, PA
                        Community College  

11/28/11       Georgia Kindergarten            Atlanta, GA

11/29/2011  “Rock, Rhyme,                        New York City
                        Write, and Read”              

12/6/2011     “Rock, Rhyme,                        Wichita, KS
                        Write, and Read”              

12/7/2011     “Rock, Rhyme,                          Oklahoma City, OK
                        Write, and Read”               

12/13/2011  "Rock, Rhyme,                          Houston, TX
                        Write, and Read"                

12/14/2011  "Rock, Rhyme                           San Antonio, TX
                        Write, and Read"                

1/13/2012    California Kindergarten            Santa Clara, CA

2/1/2012       “Rock, Rhyme,                          Grand Rapids, MI
                        Write, and Read”               

2/2/2012       “Rock, Rhyme,                          Lavonia, MI
                        Write, and Read”               

2/15/2012    “Rock, Rhyme,                        Lafayette, LA
                        Write, and Read”              

2/16/2012    “Rock, Rhyme,                        New Orleans, LA
                        Write, and Read”              

2/28/2012     “Rock, Rhyme,                          Springfield, MO
                        Write, and Read”               

2/29/2012     “Rock, Rhyme,                          St. Louis, MO
                        Write, and Read”               

4/3/2012      “Rock, Rhyme,                        Roanoke, VA
                        Write, and Read”              

4/4/2012       “Rock, Rhyme,                        Richmond, VA
                        Write, and Read”              

4/17/2012     “Rock, Rhyme,                          Knoxville, TN
                        Write, and Read”               

4/18/2012     “Rock, Rhyme,                          Charlotte, NC
                        Write, and Read”               

5/1/2012      “Rock, Rhyme,                          Omaha, NE
                        Write, and Read”               

5/2/2012      “Rock, Rhyme,                        Des Moines, IA
                        Write, and Read”              

5/3/2012       “Rock, Rhyme,                        Elk Grove, IL
                        Write, and Read”              

5/15/2012     “Rock, Rhyme,                          Philadelphia, PA
                        Write, and Read”               

5/16/2012     “Rock, Rhyme,                          Baltimore, MD
                        Write, and Read”               

June 21 & 22, 2012


*If you’ve never been to the most beautiful city in the United States (my city), then you’ll want to mark this on your calendar!  Sharon MacDonald, Dr. C.C. Bates, Dr. Clarissa Wlllis, Lynda Weaver, and the fantastic faculty at the College of Charleston will be joining me for two exciting days!  More details to come…

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Several years ago when I was in Ohio a teacher shared this activity for starting his day.   I think the idea originated with a football coach, but regardless of age level or content area, the message is an important reminder of what we’re all about!   Look your children in the eyes and see what happens when you start your day this way.

Teacher:  What is my job today?
Children:  Your job is to teach us and to love us.
Teacher:  What is your job today?
Children:  Our job is to learn and to love each other.

I can also see how you could use this question when a child is misbehaving.
“Are you doing your job?”

How Does My Teacher Feel about Me?

I was visiting an inner city school in Atlanta and the teacher used this question and response to focus children’s attention.

Teacher:  How does my teacher feel about me?
Children:  I’m as special as special can be because my teacher believes in me!

Isn’t that better than “Shhhh!  Be quiet!”  This would also make a good poster for your door for children to read before going out in the hall.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


IPads are the “hot” thing these days!  I know many of you have to “share” Ipads with other classes, so here’s an idea that can keep all of the children engaged as they become familiar with the key pad.

Place the IPad on a printer and make a color copy.  Glue the photo to the inside of a pocket folder.  Write letters, words, phrase cards, vocabulary, or whatever skill you want to reinforce on index cards.  Place the index cards in the left pocket so the child can pull out one at a time and type it.  When she’s finished typing a card she can place it in the right pocket.

You could make one for each child in your classroom or use the idea as a center activity.

Taaa daaa!  That’s the idea for the day!

Monday, September 26, 2011


One advantage of being in the field of education for over four decades is that I’ve seen many bandwagons roll down School Avenue.  By that I mean that every five years there seems to be a new set of standards, a new discipline strategy, a new assessment, or a new approach that is going to fix all of our education system’s short fallings.

The bottom line is good teaching is good teaching.  My father taught in a one room school house over 75 years ago and I bet he implemented some of the “best practices” that worked for me when I started teaching in 1969. 

I’ve heard some moans and groans recently about the Common Core Standards.  Have you looked at them?  Look at them and study them before condemning them.  They are GOOD.  They are BASIC.  They are meant to improve quality across our country.  Let me quote:  “The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.”  The expectations are very relevant and realistic.  They are what good teachers have been doing in the different grade levels for decades.

Smart teachers know the research.  Smart teachers know their standards and curriculum.  And smart teachers know how to articulate what they are doing and how they are fusing activities children enjoy with goals to success!

I’ve found a great website called  Take a look at some of their videos that demonstrate how teachers are implementing Common Core Standards.

Rock Star Cheer

Now that I’ve preached, I owe you a new cheer!  Bend down the middle finger and ring finger on both hands.  Pinky, index fingers, and thumb stay straight.  Now, bend your elbows and point your hands down as you say, “Rock star!” 

You can also do the “You Rock” cheer.  When a child gets an answer correctly clap twice, point at them with both index fingers and say, “You rock!”

Sunday, September 25, 2011


For many years it has been my pleasure to visit Pinellas County, Florida, to share with their teachers.  Although this is a large county, they have the “heart” of a small community and they’ve always been totally dedicated to children.  They embrace change and technology, but balance it with creative, engaging activities similar to these:

Fun with Phones  (Janice Pires, Tarpon Springs Elementary)
Recycle used/non-working cell phones with this game.  Write high frequency words or fluency phrases on jumbo craft sticks and place them in the box the cell phone came in.  Children hold the phone, reach in the box, and then say the word as if they are talking on the phone.
*Adapt for letters, numerals, math facts, etc.

Chalk Talk  (Cari Barnes)
Draw names, shapes, numbers, or letters on sidewalks with chalk.  Give children cups of water and paintbrushes so they can paint over the chalk lines.  The water evaporates so children can do it over and over.

Cari also suggested that when you make books from zip bag you can cover the stapled spine with duct tape to add a finished edge and protect little fingers from staples.

Bottle Lid Phonics (Lana Lillie)
Collect water bottle lids (white ones).  Write uppercase letters on one set with a permanent marker and lowercase letters on another set.  Children say the sounds as they put the lids in alphabetical order.  They can match upper and lowercase letters, make words, etc.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Apple Tree
(Tune:  “This Old Man”)

Way up high in the tree,                      (Point up.)
One red apple smiled down at me,         (Hold up 1 finger and then smile.)
So I shook that tree as hard as I could.(Pretend to shake a tree.)
Down came an apple,                            (Bring down one hand.)
Mmm!  Mmm!  Good!                             (Pat tummy.)

Two yellow pears…                               (Hold up 2 fingers.)
Three purple plums…                           (Hold up 3 fingers.)
4 orange peaches…                              (Hold up 4 fingers.)
5 green limes…                                    (Hold up 5 fingers.)

Counting Book – Make a stack and staple book with five pages.  After singing the song several times ask each child to make a book based on the words to the song. 
P.S.  I’ve gotten very interested in Common Cores Standards lately.  This is a great example of taking something fun and extending it to reinforce skills in an appropriate way.

Apple TastingPurchase several varieties of apples and cut them into bite size pieces.  Have each child taste the apples and then color their favorite in on a graph.  Which one was the most popular?  Least?  How are apples alike?  How are they different?

Fruit Prints – Cut an apple in half diagonally.  Do you see the star?  Let it drain on a paper towel.  Pour a little paint in a paper plate.  Children dip the apple in the paint and then print it on a sheet of paper.  Can you still see a star?  (Use lemons, limes, and other firm fruits to make prints.)

The Star Story  Put a red apple and knife in a bag and have it on your lap as   you begin to   tell the story below.  Insert children’s names in your classroom to capture their interest.

         One day first child’s name went to visit grandmother.  Grandmother said, “How would you like to go on a secret mission?”  “Oh, I’d love that,” replied first child.  So grandmother said, “I want you to find a little red house with no doors and no windows.  There should be a chimney on top and a star in the middle.” 
         First child was so excited as he set off on his mission.  As first child was thinking about what it could be, he ran into second child.   “Do you know where I can find a little red house with no doors and no windows.  There should be a chimney on top and a star in the middle.”  Second child said, “I’ve never heard of anything like that, but would you like me to help you?”  “Sure,” replied first child and off they went.
         They walked on a little further until they saw third child.  “Have you seen a little red house with no doors and no windows?  There’s a chimney on top and a star in the middle.”  “Gosh.  I don’t know what that could be, but would you like me to help you?” replied third child.  So off they went on their mission.
         The story continues as more children join in the search.
         Finally, the children had about given up when they ran into grandpa.  He was on his way home from the store with something he had bought.  “Grandpa,” the children said.  “Grandma sent us on a mission.  She told us to find a little red house with no doors and no windows.  There’s a chimney on top and a star in the middle.  What could it be?”  Grandpa laughed, “Well, I have the answer to your riddle right here in my sack.”  And he pulled out an apple. (Pull the apple from your sack.)  The children said, “How does that solve our riddle?”  Grandpa said, “This apple is like a little red house.  See, it’s round and the stem is like a chimney.”  “But where’s the star?” wondered the children.  Grandpa took a knife and sliced the apple in half.  (Take the knife and slice the apple in half diagonally.)  “And here’s the star!”  The children were amazed to see that sure enough, there was a star in the middle.
         Grandpa said, “You know people are like this star.  We’re different sizes, colors, and shapes on the outside.  But if you look inside, you’ll find a special star inside each person you meet!”
Hint!  Red Delicious apples will usually have the best star inside.

Barbara had a great idea for a bulletin board that relates to apples:

We made an apple tree bulletin board today to welcome and showcase our High School PALs. I'm going to put their picture on an apple . . . and I used the following statements to talk about them:

PALS . . . . are 'TREE'mendous, go out on a limb for us, help us branch out, are the apple of our eye, help us bear good fruit, root for us.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Leaves Are Falling  (Tune:  “London Bridge”)
Leaves are falling to the ground, 

To the ground, 
to the ground. 

Red and orange, yellow and brown,
Falling, falling down.

Leaf Hunt - Give each child a lunch sack and let them collect 2 or 3 leaves from the ground. Bring these back in the classroom and sort by shape, color, etc.  You could also graph the leaves by shape.  (Whenever you collect items outside emphasize the importance of taking things from the ground.  Return the objects to where you found them after exploring with them in the classroom.)
Research – Check out a leaf identification book from the library.  Can children match up their leaves with those in the book to identify which tree they came from.
Leaf Rubbings - Lay a sheet of paper on top of a leaf. Remove the paper from an old crayon and rub the side over the leaf to make a print.
Hint! Use rubber cement to glue the leaf to the table. It will be easier for the children to make a rubbing, and you can just rub off the rubber cement after the activity.
Leaf Book - Let each child find a "favorite" leaf. To preserve, place the leaf in a sheet of newspaper and put a book on top. Place the leaf in a zip baggie. Encourage children to dictate or write a sentence about their leaf. Put the baggies together to make a class book.
I Wonder Why? - Brainstorm why leaves turn colors and fall off trees in the fall. Have children go home and do a little research with their parents and report results in class the following day.

Is anybody from Troy, New York, reading this?  I’m doing a workshop in Troy on October 1st.  I’ll be flying into Albany on Friday the 30th of September and I’d be happy to do a free concert at a school that afternoon if anyone is interested.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Friday, September 23, is the first day of fall, so this week I’ll share some ideas to help you celebrate.

Nature Walk – Take a nature walk and look for signs of fall.  Why do squirrels gather nuts?  How do other animals prepare for the winter? 

Gray Squirrel

Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,         (Hold hands close to chest like paws.)
Swish your bushy tail.                  (Wiggle your bottom.)
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Swish your bushy tail.                  (Wiggle your bottom.)
Wrinkle up your little nose,         (Wrinkle nose.)
Hide a nut between your toes.     (Pretend to hold a nut in your paws.)
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Swish your bushy tail.

Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,         (Hold hands close to chest like paws.)
Swish your bushy tail.                  (Wiggle your bottom.)
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Swish your bushy tail.                  (Wiggle your bottom.)
Climb up in the tallest tree.         (Arms climb up above head.)
Let your tail blow in the breeze.  (Wiggle bottom.)
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Swish your bushy tail.

Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,         (Hold hands close to chest like paws.)
Swish your bushy tail.                  (Wiggle your bottom.)
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Swish your bushy tail.                  (Wiggle your bottom.)
If you’ll be a friend of mine,         (Point to self and then a friend.)
I will be a friend of yours.
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Swish your bushy tail.

Note!  Visit, click on September, 2007, and then click on “Gray Squirrel.”  You will be able to download an adorable book that Martha Sheehan created to go with this song.  The song is on disk one of my CD “Happy Everything.”

Gray Squirrel – Have children draw the body of a squirrel on a gray sheet of paper and cut out it out.   Staple the squirrel to a straw to make a puppet.  Staple a piece of felt or fake fur to the squirrel for a bushy tail.

Nutty Math – Purchase a bag of mixed nuts at the store.  Children can use these for counting activities, as well as sorting and patterning.  Children will also enjoy cracking the nuts open and picking out the “meat.”
Note!  Be aware of allergies before using nuts in your classroom.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Children are children regardless of socio-economic level, sex, ethnic background, or ability.  I love to remind people that baby bears are baby bears regardless of IQ.  In spite of all of the labels we try to impose on children, we must never forget that they are children FIRST!

A neighbor said, “I heard your songs are good for children with autism.  Do you work with children with autism?”  I kept my cool as I responded, “I sing with ALL children.  Music is a universal language that helps us love each other.”  (I borrowed that “music helps us love each other” from Pete Seeger, but it’s true.)

Where am I going with this?  I have a friend with a little granddaughter who has some physical issues and has to wear a brace on her leg.  I remind her grandmother to just love her and pretend like there is nothing wrong.  In my years as an educator I have seen children with no arms and legs “Tooty Ta” with me.  I have had children with no arms write and draw with their toes.  I have seen children in wheelchairs picked first to be on a kick ball team.  I have had all the boys want to marry my little bald Lauren who had gone through chemotherapy.  Why?  Because if you don’t tell children they are different they won’t act different.  It’s as simple as that!

I’m visiting my grandson’s first grade class tomorrow and I’ve been asked to integrate what I do with friendship and citizenship.  I’m going to teach them “Katalina Matalina” and talk about having a heart of gold.  I’m going to buy a bag of tickets at the dollar store for each class and ask the teachers to pass the tickets out to the children so they can give “kindness” tickets to their friends.  We’re going to sing “We Love Our Flag” and I’m going to teach them the Pledge of Allegiance in sign language because it makes the words so much more meaningful.  And I found this poem in an old file:

I pledge to myself on this day
To try to be kind in every way.
To every person big or small
I will help them if they fall.
I will love myself and others, too.
That’s the best that I can do!

And, we’ll do the “Tooty Ta” and the “Banana Dance” and we’ll all smile and love each other!  Children are children!

Friday, September 16, 2011


Those of you who have attended my workshops might have heard me say, “We’d go to jail now for things we used to do in the classroom.”  I don’t mean that literally because we never did anything mean to children, but many of the restrictions were just not an issue in the “old days.”  We could take our class out for recess (Yep!  Run around and play time.) whenever we wanted and we had a lot more flexibility and creativity in terms of the curriculum.

The “Friday Fairy” used to come to my room every week and nobody complained.  The children LOVED the Friday Fairy because she left a little penny candy in their desk while they were at lunch.  (I invited a 5th or 6th grade student to sneak in my room and distribute the goodies while we were out of the room.)

See what I mean?  You’d probably get in a lot of trouble for doing that now.  However, there are other things you can do to make Friday a special day.  And, after the children have worked hard all week it’s nice to end on a happy note.  Here are some other ideas for Fabulous Friday:

15-30 minutes free time at the end of the day.
Jamboree – Get together with your grade level and sing.
Guest Reader – Invite a parent, politician, or school helper to read.
Game Time – Children bring board games or card games from home.  (NO video games)
Recess – Now, wouldn’t that be fun?  30 minutes of unstructured play outside.  (One teacher said she did this and her kids asked her, “What should I do?”  Sad!)
Dancing with the Stars – Play music and let the children dance.
Take off your shoes – I know this sounds stupid, but my kids thought this was the great fun.
Kinder CafĂ© – Invite a different parent each week to come in and cook.
Do Your Own Thing – Children get to read, draw, talk…

*Please email me if you have an idea to add to the list!  
Oh, and have a FABULOUS FRIDAY!

Barbara sent some other great ideas:

Here are some of the ideas our teachers at Westwood use:

Tiptoe tag time
Paper airplane time
Funny Face time
Drum line using pencils
Quiet art time
Extra library - kids LOVE this!
Work with play-doh
Wiki Sticks time
Nature Center time
Make a puppet
American Idol Sing-along time
Musical chairs

The Corner On Character

Here's another idea from my friend Gina in Michigan:

We have "mystery reader" on Friday. Parents sign up using a google.doc so the kids do not have any idea who is coming in. We wait very quietly with the lights out and when the door is open someone is very surprised. The parents can bring a "souvenir" to help the child retell the story at home but this is not expected. The kids absolutely love it!! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Is, “Shhhhhh!” not working?  Well, here are a few tricks for you to try!

Student Heroes

5-4-3-2-1-zero                  (Hold up hand and put down one finger at a time.)
I’m looking for my               (Make circles with index fingers and thumbs and
student heroes.                  place around eyes like glasses.)
*Call the names of children who are sitting quietly.

         Special Signals

         Blow bubbles.  Challenge children to look at you and be quiet before all the bubbles pop.

         Open a music box.  When children hear the music they should freeze.

         Blink the lights, play a xylophone, or make some other unique noise or motion.

Simon Says

Begin a game of Simon Says:
         Simon says clap three times.
         Simon says put your hands in the air.
         Simon says touch your ears.
         Simon says blink your eyes, etc.
As children join in the game lower your voice as you say:
         Simon says put your hands in your lap and
         listen to me…line up at the door…get out your
         math books, etc.

Look at ____!

If you can find one child in your room exhibiting the behavior you are looking for then you can say, “If you don’t know what to do, look at child’s name.”

Magic Clap

Explain to the children that you have a magic signal that only your class will know about.  Every time you clap your hands, you want them to repeat the clap and look at you.   Practice clapping various patterns until all the children have joined in..

If You Can Hear My Voice

In a normal voice say:
If you can hear my voice, clap your hands one time.
In a softer voice say:
         If you can hear my voice, clap your hands two times.
In a whisper voice say:
         If you can hear my voice, please look at me.
Continue lowering your voice until children are focused on you.
Criss Cross
Criss cross,                           (Sit on floor and cross legs.)
Be your own boss.                  (Fold your arms and nod head.)

Sitting Chant
1, 2, 3, 4  -  glue your bottoms to the floor.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I love blank books!   Why?  They are opened ended and a perfect way to challenge children at different levels.  They can be used to integrate reading and writing across the curriculum.  They certainly motivate children to want to read.  And, when they go home you have put a book in the home!  IT’S ALL GOOD!

Here is a simple way to make blank books for your classroom.  I particularly like these books because you can adapt the number of pages for the assignment.  For example, if you are making a book on the five senses, then you would use five sheets of paper; for the days of the week use seven sheets of paper; for the planets in the solar system use eight sheets of paper, etc.

Stack the paper and then staple each of the four corners.  Cut up the middle lengthwise and then cut widthwise.  Taa daa!  You have four little books!

To make long books, staple four times on the left side as shown.  Cut, and you will have books that will encourage children to write a “long” sentence.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I’m sure most of you are familiar with this song.  The children love it, and they don’t realize they are learning as they dance and sing.

Nicole Bueno sent me this link for a YouTube video she made to go with it:

*I appreciate the fact that she asked permission before putting the music up there.  Many people don’t realize that my music is copyrighted and that I have to get permission from Progressive Media and Music.  The arrangements all belong to Mark Dye.

A fun activity to go along with this song is to have the children stand in a circle.  When the letter that their name starts with comes up in the song, they get to jump in the middle and break dance.

You could also make paper crowns and let each child decorate one with a different letter.  The children could wear these and then dance in the middle of the circle when their letter is sung. 

How about a rapper necklace?  Give each child a 6” cut out of a letter.  Let them decorate it with markers, stickers, glitter, etc.  Punch a hole, tie on a piece of string, and you’re ready to dance.

Use sign language or the signs from Animated Literacy, Visual Phonics, Jolly Phonics, Zoo Phonics… as you sing.

Make a book for children to follow along as they listen to the song.

However, my favorite idea for this song came from some teachers who performed it for an end of the year program.  They asked the children to bring in old white T-shirts, which they decorated with spots.  They made puppy dog headbands (ovals stapled to a strip of paper) and then they painted each child’s nose black.  They pinned a large letter on each child so they could run through a paper doghouse (square and rectangle with an arch cut in it pinned to the stage curtains)  as the song was fun.