Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Playtime

Today's playtime is brought to you by child labor. ;)
Washing dishes we picked up a yardsale!
I'm linking this up:

Wordless Wednesday- 5 Minutes for Mom

It's Playtime at hands on : as we grow

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tiny Tot Camping

I don't really enjoy camping. Not unless it is pretend camping in the basement with my 2 favorite boys! Tyson is now 19 months old and I planned most of these activities especially for him but Logan (age 3) joined right in and loved this play time too!
Bailey Goes Camping [BAILEY GOES CAMPING]We began by reading Kevin Henke's Bailey Goes Camping, a story about a little brother who is too little to go camping with his siblings. He is pretty bummed out until... he finds out he can "camp" at home. He builds a tent, goes fishing and swimming (in the bathtub!), goes bear hunting with daddy, roasts marshmallows, and falls asleep under the stars.
We set up our tent in the basement and then got a bunch of "babies" and "sleeping bags". We put one baby on each sleeping bag... a little early math, practicing 1 to 1 correspondance. We kissed our babies and practiced saying, "Night, night".

We also set up a fishing corner. This was inspired by Logan's love of the magnetic fishing pond at The Magic House, our local children's museum. They have fishing lures that the kids can catch with magnetic bait. He would spend all day there. While I tried to talk Greg into building this in our yard, I had to settle for good old fashioned paper fish with a paper clip.

Not only did we camp and fish, we even picnicked in the "great outdoors".  We used our new dishes from yardsaling. I would give Tyson one piece of bread for his plate and one piece of bread for my plate. Again, learning 1 to 1 correspondance. I also named all of the objects as we "ate" and encouraged him to try and repeat the words.

 I also did a bit of "math talk" with Logan. "There are 3 people. Every person has 1 plate. There are 3 plates! If every person wanted 1 cup, how many cups would we need?"
Of course, he still has to count it all out, but it will interesting to watch and see when he can begin problem-solving the answer without counting!
Learning to Share

We had a lot of fun playing camping together and the boys are now playing with the camp set up in their independent play!
Here is where I am linking up:
Tot School
It's Playtime at hands on : as we grow

Shibley Smiles

Monday, August 29, 2011

Letter Learning with a Sleepy Alphabet and a Purpllinker

Who is ready to kick off a new school year with some letter learning fun?

We've been learning and practicing letters this week.
What we read:
The Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Story from Alphabet TownThe Sleepy Little Alphabet by Judy Sierra was recommended by Inspired to Read in the #pb10for10 challenge this year. It's bedtime in Alphabet town, but none of the little letters (lowercase) are ready for bed. Move through the alphabet as the big letter parents (capitals) put their tired letters to bed. This book has everything I love about an alphabet book. It has fun alliteration that remincent of Chicka Chicka Boom boom (with less repition). It has fantastic text layout. I hate when the child can never find a clear copy of the letter anywhere in the book. Big pet peeve :) The pictures have extra details which lend themselves to beginning letter sound awareness. For example, b is on a bike wearing a baseball cap. It has humor. It has three year old humor. O and P upset the potty. Logan finds this hysterical. This book goes straight into my best loved alphabet books pile!

What we Did:
After reading this book, we created known letters with our purpllinker. What is a purpllinker you ask? Let me show you. It's a plastic hinged tool that can be moved to form letters.
 From the website

Looking much like great grandpa's old-fashioned carpenter’s ruler, but smaller, softer, safer, and easier to maneuver, the child-friendly Purpllinker, with its seven arms, will hold its shape, allowing your child to create the entire alphabet. By forming letters with the Purpllinker, your child will be building small-muscle memory and fine-motor skills. 

We were able to try out the purpllinker free from Timberdoodle. Here's what I liked about it:
  • The purpllinker is small enough to toss into a diaper bag or a travel bag, making on the go learning easy.
  • The purpllinker is multilevel. Bending the ruler in just the correct way actually takes a lot of problem solving. This would be a wonderful tool for a family who has older children and younger children. The older child could use the instruction sheet to form the letters while the younger child named them.
  • The purpllinker is about $12. This is a lot cheaper than the set of letter learning tools we have been using.
  • The purpllinker can be used for more than just letter learning. The instruction sheet includes designs for letters, numbers, geometric shapes, telling stories (building different houses, building cranes, forklifts, giraffes).
  • The purpllinker is engaging. It's one of those things that you buy for the kids but you pick up yourself from time to time just to see if you can figure it out :)
Here's what I didn't like about it:

  • When you create a letter, the curves aren't truly curved. Since we are using a program that directly teaches the terminology of curves, lines, it's important that we are consistant with that in our letter learning. I think the purpllinker could be better for my son to practice known letters after they are very secure in our other curriculum.
  • A lot of the letters don't look anything like the letter they are supposed to represent. This really confused Logan (age 3) who has a strong letter knowledge but probably isn't able to think of letters that abstractly. I would recommend the purpllinker to children who have a very secure knowledge of letters and who are ready for abstract learning. If your child is easily confused by letter knowledge, this would not be the best tool to use for beginning instruction.

This was my first review for the Timberdoodle company and I have to say, I am very impressed with their company. They provide homeschool curriculum for infant through high school. My order arrived very quickly and customer service was great. I also love that you can order items in a curriculum pack (preschool Timberdoodle Core Curriculum 2011), or if you don't have $304 to fork out at the moment, you can order the items individually. For instance, you could start with a purpllinker for $12.49!
You can get a free homeschool catalog from Timberdoodle.
Legal Disclosure:
As a member of Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team I received a free Purpllinker in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

For more letter learning fun, check out my pinterest board: Learning Letters

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Roller Coaster Reading

Last weekend we took our annual family trip to Branson, MO. My parents, my sister's family, and my family take a weekend trip and visit Silver Dollar City each year. I knew I had to have a great roller coaster book for this trip. I was so lucky to stumble onto this great recommendation from Love to Teach Reading and Writing during the #pb10for10 challenge earlier in the month.
Roller CoasterRoller Coaster by Marla Frazee is one of those books that you could pour over the pictures for a long while. The storyline focuses on a young girl who is tall enough to ride her very first roller coaster. The pictures tell the story of husky men who chicken out at the front of the line, a Grandma and Grandpa who throw their hands up and scream, and young and old who leave the roller coaster feeling dizzy. Each character in the line or on the roller coaster is well developed through art as the roller coaster dips and dives and spins through the air.
After reading the book, Logan got to ride a roller coaster!  Logan really wanted to ride a roller coaster that went upside down. Unfortunately  Fortunately, they don't make those for 40 inch tall boys! (I'm pretty sure Tyson would have hopped on board too.... fearless).
oops! I don't even have a picture of him on the roller coaster! Here are all my guys enjoying the frogs!

Once we got back home, Logan wouldn't stop talking about the roller coaster. I thought this high interest topic would be a great way to introduce his new journal. I purchased this spiral bound notebook with blank pages for our new school year but hadn't introduced it yet. Logan was chattering about Silver Dollar City on Monday, so I busted out the journal. We had a short conversation about the trip. I asked him, "What was your favorite part?" He said, "I like the roller coaster."
I showed him his journal at this point and asked him if he'd like to put a picture of his roller coaster in his journal. I wrote the date at the top of the page.As he drew his picture, he narrated his roller coaster experience.
Ps. Look at that, he tried to write his own name!! :)

When he was finished drawing, we had another conversation.
Me: Would you like me to write something down about your roller coaster.
Logan: Yes, write "I like roller coasters"
Me: Ok, I'm going to write it down here at the bottom. Let me show you were I am going to begin writing.
Logan: No,  I loved the roller coaster. That's what I want to say.
So that's what we wrote!

Journal writing can be a multi-level activity:
  • Toddlers can scribble on blank paper.
  • Preschoolers can draw a representational picture. While you can offer to write something down for them, preschoolers can also learn that their drawings can communicate messages too.
  • Older preschoolers can sometimes begin writing something down. Their early messages might not even look like they contain real letters.
  • Early readers can begin writing stories with invented spellings.
  • By the time your child becomes a proficient writer, he will be ready to be a proficient journal writer too!
There are some great tips in these articles at
Journal Writing with Toddlers- love the idea in this article "When my child has filled all of the pages of the journal, I write the end date.  The end of story."
Journal Writing with Preschoolers best advice? keep it simple, real, short, and fun!
Journal Writing with Kindergarteners- I couldn't agree more with this quote from the author, "At this early writing stage, conversation is key."
Journal Writing with First Graders- This is a great tip that Jeannie used with her son, "He wrote what he could and I jumped in and wrote the tricky parts."

Here's where I am linking this up:

It's Playtime at hands on : as we grow

Shibley Smiles

play academy

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fun Finds at a Used Book Sale

The YMCA book fair is currently happening here in St. Louis. Yesterday, after driving 5 hours home from Branson, I put the boys to bed and left to see what I could find at the fair! (By the way, Greg stayed home with the boys and recovered from our trip... I was the only crazy one who had to get out the door to the used book fair.) This is one of my favorite events of the year, after all.
I was lucky to get almost a foot of used children's books-- all for only $13. Children's books are sold by the inch at this event. It's $1.20 per inch.
Before I went, I decided on some general ideas of what I would be looking for. Instead of sharing a foot high stack of kid lit with you, I'll just highlight some of my favorite picks.

Favorite Authors- If I see a book by a favorite author for cheap, you know I'm going to pick it up. Some of the authors I found were:  Lane Smith, Bernard Waber, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Donald Crews,Doreen Cronin, David McPhail. The books are donated so you generally won't  find newer authors in the used section, unless you get lucky!
Easy Readers- Once your child begins reading independently, you will discover finding books that he can read independently will be challenging-- especially for the first year. Many of the early reader books that I love come in sets for schools. They can be quite expensive to purchase individually-- especially when you are talking about a small book with only 5-6 pages. One of my favorite early reader sets are Rigby PM. Since many teachers/schools donate old books to the fair, you can score several of these early readers. They are so thin that you are getting them for almost nothing!
Early Chapter Books- I am getting ready to start Logan on listening to chapter books. I wanted to pick up a few very easy chapter books that have several pictures. Some of my favorite finds from this pick were Catwings, Catwings Return, Winnie the Pooh, Toy Story 2, and Jackrabbit Goalie by Matt Christopher. There were tons of chapter books at the fair too if you are ready for that.
Board Books- There aren't a lot of board books available, but I'll take any that are in good condition. I bring them home and wipe them down with wet wipes, leave them fanned open until all the pages dry so they don't stick together. 
Holiday Books- I always pick up all the holiday books I can find. Even if the writing isn't stellar, kids love to look at illustrations of holiday books. I found a ton of Christmas books in good condition so that was exciting. I have a plan for those.. but you'll have to wait to find out.
Miscellaneous books in good condition- One thing I try to remember is that kids like books in good condition. Most of the books at this fair are paperbacks so they need to be in great condition. Here's my favorite pick from this section. You Read to Me, I'll Read to You Fairy Tales. It looks brand new!!

Tips for the locals:
If you are heading to the St. Louis YMCA book fair, here are some tips from me to you.
1. Wear/bring a jacket. On Sunday night it was frigid in there. It's held on a floor of an ice rink. They may already have it set for skating season. brrr! My hands were numb by the end of the night.
2. One thing that I found is that most of the books are grouped together by donator. For instance, if there was a name written on a book, it would be written on several books around it. This can be useful. If you find a book that is great, slow down and really look around it. If you get into a section of junk, you can speed up a bit. There is so much to sort through, you have to have a plan!
3. Tuesday is half-price day. So Children's books will be $0.60 an inch. On Wednesday,  it is $10 for a box of books.
4. The book fair runs 9 am-9 pm until Wednesday at the Kennedy Recreation Center.
I wish I could go to this with all of you. I kept thinking of book recommendations I had found from friends in the blogosphere and wishing I had a few of you with me to sort through the pile of books!
Here's where I am linking this up:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Language Development through Play

My nineteen month old, Tyson, isn't much of a talker. Most of the time, his brother is telling long, detailed stories which doesn't leave much room for Tyson to pipe up. I have talked with my pediatrician  who is slightly concerned about his language development. For the meantime, he isn't referring us to any therapists.He told me they would just tell us to read with him and well, we're doing that. He did note it in Tyson's file, though. As a teacher at heart, I know that early intervention is KEY.  Lately I've amped up our playtime to include play that will foster language development.
I read this Montessori language idea at While I am not trained at all  in the Montessori approach, I decided to try the activity in our own way.
Since we've been reading a lot of books about water and beaches, as well as playing in the sand, I chose beach words. I put out a beach towel and three objects, naming each object as I set it on the towel, "Ball. Boat. Fish." I let him hold the objects, throw the objects, explore the objects.

Later, we unrolled the beach towel again. This time, I set out the objects, named them, and then asked Tyson to point to the objects. He did a great job with this.
As a teacher, I know that a huge part of learning occurs through transfer. In other words, if a child knows something in one setting and then realizes he can use that same knowledge in another setting, massive learning will occur. I wanted Tyson to do that with language. I took the same three objects and put them on the table. We named each one. Then Logan and I created them out of playdough. Tyson got to help as well by pushing the fish cookie cutter into the dough and rolling the ball of dough. As we made a ball, a boat, and a fish, we talked about the words. We said the words in isolation. We talked about them in descriptive ways.

Finally, I tried to help him transfer the knowledge to books.

We read some of these books about the beach and we looked for all of the same objects, as well as naming other objects that were present.

We celebrated when Tyson pointed to the object. We celebrated his partial attempts at saying the words.
This activity is something that you can do constantly throughout the day. In fact, most parents are probably naming and showing objects on autopilot. I think the difference in the activities I chose for Tyson was that I focused on three objects in a variety of places. While this might not be necessary for all children, for a child that language is developing slower, it could be helpful to slow it down and help them recognize and celebrate what they do know.
If you have a post or an idea that you think would be particularly helpful, feel free to comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Here is where I'm linking up our playtime:
It's Playtime at hands on : as we grow

play academy

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back to School with Books

Back to School, picture books, images

I'm not sending a kid out the door with a backpack and a lunch box yet. This time of year, however, always makes me want to buy new school supplies and sharpen some pencils. I have always loved school!  As a child, the school story was always my favorite fiction genre. I began with Richard Scarry's labeled depictions of classrooms. I branched into chapter books with Ramona the Pest's adventures in Kindergarten. And I continued the school story genre with titles like There's a Boy in the girl's bathroom. School has always been one of my favorite places, what can I say?
Richard Scarry's Great Big SchoolhousexRamona the Pest (Ramona Quimby (Pb))xThere's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroomx
In honor of the teachers and students starting a fresh school year, I thought I'd share some of my favorite books about the beginning of the school year, starting with some that were special to me when I was teaching.

Back to School Books

back to school, picture books, The Kissing HandThe Kissing Hand- Chester the racoon is not convinced when his mother tells him that racoon school will be fun. But when his mother passes on a family secret- a kiss that he can hold in his hand to remember his mom- going to school seems a little bit easier. This is a great book for mom, too, be prepared to to shed a tear on your first read. You might not want to read with your child the first time through.
back to school, picture books, The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, imageThe Teacher From the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler.It's Hubie's first day of school and his imagination is running wild with the horrors of his homeroom teacher. This is a great pick for a kid who uses humor to deal with stressful situations. It was always a fun writing prompt for my fourth graders when I was teaching. There are a whole series of books to check out!

back to school, picture books, If You Take a Mouse to School, imageIf You Take a Mouse to School by Laura Numeroff.  Following in the tradition of the If you Give a books by Laura Numeroff, this book focuses on taking a mouse to school. Kids will be able to see the areas of the classroom and supplies as well as laughing at the antics of a mouse in school.

These are some current titles that I discovered through a variety of blogs or book review sites. I like all of these for the beginning of the school year.

back to school, picture books, image, Butterflies in My Stomach and Other School HazardsButterflies in my Stomach and Other School Hazards I found this book at I put it on my library hold list and picked it up today. It is a great book for kids who are learning about the use of figurative language/idioms. It walks through a first day of school with a boy who is nervous about starting school. The book is told almost entirely in idioms. My favorite part is the ending. The bus driver said, "School was sometimes a tough nut to crack, but that every cloud has it's silver lining." And the boy said, "I had no idea what she meant by that." It makes me think of when I was teaching Title 1 reading and I picked up a little boy from his class and said, "What were you learning about?" And he said, "I have absolutely no idea!" Most kids just aren't that honest, are they?
back to school, picture books, The Little Bit Scary People, imageThe Little Bit Scary People by Emily Jenkins doesn't have to be a first day of school book but I think it would be a humorous look at some of the people your child might encounter on the first day of school. In the book, a little girl confronts several people who she sees as scary. For example, she sees a principal with long fingernails and a large, looming figure as scary. When she imagines that same principal as an nice lady who takes dancing lessons with her boyfriend, she finds her a little less scary. If your child doesn't get the humor yet or isn't apprehensive about school, you might want to shy away from this book. You don't want to stir up additional anxiety. I'd recommend it for kids who are used to school and need a little humor to get them back in the mood for school. This was recommended by

back to school, picture books, Llama Llama Misses Mama, imageLlama Llama Misses Mama In this story, mama drops Llama off at school. Llama has to deal with her separation from Mama. It makes me want to break into Hap Palmer's "My mommy comes back, she always comes back, she always comes back to get me..."
Oh, and for fans of Llama, did you know there is a new book being released on August 23?
 Llama Llama Home with Mama about a sick day from school. We'll save this one for cold and flu season!

back to school, image, picture books, Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School ShoesPete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes The last one on my list is one that I still need to check out. I loved Pete the Cat, so I think this new release, Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes looks fun. If you don't believe me, check out this book trailer from youtube. Cute, I say.

Which back to school books should I add to my must-read pile?

I asked this question on twitter and I got a few suggestions

@saferchild recommends:
Brand New Pencils Brand New Books, picture books, back to school, image Brand New Pencils, Brand New Books by Diane deGroat
back to school, picture books, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, image Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten
DWs Guide to Preschool, back to school, picture books, image DW's Guide to Preschool

@SmartPlayBlog recommends
Back to School, picture books, image
Odd Velvet - a book about celebrating differences, setting tone for respectful class community
Odd Velvet (a book about celebrating differences, setting tone for respectful class community!) 

Also voted for If you Take a Mouse to School-- don't we all love Laura Numeroff.

You can find some other titles I pinned from blogs I was reading on my Back to School with Books Pinterest board.