Cute Christmas Books & Crafts from No Time for Flash Cards!

Christmas crafts for preschool
I love, love, love this idea from No Time for Flash Cards! If you have some quiet time this holiday season (or need to make room for some quiet time), these are great ideas to connect fun books with great crafts. We just got our Christmas books out a few days ago, so we've been loving remembering old favorites and discovering new ones. Since I'm lame and don't have time to wrap all of our books, I'm thinking of just putting a post-it number on each one and having a drawing each night for which one we get to read. Not quite as much fun, but it keeps things simpler for me and sometimes you just have to do that! 

Great Deal on National Geographic Little Kids Magazine!

Just $12: National Geographic Little Kids 1-Year Subscription (Ages 3-6)
I love to encourage parents to get magazine subscriptions for their kids. It's a great exposure to non-fiction plus all of the comprehension strategies like questioning and predicting. I find it's a nice way to force myself to read a different kind of book to my son every month or so. Reluctant readers also seem to respond better to fun magazines and comic books sometimes. Plum District has a great sale right now for a $12 year long subscription to National Geographic Little Kids and you can get another 20% off if you enter the code NovBestsellers. You can go to Plum District or click here to find the deal. We really like this magazine. It's nice and short for younger readers plus it comes with collectible animal cards in the middle of each one. It's also a great idea to ask for a magazine subscription for the holidays from relatives. It is so fun to get kids excited about receiving something to read in the mail! Amazon can also be a good place to get good deals on magazine subscriptions.

Some other good choices for younger kids are:

Babybug - great for little fingers because it's made of tougher paper
High 5 - younger version of Highlights
Ranger Rick Jr. - younger version of Ranger Rick
Lego Club Jr. (free!! if you sign up at
Sports Illustrated for Kids - not super exciting for us and written for a little older than kindergarten level, but great if you have a really big sports fan in your family!

Happy Reading! Please share if you have other favorite magazines that I missed.

Great Idea for Books During the Holidays from Delightful Children's Books

A Bookish Advent Calendar | Delightful Children's Books
I just read this great idea from the Delightful Children's Books blog about creating a book Advent Calendar this year. Love it! I hope you check it out. I had a friend who told me about something similar long ago where she would gift wrap all of the Christmas books and allow her boys to open one per night. But I like the idea of numbering them like an Advent calendar, too! I find myself looking for fun used holiday books all year round to add to our collection. It's great to get them from the library but it's extra fun to cultivate a collection of your own oldies but goodies. You could practically only collect Jan Brett books and you would be set. She has fabulous winter and Christmas themed books like The HatThe Mitten, and Christmas Trolls.  My first graders always used to love to look for Hedgie the hedgehog in each of her books. She also has an outstanding author website at Lots of coloring pages and info about her newest books. I hope that you are starting to collect at least a small amount of books to pull out for each major holiday. I keep mine in a file cabinet drawer and we pull out the new ones at the beginning of that holiday's month. That way, it keeps everything fresh and new while you provide another reason to learn new vocabulary and get excited about books. Happy Reading! 

The Measured Mom's Tips and Tricks for Teaching Emergent Readers + Great Battle Bunny Book Talk!!

tips and tricks for teaching emergent readers
To go along with the last post I did about finding those "easy" books for our earliest readers, I am thrilled to share an excellent explantation of emergent readers by The Measured Mom. She did a guest post about this on another great site, Teach Mama. Please go visit the post here and print out your free books! 

I think it's hardest for parents to understand the beginning reading process because when we think of reading, we picture a kid reading The Cat in the Hat or another kid's book. It's hard sometimes to see the value or interest kids will have in those teeny little boring books. Yes, I've had many a parent tell me those little books are boooorrrriiiiinnnnggggg. All I can tell you is that I have never thought those books were boring because I look at them as little treasure chests holding such great possibility for our little readers. Your attitude does play a huge part in your book choices and your child's attitude about books, so try to give the little easy books a chance. I must admit, they are getting better as educators realize that high interest subject matter is super helpful in engaging young children (especially boys!!). I also can honestly tell you that I have never had a child complain to me that those little books are boring. They get excited to actually be able to read a book and they don't seem to compare them to the bigger "real" books like adults do. So don't be afraid to show a little love to the emergent readers!

This also brings me to a new book I heard about over the weekend called Battle Bunny. 
Bay Area picture book author Mac Barnett has co-written a new book, "Battle Bunny," with his writing idol, Jon Scieszka. The two were at a reading in New York on Sunday and will be appearing together in the Bay Area next week. Photo: Rebecca Smeyne
The people on the radio station giving the review could not stop talking about how much they loved this book. It sounds hilarious and like a great idea to share with kids. What happens is that a child gets the somewhat lame book Birthday Bunny for his birthday and then he changes it all around to become Battle Bunny. It may be because I have a six-year-old boy who would completely love this book, but I can't wait to get it! Of course, the teacher and children's librarian in me cringes a teeny bit at encouraging children to color all over books, but in the right context it can be a great encouragement for imagination and writing. So, if you do end up wanting to change around some of those little books, you can always create your own versions! What is so genius about the author of Battle Bunny is that he actually has the whole Birthday Bunny book at so you and your child can make your own version! So great!  For those of you who live close to me, I just ordered three copies. So the first two people to email me and tell me you read this post, I will give your child a copy for free!

Free Emergent Reader Collection from The Measured Mom!

free emergent reader collection the measured mom 590x770 Free Emergent Readers
I recently had a question from a mom about how to find "sight word" books or if they even existed. I told her that if you are reading really simple books, you will usually run into the main sight words quite a bit. I don't particularly like books that overuse them or make them sound unnatural. However, we are all so lucky that Anna over at The Measured Mom decided to create fabulous FREE printable books to focus on each sight word one at a time in a very accessible way. Such a great idea and perfect for beginning readers. Please check out her books by clicking on the picture above or right here! I suggest making a fun little book box of all of the books your child can read. Then once they've got a little collection, make sure they read one to you each night before you read stories to them. Happy reading!

Good Article on Creating a Literacy-Rich Home

Just saw this article on the Moms LA blog and thought some of you might like it. She discusses the top ten ways to create a literacy-rich home. I think she hit all of the top ideas with the exception of one. The author didn't mention the huge importance of kids seeing adults read. Have bookshelves and magazines lying around (note the pile of books I keep on my nightstand in the picture). Put your feet up once in a while and saying to your child, "I'm really excited to read this book right now. You can grab one of your books to read too!" Research has shown that both the act of having books, newspapers, and magazines around and modeling your own reading have a significant difference on reading achievement.

I would also say that creating a language-rich home is just as important to building literacy. Talking, asking questions, making predictions, and learning new words are all so valuable to a young learner. As Jim Trelease likes to say, you are pouring language into their ears. A child's vocabulary at the beginning of his or her schooling is a huge determiner of their reading success. So enjoy the Moms LA article and enjoy all of that talking and reading at home! Don't forget to put your feet up! Ooh, and please share your favorite tips if you have any!

New Way to Practice Sight Words from Frog Spot

Frog Spot Blog
I just discovered this fun blog from a teacher in Australia. She has a bunch of resources available on Teachers Pay Teachers as well as some freebies on her own website. Her Flip Flap Puzzle Paste worksheets are super appealing to kids (and to me!). Plus they're a great way for them to start to recognize words they need to know. She has super cute word family houses she's created and she even has them for numbers, too. If you visit her website, you can get the sight word sheet pictured below for free!

Great Handwriting Suggestions from Urth Mama

Best iPad Apps to for Kids to Practice Handwriting. From a homeschool mom who has tried hundreds of apps!
I just came across the Urth Mama blog's great post on handwriting apps. The only one I've tried is Wet-Dry-Try from Handwriting Without Tears, but they all look really good. Click here to check out her great reviews!
The other great find from her post is this stylus made for kids using the iPad! It's listed on Amazon here. I've been really wanting something like this so my son can practice his correct pencil grip while practicing handwriting.

Reversing Those B's and D's

I just found a great article plus free printable cue cards to help your kids with their letter reversals. Hopefully by now you have heard that it is completely normal for our young readers to reverse their b's and d's. It does not mean they have dyslexia. My first graders did it fairly consistently each year and now my own son and his friends are experiencing the same frustrating confusion. Please check out the Make Take Teach blog for a wonderful overview of the subject. As far as writing goes, I've always used the fact that you have to make a c as you write the d to clarify the difference between b and d. I know some teachers tell kids to picture the word "bed" or form it with their hands (left hand is the b and right is the d) to remember which is which. Another idea someone shared recently that works for their child is to explain that lowercase d is ditzy, dippy, dingy (pick your d word) and therefore doesn't face the same way as all of the other letters. All of the other letters move to the right as you write them, but d faces backwards. Just try to collect as many tips as possible and find the one that will click for your child!

Book Love Download Free Today!

Not sure how long this will last, but Melissa Taylor's book is free to download today from Amazon! Get it while you can! She is also the author of a great blog called Imagination Soup

Free Printable Books for Fall!

Happy Fall, dear blog readers!

No doubt school and children are keeping you as busy as they are keeping me. Here's a fun site I wandered around this week called Mrs.Wills Kindergarten. She is offering up some fun things for the fall season in including a free printable book that would be perfect for your very beginning readers. Check out her site here to enjoy the free printable!

Another site that I have loved this week is It has lots of interesting sister sites and great info for teachers, but is very applicable to parents as well. They have some free downloads on the site itself, but you can have access to everything for a week for free if you sign up for their free trial. It is well worth it because you can print out a bunch of high interest books for your readers. I found a great Space book and another about sharks that my early reader will love. They even have printable worksheets for working with comprehension, word work(phonics), and vocabulary. If you're not sure what Guided Reading Level your child is reading at, you could take the assessment with them over at Pioneer Valley Books or start with Level A because that is the easiest and go from there. Remember, for a book to be "just right" for your child, they should know around 95% of the words. If you're struggling through the whole thing, it is TOO HARD.

Reading Ideas for Toddlers in Constant Motion

Thankfully, my son is now out of the phase where I couldn't even take a picture of him being still. There was always movement when he was a toddler. I've had many parents ask me how they are supposed to sit and read with their toddlers for any length of time. Here are my suggestions:

1. Embrace Reality (Adjust Your Expectations)
You are going to immediately be in trouble if you want your reading time to match a picture in your head of a child happily cuddled on a peaceful parent's lap with a pile of books. Close the door to the bedroom so you have your toddler in a confined space. Child door locks can be your friend in such instances. They may not look like they're listening to you read, but that's okay. They can get up and wander if they want. You can still try to engage them now and again with questions or show them a neat picture.

3. Embrace the short book
This is not time to prep your little cutie for Harvard by reading chapter books. Keep the books short and sweet. Some board books are just longer books for older children in board book form. Bypass those and go for the ones with a few words per page at most. Don't take it personal if your toddler wants to shove a book out of your hand halfway through. It's okay. You don't have to finish every book. When they're a little bit older, you can work on the follow-through skill. Right now, it's not important. If they're interested, they'll let you keep reading.

4. Embrace books with real pictures, flaps, smells, and different textures
Your child is in a state of constant exploration, so what a great way to get them interested in books by exploring. It keeps their attention and teaches them that books can be fascinating. Where else can you find little squares of shag rug and shiny mirror material in the same place other than a disco or roller rink?!? Bob the Builder has some super awesome Life-the-Flap board books. Below is our very favorite, Bob's Toolbox Mix-Up. Babies and toddlers are also extremely interested in books that mirror their lives and what they look like. Some of our favorites were simple real pictures of babies and things that babies play with.
Bob the Builder: Bob's Toolbox Mix-Up

5. Embrace books that involve songs and/or movement
The reason I decided to write this post is that I recently discovered an excellent series of books for toddlers involving yoga moves. I read the books while I was over babysitting one of my favorite toddlers, and he surprised me by doing every single yoga pose in the book. What surprised me more was how natural and perfect for toddlers each of the poses were. There's Sleepy Little Yoga and Little Yoga: A Toddler's First Book of Yoga. Other books like Little Bunny Foo Foo, where you can sing and do movements, can also be very entertaining for the little ones.

6. Embrace Humor
If you can find a book that's silly, you will have your child's attention. Anything that makes them giggle or laugh is one they will want to revisit over and over. Bob the Builder's Tool Mix-Up has some silly parts in it. What Shall We Do with the Boo-Hoo Baby is another fun one. Luckily, there are lots of board books out there that embrace fun. You also have to remember YOUR sense of humor. Don't ever get tense around books, as Mem Fox likes to say. Enjoy the craziness that is your toddler running around the room as you read. It won't last for long.

7. Embrace Repetition
Yes, you are going to find a few all-out favorite books that your toddler will want you to read over and over. That is a fantastic thing to do. It helps cement vocabulary, syntax, and the rhythm of language for your child. Plus, it's one of the very few times where they can feel like an expert. Children LOVE reading stories over and over again because they know what's going to come next. This happens so rarely in their little lives that this a great opportunity for them to feel some control and pride.

8. Embrace Your Toddler!
I can't resist mentioning this rule. Give lots of hugs and love when you have reading time (that is, if you can catch them!).  As long as they associate reading with fun and love and laughter, you've done your job!

Need some more ideas? Check out this article, "Reading Tips for Parents of Toddlers"  from

Lazy Summer Reading Ideas

Sometimes we all need a little help to get moving with summer learning. Here are some great (mostly free) ideas I've come across recently. 

One of the favorite things I've found so far comes from Plenty of Picnics. They're called Summer Brain Time punch cards. I love them because I can say to my son, "Let's do some brain time!" and our reward for that is a punch on our Summer Brain Time card. I say "our" because I need a little motivation to focus on learning, too! Then when we fill out a card, we get to have a treat together like popcorn and a movie or ice cream. Here's the link to print out your very own Summer Brain Time cards! 

Summer Online Resources:
Summer Reading Resources for Kids 2012 from Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas is an amazing compilation of summer reading programs!!
A Mom with a Lesson Plan: idea for collecting book reports and rewarding with money towards Scholastic book orders in the fall!
Help for Struggling Readers :great compilation of ideas
The Measured Mom: Can You Read 100 Books This Summer? Do-It-Yourself Summer Reading and printouts
3 Dinosaurs Summer Printable Round Up: Lots of great ideas!
Growing Book by Book Table talk cards - topics to talk about at the dinner table or on a road trip!

Games for Summer:
* Lots more on my Pinterest boards!
Good for all levels:
PirateAttack ( Students discover pirates and treasure by identifying sounds/letters, reading sight words, or defining vocabulary words 
PlayingWith Plates:  Write sight words, word families, vocab words, or letters on small paper plates. Put them on the ceiling or floor and search for them in the dark with a flashlight. Fling them like Frisbees. Throw balls or balloons in them and read the words they land on. Sort the word family plates into words that rhyme (-at family = cat, bat, sat, mat, that).
MuffinTin Games: From one of my new favorite sites, Growing Book by Book. They are similar to the plate games but using a muffin tin and post-its or paper muffin cups. Use pennies or hard candy to toss into the cups or play a tic-tac-toe type game. 
Treasure Hunt: Hide short phrases around the house so kids can read and follow the clues. You can purchase the game Ukloo to do the same thing.

Memory or matching games with Letters/Pictures/Rhymes and have lots of resources for letters, rhyming, and sight words - print out the free samples!

Beginning Readers:
Word Family Mats from The Measured Mom
Zingo Sight Words bingo game:
Product Details


Great Sites for Free Printable Games and Word Lists:
·        Mrs. Perkin’s Dolch Words:  Lists of all levels of sight words plus much more!
·  Vocabulary word lists, SAT vocab lists, rapping program
·        Teachers Pay Teachers: just search for free items and the grade level you want – don’t be afraid to sign up, it’s easy and free
·        Primary Inspiration
·        Reading Resources
·        The Measured Mom: - sight word easy readers, word family mats, all sorts of good stuff
·        1 Plus 1Plus 1 Equals 1:  Lots of printables, especially for packets with popular themes from toddler to kindergarten level
·        Reading Tutors and Reading A-Z: Many free samples for learning letters and sight words
·        Reading Rockets printable family packets and parent articles

Books to Inspire You:
Games for Reading by Peggy Kaye
Games for Reading
Book Love by Melissa Taylor
I Can Teach My Child to Read by Jenae Jacobson
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition
Reading Magic by Mem Fox
Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever

Playing with Plates

Okay people, I am getting down to the bare bones for you. You are a busy parent who has no time to plan out wonderfully enriching ideas for your youngster. Don't worry. I've got your back. All you need is a Sharpie marker and some paper plates. If you need some inspiration on what words to choose, you can check out If your kiddo isn't ready for sight words yet, use letters. By the way, the importance of sight words is that they are the tricky words you can't always sound out. It is hugely helpful as you learn to read if you can recognize these words by sight.

Option 1:  Go into a dark room and ask your kiddo to find a word with a flashlight. You know they all love using flashlights! Some creative Pinterest people have even mounted words on the ceiling for this!

Option 2: Use pennies or a soft ball to have your kids throw them onto the plates. Whichever ones they land on, they read.

Option 3: lay out a few p,ages while you're reading. Every time you come across one of the words, your child puts a paper clip or penny on the plate. In the spirit of competition, see which word "wins" by showing up the most times in the book.

Option 4: Frisbee time!  If they can read the word, they get to fling the plate. See which word gets the farthest!

Sharing Hilarious Parent Mistakes = Writing Motivation

Sometimes inspiration hits in the oddest of places. As there are many education blogs out there, I always get excited when I think of something quirky that you might not be able to find on ten other sites. Tonight while getting my son's bath ready, I was doing about ten things at once. I decided to fill the sink to soak a few things while filling up the bathtub while helping him clean up his unending Legos. The next thing we know, we're back in the bathroom and there is a flood going on. I had totally forgotten about filling the sink and/or had extremely underestimated how fast it would fill. Probably both. So water was flowing over the counter and spreading out along the floor. Joy of joys. What does this have to do with literacy, you ask?

My son's first question was, "Can I be the one to tell Dad?!?!" He assured me that he was not gleefully trying to get me in trouble but merely trying to transmit some information. Yeah, right. And so this became a great opportunity for using new vocabulary - flood, spilling, soaked, etc.- while practicing his skills of retelling a story in the correct order. Even if he just got to tell the story orally to his father, there would be some literacy merit. However, I would suggest taking it a step further and writing out a glorious and humorous tale of how mom almost flooded the bathroom. If your kiddo is too little to write out a whole story, have them dictate it to you or label and illustrate boxes with order words such as first, second, third, and finally. They just get so excited when we're the ones who mess up, don't they? I can see him being very engaged in this particular writing activity. Not to mention, what a great way to preserve these awesome family memories. He did say it was his favorite part of the day.  

Fun and Games with Reading Parent Workshop

I'm very excited to announce my first parent workshop with The Kelter Center in Sherman Oaks! If you live close to there, I'd love to have you come!! While you're at it, check out The Kelter Center's own blog here. Their founder, Sasha Borenstein, is an incredible teacher with a deep wealth of knowledge about kids.

Summer Reading Fun & Games for Parents
The Kelter Center Workshop

Afraid of the summer reading slide?

Worried that you won’t have enough time to devote to reading skills?

Let The Kelter Center help with our first community learning event! We invite you to join Reading Specialist Ruth Edwards as she fills you in on the latest tips and resources for keeping your young readers (entering grades k-3) engaged and learning throughout the summer months. Parents and teachers are welcome. Come put together some fun, simple reading games (at your child’s learning level) that you can take home that evening!

Please Join Us
Thursday, June 27th from 7:00-8:30pm
Childcare provided
Please rsvp by June 25th
$10 per person, $15 for two

(310) 312-1056

Excellent and FREE Printable Packs for Learning

Printables Packs from 1plus1plus1equals1
I may have mentioned these packs before because they are so great. Wonderful for parents who only have a few minutes but want to do something valuable with their children to keep those brains thinking. I love these packets because they are extremely high interest. There was one on Angry Birds that I did with my 5 year old and he practically begged to get started. Plus, it takes advantage of the prior knowledge kids already have on these subjects, so they are automatically more confident and motivated to learn. I especially like the kindergarten packs I have tried because she includes an easy reader and cut-and-paste activties so we're not just doing worksheets. There are Tot, Preschool, and Kindergarten packs depending on what level you need. Click here to see 1 Plus 1 Plus 1 Equals 1's blog about all of her printable packs. Enjoy! 

Great Early Reading Resources!

I've said it before and I will say it again. I am just astounded and humbled by the amount of amazing work that mom and teacher bloggers are sharing for free on their blogs. I honestly don't know where they find the time to do all of this! Just learned about this fantastic resource from This Reading Mama . It's a Reading the Alphabet Pre K curriculum. Now don't be scared off by the word "curriculum." It doesn't mean you have to put in tons of extra work and preparation time. It just means that someone else has thought about what would work best and in what order. You can pick and choose whatever works for you. Just glancing though it, I saw a cute song to teach the word "the" - grab that if nothing else! Perfect for those of you who want to start reading activities with your little learners but aren't sure where to start. If you click on this post here, you can download all of the files via a zipfile. Thank you, Reading Mama! 

This curriculum is also mentioned in one of my favorite blogs for learning, The Measured Mom. If you have not already subscribed to get her emails, I do not know what you are waiting for. They're perfect for the early learner set. She is starting to create these great, FREE emergent readers for sight words. As you probably know, sight words are those words we just have to learn by sight so we can read them automatically without thinking. When we do, it makes reading soooo much easier. Click here or on the picture for her newest books for the word the
4 more printable emergent readers from the measured mom sight word the 590x740 Free Printable Emergent Readers: sight word the

Reading Belongs to Readers!

"Reading belongs to readers, not to teachers. If we want children to see reading as anything more than a school job, we must give them the chance to choose their own books and develop personal connections to reading, or they never will." Donalyn Miller from this post at the Nerdy Book Club.

Easy FREE Printable Books to Learn the Word "A" (Plus a Small Rant About Parent Attitudes)

Such a great way to practice a sight word and get some confidence with easy, printable readers from The Measured Mom. Print yours right now by clicking here! Go! Do it. Her post also gives very helpful instructions on how to read them with your child. Love how she brings up the point that parents are concerned their children will just guess their way through books forever if they don't learn to sound out words right away. So not true! The great children's author Mem Fox said it best when she said that children must almost see themselves as readers and have that confidence before they care to take the time to notice the letters and words. With these easy books, you are helping them see themselves as readers, which is a fabulous gift. 

While we're on this subject, I'd also like to warn you of the insidious poison that is an adult's secret thoughts about easy, simple books. I have had several parents say to me, "ugh, that book is so boring, why would my child ever be interested in that?!?" Sometimes it even includes eye-rolling. Please just compare it to the first toys your infant ever played with. Did you think back then, "Oh man, what a lame ball! It's only green and plastic. Boring. Why does she even care about that stupid ball anyway!?!" Obviously, I jest. But hopefully you get the idea. Babies are fascinated with simple toys because they are new and brilliant and exciting to them. It is the same thing for early readers and these books. They can access them and feel confident because those books are just right for them at this moment. So next time, when you see a super "easy" reader and you're tempted to roll your eyes, stop that thought and get just as excited to share this bright shiny new thing as you were to share a ball with your baby long ago.

Great Book Lists for Beginning Readers

Once again I stand in awe of the work and effort teacher and mom bloggers spend on their blogs. I just found two great lists of books that would be perfect for early readers in that 4-5-6 year old range. Depends on what your kiddo is ready for. Great books to check out of the library for sure! Did you know that most libraries will let you request and hold books for free? That means they pick them all out for you and you just pop in to check them out! In our area, the North Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles Public Library does that (they just charge you if you fail to pick up your holds). These lists are located on a new blog I just found that is fantastic. It's called The first list is 20 Fantastic Books For Kids Learning to Read and the second is 15 More Fantastic Books for Kids Learning to Read. Enjoy and let me know how you like some of them! I myself can't wait to check out the one pictured above.

Reading Comprehension 101 Series: Making Connections

This is the second part in my series of Reading Comprehension 101 posts. If you missed the first one about good readers making pictures in their heads, you can check it out here. Making connections is one of my favorite comprehension strategies because it is so easy for kids to do and understand. Basically, if you make a connection to a story, you automatically have a deeper understanding because you have attached it to knowledge that already exisits in your brain. I like to imagine that we all have tons of little files in our brains. Each file contains what we know about a certain subject. For instance, you probably have an "apple" file. If you grew up on an apple farm, your file is huge. You have pictures of apple trees, all different kinds of apples, the taste of them, the feel of them, etc. If you grew up in Hawaii, your file on apples might not have as much, but your pineapple file is probably pretty big. So if I ask you to read a book about pineapples, you are probably going to do really well because it will make sense to you and you can access the knowledge that's already in your brain about pineapples. For instance, you could fill in the sentence, "Pineapples grow on the ________." without having to even read the word. Whereas maybe some inner city kid who has never seen a pineapple is going to struggle with that sentence because his pineapple file has nothing in it. Are you starting to follow why it's important to be able to connect what you know to the book?

The good news for those of you with even teeny little kids is that the more you expose them to life and experiences, the more their files will grow. If they have lots of thick files, then it will be that much easier for them to read all sorts of things and undestand them.  

 There are lots of fancy ways to say it - using your schema or prior knowledge to enhance your understanding. The easiest way we would refer to it in my first grade classroom was as a "Text-to-Me" connection. So, a super simple connection might be that if you're reading a book about Biscuit the dog, your child might say, "I have a dog like Biscuit!" or maybe she'll say, "Biscuit is way nicer than our cat." If your child isn't saying these things, you can say it and model it for them. It's a magical thing to see how much more a child connects with a book if they have lots of knowledge about the subject. After going to a farm, they can read a farm book with much more interest and confidence. They might make a connection like "oh that little lamb looks like the one we saw today!"

Do you have to freak out and run to give your child as many experiences as possible right away to make them a good reader? No, don't worry. You will be amazed at the amount of information they have collected already. You can just deepen their experience with books by helping them make connections. The easiest books to do this with are books that have to do with real subjects that are close to their daily experiences. Little Critter books are good for that and so are books by Jamie Lee Curtis.

So, once you graduate from "Text-to-Me" connections and feel confident with those, you can also try "Text-to-Text" connections. My son did these really easily, so you might be surprised at how easy it comes or how your kids might already be doing it. It's as simple as saying, "Hey, that Kissing Hand book reminds me of Love You Forever because the mommy loves the kid very much in both of them." or you can compare and contrast a book with the same character, "The Little Critter is thinks he can do everything himself in All By Myself and this other Little Critter book. This one only has his sister but that one has his whole family." 

Finally, for those of us who are a little older, there are "Text-to-World" connections. That means, it might not be something that happened to you directly, but perhaps is of historical significance or currently news. Maybe I'm reading a story with a tornado in it and it makes me think of the tornadoes that recently hit Oklahoma. These connections tend to be bigger ideas or a little farther removed from your life. I would mainly focus on the first two with your little guys.

I challenge you to pay attention now when you're reading to how many "Text-to-Me" and "Text-to-Text" connections you're making. In this day and age, you might even have "Blog-to-Blog" connections. You'll be surprised!

Here is a great post on connections and prior knowledge from This Reading Mama - Before They Read - Connecting New Content to Prior Knowledge.

Who Doesn't Love a *FREE* Easy Reader Monster Book?

10 Little Monsters free printable book for early readers the measured mom1 Free Printable Book for Early Readers: Ten Little Monsters
Once again an excellent post from The Measured Mom!! You have to print out this book and while you are doing it, read her description of what kind of books to pick out for your early readers. It's excellent! I think with my little guy we'll probably read it together the first few times, but then I bet he'll know it by heart and feel really good when he can read it by himself. Please don't get caught up on thinking reading is only about being able to sound out isolated words in any context. Reading is about creating meaning, using the context, and understanding what you've read. If you can help your child do that, you're golden!

Nursery Rhymes for Beginning Readers

I am so excited to find a new site that has great resources for early learners! It's called PreKinders. I just love, love, love when teachers and bloggers so generously make printables that all of us can use. As busy parents we all appreciate it so much! So, over at PreKinders, the author has made many printable nursery rhymes available. I love these because they are perfect to put in a three-hole punched folder. Hopefully your little learner already knows most of these rhymes by heart. If not, start there without any visual aids yet. Then you can share one rhyme at a time as they're learning to track print (touch their finger to each word while reading). They already know the words, so it's easier for their brain to concentrate on the actual letters and words. Help them through it the first few times if you need to and then they will be good to go! They will see themselves as readers in no time! Click here to get the printables. There's also a great game you can play with them, too!! Thanks PreKinders! If you need more reminders about why nursery rhymes are so helpful when teaching a child to read, click here.

5 Things to Never Say to an Emerging Reader

Love, love this post by! Such good information, I wish I'd written it myself! The basic idea is to respect your emerging reader as they read. Just as you would like someone to listen to you read and not interject with corrections or comments every few words, they like the same. Click here to read it and check out all of the other good stuff she has to share!
                                                 5 things to never say to emerging reader

Motivating Your Young Writers!

how to motivate your child to write - this reading mama

I just had to share this fun post on This Reading Mama from Anna of The Measured Mom blog.You should check out both of their blogs - they are great parent resources!! Click here to see the great post on writing. What great ideas!

Reading Comprehension 101 Series - Mental Images

Today, I am starting a series of posts on the reading comprehension strategies that good readers use. Many of us do these things when we are reading, but you may not be aware of what you're doing or why. That's what I'm here for! I want to help you to understand how to refer to these strategies when you are already reading. It doesn't take much extra effort on your part to squeeze in a reference here or there about what good readers do. You'll be surprised once you start paying attention at how many things your good readers already do naturally! A few teacher books that will help you if you want to delve into comprehension strategies further are:
Product Details
Reading With Meaning by Debbie Miller
Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman
Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis

How do you "teach" something that good readers do? You become the good model first. You can model reading a book and think aloud. I know some people feel goofy thinking aloud, but it seriously helps the kids to understand your thought process.

                                                        Product Details 
An example of modeling my mental images from Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came might be for me to say, "Wow, this page where she describes all of the sounds of everyone sleeping makes me really picture in my head all of these old and young family members lying all over each other sound asleep. It's dark and there's lots of snoring, but since it's in the country I think I can hear some crickets in the background too." Ideally, we might be listening to this book on CD so that we couldn't see any images in the first place.

So I am starting with visualization (some people know it as mental images) because it is a pretty easy concept to grasp. Good thinkers in general use this technique to help them understand what they are hearing. Imagine driving in the car listening to a baseball game. You are visualizing the game in your head to make it more real and understandable. For readers, being able to visualize what you read helps them to connect and remember. It's much easier to remember that in the book they visited a farm with cows if you had a picture in your head of that farm with cows. It's even easier to remember if you use your five senses to make that image come alive. In our adult lives, we check for comprehension by visualizing the book. If we realize that we can't see the picture in our head anymore, we go back to reread. It's really important when people are giving us directions, too. It helps to visualize turning left, then going around the fountain, and then stopping by the bike rack.

How to encourage your child to use the reading strategy of visualization:

*Teach them their five senses and help them to describe pictures with all of them. For instance, if they drew a picture of a flower, you might encourage them to describe how the flower feels, smells, looks, sounds, and tastes - if applicable. Then encourage them to use their five senses to create really vivid images in their minds.

*Talk with them when you are reading or listening to something on the radio. Ask them what they picture in their heads. Tell them what you picture in yours. It's important to note that there is not a "right" image for them to picture. Everyone's looks a little different and that's okay.

*Read a chapter book and have them describe certain scenes to you by what they see in their head. Explicitly say that good readers make pictures in their heads. If they're interested in sharing that image, they can draw you a picture.

*Play a "let's make pictures in our mind" game. You can do this on a walk, or in the car, or in the bath. Describe a silly picture and have your child practice picturing it in their head. If you have an older child, you can have them experiment with listening to you describe a scene one time without visualizing and one time with visualizing. Then see which one they remember better!

*Poetry is great for practicing visualization. Most of the time, each poem comes with little to no illustrations, so they are forced to create their own. The blog Fabulous in First has some great free worksheets and description to help with this. If you have more than one child, it's fun to have them each draw their mental images for the same poem. Amazing how different they can be!

*You can help your children discover that our mental images can change. I once read a poem that talked about a doctor who fixed broken at first my mental images were in a doctor's office. As the poem ended, it talked about wooden legs and wobbly tables, so then my images changed to some kind of antique furniture store. 

Our friend from Fabulous in First also shared this excellent list of book suggestions for creating mental images. Usually they are books or poems with more descriptive flavor. My favorites are Cynthia Rylant books, Georgia Heard poems, and Rosemary Wells' Night Sounds, Morning Colors.

Some Picture Books from the list that I like for Modeling/Practicing Visualization
Aliki, Marianthe’s Story: Painted Words/Spoken Memories
Baylor, Byrd, I’m in Charge of Celebrations
Brinckloe, Julie Fireflies!: Story and Pictures
Brown, Margaret Wise The Sailor Dog
Bouchard, D. Voices from the Wild
Bunting, Eve Smoky Night
Carlstrom, Nancy White What Does the Rain Play?
Carlstrom, Nancy White Wild, Wild Sunflower Child Anna
Condra, Estelle See the Ocean
Cooney, Barbara Miss Rumphius
Fletcher, Ralph Twilight Comes Twice
Heard, Georgia Creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky
Howard, Jane When I’m Sleepy
London, Jonathan Hurricane
London, Jonathan Into this Night We Are Rising
London, Jonathan Like Butter on Pancakes
London, Jonathan Puddles
Lovell, Patty Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
MacLachlan, Patricia Through Grandpa’s Eyes
MacLachlan, Patricia Journey
Marshak, Suzanna I Am the Ocean
Marzollo, Jean City Sounds
Marzollo, Jean Close Your Eyes
Mazer, Anne The Salamander Room
McCloskey, Robert Time of Wonder
Merriam, Eve Quiet, Please
Munoz, Pam Ryan Hello, Ocean! Hola Mar
Murphy, Jim The Call of the Wolves
Navasky, Bruno Festival in My Heart: Poems by Japanese Children
Ryder, Joanne Winter Whale
Rylant, Cynthia Night in the Country
Rylant, Cynthia Let’s Go Home
Schertle, Alice A Lucky Thing
Shannon, David A Bad Case of Stripes
Thomas, Shelley Moore Putting the World to Sleep
Wells, Rosemary Night Sounds, Morning Colors
Williams, Vera A Chair for My Mother
Wood, Audrey The Napping House
Worth, Valerie All the Small Poems and Fourteen More
Wyeth, Sharon Dennis Something Beautiful
Yolen, Jane Greyling
Yolen, Jane Color Me a Rhyme
Zolotow, Charlotte The Seashore Book

11 Painless Tricks for Teaching Handwriting

Handwriting can be an exasperating subject for teachers and parents. There never seems to be enough time to focus on it and if you belabor the issue, then you surely lose the interest of your little writers. Without question, good handwriting and letter formation is still important. When a child can form letters easily and in the most efficient fashion, writing becomes less of a chore and more of a joy. When others can read their writing, children get more positve feedback, too! So here are some things I learned as a teacher that made handwriting instruction much more palpable.

1. Make 'Em Big
First off, if you are just starting to learn how to form letters, work with big sizes. Big sizes of paper, big paintbrushes, big sidewalk chalk, big blocks, you name it. People have the misconception that you have to start out small on paper when learning how to form letters correctly. This is not so. Make them huge! It's ever so much more fun that way. Another fun way is to do it many times in rainbow colors, as explained by Pauline at Lessons Learnt Journal. She talks about her Rainbow Writing and even offers up free printables to do it with your child!

2. Practice Pre-Writing Skills
Anything that makes little fingers stronger and more nimble can help them develop for writing. Play dough, using tweezers, or picking up little things and putting them in a bowl all count. It's also helpful to practice the shapes and lines that letters are made up of. A great app for this is called Ready to Print. Some of the things they provide practice for are touching things one at a time, in a certain order, following a path, matching shapes, pinching things together, and connecting the dots. They also have letter and number writing practice. You can of course do most of these things the old-fashioned way on paper, too. In Handwriting Without Tears they also encourage the kids to form their letters with blocks, play dough, and stamps before beginning to write them.


3. Encourage Correct Pencil Grip With Song!
This video that has a cute song for correct pencil grip. She sings it about a crayon, but it's the same thing. The other tip I have heard before is to pretend like you're holding a kleenex with your pinkie and ring finger. The other thing to remind kids is that their other hand should be used to hold the paper! A bunch of them never figure that helpful hint out on their own.I myself have a horrible pencil grip to this day because I never got out of the habit. My third grade teacher tried to get me to stop, but by then it was way too late. I am a functioning member of society, but I do have a nice callous on my finger to show for it and my hand cramps up when I'm writing. So if you can avoid it by teaching good pencil grip early, do it!!

4. Where Do You Start Your Letters? At the Top!
Now that we know how to hold our pencil, the main thing for your child to learn is to start their letters from the top and to make them in the most efficient way possible (i.e. don't take the long, unintuitive squiggly route if you can help it). There is an amazing program called Handwriting Without Tears that comes highly recommended from many parents, teachers, and occupational therapists. It is really important that the occupational therapists like this program because they are the ones working with kids who have a hard time with their fine motor movements, pencil grips, and writing. It is a program that whole schools can adopt, but you can also purchase their products for use at home here. They even have some online subscription options now. I have learned many great tips from them and used the program in my classroom for several years. I am not a paid spokesperson, just a really passionate fan! One of their tips is that starting your letters at the top helps with effective letter formation. They even made up a little ditty to remind kids to start their letters at the top. It goes like this - "Where do you start your letters? At the top! Where do you start your letters?" At the top! If you want to start a letter then you better, better, better, remember to start your letters at the top!" If you want to hear a rock n' roll version for yourself, click here.

5. Make the Lines on the Paper POP
There are so many different kinds of handwriting paper and thoughts about handwriting paper. HWT uses two lines so that kids can use the bottom line to keep the letters going straight across and the top line to differentiate between uppercase and lowercase letters. You can refer to the video at #6 down below to see a sample. You can also use the typical top line, dotted middle line, and bottom line. If you Google handwriting paper, you will find lots of free ones that you can print on your own if you like. You can try to highlight the space between the dotted line and the bottom line to help your kiddos differentiate between lowercase and upper case. You can also tell stories about the letters that go up to the top line like they go up in a helicopter or rocket and bump the top but no further. There is actually paper that you can buy with raised lines so your tactile learners can actually feel their pencil stop. They also have papers where there are little clouds drawn on the top line and grass on the bottom so the kids can say to themselves, "go up to the clouds, then down to the ground." Whatever works best for you and catches on with your child is the right thing to use. You might have to try a few things before you find your best fit. Don't be afraid to turn in homework on a different kind of paper, either. Talk with your teacher if something is working especially well at home. They will usually not have a problem with that.

6. Model the Right Way First and Frequently
Handwriting experts have stated that the best way to have children learn a letter is for them to see you do it first and close up. In other words, not copying letters already written on a board across the room. So make sure every time you are practicing handwriting, you take time to model the correct formation of the letter. It's an easy thing to do and makes such a difference. The other thing is, you want them to do a few really good practice letters - not a whole long page of letters where each one just gets a little bit worse and pretty soon they are copying the letters from their copies and they just keep getting worse and worse. Definitely think quality over quantity! If you get a big page sent home where they're supposed to write the letter D 20 times, try to at least split it up so they write it 5 times, then go on to something else. Search on YouTube for more handwriting demonstration lessons and songs!

7.  Give Them Words to Say in Their Head
If any of us are trying to learn something, we talk ourselves through the process. It's no difference for our kids with handwriting. You can use the script Handwriting Without Tears provides or you can use your own. I use a mix of both. I also have some number formation rhymes I learned long ago that go like this -
2 - Around and back on a railroad track, two, two, two (said like choo, choo, choo)
3 - Around a tree and around a tree, that is how we make a three
4 - Down and over and down some more, that is how we make a four
5 -The bee goes down, around the hive, go back up to make a five
6 -Draw your rope at the top and around some sticks, that is how we make a six
7 - Across the sky and down from Heaven, that is how we make a seven
8 - Make a S and do not wait, go back up to make an eight
9 - First a circle, then a line. That is how we make a nine.
Other teachers blog about very similar poems here at Simply Kinder and here at Little Giraffes. Simply Kinder also sells some number formation practice sheets if you're interested.

8. Teach the Starting Corner
This is another Handwriting Without Tears tip. As you can see in the picture with the little girl, the slate blackboard has a happy face drawn in the upper left corner. If you can teach your children to write their letters and numbers within a box frame like that (drawing a square or using little white boards work well, too), then they will have a much easier time with letter reversals. Which, by the way, are completely normal and rarely a sign of dyslexia or learning problems in the early elementary years. Just draw a little happy face on your board (or buy the nifty HWT one!). It's much easier for the kids to learn the few exceptions like O, Q, A, and the number 9 because there aren't that many and most of those we don't often reverse anyway. I recently learned another great trick for double-checking if you've reversed a number. A teacher came up with the idea of using your left hand and especially your thumb to see if your number is the right way. Basically, you learn that all letters "cup" or have a space for your left thumb. Who knew? Love tricks like this! Check it out at Dilly Dabbles. She has free printable bookmarks for reminders, too!
9. Watch Out for the Shark!
As with almost everything, I find that if you can make learning something silly or funny you get a much faster buy-in from your child. Letting letters go below the bottom line when they're not supposed to is a major offense in handwriting (for instance, letting your lowercase o sink below the bottom line that you're writing on). It makes things messy and confusing for your reader. In order to communicate this in a fun way, I taught my students about THE SHARK. We even drew little sharks underneath the bottom line of our writing paper (you have to envision the primary style writing paper with a dotted line in the middle and then a bit of extra space between each writing line). If your letter dipped below the line, the shark would eat it! Oh no! So as I conferred with my young writers, I would mention every once in a while that it looked like the shark was going to eat this letter. They would quickly fix it to keep the letter safe from the shark. Some of you quick thinkers out there might be saying, "Wait, what about p and q and g and j and y?" Well, my dear friends, p has a nice straight line that is a fishing pole, so it is allowed to go down there to entice the shark. Sharks are not interested in fishing poles. The rest of the letters have hooks when you write them. These, of course, are fishing hooks that will be pointy and catch the shark if he gets too close. I'm telling you, kids eat this up.
                                   Image result for free shark clip art
10. Hop Around and Learn Letters in Groups 
Current educational research suggests that kids learn nearly everything by connecting bits of knowledge to things they already know and/or by grouping those words with similar patterns together. You can apply the same thing to handwriting instruction. There are certain "kinds" of letters that we write. There are many capital letters, for instance, that can use Handwriting Without Tears' Frog Jump. You start in the starting corner, draw a line down, then (and you better say it with a fun voice!) FROG JUMP back up to the starting corner to complete your letter. Examples of these would be P, F, E, D, and P. Check out the video below for a cute song that goes with it. Then you could teach the ones that just start at the starting corner but don't need to jump. Examples of those would be H, K, L, and U. After that, you have the center starting capitals like O, Q, G, and S. Yes, it is easier to learn the capital letters before lowercase. When you get to the lowercase letters, there are also little tricks like learning to form all the letters that start with the "magic c" like g,d, and a as well as "tall" letters like d, t, and l. Here's a great little video with a song about the Frog Jump Capitals.

Not sure you can do it all? You are in such luck, because Handwriting Without Tears recently released an APP that does it for you! It's called Wet, Dry, Try after their proven method and order of teaching the capitals and numbers. It looks like this and is available for iPhones, iPads, and Android apps. It's not super exciting, but it has a soothing woman's voice and nice Hawaiian like music in the background. Plus the kids earn stars for practicing.


11. Accentuate the Positive
Finally, I will remind you of what you surely already know. If we were to pick out all the things wrong all at once with our little learners, they would crumble and not feel like doing another darn thing. So pick your battles and choose your focus. If they're getting an awesome story down, maybe this isn't the day to worry about perfect letter formation. Maybe you treat it like "stretching" and do it for five minutes before beginning your writing homework. Another thing my students used to love to do was to circle the best word or letter
they did. They also liked to see if I agreed or had a different favorite. See if you can get yourself to do that, so you're not always just harping on the little things they've not done right. It's also really fun to keep writing samples from past years so that you can show them how much they've grown. They love to look back on that writing and feel so much bigger and older now that they know better.

Happy Handwriting!