Summer Reading Plan

boy reading library

One of my student teachers recently shared with me an email that she had received from her site teacher just prior to the end of school. My student teachers begin their pre-service training in August and complete it at the beginning of April. They are a permanent part of their students’ daily experience during that time. The teacher in the class where this particular student teacher had been working shared with her the results of a writing activity in May. The assignment was to write about five things that they have learned during their second grade year. One of the students wrote, “I have learned that student teachers disappear and leave you missing them.”

I thought of this story when I recently discussed helping children retain the academic learning that they receive during the school year. Will some of the skills “disappear” without the child missing them? Maintaining and supporting learned skills during the summer months is an age-old problem facing teachers and parents. We can’t afford to have skills “disappear.” When I was a first and second grade teacher, I was often dismayed in the fall when it was evident that many of the students had lost their mastery of some of the basic skills over the summer. This seemed to be particularly true with children who struggle with learning, especially in reading and math. Because learning concepts has been such a struggle for them, when the summer months come, these children feel released from that “learning prison” and feel free to “not think.” When fall comes, they have often slipped even further behind and the struggle begins again. It is critical that parents and schools do everything possible to put a maintenance program in place for those summer months so that skills are not lost. One important element of any plan is reading.

The following list contains suggestions of ways to engage struggling readers during the summer. While the suggestions would work for all children, special attention has been given to struggling learners who need to feel engaged in books and build connections between reading and real-life excitement.

  1. Create a fun and challenging game with an incentive at the end of the experience. Three of my grandchildren attend a school that challenges their students to read a certain number of pages each summer. When school begins in August, the children bring their individual reading logs back to school and they are totaled for each classroom. The classrooms with the highest number of pages earn a half-day outdoor activity and treats. This has proven to be very successful for that school. For struggling readers, I might change the activity slightly and use a total number of books instead of pages. Since they struggle with reading, counting books may be more appropriate. I think this activity could be adapted to a family situation, with a visible chart in the home to record progress and an appropriate fun experience at the end.
  2. Turn books into projects and activities. Some of my fondest memories as a parent came while helping one of my children build a project centered around one of the books that we had read together. I remember helping one of my sons build his own bow and arrow after reading The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. There are so many great books out now that invite project development. I recently read, Sophie’s Squash (1) and thought how much fun it would be to plant a squash plant in a garden area or even in a pot as a follow-up to this engaging story.
  3. Visit the local library on a regular basis during the summer months. Public libraries often have displays and other activities that encourage children to read particular books. Sometimes, visiting the library can be an adventure. We have a spectacular main library in downtown Salt Lake City that is right on the train line. When my grandchildren are visiting, they love to ride the train from my house to the downtown library. Whatever the situation, make going to the library a fun adventure.
  4. Read with the child. It is very critical for the adults in a child’s life to model reading and display excitement and joy in reading. I read to my children routinely from an early age. Even with all of that reading time, I still had one child who struggled with reading early on in school. I know it was the constant modeling of good reading and having someone else share excitement about the contents that helped him overcome his difficulties. When a child is able to read, the adult should take turns with him. Reading books also gives the adult a chance to have discussions about various topics. Book discussions offer opportunities to talk about subjects that are difficult to discuss out of context. I remember having a discussion about families coming in different sizes, colors, and configurations with one of my children. The discussion was more natural and had a connection for her because of what we had read. It was more powerful than discussing the topic without any particular references. During the project I mentioned in #2 above, my son and I were able to have a great discussion about stereotypes and the Native American culture.
  5. Choose a comfortable place to read. By suggesting this I am not saying that summer reading can only take place in one spot. I am suggesting a comfortable place in the house (or even outside if the child has a yard) that makes reading comfortable and regular. Having a familiar place that quietly says, “Reading Time,” may make reading more pleasant for some children. I know a family that has reading time at 11:00 a.m. every morning when they are home during the summer. The children go to their “reading nook” and pick up their reading where they left off the day before. This is especially effective in this home because Dad sometimes reads at the same time as a model, or he reads with them individually.

We know that children who read regularly during the summer months are more likely to retain their reading skills from the previous school year. In fact, in many cases, the child is able to even improve on skills by regularly practicing what she has learned.

Here are a few recently published books that would be fun this summer:

Younger Children

(1)  Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller

Rufus Goes to School by Kim Griswell

Moo by David LaRochelle

If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett

That’s Not a Good Idea! By Mo Willems

 

Beginning Readers

Check out the Elephant and Piggy Series from Mo Williams. There are lots of titles and the books are easy to read and very engaging and fun.

 

Older Children

Mr. Orange by Truus Matti

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

On Came Home by Amy Timberlake

Prisoner 88 by Leah Pillegi

10 Butterfly Books for Reading Aloud with Kids

submitted by Mary Catherine from Fun-A-Day.com.

Recently, we had an insect and plant theme in preschool. The kiddos enjoyed exploring our nature center built around this theme.  Hands down, the stars of the show were the caterpillars!  My students and I watched the caterpillars as they grew, created chrysalises, and then became butterflies.

MC 10 Butterfly Books

At the nature center, I placed a basket of books. They covered a variety of topics – bugs, plants, gardens. The books about caterpillars and butterflies were, of course, incredibly popular. The children loved hearing me read these books to them. As I did so, I incorporated some of the helpful techniques outlined in John Funk’s reading aloud article.

Below are just a few favorites from our science book basket:

1.     The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

2.     Ten Little Caterpillars by Bill Martin, Jr.

3.     A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston

4.     The Butterfly Alphabet Book by Brian Cassie and Jerry Pallotta

5.     Gotta Go! Gotta Go!  by Sam Swope

6.     Clara Caterpillar by Pamela Duncan Edwards

7.     Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons

8.     Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert

9.     Ten Wriggly Wiggly Caterpillars by Debbie Carbett

10.    Glasswings: A Butterfly’s Story by Elisa Kleven

I loved using the books to connect to the real life cycle of butterflies. The books gave the children more vocabulary to use as they discussed the insects. The fictional stories also let their imaginations “take flight”, encouraging the kids to make up their own stories. The children created some very interesting tales of about caterpillars and butterflies!

What are some of your favorite butterfly books to read aloud with kids?  I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

Environmental Print in the Classroom

submitted by Mary Catherine from Fun-A-Day.com.

we can read 4

An easy and meaningful way to enrich the print in a classroom is with environmental print!  As John Funk explains in Read the Room, creating a print-rich environment is incredibly important for early readers.  It can be even more so when a child is having trouble with reading tasks.

Environmental print refers to words, signs, and symbols that surround us on a daily basis.  Some examples include stop signs, store signs, and grocery staples.  Children are able to “read” environmental print because of the distinctive shapes and colors, along with the daily exposure.

we can read 2

Bringing environmental print into the classroom can help children as they’re learning to read.  Pre-readers are excited to have words they recognize up in their class.  Struggling readers can find comfort in these recognizable symbols, as well!

Towards the beginning of the school year, I gave my preschool students some important homework.  With their families, they collected examples of environmental print they could read.  As a class, we created a “we can read” space in our home center.  We’ve added to it over the year, and I’m sure it will be full by spring!

we can read 3

The children enjoy using my pointers when they’re reading our environmental print decoration.  It’s a very simple task, yes, but it allows the children to grow confident in their reading abilities.  It also helps them make connections between the written word and spoken language, as well as print-to-print connections.

we can read 4

How do you incorporate environmental print into your classroom?  I’d love to hear more ideas you may have!

If you’re looking for more early literacy ideas, I’d love for you to check out my Balanced Literacy Pinterest Board.

Mary Catherine is mama to a 6-year old kick in the pants, teacher to a fun group of pre-k students, and the force behind Fun-A-Day! She loves reading (especially science fiction), messy science experiments with her son, and dark chocolate!  You can connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Twitter.

Reading the Room

This post is authored by John Funk.

This academic year I have spent extra time in a second grade classroom where one of my student teaching candidates is assigned.  The group is challenging for her because the host teacher in the classroom has not been successful in maintaining good classroom management.  I have tried to model and build positive relationships with some of the ‘special’ children in the group.

boy reading red shirt

One boy in particular is not only a behavior challenge, but he is also struggling with reading.  Recently, I was model teaching in the classroom to help my candidate master more management strategies.  I was working with this special child, and he was stressing about not being able to read his library book. He did not even want to make any attempt at the words, because he “couldn’t do it.”  Placing his library book aside temporarily, I challenged him to point to any words in the room that he could read.  He pointed and we read and we counted how many words he could read as we moved around the room.  He was thrilled about the 21 words he found.  His attitude toward reading turned around almost instantly.   He displayed great enthusiasm as we moved to decoding activities with his library book.  He was now confident he could do something.

The experience reminded me of the “Reading the Room” strategy that I used with my students on a regular basis when I was a classroom teacher.  I had forgotten how excited children feel about finally experiencing success when success has been eluding them.  Reading researchers continually remind teachers to display letters and words around the room. In a well-established and well-organized classroom, there should be print everywhere!  This does not negate the fact that visual picture reminders of classroom schedules, rules, etc., are critical to the social and emotional development of the children.  However, words should be placed next to any visual clue to help the children understand about print.  As the children become school-age, those words will eventually become more important than the visual clues.  Here are ways that a teacher can create a print-rich environment:

  • Posted Alphabet.  There should be at least two alphabet sets posted in every classroom.  These charts should be at the eye level of the children from preschool to 2nd grade.  I know that it is a bit challenging for classrooms with limited space.  However, keep in mind that items posted at eye-level or below are great learning tools for children.  Items posted above the child’s line of sight are decorations.
  •  Name Labels:  A child’s name is one of the best ways to teach about print.  A child’s name should appear at least 4-5 times throughout the classroom.  Attendance cards, cubby labels, helper boards, apron hooks, center tags and name puzzles are just a few possible ways to display each child’s name.  Even after the child becomes a reader, displaying his name, written correctly, continues to serve as a great model for writing and spelling.
  •  Item Labels: A good early childhood teacher will label every part of the classroom from the doors to the sink.  Block shelves, listening centers, writing tables and group areas should all have written labels indicating the word that best describes that area.  Each word displayed in an early childhood classroom should be accompanied by a picture of the item as a visual reminder about the word.
  •  Teacher Writing:  Teachers should look for every opportunity to model writing for the children in the group.  This can be an important part of a rug or circle time activity.  The children should be able to observe the teacher writing simple words and short sentences about something related to the topic of the day.  The teacher should say the words and talk the children through the writing during these modeling sessions, mentioning writing on the line, spacing between words, and the correct way to form letters.  A teacher’s handwriting should be as neat and clear as possible, even if the teacher is writing on a smart board.
  • Every Opportunity to Model Print: I knew a teacher who had everyone coming into the classroom ‘sign in.’ When a parent helper came in, she printed her name on the board to ‘sign in.’  I adopted this activity when teaching because I thought it was such a good model of print and gave the children another opportunity to read.

“Reading the Room” is great support for the development of reading skills.  It can also be a wonderful strategy when working with struggling readers.  We know that children’s attitudes directly impact how quickly they can pick up the components of reading.  It is sometimes a challenging task to get a struggling reader to feel positive and excited about reading.  It is difficult and daunting for her. Reading the Room just may be a way to spark enthusiasm for working on reading skills.

Snow, C.E., Burns, S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Mastropieri, M.A. & Scruggs, T.E. (1997). Best practices in promoting reading comprehension in students with learning disabilities: 1976-1996. Remedial and Special Education, 18, 197-213.

Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Slavin, R.E., Lake, C., Davis, S., & Madden, N. (2009, June) Effective programs for struggling readers: A best evidence synthesis. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education.

Pocket Chart Poems for Teaching Reading and Name Recognition

submitted by Mary Catherine from Fun-A-Day.com

As John Funk explains in “Music and Reading”, children can learn a variety of important skills via songs, poems, and chants.  I love incorporating them into my preschool lesson plans because the kiddos learn so much while having a ton of FUN!  Using pocket chart poems and songs when teaching reading and name recognition is a favorite activity of mine.

MC TRC Pocket Chart Poems 1

Recently, my class and I did just that with the song “Old McDonald Had a Farm”.  We’d been discussing apples, pumpkins, harvest time, and farms over the past two months.  So “Old McDonald” was a great choice based on our recent themes, and the fact that the kids already knew the song.

To set up this activity, I wrote out the first few lines of the song on sentence strips.  From there, I added the sentence strips to our big blue pocket chart.  Once that was settled, I asked the children what animals we should have on our farm.  They chose cow, chicken, pig, sheep, and horse.  I just drew simple pictures of those farm animals on construction paper and added the animals to our pocket chart.  (If you’d rather have a printable version of farm animals, I have a free version at my Teachers Notebook shop). We already had sentence strips with our names on them, so I added those too.

Once the pocket chart was ready, I grabbed a pointer and we got started!  The sheep was up first, so I made sure to add the appropriate card to our pocket chart.  We sang the song together while I pointed to the words on the chart.  I didn’t have the last part of the song written out, but the kids were fine singing that on their own.

Once we went through all the farm animals, we decided to add the children’s names to the song.  This is ALWAYS a huge hit in my preschool classroom!  The kids like to see their names in any of our classroom activities, so that really grabbed their attention.  It also made the song even funnier for the children – they were giggling up a storm at “Old McMary Catherine had a farm . . .”!  A well-known song, their names, AND humor equaled an incredibly fun learning experience!

What did the kiddos learn from this short and silly pocket chart poem?

  • The concept of a word (“a word goes from space to space”)
  • We read from left to right and top to bottom
  • Name recognition – their own names, as well as their friends’ names
  • What we say can be written and what is written can be said
  • Simple farm animal words
  • Letter-sound correspondence
  • And much more!

What songs and poems do you enjoy using in the classroom?  Do your students have any favorites?

Mary Catherine is mama to a 6-year old kick in the pants, teacher to a fun group of pre-k students, and the force behind Fun-A-Day!  She loves reading (especially science fiction), messy science experiments with her son, and dark chocolate!  You can connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Twitter.

Music and Reading

This post is authored by John Funk.

When I was a classroom teacher, I used music and songs for a variety of reasons. I found that music helped children become engaged in classroom activities. Most children enjoy music and songs, if they are fun and upbeat. Children respond to the presence of rhythm, beat, and physical actions. This type of music is different than forcing children to memorize a lengthy song for a program, which can be very tedious and inappropriate. However, for me, fun classroom songs are a wonderful transition tool to help maintain positive behavior standards while the group moves from one activity to another. Once I understood about the importance of phonemic awareness to pre- and beginning readers, I used music to help children listen for specific sounds and rhyming. I always believed that music and song would help children in many facets of life.

Songs with words have always been a tool for helping children learn to read and increase their reading skills. When a teacher teaches a simple song to the class, it is helpful for the teacher to have the words on a chart or board. This can help children associate the written word with the spoken word they are singing during the song. Repeating the song over a period of days supports the child in recognizing the written words of the song. Many teachers may give the child her own copy of the song lyrics and allow her to illustrate parts of the song. There is a growing body of research that indicates how singing has the potential for improving reading skills. (**Iwasaki, 2013).  From my personal experiences, I can attest to the fact that songs add enjoyment and a visual memory to the reading process.

The key is to choose songs that have words which will assist children on their reading levels. Even though we should strive to choose songs that reflect the child’s reading level, songs can also increase a child’s vocabulary by introducing new words that he may not yet find during reading instruction. I also know that music sticks in our memories. Many of us hear a song on the radio or in a production and continue to sing it or hear it in our heads for the rest of the day, especially if it has a catchy rhythm or lyric.  In a recent article in The Reading Teacher, the authors suggest that music can help with reading in the following areas:

  • Regular repeated singing of songs seem to help struggling readers progress in reading
  • Singing increases time spent reading when children can see the words of the song
  • Melody and rhythm help children remember
  • Songs help with the development of phonemic awareness (see our earlier posts)
  • Songs help teach word families (rhyming words)
  • Singing can model reading fluency
  • The ability to sing and read a song is an accomplishment for children who struggle with the ability to read a paragraph.  (**Iwasaki, 2013)

My personal philosophy has always been to find as many teaching strategies as possible to help children succeed. Multiple strategies are especially important for struggling readers. Most of them, including those with a true learning disability, are struggling because they have not been able to master reading under the strategies that have been used in their past. Music could be one more strategy that will help the pre-, beginning, and struggling readers in your classroom. Music that is used in an interesting and engaging manner in the classroom can add a lot of joy and fun to learning. Although there are many different types of music available, I have listed a few of my favorite age-appropriate resources at the bottom of this post. I do believe that music is an additional resource and strategy that can assist a child when learning to read or improving his reading skills.

**Iwasaki, B., Rasinski, T., Yildirim, K., Zimmerman, B. (2013) Let’s bring back the magic of song for teaching reading. The Reading Teacher,  67 (2), pp.137-141.

John’s Favorite Early Childhood Music CDs:

5 Close Reading Activities for Pre-Readers

submitted by Mary Catherine from Fun-A-Day.com

MC Close Reading Header

In my preschool class, we read so many books!  I love sharing stories with the kiddos, and they really get into the books too.  While reading new books is always fun, rereading a book allows the children to get an in-depth look at the story.

A favorite book of mine is Cookie’s Week by Cindy Ward (and illustrated by Tomie dePaola).  It tells the story of a cat named Cookie who gets into all kinds of mischief Monday through Saturday.  There’s a “cliffhanger” on Sunday, suggesting that maybe Cookie will rest.  I like using the big book version for close reading, as it draws the children in and the text is larger.

MC Cookie's Week

Below are five specific ideas for close reading in early childhood classrooms:

1. Ask the children questions that get them thinking about the book.  “What do you think Cookie will do next?  Do you think Cookie will rest on Sunday? After they’ve answered, ask what in the book led them to their conclusions.

Questions that connect to other books or to the kids’ lives are also important to consider.  “Does Cookie’s story remind you of another book we’ve read?  Have you done anything that Cookie does in the book?”

MC Cookie Sunday

2. Create a chart about the story together.  For Cookie’s Week, a list about all of the mishaps Cookie has would be great!  Remind the kiddos to refer back to the book to check.

3. Make a storyboard based on the book.  Work with the children to write about each day from Cookie’s Week, stating what happened in their own words. Students can then add pictures to the class story.  This would be a great addition to the bulletin board of any classroom!

Photo from Fun-A-Day

4. Have the children make a class book extending the story.  Each child can write what he thinks Cookie will do on Sunday or during the next week.  Again, this allows for inferences based on the information found in the book.

5. Create story necklaces based on the book.  For Cookie’s Week, there would be seven such necklaces, each labeled with the day of the week and showing a picture of what happened that day.  Choose a child to wear each of the necklaces, and then let the class work together to put them in the correct order.  Again, refer the kids back to the book!

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Mary Catherine is mama to a six year-old kick in the pants, and the force behind Fun-A-Day! She is a pre-k teacher who has also taught kindergarten and Reading Recovery.  Mary Catherine is passionate about early literacy and fun, meaningful learning experiences for children.  She loves science fiction, dark chocolate, and messy science experiments with her son!  You can connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.