ABC Mouse Review: Early Literacy Skills for Preschool

Lockdown has completely changed our lives the last few months and will forever leave its mark on the education world. Like so many other parents, I have had to adjust to working with a child at home 24/7. In the beginning, I was all about creating a routine for her that mimicked her school schedule, but in reality this was impossible for me with work. I realized I needed to find a way to provide my three year old with a quality education at home without much prep work on my end.

For years I had seen the commercials for ABC Mouse and read testimonials on the company’s website. In full disclosure, I was skeptical. It’s very easy for a company to make a product look good and hire actors to portray parents and educators. However, I needed a program that Molly could work on while I worked with students and ABC Mouse seemed like the best option, so I purchased a subscription. I have no affiliation with ABC Mouse, and the following are all of my personal and professional opinions as a teachermom.

As a Reading Specialist, I’m very picky with what I look for in a literacy curriculum. I believe in phonics, multi-sensory learning, and reading quality texts. As a parent, I know my child’s strengths and weaknesses and worry about her early literacy skills.

Being a virtual teacher and tutor has made me quite tech savvy in navigating online programs. I can say that ABC Mouse is one of the most user-friendly apps I have used. It has a great balance of games, puzzles, art and music and academics. The concept of the classroom is fantastic for familiarizing little ones with a classroom environment.

Since Molly is a technically a preschooler, that is the level I have her profile set as. When I want her to work on different skills I have her continue her progress through the white board. One activity could involve counting, and the next could focus on practicing colors. The constant change in topics keeps her engaged, and the clear directions allow her to figure out the activities on her own, which is super important as a working mom.

When I want Molly to really focus on specific skills, I have her access the different options at the top of the classroom (reading, math, world around us, art, songs, library, puzzles, and games). I will admit, I do have her spend lots of time in reading and the library.

In the reading section, kids have a few different options for practicing their reading skills. Since Molly is at the preschool level, the activities revolve around the alphabet, letters and sounds. Molly can choose to listen to a library of books about letters, short stories, nursery rhymes and more. They program reads everything to her in a loud, clear voice and really emphasizes individual sounds when necessary. This is a fantastic option for learning phonics. Molly can also play games with letters and the alphabet. They even focus on ideas like capital letters. I LOVE that they have a tracing game for Molly to physically practice writing her letters, making this a great multi-sensory option. The puzzles section allows Molly to click and drag pieces with letters and pictures. The arts and music category offers “painting” activities with letters and songs about each letter to reinforce phonics skills. Everything in the app is very visual, with pictures used to support whatever the letter is, which also supports multi-sensory learning. Molly ABC Mouse

And my absolute favorite feature is the library. This digital library is jam packed with some great characters that kids will recognize. There are tons of options including Curious George, Disney princesses, Pixar, Marvel, National Geographic and more. There is a good balance between fiction and nonfiction texts that are engaging for young readers. Molly is a huge fan of the princesses, so she usually chooses one of those titles. Parents and kids can search using the categories button to filter all of the different choices. Since Molly can’t read on her own yet, I usually have her pick a text from the ‘Read to Me’ category. When she clicks on one of these, the text will read the story to her automatically, just like I would during a read aloud. But wait, it gets better! While the story is being read to Molly, it highlights the word as the voice reads it!! This is by far my most favorite feature in the entire app because it helps her practicing “reading”.

While I was very hesitant at first about using an app to continue Molly’s education during this time, I am truly so glad I took the chance. She has become more independent with learning and wants to do ABC Mouse. She usually works in the app for an hour a day and I have seen a growth in her skills since she started. The app is a good supplement for supporting early literacy skills at home and I would highly recommend it for all learners.

For more information about ABC Mouse click here.

For more information about Little Reading Coach’s online tutoring services click here. 

Ultimate List of Books with Movies for Grades 4-8

One of my favorite teaching techniques is to incorporate videos to help students with reading skills. The visual component gives readers support with reading comprehension, analyzing theme and characterization, comparing/contrasting, and more.

Reading and watching film versions of books is not just a classroom activity. It can be done as a family activity at home as well. Parents and children can take turns reading a story aloud every day, every night, during snack time, etc. Once the book is finished make it a family movie night with some popcorn to enjoy viewing the story.

Below is the ultimate list of books with films for grades 4-6 that I have used with my students over the last 10 years.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This is a great text for grades 4-6 and is a classic piece of children’s literature. The film version (Mr. Toad) was created by Disney in 1949 and is in a set with The Adventures of Ichabod.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Personally, I LOVE this series. It’s great for grades 4-8 (and beyond) and the movies really bring to light the message of the story.

Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan. This text is typically used in 6th grade during mythology units, but it’s a great fantasy series for students in grades 4-8.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. I really love using this text in 6th grade to help teach students about figurative language. This quick story is jam packed with rich language, and centers around important themes. I would suggest this book for grades 4-6. The film version, I will admit, is not my favorite. It’s way more of a love story than the text shows, and it’s a little much. However, I love showing students the pond scene because it highlights the main ideas and quotes that are important in the book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline Le’Engle. I fell in love with this book in sixth grade and still use my personal copy from middle school when I read this with my students. Due to the complex vocabulary, I would suggest reading this book with students in grades 6-8. Disney actually created two movie versions of this text, a made for TV movie and the latest with a star studded cast. I have only used the TV movie with students.

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. There are a few different versions of this text. The one I linked is one of my favorites because of the illustrations. This is also another classic piece of children’s literature and many textbooks have included the short story version in their books. I recommend this one for grades 4-6. The film is a 20 minute version from Disney feature Mickey Mouse (click here for the Youtube link).

Mulan. This text also comes in a variety of forms. It can be found as a ballad (as seen in the link) and there is a short story version that I can’t seem to find online. The film version is by Disney, so there is some fun and humor added. This is a great piece to use with students in grades 4-7, especially since it’s a cross curricular piece with social studies.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. To me, this will always be the original YA dystopian text. This work is best for grades 6-8 (there are mentions of some mature thoughts known as “stirrings”). I found the film version to be very engaging, and while it is a little different than the text, it’s been modernized to attract present day students.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Similar to The Giver, this YA dystopian book made a statement when it came out. In my opinion, it sparked the YA dystopian movement over the last 10 years. This trilogy is best for grades 6-8. The movies are pretty true to the text and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. This book has turned struggling and non-readers into readers without fail over the last 10 years. It’s the perfect middle school (grades 6-8) novel. It’s action packed, a little violent, honest, and creative. I will admit that I have never seen the film versions because I don’t want to ruin the movie I’ve created in my head with this amazing text.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I’ve spent most of my teaching career with 6th grade students who are starting middle school for the first time. This is such a perfect book for students in grades 4-6. It’s realistic, charming and heart warming. The movie does a great job making the story come to life.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. If you’re looking for a novel to suck in middle school boys, this one is perfect. I recommend it for grades 7-8 because it is a little violent. The movie also has a great cast.

Holes by Louis Sachar. Even though I’m not a huge fan of this book personally for some reason, students love it. This book for grades 4-6 and it’s filled with humor that will make your kids chuckle. The Disney movie, that’s not an animated film, does a great job capturing the story.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Another classic children’s story that is one of my personal faves. This fantasy story is packed with imagination and rich symbolism. It’s great for students in grades 4-6. There are a few film versions for this piece. My personal favorite is the cartoon version from 1979 (click here for the Youtube link) and Disney did create a non-animated version.

Matilda by Roald Dahl. I have always been a Roald Dahl fan and this is one of my favorites because I always wanted to be like Matilda (I know, I’m a nerd). This novel is great for grades 4-6. The movie is also spectacular and is perfect for the whole family to enjoy.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the character development, which makes the text humorous and enjoyable. It’s ideal for grades 4-6. The film version with Johnny Depp is a little dark, so I prefer to use the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory version.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. In all honesty, I love the clay animation look of this film version to help distinguish the different phases of the plot. It’s super fun and engaging for young readers in grades 4-6.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. This is my personal fave Roald Dahl novel. My first grade teacher read it aloud and I’ve re-read it countless times since then. The film version is equally as captivating as the text and is great fore grades 4-6.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This American classic  is a very popular in 8th grade English. The text complexity, language and themes are more mature, so I recommend this for 8th grade and up. The film version is also a classic and is shot without color.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. For fans of vampires and romance this series is perfect. This is one of those guilty pleasure books that even adults still enjoy. I recommend this for grades 6-8. The film versions closely mirror the books.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. I was first introduced to the movie version of this text when we visited my aunt down the shore growing up. It wasn’t until I saw the book sitting in a classroom that I realized the movie was based on a book. This is a mysterious and action filled story for grades 4-6.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. This book is perfect for kids who love dogs! It’s all about the bond between a boy and his dog and is ideal for grades 4-6. The movie version is equally adorable and can be shared with the whole family.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Anna Brashares. This book is perfect for teen girls, so I recommend it for students in 8th grade and above. It dives into the lives of four friends and the personal experiences they have while wearing a par of thrift store jeans. The film also has a star-studded cast and is highly enjoyable for teens.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. An absolute classic piece of children’s literature and cinema. The story and the film are great for all members of the family, especially those who love music and theater.

**Many of these books can be shared with younger readers as well as the age groups listed. If you’re worried about content, feel free to check out Common Sense Media .

For more information about online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12 click here.

 

 

7 Toddler Easter Basket Ideas

The Easter season is officially here! The weather is slowly getting warmer and signs of spring are beginning to pop up.

Easter basket ideas start to go through my mind as soon as I see the display in Pottery Barn Kids (by far one of my favorite set ups they do all year). Molly is deep into the toddler stage of life and some days I feel like her attention span lasts about 15 seconds. I like purchasing products that I can use with Molly and that she can play with independently.  Below are some Easter basket ideas of products that always seem to grasp Molly’s attention for a good few minutes.

Flashcards. I love it when educational products can be made into a game, especially for toddlers. My mom got Molly three sets of flashcards for Christmas and Molly has truly fallen in love with them. She has Shapes & Colors (Memory Match), Numbers 0-100, and Alphabet cards.

When Molly wants to play with others, we use the Shapes and Colors pack to either match colors or shapes. She can get very excited with this especially when she realizes that she’s “winning”. For independent play, Molly will take any of the packs and look at the cards and points to things she recognizes and says the letter, color, shape, or number. Flashcards

What I really like about these products is how they will be utilized differently as Molly gets older. I know that one day she will go through the numbers pack on her own and say each number correctly, especially as she moves into preschool and kindergarten. Also, by having her play with flashcards so young she will hopefully feel comfortable using them with others or on her own to practice addition, subtraction, sight words, multiplication, etc.

The flashcards we use are from Staples, but you can purchase them at the Dollar Store, Etsy, or make your own.

Usborne Books. I’m completely bias and have no problem admitting to that. I LOVE these books! The last few years I have gotten Molly That’s Not My titles for Easter because she loves the kinesthetic aspect of these great books.

Usborne Easter Books

I was an Usborne consultant when I first started this blog three years ago, and continue to stay up to date with the newest releases on their social media and through my amazing book lady, Everyone’s Librarian (follow her on Instagram and Facebook).

The company offers an incredible selection of works for kids of all ages on pretty much any topic you can think of. The quality of the products are superb and truly grow with children.

For more details about these fantastic books check out my previous blog posts Wipe- Clean Collection, Touchy-Feely and Sight Words in One Book, Literacy in the First Year, Toddler Literacy, and Preschool & Kindergarten Literacy. To purchase books click here.

Bubbles. I swear the number one activity for babies and toddlers are bubbles. Molly gets beyond excited if she even sees bubbles and wants to play with them constantly. One of the greatest inventions for bubble loving kids are bubble wands. Not only do these bad boys shoot A TON of bubbles out, they also tend to light up, make noise/play music, etc. They are the total entertainment package.

Molly has had an Ariel one for a while now, and she will request to play with it pretty often. It’s super easy to refill with bubbles, is long lasting, plays “Under the Sea” and lights up. She’s had it for about 2 years and the thing is still going strong.

The Disney Store currently has a few different options right now just in time for spring and summer.

Card games. Growing up, I spent hours playing cards with my grandma and sister. I love that playing cards teaches so many life skills (taking turns, being a good loser). I would suggest starting slow with Go Fish or Old Maid.

Cards can be purchased from toy stores, the Dollar Store, etc. My current favorite is a 6 in 1 pack from Amazon. It has the traditional favorites for ages 3+ making it the perfect Easter basket addition for toddlers.

Coloring books and crayons. I think this is one of the most traditional and classic gift ideas for children, that is also inexpensive. Coloring books come in all varieties makingBig Crayons them a versatile gift. When Molly was first learning how to color, we used jumbo Crayola crayons and that really made a difference. Now that she is older she can use regular size crayons, and she is currently obsessed with colored pencils.

One of my personal favorite coloring activity pack is actually from Party City. It’s a goody bag option and we bought them for Molly’s third birthday. It comes with mini markers, coloring pages and stickers all in a cute plastic case. They have every single character you can think of and they are priced really well. Check them out here.

Play Doh. I will admit that I was hesitant to bust out this classic toy with Molly. I was raised where Play Doh was an outdoors only activity, and since she discovered the stuff this winter, I had to cave and let her play with it inside.

While Molly likes to squish and smash the doh, she also really enjoyed cutting it with plastic scissors. I wanted to up our Play Doh game and I came across a really great accessory kit from Melissa & Doug that includes rollers, scissors, sculpting tools and more. This beauty is currently available on Amazon (click here) and makes a great basket addition.

New music. Toddlers are in the rhyming stage of life. They are learning nursery rhymes, singing the months of the year, and loving music. I often find Molly just bursting randomly into song (currently anything Frozen) especially in the car. Molly will often request to listen to Trolls since I put the soundtrack on my phone, and in my car we listen to Disney princess songs.

Whether you keep it old school with purchasing a CD or you stream music, downloading/buying some kid tunes are a great option. Disney has some great choices, but there are a TON of others too. If you were a 90’s kid like me, you probably remember Wee Sing, which is all available on iTunes.

 

Merry Fairy Birthday Book Review

September is always a big month in my world, with the start of a new school year and Molly’s birthday. I’m still kind of shocked that I’m going to have a three year old (eek), but not gonna lie I do like sharing all of my favorite things with her at this age. She has recently gotten into Disney princesses and has been requesting to be read to more often. Today’s book is the perfect combination of all things Molly.

Merry Fairy Birthday, by Melissa Spencer, is a delightful story about a birthday girl receiving colorful fairy presents.

First, I really love how girly this book is. The little girl in the story gets dressed up in a sparkly party gown and is surrounded by fairies. The illustrations are a combination of realistic pictures and hand drawn images, with fabulous colors that make the text engaging. I really wanted to run my fingers over the sequins on the party dress.

The teachermom in me got very excited with the writing style. It is fun and creative with a little bit of rhyming thrown in. I really liked the use of ‘hue’, which is a word not often seen in picture books. I think the vocabulary is a little challenging for a beginner reader to read on their own, but it’s a great read aloud book.

Now to my favorite part…the fairy gifts! It may be my Disney brain or the fact that Molly watched Sleeping Beauty for the first time two weeks ago, but I had an immediate text to media connection. The fairies present the birthday girl with gifts based on colors of the rainbow. Similar to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, the gifts are qualities for a little girl to use her whole life. I LOVED that the gifts were not material objects, like a tea set or a baby doll, but were things like success and happiness. It leaves readers with a beautiful message and instills self-confidence in young readers. Especially when the birthday girl was given green, which is the gift of curiosity and ambition. It’s very girl power without the punch.

Personally, I think this would make an adorable birthday gift for a little girl. This book will definitely have a home on Molly’s bookshelf (see what else is on her shelf here). I plan on reading Merry Fairy Birthday with Miss Molly this month as we get ready to celebrate her special day.

To purchase the book click here

What’s in Molly’s Home Library?

Last weekend I was watching Molly play with her Disney princess dolls and her dollhouse. She’s at the age where she is starting to create stories with her toys, which is amazing to watch. She’s even becoming more independent with her reading skills. She still asks for me to read to her, but she is starting to “read” to herself more often.

I realized that it’s been quite a while since I’ve shared what’s in Molly’s home library. When I first started this blog, I wrote posts on Literacy in the First Year and Toddler Literacy, where I shared some fabulous Usborne Books.

Today I want to take you on a little tour of Molly’s home library.

I wanted to get a head start on her home library from the very beginning, so I had guests at my baby shower give me a book instead of a card. I am so incredibly grateful for all of the amazing texts that I got because it really created a great foundation.

As Molly has gotten older, family and friends continue to give her books, allowing us to expand her library. She also has mini libraries at both of her grandparents’ homes, and I’m pretty sure she has one in the car as well.

It’s crazy to think that Miss Molly is going to be three very soon. She has been in daycare for about two years, and I try to reinforce the skills she learns at school at home with specific books.

Vocabulary BooksRight now, we’re working on her vocabulary with opposites, colors, and shapes. Here are some of the books we’re using at home. Molly enjoys lifting the flaps and looking at the pictures. She will also point to all of the objects she knows on pages, and will guess at ones she isn’t sure of. I am a little bias and prefer Usborne books for teaching early learning skills. 

 

Molly is also a fan of singing. She loves the ABCs, “Bumble Bee” and “Row Row Row

Rhyming BooksYour Boat”. While we watch Frozen and Beauty and the Beast, she will sing along with the movies. We continue to use nursery rhymes at home using a few different books. All of these books were given to me at my baby shower.

Miss Molly has always loved listening to music, and when we first introduced her to noisy books she was excited.

Noisy Books

As she has gotten older, we have branched out to incorporate more books based on her interests (or current favorite TV show/movie). She has a habit of playing her favorite sounds over and over, that don’t align to the story.

As a teacher, I like to read Molly certain books to reflect the time of year, especially holidays. I like to give Molly a book for every

Holiday Stories

holiday, as do family members. We tend to read the same stories over and over again from this pile. Hug Day, is the biggest hit because Molly has an obsession with trolls. She also likes Pooh’s Halloween Pumpkin because she can carry it around by the string.

Regardless of how many new books she gets, there are always a few that will always be here favorite. Some of them are really obvious based on the teeth marks (Belly Button Book has been #1 since the beginning). Molly loves Pookie because

Molly's Favorite Books

she likes to say the name, and has even named one of her stuffed animals Pookie. Sandra Boynton is one of the most popular authors in our house. Potty Fairy Princess has always been one of her favorites, but now it’s even more popular because she’s starting to use the potty.

Just like Molly has her favorite books, Mommy also has her favorites. I Wish You More was the first book I bought Molly at the Scholastic book fair at my school when I was pregnant. I wanted theMommy's Favorite Books first book I bought her to be meaningful and special and this was was absolutely perfect. As a kid, I LOVED Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (I have the whole TV show on DVD for Molly when she’s ready) so of course this one will always have a special place on her bookshelf. This one was given to me at my baby shower from my mom, which makes it even more precious. Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney is my absolute favorite book to read aloud because I like saying Llama Llama. It’s a bonus that Molly also loves these books, especially the illustrations. I Love You Forever by Robert Munsch made me cry the first time I read it to Molly the night before I started working again. This one has more sentimental value to me.

I am no longer a consultant with Usborne Books & More, but you can order the fabulous titles in this post from my amazing book friend here.

Lost in a Book: An Enchanting Original Story-Book Review

A few weeks ago I was super lucky and won an Instagram/Facebook giveaway from @mwladieswholit. I’m not the type to win anything, especially good things like a free book, so I was extremely excited when I saw I won. The ladies did a beautiful job with making the book special for me, which made winning even better.

First, everyone is in a Beauty and the Beast craze right now with the movie coming out in two days (eek!). I will admit I’m just as excited, and I plan on seeing the new movie with my husband as soon as we can line up a babysitter. Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favorite Disney movies, and I wore Alfred Angelo’s Belle dress as my wedding dress in 2012, so I’m also a BATB fans.

The book itself is simply gorgeous. The cover art is imaginative and captures Belle’s feelings for her love of books perfectly. I love that the book is hardcover because it just wouldn’t feel right in paperback.

The book is an offshoot of the movie, which I really liked because I was able to visualize everything to match up with the film. As any fan knows, the movie focuses on the relationship that blossoms between Belle and the Beast, and the book does as well, but it also dives more into Belle’s emotional journey at the castle. For some reason I never thought much about Belle’s transition to life in the castle because, before viewers knew it, she was in love. This book is a glimpse into the emotional turmoil that Belle experienced while she became friends with the Beast.

Quotes

As a middle school language arts teacher, I have spent the last seven years teaching students how to infer quotes, and this book is full of them! There were so many times that I wanted to take out my highlighter and mark up the text, but I refrained because I plan on keeping this book personal and not professional. One of my favorite lines in the text spoke to me as a lifelong reader.

” ‘Reading became my sanctuary,’ Belle continued. ‘I found so much in those books. I found histories that inspired me. Poems that delighted me. Novels that challenged me…’ Belle paused, suddenly self-conscious. She looked down at her hands, and in a wistful voice, said, ‘What I really found though, was myself'”(p. 19).

Many of my passionate student readers have always told me that reading is an escape for them, and I would have to agree with that. This quote accurately describes the relationship between a reader and a text, which is probably the most personal relationship in a reader’s life.

Vocabulary

Another aspect of the reading which caught my attention was the language used. There were pieces of French to align with the film and story, but there was an impressive amount of challenging vocabulary. I would definitely recommend using reading strategies like context clues and looking up the definition to assist with decoding some of the vocabulary. At first I would have had recommended this book for 5th grade and up, but after reading I would suggest high 6th or 7th grade and up. The plot is simple and easy to follow, but the vocabulary can be challenging to middle school readers.

Comprehension

I will admit that I had to re-read parts of the first few pages because I expected to be thrown right into Belle’s world. As a warning, the prologue sets up the main conflict of the plot, which involves Love and Death. This did confuse me at first because it was unexpected, but as the story continued it did make sense.

Other than the very beginning, the book was a quick read and very predictable. The author sets the story up to show how unhappy Belle is with her life at the castle, which is why she resorts to literally throwing herself into Nevermore. The best reading comprehension strategies to use for this text would be re-reading, and creating a character chart. There were some new characters introduced so a character chart would be beneficial to help keep all of the new ones organized. I would suggest using one like this chart.

Overall, I thought the book was an interesting addition to the original movie plot. It was a quick read, but one that I probably wouldn’t read more than once. I would recommend it for upper middle school students and up because of the vocabulary.