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. 

Free At Home Activities for Ages 2-11 (General and Special Education)

Last week was by far the craziest week.

As parents and children adjusted to the new “normal”, I’ve seen many parents looking for activities to do at home with their children.

As a Reading Specialist, I wanted to help create educational activities for all types of learners so students could continue to practice their skills while at home. A few months ago, I collaborated with Eventech Corp and children’s book author, Christopher Gordon, for dyslexia awareness by creating a video (click here to see it). We enjoyed working together so much that we decided to put our thinking caps on again to help parents.

Together, we have created FREE fun and educational activities for general and special education children ages 2-11.

Once an individual signs up, he or she will receive a daily email for 14 days with the following:

*daily themed reading passage

*toddler/preschooler activity (alphabet, numbers, shapes)

*list of stay at home activities for toddlers/preschoolers

*educational activities for lower elementary (K-2)

*educational activities for upper elementary (3-6)

*fun activities for all ages

*accommodations sheet for the educational activities

Don’t wait! Sign up here to start getting these FREE emails .

 

E-Learning: Setting Kids Up for Success

I spent five years in middle school classrooms and one year as a literacy coach before making the transition to being a virtual teacher. I’m currently in my third year as an online English teacher with EdOptions Academy by Edmentum, and also an online tutor with Little Reading Coach.

Making the transition from a brick and mortar classroom to a virtual one can be overwhelming in the beginning, but once a student gets the hang of things life gets much easier.

Below are ways for helping kids of all ages make the transition to e-learning environments.

Know what platforms are being used. Kids use multiple learning sites, platforms and textbooks every day in a brick and mortar school, and the same applies to the online environment. For each class, make a list of all websites, textbooks, etc. with log in information (usually a username and password). This will automatically turn into a handy cheat sheet so you can avoid the stress of looking for important information (like trying to remember 600 different passwords). Feel free to use my version here.

Make a schedule. Learning at home means a very different routine for some kids, which in itself can be stressful. If your school doesn’t have a specific schedule for your child to follow, create your own. Here are some suggestions I have given my virtual families over the last few years:

Focus on one subject a day. This works well for kids who feel very overwhelmed or struggle to work well independently without a teacher standing in front of them.

Spend 1 hour on each subject. This schedule works for kids who just need a routine in place. It helps to keep the schedule the same every day. Have it written down on a white board or piece of paper so it’s within sight while a student is working. I also suggest having the student set an alarm on their phone or computer to let them know when 1 hour is up. (I say 1 hour because it will take kids longer to do work at home depending on the subject).

Have an alternating schedule. I like this one best for elementary and early middle school kids. Mondays and Wednesdays could be Language Arts and Social Studies, Tuesdays and Thursdays could be Math and Science and Friday’s could be specials/electives.

Have a learning area. Designate a place where a student will be doing their work. This could be at a kitchen table, desk, etc. Make sure all materials are in this area (chargers, paper, pencils, books, etc.).

Make a to do list. This is by far my favorite piece of advice. Before your student starts working every day, have him or her make a to do list of all the tasks that need to be accomplished. Make it as specific as you can and encourage your learner to check things off as they go. For instance, if your student needs to watch 2 videos, answer questions and write a response, write the title of each video on the to do list. This breaks down the tasks for kids and even though it may seem like a lot, encourage them to take their time.

Communicate with teachers. Star this. Write it on the schedule you create. This is by far the the number 1 best way to be successful with online learning. If your learner has a question, email the teacher. If your student is confused about instructions, email the teacher. If your learner is falling behind on the work, email the teacher. Communication is the ultimate tool to help kids. Don’t be afraid to be the annoying parent/guardian because once your student gets into the groove they will feel more confident and capable of learning from home and the emails will lessen.

Take breaks. If you’re creating your own schedule factor in break times. Staring at a screen is physically and mentally draining. Make sure your learner is walking away from the screen frequently. Take a bathroom, drink or snack break. 

Be an actively engaged in your learner’s education. As a parent/guardian, you may need to be a more involved in the day to day assignments, depending on the age of the learner. Be in the know about what is going on with expectations from the school. I strongly suggest joining local Facebook groups, or creating a group text with other class moms to help one another stay up to date.

Breathe. The first few days are always the hardest. As an online educator, I promise things do get easier. Just remember you can always reach out to the teacher or school for any help.

 

Little Reading Coach offers online reading and writing tutoring for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

 

Top 3 Resources for Dyslexia

The internet is an amazing place. We can instantly find information with just a few taps on a keyboard. However, with this simplicity comes an overwhelming amount of information, which can be hard to sift through. The majority of my pins are from these three websites.

Below are some of my personal favorite resources for dyslexia. I often use Pinterest to save specific topics I want to use in the future.

  1. Understood.org. Holy moly! This website is ah-mazing!! They are all about providing resources and information to families of students with learning and attention issues. Parents can chat with experts on specific topics (make sure you RSVP), join discussions, use personalized tools, and check out a tonnnn of resources. One of my favorite current resource is “8 Reasons Kids Might Read Slowly”.
  2. LearningAlly.org. I recently discovered this website after a parent mentioned it during a tutoring session. Learning Ally provides audio books for students with dyslexia and learning disabilities (for a fee). One of my favorite aspects of this site is the app that they have to make life easier for readers. Students can simply pop on headphones and enjoy a book without struggling to decode.
  3. The Literacy Nest. I shared my love for The Literacy Nest Blog last week (check it out here). For parents that homeschool, teachers, and tutors, this website provides incredible resources. There is a ton of information on dyslexia, tips for parents, spelling, etc. There is information on Orton-Gillingham (OG) and on the multi-sensory approach to reading. Emily Gibbons (the creator of The Literacy Nest) also has a Teachers Pay Teachers store where educators and parents can purchase worksheets and activities to help students. There is also a newsletter that viewers can subscribe to in order to stay up to date.

Each site offers unique information/resources for families and educators about working with dyslexic students.

Books for Parents About Reading

One of my favorite parts about my job is being able to have conversations with parents. The majority of the time parents ask me what they can do at home to help their child become a stronger reader and writer. Over the last few years I’ve come across some great texts to help parents.

  1. Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham. I shared this book  quite a while ago after I discovered it from the Read Aloud Revival Podcast (click here to read the review). The organization of this book makes it a great guide for families. It is broken into sections based on ages, so it can be used as a great reference tool for specific stages. The text is extremely user friendly, with clear and concise writing that parents can easily understand. The examples included give readers a solid idea for how to be hands-on at home with reading support.
  2. The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah Mackenzie. Ahhh, Sarah Mackenzie. The Sarah Mackenzie from The Read Aloud Revival podcast and blog. This book shows families how to create and sustain a love of reading at home. While Mackenzie does homeschool her children, the plethora of information she shares can also be utilized by families with children in traditional school environments. My favorite part is that she includes book lists for specific age groups. These book recommendations focus on quality- great morals, messages, and strong characters- that really allow families to engage in authentic conversations. She also walks parents through ways to get in read aloud time, including the use of audiobooks and picnics.
  3. The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gordon. If you’ve been following my blog, you know my strong passion for reading aloud to kids of all ages (yes, even middle and high school students). Over the summer I shared this book with you (click here to see the review) because it blows me away.  What stands out most to me in this book is the research included about the power of reading aloud. For those parents who are curious about the science of reading, this is a great text to dive into.

These three books cover different aspects about reading at home with children of all ages. Before purchasing one, figure out what you’re looking for in a book. Do you want to know how to create a reading routine at home? Then you may want to look at Sarah Mackenzie’s book. Regardless of which one (or more!) you choose to read, I promise you will walk away with more confidence about helping your reader at home.

My Favorite Literacy Blogs

I love how social media has allowed me to connect with some amazing individuals over the years, and it has also introduced me to incredible members of the literacy world. I look to these fabulous ladies for inspiration and motivation on all things literacy :).

  1. Read Aloud Revival. If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m OBSESSED with Sarah Mackenzie (see Reading Aloud Resources for Parents post). She is a homeschooling mom who has such an incredible passion for reading with her six kids. Her blog is geared towards families who read at home with their children. One of my favorite things that Mackenzie does is create book lists. Not only does this make life easier for busy families, it provides guidance in creating a culture of reading at home. Mackenzie also has an ah-mazing podcast.
  2. The Literacy Nest.  The last year and half I’ve been immersing myself in dyslexia and Orton-Gillingham. Through this journey I came across Emily Gibbons from The Literacy Nest, who is my guru in the dyslexia world. Her blog includes fabulous tips, strategies, and ideas to help dyslexic students. I love that the information can be used by teachers AND parents. She even has a Teachers Pay Teachers store where you can purchase resources to use with students (click here for the store). I’ve also had the privilege to learn from Emily through Tutor Success Academy and she is just awesome!
  3. Katie McKnight Literacy. I found Dr. Katie McKnight my first year teaching and have been following her ever since. She focuses on secondary (grades 6-12) reading and writing skills for the 21st century. What makes her stand out to me is her constant support for teachers and parents. She has published books, won multiple awards, and has presented all over the US. She even provides professional development online, in webinars, or in person.

 

Miss Tree Tales #2 Incredible Cacao Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

So a fun fact about me: I have the world’s biggest sweet tooth. If you have ever seen how much sugar I put in coffee/tea you’d think I was a five year old. Which is why I couldn’t say no to reading a book all about chocolate.

Miss Tree Tales #2 Incredible Cacao, by Deepa Remesh, is a great short novel for young scientists about discovering where chocolate comes from.

What first caught my reader eye with this text was the pleasant blend of fantasy, science, time travel and farming. It reminded me a little bit of  The Magic School Bus, but instead of a class taking a field trip the book revolves around a sister (Mia) and brother (Nik).

Personally, I am not a big nature girl. I don’t find pleasure in gardening or learning about seeds. However, our main characters were not only knowledgable, they were enthusiastic about learning! Mia and Nik soaked in every bit of science thrown at them while showing young readers it can be enjoyable to plant a garden with one’s family. Having grown up in the 90s where I was always outside, I really liked that the author includes this to show readers that not everything takes place on a screen. Mia and Nik really enforce the magic of being outside in nature and the science that is all around.

I do like the use of made up nature gadgets the characters used on their mission to learn about cacao, and I thought the use of traveling to Costa Rica in 1998 and Switzerland in 2005 were both effective settings. Both show how cacao is processed to become chocolate, but I really liked Costa Rica. Readers learn  A LOT about the environment cacao is grown in. I love that the helpers in this part included a close knit family, who really embraced our characters. Although, I wish Mia and Nik had said goodbye to the family before moving on to the next part of their journey.

In Switzerland, the siblings took a tour of a factory. Readers can really see the difference in the process and it brings up some great discussion points about technology. A small, but important piece was when Nik fell into the chocolate because he did not read the sign. The adults reinforced the importance of safety and cleanliness, which I thought translated seamlessly to readers.

My teacher brain was going a little crazy while reading this. I think this book would be a fantastic cross curricular activity for grades 3-5. Social studies could focus on map skills and cultures, science can elaborate on fermentation and the growing process with seeds, math can explore percentages and measurements, language arts on reading and comprehending the story and vocabulary.

To purchase the book click here.

For more information about the series click here

Arial the Youtuber Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I absolutely love that I have connected with so many incredible authors over the last few months. Every time I read a new book I remember how powerful words truly are.

Arial the Youtuber, by Mary Nhin, is a fabulous picture book about a unicorn on a mission to encourage others through her Youtube channel.

This is my second blog book review for Mary Nhin, (click here for How to Win the World Cup in Pajamas ) and again I’m in love with her work. Mary is a true boss babe, who is building an empire with her whole family (so amazing!). Grow Grit (her business) is all about positivity and following a dream.

In this book, Arial learns a valuable life lesson that the way we speak to others makes an impact (both positive and negative). By encouraging others we can all make a difference in someone’s life.

Arial is an extremely relatable character. She says the wrong things without meaning to. Personally, I am totally guilty of doing just this, so I instantly felt a connection to the main character. After an inspiring talk with her mom, Arial learns how popular Youtube is and decides to encourage others by creating her own Youtube channel.

As a teacher and a mom, I thought it was so clever that Arial did research, created a checklist and got permission from her parents before diving into the world of Youtube. I’ve seen so many students just want to jump into a project without doing the necessary research, so having Arial take these steps sends a great message to young readers.

Once Arial is ready to go, we are with her while she makes, edits, and posts her first video. I was really hoping to know how successful the video was, but as readers we are left with a viewer leaving Arial a positive message, which is just as delightful.

I’m also slightly obsessed with the illustrations. They truly help readers comprehend the story and learn new information (checklist for creating a Youtube channel). The bright colors help create an upbeat and happy vibe throughout the reading, which enforces the message of the text.

As if the book couldn’t get any better, there are worksheets at the end!! My teacher heart did a happy dance because I could totally see this book working as an anti-bullying activity for grades K-2. There’s vocabulary, discussion topics, a writing component and a drawing piece, which would make for a great multi-day lesson plan.

Click here to purchase the book.

Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom

For over a year and a half I have been an virtual English teacher with EdOptions Academy. There is definitely some transition from being in a brick and mortar school to working with kids digitally, but the rewards are still the same.

One of my favorite activities to do with my students when I taught in a brick and mortar was my daily read aloud. I would choose a high interest text for my students, read it aloud to them every day and then have a quick class discussion about the reading. I was ecstatic when EdOptions Academy started using Zoom to conduct live weekly lessons because I would be allowed to continue my read alouds in the virtual setting.

For the last six months I have held weekly read alouds for my students in secondary English. It was slow going in the beginning, but I now have students waiting for me in our weekly meetings.

Below are some ways that I have created a successful virtual read aloud for students in grades 6-12.

Picking the right book. EdOptions Academy has a set curriculum, so I wanted to choose a novel based on assignments students are required to complete. For fall semester I did three separate read alouds (The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver). While I loved reading these novels with my students, it was a lot to manage with 250 students. For spring semester, I am reading Divergent because it has similar themes to the texts from last semester and it’s an AMAZING book.

Student participation. Zoom allows students to participate via video chat or instant message using a chat box. I never gave students direct instructions on how to share their ideas during our sessions because I didn’t know what they would be comfortable using. My goal is always to have students be comfortable during our time together. Students started utilizing the chat box while I was reading to ask questions or express their thoughts. I monitor the chat box periodically while I read each chapter, and go through it at the end of each chunk to address any questions or ideas students have.

This is has been the most powerful aspect of my read aloud. Students are able to socialize with other students in the chat box while discussing the text. I notice that students make a TON of text-to-text connections (my favorite are the Harry Potter connections) and really love to discuss characterization. Students even came up with a hashtag ,#pusheric, when discussing the youngest Dauntless leader and it was one of my favorite discussions I’ve ever had. Having the freedom to type their ideas at any point during our hour together encourages students to participate when they feel comfortable and not worry about getting in trouble for interrupting.

Talk about being readers. Just as in a brick and mortar environment, it’s important to discuss reading habits in and out of the classroom. During my read alouds, I often find myself saying things such as, “As readers, we can infer…”. Using language like this helps create a stronger community feeling that we are all readers, regardless if we struggle or not. We also spend time talking about other texts the students are currently reading. Some are reading the Divergent series and others are enjoying Percy Jackson. By engaging in conversations like this with my students on a consistent basis we are not only bonding in the virtual classroom, but sharing books and characters we love.

Recorded sessions. I am required to record all of my live lessons with my students, which has turned out to be an incredible concept. Since my read aloud changes every week depending on meetings and office hours, some of my students are unable to attend the live session. I send the recorded link to my students each week so they can watch it at their convenience and still feel included. I also keep a Word document of all my recording links so I can share them with other teachers, parents, and schools. Students have told me they have “watched” me in the car traveling to tournaments and at night with their families. I love that parents get just as excited for the next chapter as my students.

All are welcome. During the fall semester, I was talking to another English teacher who was on a different team. She expressed her concern for a student because he was struggling in her class. I told the teacher the student should come to my read aloud to help practice reading skills in addition to the amazing work that she was already doing with him. The student participated in my read alouds and made significant progress in his English class. His success story is one of my favorites because it shows the power of collaboration in the virtual environment. I will never turn a student away from a read aloud because he or she is not “mine”. Any student is welcome to attend my read alouds and engage in amazing conversations with us.

The virtual learning environment is still a very new concept, but it is possible to create a community of readers from the comforts of home or on the road. My students now wait for me to start our meetings and I have a steady core group of readers. My read aloud is easily the highlight of my week and I love that I get to share it with my students from all over the US.