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. 

Reading Comprehension at Home: 5 Things Parents Can Do

Whenever I chat with parents, they always express concern with their child’s reading comprehension. They worry that their child struggles with reading because they don’t understand what they are reading. While every child learns differently, there are some general tips and tricks that parents can do to help their learners at home. Below are some of my favorite, easy to incorporate ideas that I share with my families:

  1. Background information. This is HUGE! The more background students have about a topic or idea before reading about it, the more their brain is prepared to learn new information. Take a look at the passage or book your learner is reading and provide them with some information about the topic. For instance, if your student is going to read Anne Frank, find a Youtube video about WWII. Videos and movies are a great resource for background information, especially since kids will be reading in the near future.
  2. Predictions. This strategy works really well with elementary students, who seem to really enjoy it. Stop periodically and ask your learner what they think will happen next, where will the character go, will the problem get worse? Always try to keep the questions opened-ended so kids can explain their answers fully using examples from the text. Feel free to ask follow up questions, such as why or how to get your student to expand on their prediction.
  3. Stop and check. Kids need to learn to check in with themselves while they’re reading. No one wants to sit and waste 20 minutes reading a short story to realize none of it makes sense. Help your child figure out when is an appropriate time for them to stop in their reading and do a quick reading comprehension self check. Maybe have younger students stop after every paragraph or page and see if they can summarize what they just read to you. For older students, maybe have them stop and give a summary or main idea every 10 pages or chapter. If your child got all the big ideas then keep reading. If he or she missed some big concepts go back and re-read.
  4. Re-read. This is by far the best reading comprehension strategy for kids to use, in my opinion. Once a student realizes they are lost or confused, re-reading can usually help them get back on track. We all zone out sometimes when we read, or get mixed up at a particular part, so re-reading is a great, quick way to clarify any confusion and continue reading. Sometimes just re-reading a sentence or two does the trick, but if a student needs to re-read a few paragraphs or a page let them.
  5. Visualizing. I knew I was a strong reader as a kid when I could read a novel with no pictures and have a movie playing in my head. Elementary students rely on pictures in books to help them visualize when they are learning to read, but as kids get older and the texts become more complex, usually there aren’t any pictures to help students. That is where visualizing comes in. Usually a novel will provide readers with a great description of a setting or character. Stop and have kids draw what the description is using colors. For those that don’t like to draw (like myself) show kids some pictures. For instance, in Divergent readers are introduced to the city of Chicago, so show students pictures of the city to help them visualize.

 

Does your learner in grades 3-12 need additional support with reading comprehension? Check out https://www.littlereadingcoachllc.com/ for details about online reading and writing tutoring.

Distance Learning Bundle Series

The world of education is a very overwhelming place right now for teachers. Many are learning how to be virtual teachers literally overnight, while still creating engaging lessons and activities for their students.

I’ve spent the last few weeks putting together some distance learning bundles in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, at very reasonable prices, to help teachers with this transition. The bundles include a video, a PowerPoint, guided notes, and a five question assessment for teachers to use. The materials can be put into Google forms or uploaded right into Google classroom for students to access.

These bundles are geared towards students in grades 5-9 and can be utilized by general education and special education populations. They include a video, a PowerPoint presentation, guided notes, and a five question assessment making them a perfect activity for online learning. These bundles can also be used by parents and homeschool families. I’m constantly adding new products, so please feel free to comment with ideas for future resources.

To check out the bundles click here.

Harry Potter Virtual Read Aloud

Read alouds have been a staple in my classrooms for years, brick and mortar and virtual (see Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom). I love being able to transport students to different worlds and time periods while reinforce reading skills and strategies.

With schools and libraries being closed, it’s important that we not only keep students Harry Potter Read Aloudlearning, but also provide them ways to escape reality for a little bit. As a certified Reading Specialist, I want to be able to provide this for students during these difficult times.

Read alouds are extremely beneficial for all students, especially those with an IEP.

*Read alouds allow students to enjoy a story without worrying about decoding (reading) words. This is super important for struggling readers who can get frustrated while reading.

*Read aloulds allow students to listen to a teacher model fluency and pronunciation. 

 

Starting Wednesday, April 1st, I will be posting a FREE recording of read aloud sessions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with teacher notes in Google classroom. Students will have access to the classroom until June 30, 2020. I will go in depth with information about plot, characterization, making inferences, reading comprehension, theme, etc. A document of teacher notes will also be available for students to review after each read aloud. Students are more than welcome to follow along in their own copies of the text, or close their eyes and enjoy the story.

Click here to sign up

 

 

 

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.

 

Writing Right: A Story about Dysgraphia Book Review

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Over the weekend I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, when I came across a very interesting post in a dysgraphia parent group about a teenager who wrote a children’s book about dysgraphia. I immediately took a screenshot to remind myself about the book and I am beyond glad that I did so.

Writing Right: A Story about Dysgraphia, by Cassandra Baker, is a phenomenal children’s book about the realities of a little boy with dysgraphia.

Before I launch into why I love this book so much, I have to share a little bit of background. Cassie wrote this book to earn her Gold Award with girl scouts because she grew up with family members who were affected by dysgraphia. Having been a girl scout a long time ago, I completely respect and admire this young lady’s passion and desire to share information with families.

As soon as readers open the book we are greeted by our main character, Noah, who has dysgraphia. He tells readers that he has great ideas, but his handwriting is messy and he has trouble getting his thoughts on paper. He does not write as quickly as his classmates and he wishes he had a writing robot.

Even though Noah has great ideas, when he works on a project it doesn’t come out like it looks in his head and he gets very frustrated. He even yells at his mom and rips his poster in half. His mom clearly sees his struggles and reaches out to the teacher, and together they come up with a great plan. Noah can use his mom’s computer to help with homework and he also goes to an occupational therapist.

With lots of practice, patience, and hard work, Noah improves his ability to express himself in writing. So much so that he even writes his own story!

There are so, so many aspects of this book that I love. The first is that it’s written from Noah’s point of view. The simplicity of his explanations and his honesty are absolutely spot on and relatable to children. The struggles that he faces are truly ones that children also experience, adding to that realistic factor.

As a parent and a teacher, I also love how Noah’s mom reached out to his teacher and came up with a plan. By working as a team, they were able to find out what would not only help Noah in the short term, but what would help in the future as well. This is the ideal type of teamwork parents and teachers hope to experience when working together to help a child in need.

I was also a HUGE fan of the in-depth look at OT from a child’s perspective. I have seen some OT’s come up with super creative and fun activities for students at all age levels, and it’s clear that Natalie, the OT in the story, is one of those amazing individuals who really “get” kids. She has Noah practice cutting, using different writing utensils and more in order to help him.

However, I think that my absolute favorite aspect was the end of the story. Not only do we see progress for Noah, but Cassie also includes super important information about dysgraphia. While the picture book is meant for children, these notes are clearly meant for adults, making this a true family text.

As a Reading Specialist, I am always looking for works to recommend to families and this one will definitely be added to my list. If you’re an educator, a parent or a child affected by dysgraphia in some way, this book is a must read.

To purchase the book click here. 

Multi-sensory Writing: It Makes a Difference

Students today write a lot more than we realize.  They constantly compose emails, text messages, captions for social media, and more. We live in a time where written expression is used constantly, and to thrive in today’s society, students are expected to participate.

Little Reading Coach believes in using a variety of methods for teaching writing. However, before students can write paragraphs and essays, they must first be able to understand the parts of speech that make up a sentence, which is why LRC starts at the beginning and gradually works students up to writing extended pieces.

Framing Your Thoughts (Sentence Structure) is a multi-sensory program by Project Read that LRC utilizes to help students master the art of writing. Using symbols, visuals, and hands-on interaction, this program provides writers with a different approach to learning how to structure effective sentences.

This type of program is ideal for students with dysgraphia, dyslexia, ESL/ELL, etc.,  as well as those who don’t seem to grasp learning to write in the traditional way. It breaks down sentence writing into parts of speech, and encourages students to diagram sentences using the specific symbols in the program. This deconstruction allows writers to “see” what makes a complete sentence and how to use the various parts of speech correctly and effectively.

Personally, I have used this program when I taught literacy support for 6th and 7th grade, and saw a tremendous difference in my students’ writing. The symbols and visuals allowed them to see why a sentence was a fragment and how to fix their mistakes. I have also used this program when tutoring middle and high school students who were reading on grade level, but needed some additional writing support. LRC offers multi-sensory writing for grades 3-12.

For more information about Little Reading Coach click here.

The Knowledge Gap Book Review

It’s no secret that I’m an education nerd. I’m drawn to all things literacy and curriculum. Over my last ten years in education I have seen a lot of different theories, standards, and curriculum come and go with no real answers about how to improve the knowledge gap.

The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix It, by Natalie Wexler, examines the struggles American schools face, how it affects students, and possible solutions.

As a reader, it usually takes me twice as long to get through a nonfiction education book because I need to take breaks. The writing styles of these texts are dry and I find myself taking social media breaks. However, I have to admit, Wexler did an absolutely incredible job making the content flow. I think a lot of that has to do with her breaking up the reading with real life examples from different classrooms, and history of curriculum in America. The change up in content definitely kept me engaged longer and allowed me to draw my own conclusions between the historical facts/accounts and the classroom examples.

While the title doesn’t mention literacy, this whole book truly dives into the deep end of reading and writing. As Wexler points out, reading and math tend to be the focal points in elementary classrooms because of state tests. Even though teachers may have science and social studies scheduled for once a week, it’s rare that those lessons happen because teachers feel the need to constantly hit on reading skills.

One of the main ideas is that using balanced literacy, leveled readers, and guided reading are not helping students improve their reading comprehension skills. The Reading Wars are discussed briefly, with both sides being explained. However, it is crystal clear that phonics based explicit instruction will help the majority of all students learn to read, including those who are English Language Learners, classified with a learning disability, etc. As a reading teacher I was doing a happy dance with the evidence supporting phonics instruction.

Of course, one can’t discuss balanced literacy without mentioning Lucy Calkins. Wexler makes a fantastic argument against the literacy guru that there are indeed flaws in this reading model (and writer’s workshop, too). Readers even “saw” examples in the sections where Wexler observed classrooms using this concept.

But, if balanced literacy is not helping students, then what will?

The author’s #1 point in the 263 pages, is that in order to improve reading comprehension, students need to have more background knowledge, which can only be accomplished by exposing early elementary students to science and history. Yes, some students have social studies where they learn about members in the community, but they need world and US history.

Students have a thirst for knowledge and want to be challenged. Obviously we don’t want students feeling overwhelmed and shutting down, but the classroom teacher is there to guide students. Students can handle advanced vocabulary if they are seeing it in content-rich curriculum. The point of the Common Core was to have American students build on their knowledge from year to year, which a content-rich curriculum does.

Wexler also mentions Daniel Willingham. For my loyal readers you know that I LOVE this man and his book Raising Kids Who ReadIn The Knowledge Gap, Willingham is referenced for his contributions to education and the cognitive psychology. Yay!

Finally, Wexler’s last point was about teaching writing. I will admit during college and student teaching I was always told to teach that writing is a process. I have never used Lucy Calkin’s writing units, but would instead make up my own assignments/tasks with fellow colleagues. The author mentions Judith Hochman, who experimented with a teaching method that started with sentences and taught mechanics at the same time, and has seen great success. Not only has this approach been proven to improve student writing, it has also increased reading comprehension and the ability to critique information they are learning. Hochman and Wexler authored The Writing Revolution, which offers a road map for educators.

WOW!

I have so many parts underlined and marked in this book that there is no way I can share them all in a blog post. However, I would love to share my favorite line.

“…the transformation from a focus on comprehension skills and reading levels to one on content and knowledge is beginning to take hold.” (Wexler 259).

Education is changing. The Common Core sparked that change and caused a lot of educators to look at their teaching methods. As the education world continues to evolve, we need to remember that even though we live in a digital age where students can Google anything, we still need to be providing students with information. Knowledge rich curriculum makes sense for today’s readers. If we want to see changes in our students we have to start looking at the elementary school classrooms.

I recommend this amazing book for superintendents, principals, curriculum supervisors, teachers and anyone thinking about entering the world of education.

To purchase the book click here.

 

Arial the Secret Santa Book Review

This week I shared a blog post about the 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas, which features some incredible indie authors. With Christmas quickly approaching, I wanted to personally dive into some of the books on the list.

I’m drawn to children’s books that I can read with my three year old, Molly, that have incredible quality. Mary Nhin never fails when it comes to crafting a quality text, especially when it comes to Arial. In the past I have reviewed Arial the Chef, and Arial the Youtuber, and today I’m incredibly happy to share Arial the Secret Santa.

Arial the Secret Santa, by Mary Nhin, is a heartwarming picture book that teaches young readers the true spirit of Christmas through acts of kindness.

The story begins with Arial’s mom planning to donate a bag of her daughter’s old toys. Arial proceeds to tell her friends that once she donates her old toys, she will be replacing them with new ones. Her mom teaches her a life lesson about acts of kindness, and that they can be done in many different ways. Right after this, in the drive thru coffee line, someone pays it forward and buys Arial’s mom coffee, which clearly demonstrates the lesson.

The family then decides to change up their secret Santa Christmas tradition, and will instead perform daily acts of kindness. For each deed completed, the family will add an ornament to the tree. Nhin includes some examples of these types of ornaments on the pages before the story begins, which is a fabulous pre-reading point to make with young readers.

Arial then spends time thinking about ways she can be kind to others, and creates a solid list. She can give a sandwich to someone in need, provide a smile to someone who is having a bad day, donate her time to nature by planting trees, and give back to the community by volunteering. I truly love that this list has SOOO many options of ways to give show kindness that individuals of all ages can do.

Arial reminds readers that the true meaning of Christmas is showing kindness, which can be done in so many different ways. It’s not just about giving one another presents, but about making an impact in the lives of others.

And, as always, one of my favorite parts of a Mary Nhin book is the after reading activity. In this book, Nhin provides directions on how to create ornaments to record acts of kindness just like Arial’s family used. Nhin took it a step further and provides instructions on how to download the free printable, making this a super teacher-friendly activity.

I would recommend this book for kids in preschool through second grade.

To purchase this adorable book click here .