Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sneak it in!

It's hot. Summer's humidity has already smacked me in the face and it's way before noon (and June!!). Schools let out very soon and kids are thrilled.  The start of summer is the longest time kids will have before they have to back to school, at least that's how the see it. How are you going to keep you kids' minds sharp during these next few months, so they don't walk into their new classrooms next September having forgotten everything they learned this past year? No sweat. Three words. Authentic Learning Experiences! I don't want to use the word sneaky, but I sort of do. You need to be sneaky and keep their little brains in tip-top shape without them even knowing it! Keep your kids thinking without knowing that's what they're doing.

For example: The streets in my neighborhood are all three-syllables and alphabetized. While on a walk, what a great game it would be to ask kids to come up with fictitious names of streets that could fit in between the real ones. So you've got Abingdon, Buchanan, Covington -- how about Camelot? Where would that go? Before or after Covington, why? Does it fit the description of 3 syllables? Why or why not?

How about this one: Each night, my brother incorporates story time with his two girls. But, instead of just reading to them, he gives them a choice: read a book, Dad makes up a story, or Jane and Marie make up the story. The girls LOVE to hear Dad's stories, and usually build off them for their stories the next night. Keep that imagination going. And, then, as they get older, he could have them write down the stories the next morning. They're going to want to do that because the stories belong to the girls. They are excited about them because they created them.

Or, while your kids are out jump roping or playing hopscotch, have a contest to see if they can count by 2s or 3s, rather just by 1s. Use the word multiples, as in "Can you count by multiples of 2 and get to 26 before you step on the jump rope?" Make it some obscure number because that's more exciting for them. They're having fun jump roping, but they're also thinking mathematically and learning the word "multiple" without even knowing it.

What are ways that you have fun with your kids while sneaking in a little learning?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Spelling is Tough...Help is on the Way!

Note: A modified version of this article written by me was originally posted on Cathy P. Miller's blog, (Thursday, July 1, 2010)

Spelling is tough. But, as a teacher from down in the trenches, I can tell parents that demanding kids write the same words over and over and over again is not the most productive use of your (or your child’s) time. Educators, as a whole, have shifted away from rote memorization and endless tracing of inconsequential spelling lists, and instead, are spending their time figuring out ways to engage kids. It’s my experience that kids who truly are excited
about the subject matter, learn more and learn it faster.

Kids who have issues memorizing, (there are many of them out there, not even counting those with identified learning disorders), are in a real pickle. There is no context for the words, and there are no connections made. Now, in all fairness, sometimes the words rhyme, but more often than not, they are just a group of words that the publishers of the textbook happened to think were appropriate for all the kids in a class. One size didn’t fit all. There are
so many kids whose brains just work a little differently, and for those kids, spelling can be a huge problem.

I know, I know – we have computers who do all of our thinking, right? Wrong! Even in the age of SpellCheck and T-9 Alpha, kids need to know how to spell. So, what can you do to make it easier?

Three words – authentic learning experiences!

Kids need to be engaged in what they are doing. They need to see how and why spelling is so important. Tracing a list of words does not help the kids make essential connections that they need to make to learn how to spell words, or retain that information.

I believe it’s just fine to have young kids trace words to help them learn how to spell, but here’s the catch…the words have to be meaningful! A list of random words is not meaningful.
A letter to a friend written is meaningful. A story written by the child himself is meaningful. An article about the child’s favorite sport or musician is meaningful. It’s our jobs as educators (and yes, you parents are the most important educators in your child’s life) to find out what interests our kids.

Ask questions, dig a little. What is it that makes your child tick? Use that to help her spell (and read and form letter and practice handwriting…) Here’s the greatest part – you can do all of this at home.

You don’t need fancy fonts on the computer to be able to have kids trace the words and become better spellers. Simply make the dotted font yourself using a good old paper and pencil. Ask your child to tell you about his favorite character in his favorite fairytale, and jot down what he says in that dotted font. Then, while he’s still so excited about this story about the protagonist slaying the dragon, have him trace over what you just wrote and he just
said. Let him use blue marker if he wants. He’ll probably want to read it over and over and over again. Why? Because that story is the most interesting thing in the world to him, at that moment in time.

Why Does This Work?

Just by talking to your child and writing down his story in a handmade dotted font, you are:

1. bonding with your child and learning more about her likes

2. giving her the opportunity to trace over her own story (that you jotted down)

3. allowing her the chance to see the words that are important to her, her story and in her vocabulary in the written form

4. providing new reading material that is exciting, yet familiar, and fun for her to read

These ideas are the driving force behind Letter Learning ( We remembered how our own students struggled often with spelling and handwriting, and knew how much they love their family and friends. We also know that young kids love to “be like Mom” and since 80% of greeting cards are sent by women, it seems that greeting
cards that help kids learn to write and spell are a long overdue instrument.

Take the time to sit down with your child and really talk to him. Every child has at least one thing that really piques his interest. It is your job to find it. Do that, and the rest is easy!

Now it’s your turn. Tell us what has helped you work with your child on spelling and writing.

Book Report: Ibaby: Goodnight, Baby by iKids (and Contest Reminder for $23 to Letter Learning)

We received this little gem as a gift and my 18 month old adores it!  Each page shows a Mama animal waiting for her baby to be put to bed.  The unique part of this book is that the babies (really, their pictures) are attached to colorful strings in the spine of the book, so your child quickly learns to pick which baby matches its Mom.  Once that task is done, she can physically "tuck" each baby in the its nest/pen/crib.   We're all about interactive books, and this one fits the bill perfectly.  Great as a gift for a young child or to keep for your child's own collection (or both!)  We found it on Amazon for just $8.99.

And...don't forget about your chance to win a $23 gift card to  (

Just subscribe to our blog, AND tell us that you did it on Letter Learning's Facebook page ( and you'll be entered to win a $23 gift certificate to Letter Learning's site. You can use the gift certificate to buy any cards you like, all of which are geared to help young writers become more confident in their literacy abilities, while having fun making greeting cards for family and friends. Come check us out, if you don't believe it! It's most definitely a win-win!
To enter, just:

- Subscribe to our blog AND

- Let us know you did it on our Facebook page ("like" us to write on our wall).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Win $23 to Letter Learning! Here's how....

Have little kids? Have little kids who get frustrated with spelling, handwriting and letter formation? Subscribe to our blog, AND tell us that you did it on Letter Learning's Facebook page ( and you'll be entered to win a $23 gift certificate to Letter Learning's site. You can use the gift certificate to buy any cards you like, all of which are geared to help young writers become more confident in their literacy abilities, while having fun making greeting cards for family and friends. Come check us out, if you don't believe it! It's most definitely a win-win!

To enter, just:

- Subscribe to our blog AND

- Let us know you did it on our Facebook page ("like" us to write on our wall).

Why $23? Why not? :)

Remember, you need to do both of those things to be entered to win the $23 buckeroos! US residents only, must be 18 or older. Contest ends July 1, 2011.

BIG News!

We've got big news! Well, at least to us, it's B*I*G news! We teamed up with artist Mariah DeMarco to create some new card designs and we can't wait to share them with you! In addition to Mariah's new designs, we have super cute additions that you don't want to miss. So run (click quickly?!) to our site to check them all out! Here's a little sneak peek of some of the newest cards! What do you think??!

Book Report: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

If you and your child haven't picked up this book, run (don't walk) to the nearest bookstore, library or neighbor's house to get your hands on it. The immortal and ever-so-talented Shel Silverstein brings a tear to my eye each time I read this book with Katie because of its profound messages about everlasting love and sacrifice. Kids enjoy the book on the superficial level; a young boy's friendship with a tree is shared, as the boy returns time and again requesting goods from the tree to make himself happier. Adults and older children see the significantly deeper side, and read into it what they will. My older brother actually used this exact book as his college entrance essay topic because of its myriad levels of meanings. A classic book that can be found for just $10.19 at Amazon (and so worth every penny!)

Is this one of your faves? Let us know!

Book Report: Hippos Go Berserk! by Sandra Boynton

Hippos Go Berserk!If you have kids, you probably already know about the Great Sandra Boynton, but just in case.... Hippos Go Berserk is one of her many books that kids everywhere love. Her silly drawings and whimsical way with words make this book a favorite with kids ages 1 year - 5+. She incorporates counting as subsequent numbers of hippos come to crash a friend's party, party til dawn, and leave in the opposite order in which they came. Fun, math-centric and totally kid-friendly, I love this book and so will you, your kids or whoever you choose to share it with! Found it at Target for just $7.19, even though its list price is $7.99. Ever read this one? If so,what do you think?

Book Report: Where are Maisy's Friends?

Super cute, VERY simple book that my 18-month-old loves because of the colorful animal pics and of course, the lift-up flaps. You guessed it - you are looking for Maisy's friends with each flap that you or your little One lifts. I'm putting this one down for kiddos 6 months - 2 yo. We checked our copy out from the library (LOVE!), but they're here on Amazon for just $3.48!

Where Are Maisy's Friends?

Love? Hate? What do you and your kids think of Maisy and her friends?

Unplug: Fun and Cheap Ways to Entertain and Educate Your Kiddos

My friend had a baby girl 4 months ago and I just got around to buying her a gift. Terrible and late, I know, but with an 18-month old, and being 18 weeks pregnant, remodeling a kitchen and trying to build a business, I'm trying not to be too hard on myself. Anyway, as I was walking aimlessly down the aisles of Babies R Us, I was shocked at the price of educational toys. More than that, I had to scour the entire store to find simple wooden toys, you know the ones that require no batteries. Things like puzzles, blocks -- remember those?

I got to thinking that we, as a whole, may have lost sight on what kids love and why. As a teacher, I saw first-hand that kids these days LOVE TV, video games, anything that's loud, flashy and fast-paced. I think they love it so much because it's what they know. They haven't been told enough to "go outside and play", or "make up a game" when they're bored. What has happened to hide-and-seek and quiet puzzles? Are we, as parents, so busy, that our only resort is to having these electronic babysitters? (Rest assured, the irony that this blog is possible only because of the existence of these gadgets is not lost on me.)

As a result, I turned off the electronic games and toys and took my daughter (18 mos) out in our backyard to blow bubbles. She could not have been more thrilled. We "caught" the bubbles on the wand and she popped them. I can't think of too many things that are more simple, inexpensive and fun.

Then I drew some circles on the sidewalk with sidewalk chalk and she had a ball gathering leaves from our yard and placing them in the different circles. (Obviously, this sort of activity wouldn't work for kids older than 3-4, but the point is that they were very inexpensive and fun...for both of us.)

There were no batteries, no outlets, no flashes of light or sound -- just giggles and good ol'-fashioned pitter-patter of tiny (light-up, of course) shoes on the concrete.

Other things we both enjoy that I hope you'll consider squeezing in, instead of turning on the TV:

- checking out books from the library (great for all ages)

- coloring

- working on puzzles from a thrift store or garage sale (the older the child, the more and smaller the pieces)

- making up games, like "Where in the house are 5 pink things?" or "How many books have cats and turtles in them?"

- painting with water colors, or finger paint

- making homemade playdough

- going for a walk

The point is -- we can't blame kids for not being more creative when it comes to making up games if we are not setting a good example.

What are some things that you love to do with your kiddos that are fun and exciting, inexpensive and most importantly, unplugged?