Saturday, May 30, 2009

Scrabble for All Ages

I jumped and shouted, "Look! Cheez-Its with letters!" Turned heads and puzzled looks were upon me. "Lady, your in the grocery isle." They thought.

I knew where I was but I could not contain my excitement. A new idea had jumped from the grocery shelf and into my brain. I see learning opportunities everywhere, even in the grocery isle, and frankly, a new tool for learning is like a Christmas present under the tree.

I have thought about this new find for several days. Cheez-Its with letters. The new snack is called Cheez-It Scrabble Junior. Do you realize the learning possibilities?

  • Grab a handful fo Cheez-Its. Group them according to letter...all the C's together, all the T's together, etc. Find out which group has more, which group has less. The math and language arts skills involved are for the youngest learners: grouping, set-building and letter recognition.

  • Make an alphabet train. Line up the letters while singing the alphabet and you have the foundations for alphabetizing.

  • Grab a letter, make its phonetic sound, and find items around the house that begin with that letter. Beginning phonics with a fun twist.

  • Use the letters as mini flash cards. Grab a letter and make the sound. Grab another and make the sound. Go through the whole alphabet.

  • Create two letter words: am, an, at, as, ax, be, go, if, in, is, it, me, on, so, and to. Add a letter to each to make three letter words. Spelling at its earliest beginnings.

  • Spell the names of family members. These are high-interest words with a purpose for new spellers.

The possibilities are endless, not to mention, fun, different, and appealing . What a unique introduction to a positively educational game, Scrabble!

While I am on the subject of Scrabble, let me share how this game impacted our learning. Being an "adult game" if you want to classify it as such, it instantly grabbed my son's attention. He wanted to play because he saw Mom and Dad playing. Being a beginning speller did not stop him. He wanted to play. So, I created a "dictionary" for him. I stapled 26 pieces of notebook paper together. Each page was labeled with a letter of the alphabet. Once labeled, I wrote 3-5 letter words which began with the letter written on the top of the page. My son used his "dictionary" to play Scrabble with us. His spelling skills improved and eventually he was able to play without the "dictionary". Our children love a friendly, family game of Scrabble. It's a great way to spend an evening. Honestly, our older boy's vocabulary and spelling skills now surpass Mom and Dad and the kids usually win the game.

Scrabble (and Scrabble Junior) have been the number one spelling tools in our home. You can imagine how excited I was to find Cheez-Its Scrabble Junior on the shelf. I let the ladies in the isle know what an incredible treasure had been discovered.

With all this thought and excitement about letters, I have been reminded of our favorite alphabet books.

  • A is for Asia by C. Chin-Lee

  • P is for Pilgrim by Carol Crane (just one of the many, many titles in a series from the Discover America series...

  • Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert

  • 26 Letters and 99 Cents by Tana Hoban

  • Alphabet City by Stephen Johnson

  • The Airplane Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta (just one of the many, many thematic alphabet books he has written)

  • Wild Animals of Africa by H. Ryden
Have fun with language arts today. Education is real and relevant.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plots: What We Know and What We Figure Out Later

Ever wonder just how each event or person impacts the plot of a story? I have. And I have learned a few lessons, like many of you. Every word, every situation, every action, every character, impacts the story. We may not understand how the story will unfold or which character will play a lead role in the climax, but rest assured it is all important. Without the unknown woman walking through the door, the lady sitting across the library table or the girl coming to the rescue, the plot changes. Sometimes dramatically.

Can we be a part of the plot? Everyday we have the opportunity. We step from bed and into the scene. We talk. We decide. We act. We love. It all adds to the plot. To ours and to others.
Where will I be in the unfolding plot tomorrow? Will I sit on a park bench and offer kind words to the discouraged one or choose to sit quietly? Will I hug the hurting or let someone else do the hugging? It all matters.

This is a seemingly off-topic blog, but a closer read begs a thoughtful pause. Think about the roles we play in the plot. Think about the roles others have played. How do we convey to our kids the role they play in the plot? By living the story. Each story is a story to be lived in order to be learned. They will look back and remember the wrinkled hands that held theirs. They will remember the smell of the soup kitchen in which they served warm meals on a cold day. They will remember walking the battlefields. Lessons learned from the plot of life. Lessons that don't become known, sometimes years later.

Reading books that invite us into the plots of others help us (including our children) learn. When we put our hands under the cool water, pumped out from the garden pump, we think of Helen Keller's courage to learn. When we fly in an airplane, we remember the brave Wright Brothers determination to fly. When we snorkel while on vacation, we understand the significance of an untethered breathing apparatus. All lessons learned from the lives of those who walked before us. Our lives today are no different. The plot is being written. What will we learn from our efforts? What will others learn from us? It is all to be, but maybe not discovered until later.

I Love to Collage!

I have been working on a writing project and haven't had much extra time lately to tell stories or blog about our "book" fun. However, I did have to blog about our recent find. We found the most incredible, colorful, inviting book at the library last week.

I Love to Collage! by Jennifer Lipsey

Excellent, empowering (especially for kids and parents who think they were born without creativity), and written with step-by-step instructions, this book will inspire the reader to get up and get creative. Many mediums are explored in the twenty ideas detailed between the covers. Tissue paper, newspaper, painted papers, torn papers, garbage (yes, garbage), nature findings and more are used to make amazing art.

My girls were particularly interested in the Tasty Treats project which involved painting papers and then cutting shapes to make a yummy treat. The results were an ice cream sundae and cone. Brilliant hues and impressive images (almost good enough to eat) were the end result.

For those who want to take collage to the next level, here are some suggestions:
1. Study artists who use the collage method, especially children's book illustrators. Look for the art of Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Lois Ehlert, and Denise Fleming.

A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle (painted tissue paper)
Ship Shapes by Stella Blackstone (fabric)
Pie in the Sky by Lois Ehlert (paper)
Snowballs by Lois Ehlert (found object)
Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming (found objects)

2. Compare the mediums used by these authors. Try using the artist's techniques with found objects from the around the house.

3. Research the history of collage.

4. Visit an art museum. Look for examples of collage art.

Collage is not the only art technique which deserves attention. Find out more about painting, photography, digital art, clay, print making, and drawing. My unit study Check These Out! devotes 4 weeks to discovering children's books, including illustrations. Check These Out! at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Melon Balls: How our Lunch Shaped Up

I've missed blogging, sharing stories from our life. Many weeks have passed, many blogs I wanted to write, but didn't have time to type. Maybe you will hear those later.

Today, however, math jumped out of our watermelon. Our oldest daughter was helping prepare lunch. She pulled the watermelon out of the fridge as the other daughter yelled, "Let's make melon balls!" Perfect. The younger children hadn't heard of melon balls. We took turns balling the melon into spheres of all sizes and density. Soon we have a whole bowl full of spheres and began thinking of other spheres we knew: globes, soccer balls, baseballs, soap-on-a-rope, golf balls. eyeballs. Our list ran long;the gears in our minds, spinning. By the time we made and ate 50 melon balls (counting by ones and then tens) we understood the concept of "sphere".

Learning while preparing and eating food is what my book Flip Three Pancakes with One Spatula is all about. Each lesson teaches a math concept and then extends the lesson to content areas, suggesting titles of books for additional practice or reinforcement.

So, in keeping with the concept of "sphere", here are ways to extend and reinforce the lesson.

1. Round up an orange, either off the tree, fresh off the orange tree in the backyard or from the fruit basket. Compare its spherical shape with the shape of a flat one-dimensional circle. Discuss the differences. Find examples about the house or on a nature walk. Read Circles Around Town by Nathan Olson or Circles by Sarah Schuette.

2. Cut the orange in 8 slices and divide evenly (if possible) among those at the table. Discuss the orange in terms of its fractional parts: half, quarters and eighths. Read Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Counting Book by Paul Giganti, Jr.

3. Use a set of fraction circles to experiment with fractional parts of a circle. Cut out your own fraction circles from construction paper.

4. Measure the circumference of the orange with a string. Measure the circumference of other spheres in the home (golf ball, baseball, or beach ball). How does the circumference of the orange compare in length with the other spheres?

5. Make fresh squeezed orange juice.

6. Discuss the nutritional value of oranges. Hint: think Vitamin C, scurvy and the like.

7. Visit an orange packing plant or grove.

8. Draw and shade an orange, talking about light, dark and shadows. Research shading on the Internet, with a parent's supervision, of course.

9. Read Sunny Numbers: A Florida Counting Book by Carol Crane.

10. Mix red and yellow paint to make orange. Add black and white to make shades and tints. Use the paints to sponge paint with circles or to paint an orange, shaded with the tints of orange paint.