Product Review: Little Songs for Language Arts

I recently had the opportunity to listen to the new Little Songs for Language Arts CD from HeidiSongs and I was so impressed I just had to share my observations with you!   What I like best about this CD is that there is a nice mix of songs that you can use throughout the year, not just during one unit or one half of the year.  There are 9 songs that address specific literacy skills such as the difference between letters and words, rhyming, syllables, beginning sounds, and making sentences.  I can see how I would use the song about the differences between letters and words at the very beginning of the year, then move on to the rhyming song and so on as my students progress.   We use the Reading and Writing Workshop approach to language arts in my district and we have a whole sequence of lessons we teach that address the parts of a story (characters, setting etc); I was so excited to discover that Heidi has created a catchy and fun song to teach this difficult concept to young children!

There are also songs that address math skills such as counting, shapes, and addition.  But the best part is that there are fun seasonal, thematic, and holiday songs that you can also turn into class and individual books.   People are always asking me if I miss the classroom and I very rarely say yes, however this new CD makes me miss the classroom because I want to sing the songs and make the books with my own class!

I had planned on posting the videos to a few of my favorite songs from the Little Songs for Language Arts CD, but I like them all so much I don’t know if they’ll all fit!   Here goes…


Lakeshore is Big Brother

img_161607I have a long-standing love hate relationship with the Lakeshore store.  If you’ve never been to Lakeshore it’s the Mecca for early childhood teachers everywhere.  Their never-ending aisles of  high-quality (and high-priced) toys and manipulatives draw teachers like moths to a flame.   The smell of lamination in the air is like perfume to a teacher’s nose.   I get light-headed just walking through doors and anticipating all the great stuff I’m going to find, but then comes the big let-down…   As I walk the aisles picking up every item and examining it like I’m shopping for fruit, the inevitable happens, I discover a new Lakeshore product that is EXACTLY like something I have been making myself and using in my classroom forever!   This leads me to the conclusion that Lakeshore spies are lurking among us on the internet.  I’m convinced they are watching my every move and every time I post a new idea on my website a little red light starts blinking and a siren starts blaring somewhere deep in the bowels of the Lakeshore headquarters in California.  I imagine the employees in their royal blue jumpsuits emblazoned with the Lakeshore logo on the breast (very Dharma Initiative-esque) jumping up from their desks and running over to the blinking red light to make a new discovery.   As they stand over the computer monitor saucer-eyed they record my ideas in their little notebooks with their cute Lakeshore pens that have the multicultural kids on the end.  The rest is history, they spend months turning my cute and inexpensive ideas into products that they charge $24.95 or more for.  See examples to prove my point below.


Counting Books

Counting Books

Flower 1:1 Game  lakeshore1
O.K., so they’re not identical but they’re close enough.   With the Lakeshore gems game you roll the dice and then put the corresponding number of gems into your treasure chest.   In my 1:1 games you roll the die and put the corresponding number of items on your FREE, printable mat.  I like my idea better because students are learning number sense, counting, and 1:1 correspondence, in the Lakeshore version they are just getting number sense and counting.
In the Lakeshore math stamping activity the students are just stamping and then writing in the number.  My number books require the students to actually stamp each item on the page which is more engaging than just stamping once.   My idea also turns this activity into a book which the students can put in their browsing boxes and read, this gives the activity more purpose and meaning for the students. 
Beep, Beep, Beep…what’s that?  It must be the siren going off in Lakeshore headquarters again, all hands on deck!  
P.S. If the Lakeshore spies are reading this I am open to offers to become a product developer.  Operators are standing by to take your call now!
P.S.S. Yes, I know I am addicted to Lost and yes, I know I sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, it’s part of my charm, get over it.

Using Vista Print in the Classroom

There are so many ways to use Vista Print products in the classroom I don’t even know where to start.  For those of you that are Vista Print newbies allow me to explain, Vista Print is a website where you can order personalized items for FREE plus the cost of shipping.   I used a wide variety of  Vista Print products in my classroom, most of which were for enhancing parent communication.   Here is a list of some ways you can use Vista Print in your classroom:
  • Personalized Note Pads:  From the Desk of Ms. ___  (how cute is that?)
  • Personalized Business Cards: A must for Parent Orientation or Meet the Teacher Nights
  • Personalized Refrigerator Magnets:  Another must for giving to parents
  • Personalized Postcards: The possibilities for these are endless!  See several different examples below
  • Personalized Post-It Notes
  • Personalized Rubber Stamps:  These are great for a myriad of classroom situations, homework, sign & return…
  • Personalized Labels: I use these on the front of our Parent Orientation Packets/Handbook as well as our Parent Coference folders
  • Personalized Mouse Pads
  • Personalized t-shirts:  Many teachers make these with their classroom theme to wear themselves and others have made “Star Student” shirts, the possiblities are endless.
  • Personalized Banners & Signs:  Put your class motto on one,  “Welcome to Mrs. ____’s Class”, or “Welcome to Kindergarten!” and hang at the hallway entrance.  Parents would LOVE that!
Below are pictures of only a few of my Vista Print creations, you can see all of them on my Vista Print for Teachers page:
Vista Print ABC Award

Vista Print ABC Award


Vista Print How to Prepare Your Child... brochure front
Vista Print How to Prepare Your Child… brochure front
Vista Print How to Prepare Your Child... brochure inside
Vista Print How to Prepare Your Child… brochure inside
Vista Print Back to School Checklist back side
Vista Print Back to School Checklist back side
Vista Print Back to School Checklist front side
Vista Print Back to School Checklist front side
Vista Print Thank You Postcards
Vista Print Thank You Postcards


Vista Print Parent Conference Postcard front side

Vista Print Parent Conference Postcard front side

Vista Print Parent Conference Postcard back side

Vista Print Parent Conference Postcard back side






Preparing for the First Day of School

It’s about this time each summer that you begin to smell the panic of teachers everywhere in the air.  Veteran teachers don’t want to go back to school and new teachers are terrified of the unknown.   Experienced teachers know what to expect and how to prepare for that dreaded first day, but in the interest of helping the newest members of our profession I’ve come up with some tips to prepare them (and the students) for the first days of school and beyond. 

 Any pre-k or kindergarten teacher will tell you that nametags are a must for the first day.  There’s nothing worse than having a lost child who can’t or won’t tell you their name on the first day of school.  I’ll never forget the time that a pre-k student stepped off the bus on the first day of school unidentified.  He didn’t have a nametag and when asked for his name he replied “Phat Daddy”.  It didn’t help matters that he had braids down to his waist and the face of a cherub so we weren’t sure if he was male or female.  He sat in the office all day until somebody came to pick him up at the end of the day.  His real name turned out to not be Phat Daddy- I know you’re shocked.

Another must is to have a parent orientation BEFORE school starts.   Most schools in my area prefer to have a “meet the teacher” event two weeks after school starts.   That might be fine for a 4th grader who is burned out on school and already knows the drill, but for a child entering school for the very first time it’s a recipe for disaster.  If your school doesn’t hold an orientation for pre-k or kinder students and parents before school begins, start begging for one NOW.   Better yet, just pretend the principal okayed it before school let out last year and start planning for one.  You will save yourself huge amounts of stress and headaches if you take the time to answer all the parent’s questions up front and explain every little nuance of school life to them.  Here’s the video I made to show my parents at our parent orientation. 

I have compiled all of the best tips for you here, on my Bootcamp for Teachers page.

What tips do you have for preparing for the first day of school?

Parent Involvement

conferencesOne of the keynote speakers this year at Frog Street Splash was Dr. Patricia Edwards, President-Elect of the IRA (International Reading Association).   Not only is she a dynamic speaker, her message is one that had the audience nodding their heads and cheering from the get go- parental involvement as the missing piece of the educational puzzle. 

I have always felt that parents should be held more accountable for their children’s education, starting from pre-k and continuing all the way up.  As early childhood educators, we often find ourselves in a position to introduce parents to school culture and induct them into this unique club of which they are new members.  How we interact with and involve parents in their child’s early learning will have significant influence on how involved they are in the rest of their child’s educational journey.  

Many teachers are resistant to the idea of parents as partners, however those are the teachers who often struggle the most with parents.  Parental involvement is a crucial part of every teacher’s job, whether the teachers like it or not.  In college teachers learn how to teach children (supposedly – this is another post entirely) but they are not taught how to teach the parents.   Teaching children is entirely different from teaching adults and often scary to those who spend all day with children under the age of six.  If pre-k and kindergarten teachers were given training in how to include parents and talk to them I believe we would see a significant increase in parental involvement.  If we do not include parents in their child’s educational process from day one it is quite possible that they may never become involved.  

I have created a “recipe”  for successfully creating partnerships with parents starting before the first day of school and continuing beyond the last day.   Several of the ingredients for this recipe are parent conferences , Family Night , Homework, and B.E.A.R. Books  to name just a few, for the entire recipe you are invited to attend the Conference for Early Childhood Educators on July 15 in Plano, TX or August 4th and 5th in Katy, TX.   

How do you involve your parents?

Review: HeidiSongs Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds

SingSongs-Combo_1I have used many different methods of teaching letters and letter sounds over the years, some approaches have been more effective than others.   Our pre-k program didn’t begin teaching letter sounds until 2002 and the state of TX didn’t even address teaching letter sounds in pre-k until just last year.    When we were first told we would be teaching letter sounds in pre-k panic took hold as we tried to figure out how to do that.  Gradually, over the next few years most of us found a method of teaching letter sounds that we were comfortable with, but there was no continuity.  We were told we had to teach letter sounds but we were never told how.   Then, we transitioned to full-day from half-day pre-k and the pressure was on, no longer was it o.k. to just introduce the students to letter sounds and if they got it, fine and if not then hope they got it in kinder. 

Last year, when Heidi’s Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds first came out I was very excited because I was already using her Sing & Spell series to teach sight words and had found it highly effective.  At the time, I was using the Leap Frog Letter Factory DVD and CD to “hook” my kids on letters, but I was concerned because the learning was passive.  I noticed that all my students loved the LeapFrog songs but not all of them were “getting it”, especially those low, low babies;  I knew that something was missing but I wasn’t sure what it was.   As soon as I watched Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds for the very first time I realized what that missing piece was, movement!   My students were getting the auditory and visual aspects from LeapFrog, but the missing piece of the puzzle was movement.   Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds uses a multisensory approach, incorporating music AND movement to engage young learners.  There is a unique song for every letter of the alphabet.  Each song includes the sound of the letter, a picture of the letter, a movement or “dance” to go with the song, and an animation of the letter formation.   You can see for yourself in the video below.

I introduced Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds to the pre-k teachers in my district and several campuses purchased the DVD for every pre-k classroom.  I witnessed class after class of four year olds who were able to fluently identify the alphabet, both upper and lowercase, as well as all letter sounds.   The movements for each song help the students not only identify the letters, but write them as well because it is imprinted in their “muscle memory”.   Another benefit of Singable Songs for Letters and Sounds is that it accelerates the process of learning to identify letters and sounds.  Instead of taking half the school year, or heaven forbid, the whole school year to learn these concepts, students were learning to identify their letters and sounds in only a few short weeks!   This isn’t just a claim I am making up, we have the test scores to prove it! 

I do not work for Heidi Songs, but I did have the pleasure of seeing Heidi present at the 2008 NAEYC conference in Dallas.   In addition to being a talented teacher Heidi also presents her music and ideas at various conferences around the U.S., you can see her next at the I Teach K! conference in Las Vegas on July 13th.

Summer Stress

clock1I thought I would share with you some tips for managing your “Summer Stress”.   Summer Stress is something many teachers suffer from every year around this time.   Often, we find ourselves busier in the summer than we were during the school year.  I know you’re thinking “how can that be possible?” but it actually makes sense if you are a teacher.  The clock is always ticking away the minutes until summer is over and there never seems to be enough time to squeeze in everything you want to accomplish before the first day of school.  I know I am guilty of neglecting certain things like Dr. appointments, vacations, family obligations, home improvement projects, and more during the school year, during the summer I try to squeeze it all in.  Matters are further complicated when you add your school to-do list into the mix and you’ve got  yourself a nice recipe for STRESS.  

The first thing you can do to help alleviate your Summer Stress is create a schedule for yourself.  It has long been my belief that one of the reasons teachers experience stress in the summer is because we are so used to being on a regimented schedule that we don’t  function well without one.   My summer schedule looks something like this:

7:00-8:00- “Me Time”- My favorite thing to do with Me Time is check my e-mail, read blogs, and visit teacher forums.

8:00-10:00 = Breakfast, shower, dress, house chores like laundry, dishes, and light cleaning.

10:00-12:00 = Errands, I like to get them out of the way before it gets too hot. 

12:00-2:00 = School Time, this is my time to work on anything school related.

2:00-4:00 = Home Time or Reading Time.  This time is reserved for reading for personal or professional reading OR any “home projects” I have neglected during the year such as digital scrapbooking, creating a cookbook of my mother’s recipes,  searching for new ceiling fans on-line, scheduling carpet cleaning appointments etc. 

4:00-6:00 = Cleaning and Cooking Time, YUCK!  My two least favorite things!  I usually prepare a meal and while it’s cooking I clean one “zone” in the house. 

6:30-9:00 = Personal/Family Time, no school stuff can be done during this time. 

9:00-10:00 Reading Time, more reading for personal enjoyment.  It’s best not to read professional books before bed as it may raise your stress level and cause you to have “schoolmares” which are similar to nightmares only they are about school.

If I don’t have any errands to run on a particular day then I can extend my school time.  This is what works for me and keeps me focused during the summer, you can create your schedule to relfect what works best for you.  If you have children obviously you will need to adjust your schedule according to their activities and needs.

Please share your methods for dealing with Summer Stress in the comments section.