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For our homeschooling letter W theme, I picked the seasonally appropriate word 'witch'. And what better book to celebrate Halloween and discuss the concept of witches than 'Room on the Broom'. This adorable picture book discusses the themes of kindness and friendship, as a witch is helped by a series of new pals, who she (in return) allows to join her and her cat on their adventures. But that is just the start of how these new friends help one another on a particularly stormy autumn evening! I'll not give spoiler, but I will provide you access to some of the awesome activities I developed (or in some cases, collected) just for this book!
Room on the Broom Velcro Activity
As you read the book, you can use this velcro activity to help children track what is happening in the story. Have your child pick out the appropriate pieces, removing them or adding them to the velcro board. The activity is a great, hands on, visual aid for comprehension.
You can find this activity in my free subscriber's resource library.
Room on the Broom Videos
My little one has been enjoying watching this cute Room on the Broom cartoon on YouTube. It pairs imagery with the classic book text, read out loud.
A second fun version reads the book outloud as a song, with video graphics!
Witch Themed Coloring Pages; Letter W Coloring Page
I'm making a few of these pages available for immediate download. The rest are available in my subscriber's only resource library.
For immediate download:
And for those who have subscribed to the library, check out the newest addition to coloring pages! The letter W page is already uploaded there.
Witch Matching Velcro Activity
Another subscriber's resource library exclusive, I added this activity to my busy book for independent play and learning. Simple laminate two copies, cut out the shapes from one copy, and add velcro to make your own. You can also have your child color the pages prior to laminating (for extra fun).
Witch's Hat Craft
What you'll need:
This activity is super simple! Just cut out a witch's had shape (use the stencil below)- use one plate/piece of paper for the triangle shape, and one to make a flattened oval. Glue them into the shape of a hat, and then decorate!
If you want to make a band, simple place the hat on your child's forehead, use the paper or twine and measure the circumference, and then tie or glue to the hat! Make sure to leave room for your child to pull the hat on and off, though.
Magical Mud Sensory Play
Making magical mud is easy. It is just ooblek! If you've not made it before, the recipe is easy, and uses ingredients you probably already have in house:
That's it! You'll need a 2:1 ratio, so 1 cup of cornstarch for 1/2 cup of water (or whatever sized batch you'd like)
Want to make it extra 'muddy'? Just add food dye; you'll want to add all the colors to make a nice, gunky, brown color.
Then, let your kids play! If you'd like, you can let them cover animals in the ooblek, too (just like the animals cover themselves in mud in the book).
The great thing about ooblek is it really does seem magical. Defying the boundary between solids and liquids, this amazing activity is bound to get your kids thinking.
Witch's Brew Sensory Play
This one isn't my activity, but head over to Tot School Resources for their Spooky Witch's Brew Science Experiment. It is a perfect complement to my Room on the Broom activities!
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Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases. My participation in this program comes at no added cost to you, and helps support this blog. If you want to learn more about my participation in this program, click here.
As I noted inmy post about our first week homeschooling, sometimes everything doesn't get done when we want, or how we want. And that is perfectly okay! But because I didn't want us to fall behind with what letters I was planning to review each week, I made the choice cover a few letters at a time throughout the rest of September, and into October. Since I know I'll be covering the alphabet repeatedly, this felt like a good modification to make sure I could get through content I wanted to review while also being able to do other activities in October
Here is a breakdown of each of the activities we did for the remainder of the alphabet!
You can find our letter A and B activities here.
Calendar and Story Time - Daily (Mostly!)
Our calendar and story time routine doesn't vary much! Therefore, it has looked pretty much like what we did the week before. Be sure to check that out here. You'll also find a link to our daily circle time book, Shadow Boxes. We read the page related to the letter(s) of the day!
Why does the header say "mostly", by the way? Because we didn't do the calendar daily. Between early intervention therapies, doctors appointments, general life, and refusing to enforce calendar time rigidly (my kid is a toddler, remember?), it didn't happen every day. And that is okay! While I always try to do fun homeschool activities with my child daily, I never want to give the impression that I have it all together, and things run seamlessly. That isn't fair to you, the reader. That isn't real life. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise!
Book: 10 Little Pumpkins
Activities: 10 little pumpkins velcro activity, Fall Numbers Binder Book Activity (from the subscriber's library)
You can learn more about the 10 little pumpkins activity here.
Letters D, E, and F
Nat Geo Dinosaurs 101 Video
Many kids love dinosaurs, but given they are something no human being has or can experience in person, they are also a highly conceptual topic to cover. As such, I wanted to find ways to make the content more accessible to my toddler.
The video I'm sharing with you is geared towards slightly older children and contains larger vocabulary, but my toddler loved it! It is never too early to start exposing your child to more advanced academic content, so long as it is in a developmentally appropriate way. In this case, the video was just over 3 minutes (so, short), contained exciting imagery, and was presented in a way that made my child more interested (I played the video on my phone after reading a book about dinosaurs, and he normally doesn't have access to my content via my phone). From the time I was a small child, I loved National Geographic and PBS documentaries. I hope to instill the same sense of academic curiosity in my child!
While I try not to use screen time as a way to teach, in this case, it made a lot of sense to provide video content.
Dinosaur coloring pages:
These coloring pages can be found on the Subscribers' Library!
Dinosaur Spikes and Spots Shape Activity
We added spikes and spots to the dinosaur template from my subscriber's library (or any dinosaur coloring page). While doing so, we discussed shape and color.
This activity is easy. All you need is a dinosaur shape, a glue stick, some colored construction paper, and scissors. Cut out circles and triangles for your child using different colored paper. Then, let them have fun decorating their dinosaur however they want!
Letters D, E, and F letter tracing/coloring pages
Letters G and H - Ghosts and Halloween
Craft and Sensory Activity: Tissue Paper Ghosts
Making tissue paper ghosts is easy! Just grab some white tissue paper, crumple, and glue to a piece of black construction paper (though you really could use whatever color you want)! Then add eyes with black paint or marker. If your child is a bit older, they can paint a Halloween scene on the paper first (like I did on mine).
Literacy/Letter Activities: Reading Halloween books, as well as about the letters G and H in our Shadow Boxes book. We then colored the letters G and H, and did ghost and halloween coloring pages from the resource library.
One of our favorite Halloween books is "When the Goblins Came Knocking". It is a great social emotional story for young kids who may find costumed trick or treaters scary of overwhelming. The protagonist tells of last Halloween, when he was scared and hid, but also, of how this Halloween he is able to wear a scary costume. The last page shows the child with his scary dinosaur hood off, letting little readers know that behind those costumes are other kids. It is a sweet story that you'll love sharing with your child.
I believe the book is out of print, but there are tons of used copies available for less than a new hardcover copy!
Letter I - Ice
For the letter I we painted with ice cubes and colored the letter I (see coloring pages in the resource library). We also discussed the concepts of cold, and melting (while my little one likely didn't take in everything I told him, it is a great idea to share ideas with your toddler. They are sponges, and as long as you aren't giving lengthy explanations of high level concepts, the only thing it can do is get their little minds working!)
J - Jack O Lantern
For Jack O Lantern we made pumpkin faces out of paper plates and black construction paper shapes (you can find that activity here), and watched Sesame Street's Making Pumpkin Faces Video. Just like all Sesame Street content, this cute music video is educational, talking about shapes and family.
Letter K - Kitten
We didn't spend a lot of time on letter K, but we did do the letter K coloring page from my library, and spent a lot of time with our own cats. We also did the same animal finding activity with easter eggs (see the Letter E section), but this time searched for different kinds of "kitties" (big cats).
Letter L - Leaves (did along with letters O, R, and Y for orange, red, and yellow)
For the letter L we collected and played with leaves (sensory), watched a Nat Geo video about leaves changing, as well as doing the leaf matching activity in the resource library. We also did the L for Leaf and fall finds velcro activities from the resource library. We also did a number of velcro activities I put together sorting the colors we see in autumn, and discussed letters R, O, and Y for the brilliant colors our leaves turn this time of year. You can find those velcro activities in the Subscribers' Resource Library.
Letters M and N - Moon, Monsters, and Night
Letter Activities: M for Moon Velcro Activity, coloring/tracing pages for letters M and N.
YouTube Video: Moon 101
Craft and Literacy: Making a Monster (from subscriber's library)
This activity is simple! Just print the pages and let your child mix and match bodies, arms, legs, and other add ons for their monster. Want to expand on the activity? Have your child tell or write a story about their monster. What is their name? Where do they live? What do they eat? Do they have a family? A job? A hobby? Are they friendly or scary? Your child decides! There are two worksheet pages (not shown) to get your child started with writing in the printables kit.
Letters O and P - Orange and Pumpkins
I did an entire blog post about the great pumpkin activities we've done. You can find that here.
Letter Q - Quiet
We did letter Q along on the same day as letters O and P. How to help a young toddler learn about the concept of quiet? We practiced! We tip toed around the house, and then practiced being loud by stomping and roaring before going back to trying to be quiet.
Letter R (did along with letter L, plus reviewed O, and skipped ahead to discuss letter Y): Red, Leaves, Orange, and Yellow (Autumn Colors)
See the section for L above for more!
Letter S, skipped ahead to letter X - Spiders, Six
For the letter S we discussed spiders, and the difference between spiders and insects. One great way to tell them apart? Insects have six legs, while spiders have eight!
I'm putting up a separate post about the spider activities we did soon, so keep an eye on the blog! I'll link that here once it is live.
Letters T and U - Ten, Up, Teal
We came back to 10 little pumpkins for the number ten, danced and practiced being up and down (through dance and song; we sang the Wheels on the Bus and did If You're Happy and You Know It (jump up, put your arms up), and painted Teal Pumpkins for the Teal Pumpkin Project.
You can find the 10 Little Pumpkins Activity and the Teal Pumpkin activity here.
Letter V - Volcanos
We didn't spend much time on letter V, but we did do a bit of learning about volcanos. I look forward to returning to the letter V and doing a volcano unit in a few months, when my child is a little older!
Nat Geo Volcanos 101:
Letter V coloring pages (see resource library)
Letter W - Witch
I did an entire post about our letter W activities. You can find that here.
Letter X - See Letter S
Letter Y - See Letter R
Letter Z - Zoo
We were initially planning to take our little one to the Bronx Zoo for this unit, but weather and responsibilities got in our way. Instead, we focused on doing a lot of learning about animals that might be in a zoo!
I added wild animals you might find in a zoo to my child's sensory bin, and he had a blast playing with and labeling the different animals he found. I also gave him some salt dough I'd made, since he seemed to have been craving the smooshy texture.
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Making the choice to pull my child from preschool this fall was difficult. I feel fortunate to have the resources to be able to stay home with my little one during this challenging time; I know it isn't an option for many families. I also feel quite lucky to have a background in teaching (including teaching preschool!). For critical social skills we are doing playdates with a small circle of cautious friends, at least until it is no longer a safe option in our area, or until the pandemic passes and we can go back to school. But what about all that time when we aren't occupied by playdates?
That is where my background in teaching has really been an asset! But I know not every parent has a degree in education and formal teaching experience.
That is why I've decided to share our homeschooling journey with you!! Here is what we did during our first week learning from home:
Starting the Day: Calendar and Weather, Themed Story (Daily)
Circle time is a vital part of the preschool day. It helps children center and prepare for a day of learning, connect with their classmates and teacher(s), and, of course, learn. Sure, we are learning from home with no siblings, which means there are no other students to connect with. But that is no reason not to start the day by focusing on the learning ahead!
Each morning we start with our calendar; we discuss what month and year it is, count up to the current day, sing our days of the week song (see lyrics below) and review any special events or holidays happening that day. We then sing our weather song (see lyrics below) and then look outside to figure out what the weather is that day.
Once we have finished the calendar and weather, we read a story (or stories) related to our theme.
Our theme for the month of September is 'The Alphabet'
Each day we cover a new theme related to a letter of the alphabet. Sometimes we cover the same letter a couple of days in a row, other times we only spend one day on a letter (the only reason for repetition is if I have a lot of content related to one particular theme and can't fit everything into one day). I cover each of this week's themes in detail below.
Week 1 - Themes and Books
Why no curriculum for Thursday and Friday? Part of our homeschool journey is accepting sometimes things come up that make it difficult to follow through. My goal is always to do the best I can, as a parent, and in all my affairs. While older children doing virtual learning may not have the luxury of taking time away from formal learning, preschool is different. We can be more flexible. If there is one parenting lesson I hope to impart on readers it is that parenting requires flexibility and being mindful that sometimes things don't go as planned.... And that is OKAY. I love routine, but trying to rigidly stick with plans stresses me out. After years of running on a hamster wheel with trying to be perfect, I've decided instead to work hard to go with the flow. Thursday I wasn't feeling well and Friday we had a playdate in the morning and got sidetracked in the afternoon. And that is absolutely okay! I originally planned to cover the letter C, but instead moved those activities to the following week.
Looking for a great lesson planning template for little ones? Here is the one that I've been using (please feel free to download it for your own use (conditions apply*!)
Circle Time Book (literacy): The Book of Shadow Boxes
This alphabet book takes the form of a poem, and is quite creative. It moves away from alphabet book stereotypes, and focuses heavily on promotion of phonemic awareness (focusing on the individual sounds each letter makes), as well as some phonics strategies. You can find it here (it is out of print, but you can find used editions), or check out some of our other favorite alphabet books!
Activities: Letter coloring/Tracing (Fine motor, writing), singing the alphabet with a visual aid (see below).
Stay tuned to my subscriber's library for access to these great (and free) printables!
Circle Time Book (literacy): The Book of Shadow Boxes - Letter A poem only; How Do Apples Grow
Activities: Apple stamp painting (fine motor, sensory, STEM); Letter 'A' & apple matching (literacy).
Stay tuned to my subscriber's library for access to these great (and free) printables!
Apple stamp painting is a great activity for toddlers and preschoolers. I paired it with "How Do Apples Grow", and we used the opportunity to cut open the apple, look at the different parts of the apple as shown in the book's diagram (including the seeds). We then removed the seeds for planting (we placed the seeds in a wet paper towel for safe keeping until they could be safely planted; I was out of potting soil!). By extending the painting activity to include talking about the apple as a plant, we in turn covered apples a science topic as well as art, literacy, and fine motor skills!
Letter activities (printables coming to resource library soon!)
Favorite products for making the most of these printables:
Circle Time Book (literacy): The Book of Shadow Boxes - Letter B poem only; my child's book of choice (we read All Are Welcome repeatedly!).
Activities: Letter 'B' coloring/tracing; Body tracing activity. (click for full description of activity)
We had so much fun with these homeschool activities during our first week of homeschooling preschool. We were also super grateful to be able to build on social skills as well (since social skill development is one of the most critical elements of early education). I can't wait to share our activities from week 2!
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*Access to this template (and all Mindfully Scientific Mama content) is for personal use only. Mindfully Scientific Mama content may not be shared for commercial use, or on another website, without explicit written permission of the content creator.
Disclaimer: This post has been sponsored by Rhyme to Read. All opinions are my own.
As a former educator with extensive training in the science of learning to read, I always have my eye out for products that are aligned with best practices. It seems as though children’s products touting their educational value are a dime a dozen. With homeschooling becoming an increasing choice due to the ongoing pandemic hitting the US, I predict this trend will only accelerate. But as a former teacher, I am frequently disappointed by many resources labeled “educational” that are on the market. Often, these products have no basis in the science of learning, and some even utilize strategies that are counterproductive.
When it comes to learning to read, literacy science suggests there are five core areas of instruction critical to promote (National Reading Panel, 2000). These are: phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. An important note to make here, before I continue, is that phonics and phonemic awareness fall under a larger umbrella known as phonological awareness. This is a concept I’ll be returning to several times in this review, starting by letting you know that, from what I have seen from many early literary programs on the market, many programs do not promote critical phonological awareness strategies that contribute to the development of efficient decoding, and later automatic word reading. Instead, many of these programs focus on the first letter of words (rather than what sound that letter makes, that is, it’s phoneme), whole word or sight word reading (i.e. rote memorization of words while relying on the first letter and context cues to predict the word’s entirety), or poorly implemented phonics strategies (e.g. ineffective letter/sound mapping). For instance, you’ll see many programs utilize the word xylophone for the letter ‘x’. Take a moment to say ‘x’, and consider the sound it makes. The phoneme is roughly the same sound that ‘cks’ makes in the word ‘socks’. Does the word xylophone truly highlight that letter’s sound (i.e., the phoneme for ‘x’)? No. A better strategy is to find a word where ‘x’ makes its common sound; words like ‘fox’, ‘six’, or ‘box’. Circling back, problems like this are particularly prominent in products that are computerized, since many aren’t developed by educators, but rather computer programmers. The end result is anyone without a background in the science of education may be fooled into believing that a program is teaching their child to read effectively, when it is not. This isn’t to say these programs are worthless, necessarily (though some certainly are). Just that many programs aren’t quite hitting the mark in promoting effective early literacy strategies.
Rhyme to Read, a program designed by a reading specialist, alongside a PhD in special education, is different.
There are several things I love about Rhyme to Read. First, it isn’t another computer or tablet app that you set your child down in front of, and walk away. It requires effort on behalf of an adult, helping guide the child. Furthermore, while the program does offer an app, it also provides printable copies/ebook versions of the texts via digital download. Reading with your child is known to be an excellent way to build pre-literacy and beginning literacy skills (e.g. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020). Therefore, the fact that Rhyme to Read promotes actively reading with your child, and offers several formats sets it apart from a lot of the competition.
Rhyming is a frequently used and effective strategy to promote phonological awareness and support reading development (e.g. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020; Anthony & Lonigan (2004); Roberts & Neal, (2004); National Reading Panel (2000), Goswami, 1990; also, author’s personal experiences teaching and utilizing said instruction strategy under guidance of reading specialists and mentors at both Fitchburg State University and on site at the elementary school I taught at, though anecdotes should always be taken with loads of skepticism!), and this program does a great job of utilizing the strategy for the purpose of reading instruction. This reliance one effective literacy instruction strategy is a feature of Rhyme to Read that sets it apart from some other content marketed to parents as educational. No surprise, the program was designed by a team with expertise in reading instruction. By color coding written language and matching letter combinations with correlating sounds, this program also features an explicit phonics instruction strategy.
While it utilizes strategies often applied in classrooms, the program is easy for parents without a degree in education to use. It is also simple and coherently structured. Rhyme to Read builds throughout each short text on concepts from the previous unit. This progressive increase in difficulty while explicitly drawing from prior units is something known as scaffolding. That is, the program provides building blocks to allow a child to develop skills and move from a place of dependence to full independence with minimal frustration and minimal boredom (i.e., the content is neither too difficult, nor too easy; that is, to use the Goldilocks metaphor, it is ‘just right’ in terms of the challenge the content offers). Rhyme to Read starts with simple rhyming concepts and sight words, and uses color coding to draw readers’ attention to specific sound families. Sight words are called out page by page, and there is no unnecessary text. That is, the authors have carefully crafted each story so that it contains nothing but the conceptual building blocks being introduced. Concepts are also clearly tracked and carried over from unit to unit.
Finally, Rhyme to Read offers diverse representation in their texts. In an era where efforts are increasingly being made to ensure all children can see themselves in media, this program does a nice job of incorporating images of characters with a range of abilities and appearances.
It is important to note that rhyming instruction alone is not sufficient to promote future reading ability (e.g. Yeh, 2008; Martin, et al., 2002; Muter, 1998), and segmentation (something not focused on explicitly in this program) is a vital and potentially the most important skill associated with later reading ability (e.g. Muter, 1998). Furthermore, Rhyme to Read has not been scientifically validated; that is, there have been no experimental studies comparing this program's efficacy to that of other proven programs. As a scientist, this is something I ideally like to see from curriculum materials. All that said, I still would recommend Rhyme to Read to families looking to homeschool, supplement school curriculum at home, or get an early start on more formal reading instruction with their children before they start learning in school. I believe the program would best be used in combination with explicit segmentation/decoding instruction, and other direct reading instruction strategies.
Overall, I loved this program, and believe you will, too!
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References and Resources
Tips For Helping Your Child Develop Preliteracy Skills:
American Academy of Pediatrics (2020). Resources for Families: Top Tips for Families for Early Reading and Literacy. https://www.aap.org/en-us/literacy/Pages/For-Families.aspx
Anthony, J. L., & Lonigan, C. J. (2004). The Nature of Phonological Awareness: Converging Evidence From Four Studies of Preschool and Early Grade School Children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(1), 43–55. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0622.214.171.124
Goswami, U. (1990), A Special Link between Rhyming Skill and the Use of Orthographic Analogies by Beginning Readers. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31: 301-311. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1990.tb01568.x
National Reading Panel. (2000) Report of the National Reading Panel--Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf
Martin, M.E. and Byrne, B. (2002), Teaching children to recognise rhyme does not directly promote phonemic awareness. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72: 561-572. doi:10.1348/00070990260377523
Muter, V., Hulme, C., Snowling, M., Taylor, S., (1998). Segmentation, Not Rhyming, Predicts Early Progress in Learning to Read. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 71(1): 3-27. https://doi.org/10.1006/jecp.1998.2453
Roberts, T., Neal, H. (2004). Relationships among preschool English language learner’s oral proficiency in English, instructional experience and literacy development.
Contemporary Educational Psychology. 29 (3): 283-311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2003.08.001
Yeh, S.S. and Connell, D.B. (2008), Effects of rhyming, vocabulary and phonemic awareness instruction on phoneme awareness. Journal of Research in Reading, 31: 243-256. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2007.00353.x
May 2020 (Prior to 5/31)
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