Arbor Day and Tree Activities

Friday, April 28, is National Arbor Day in the US. It’s a perfect time to read A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry, and spend some time studying trees!

A Tree is Nice is a lovely book that won the Caldecott Medal in 1957, with illustrations alternate between color and black-and-white. The text describes the many ways that trees are a part of our lives. It even ends with planting a tree, which would be perfect if you plan to plant a tree with your class or at home!

You can easily use this book as a way to explore nature and scientific concepts of plant life, conservation and environmentalism.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Take a walk with your child. Make observations about the trees that are becoming more green and full in the spring season. Collect leaves from the ground.
  • At home, place a blank white paper over the leaves you collected on your walk and gently rub a crayon over the paper. You will create a raised image of the leaf. Talk about the difference in the shapes of the leaves and display your final artwork!

For Teachers:

  • Teach your students the parts of a tree. Use a free handout like this one if desired.
  • Explain the differences between coniferous and deciduous trees with this free slide show from Teachers Pay Teachers.
  • Discuss how trees are used to make products that we use. Here is a wonderful, free lesson plan from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Finding a Book for Disinterested Early Readers

Do you have a child or a student who struggles to find something interesting to read? Try non-fiction!

It may sound counter-intuitive to adults out there who love fiction, but in my experience as a teacher, I noticed that many young readers love non-fiction. Find a topic that interests your child/student, and check the library for some great reading material for you to read aloud or for your child to practice reading independently. This can be an especially powerful motivating tool for boys who don’t always like what their female teachers or moms like to read. 🙂

Looking for a book to start off with? Try Michelle Wie by Mary Dunn. This book is a biography of a Korean-American female golfer, which may interest students who like sports. Michelle Wie is a dedicated athlete who has made records for her achievements in golf at astonishingly young ages.

This book works great as a read-aloud and can be showcased as an example of non-fiction and a biography. It includes a table of contents, page numbers, headings, a timeline, glossary and index. Early readers can use this book to practice, too.

Another benefit of the book is that it is a part of series on athlete biographies for children, so you can keep going in the series if your child/student likes this one!

Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade

Reading Fun that Makes Children Laugh!

Kids love to giggle, and they love to be silly! So why not harness that and get in some reading time, too?

Riddle Rhymes by D.J. Panec is a fun book that encourages interactive reading with parent and child. The parent reads the riddle, which shows a photograph clue, and the child answers with a word that rhymes. When you turn the page together, you can find out if your child solved the riddle correctly!

My kids were instantly hooked on this book and after reading it several times together, they were practicing it on their own. Very sweet!

This can also be used in a classroom setting for a cooperative read-aloud or practice for an emergent reader. Or if you have a reluctant reader in the home or the classroom, this might be a book to catch his/her interest!

Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten (read aloud), 1st-2nd grade (independently read)

Quilting & Math, Literature and Social Studies

I can barely sew a button back on when it falls off my husband’s shirt, but many of the women in my family are experts with a needle and thread. My grandmother quilts and has gifted us beautiful quilts we will always treasure. We also have an heirloom quilt that was pieced together by the quilting bee at my aunt’s parish when a trunk of hand-stitched quilting blocks was discovered in a relative’s attic. These blocks were determined to be sewn by my great-grandmother before the Great Depression.

eliyahquilt
The heirloom quilt that was pieced together decades after my great-grandmother first stitched the blocks.

The precious quilts made by my family made this particular book jump out at me when I saw it displayed at our public library a few weeks ago!

The Quilting Bee by Gail Gibbons tells the history and modern-day process of quilting in a fun, engaging way. The illustrations are bright and include many styles and types of quilting. Best of all, this book can easily fit into many content areas for the elementary classroom:

  1.  A literature unit on pioneers for books such as Sarah, Plain and Tall, Little House on the Prairie or Addie Across the Prairie.
  2. A social studies lesson on the Oregon Trail, as many of the quilting patterns and blocks were created and used by settlers who traveled west in the United States during the 19th century.
  3. A math lesson relating to topics of symmetry, geometry and shape recognition or tessellations.

And The Quilting Bee can also be incorporated in early childhood or preschool classes to touch on the topics of history, colors or teamwork.

Best Ages: pre-k – 3rd grade

For Parents:

  • If you have any family quilts, take them out and show them to your children. Or talk about their favorite blankets and how comforting it can be to have a special covering for going to sleep.
  • Visit a county fair or stop by a local craft/sewing store with your child. Show them the materials people use to sew today, as seen in the book.

For Teachers:

  • For older students, use this free lesson to have students will measure and fit together quilt pieces to make their own creations. Or check out this teacher’s idea for creating tissue paper quilt blocks.
  • For younger students, hand out this free printable of addition/subtraction practice that forms a quilting block. Students then color in the quilt block according to the key.

 

Dog Safety for Kids

My daughters, like many children, absolutely LOVE dogs. Although we don’t own a dog, we have many friends and family members who do, and our girls always look forward to playing with and petting the dogs when we visit those homes. But my kids’ natural curiosity and enthusiasm about dogs doesn’t translate to an innate understanding of how to respect and interact with dogs safely. (Ever seen a kid yank on a dog’s tail, try to ride a dog, get in a dog’s face when they are sleeping or eating? Yep, my kids have tried to do all that and more!)

eliyah_molly
My oldest daughter and I pose for a photo with my cousin’s lovable Saint Bernard, Molly (March 2014).

So how do we encourage our kids to enjoy these wonderful pets while staying safe?

Teaching some basic precautions can go a long way. And if you’re not sure where to start, or you think your children or students could use a refresher, I highly recommend the book May I Pet Your Dog? by Stephanie Calmenson. This book teaches dog safety in a way that is easy for children to understand without stirring up an unhealthy fear of dogs.

What makes the book extra fun is that it’s told from the perspective of a dog talking to a little boy. My daughters really enjoyed reading this book and I appreciated the clear presentation of dog safety guidelines. Some of those guidelines include:

  • Do not interact with an unknown dog if his/her owner is not there.
  • Always ask to pet someone’s dog before touching them or getting too close.
  • Be considerate of dogs who are sleeping, eating, caring for puppies or chewing on a bone, toy or stick.
  • Be gentle and be kind – remember that dogs have feelings, too!

(Taken from pages 30-31 in May I Pet Your Dog?)

Do you have suggestions for helping kids learn how to interact safely with dogs? Please leave a comment!

 

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

 

Learning About India: Family and Clothing

My preschooler fell in love with the book My Dadima Wears a Sari by Kashmira Sheth after checking it out from the library. The story tells two granddaughters who wonder why their grandmother – or Dadima (pronounced DAH-dee-mah) – only wears saris even though her children and grandchildren wear western clothing now that they live in a western country.

Dadima explains the many things she can do with a sari, the traditional clothing for women of India, and then shows her granddaughters her most precious saris. The girls try some on and feel a connection to their grandma and their family’s culture.

The illustrations are beautiful and the relationship between Dadima and the two children is heartwarming. My Dadima Wears a Sari is a delightful read-aloud and provides insight to another culture.

Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Ask your child what types of clothing he/she likes to wear every day and if there is a particular outfit he/she prefers for a special occasion.
  • Print and color this free page of a woman wearing a sari. (This educational site has lots of other free coloring pages of traditional clothing from countries around the world.)
  • Watch the beginning of this dance at an Indian wedding, featuring children wearing saris and dancing to Indian music. Discuss the video with your child, including the style of clothing, music and dance. How is this similar or different to how your culture celebrates a wedding?

For Teachers:

  • Discuss the importance of clothing in our everyday life. Review appropriate clothing based on weather and setting (school, home, church, party, etc.).
  • Show the first 1-2 minutes of this dance at an Indian wedding, featuring children wearing saris and dancing to Indian music. Discuss the video as a class, touching on the style of clothing, music and dance. How is this similar or different to how your students’ culture celebrates a wedding?
  • Use this free Hot and Cold Weather Clothing Sort with your students. Compare that clothing to the clothes you saw the characters wear in the book.
  • Find India on a map and review some basic information about India from National Geographic kids.

Study Your Heart

Hear Your Heart by Paul Showers teaches children about the importance and function of the heart in our bodies. The illustrations include easy-to-read diagrams to show how blood flows in and out of four chambers of the heart, what veins and arteries look like in our bodies and more. The author also explains that heartbeats vary by age and activity, and that your heart is actively pumping blood all the time, even while sleeping!

My daughters really enjoyed reading this book and completing the suggested activities. We pumped our fists as a tangible connection to the work our heart, as a muscle, does every minute of every day. We listened to each other’s heartbeats using an empty toilet paper roll. Finally, we tried various physical activities and monitored how they increased or decreased our heart rate.

What a great learning resource!

Hear Your Heart is a helpful addition to a unit on science, health or non-fiction books. Enjoy! 🙂

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Use an empty toilet paper roll to listen to your child’s heart beat and allow them to listen to yours.
  • Try various exercises that are listed at the end of the book and then listen to your heartbeats again. Did your child notice his/her heart beat faster after physical activity?
  • Print off and color in this free human heart coloring page from Crayola.

For Teachers:

  • Check out this great idea for a visual demonstration of how the human hearts takes in blood and pumps it out. You will need a bucket of water and a tennis ball with a hole in it to show your class how our hearts work.
  • Play a clip of the Magic School Bus episode “Inside the Human Heart.” (This may be available through your school district or even available at your public library – it is at ours!) Otherwise show this online educational video clip (approximately 6 minutes) about the human heart with an animated red blood cell that acts as a host.
  • Brainstorm your classroom’s favorite sports/physical activities. Remind them that being active keeps their hearts healthy! Then divide students into pairs to play a matching game with sports and equipment (pre-k and kindergarten) or this Olympic Winter Sports matching game (1st-2nd grade).

 

 

Practicing Gratitude

It’s a fact that practicing gratitude is good for our overall health and developing a more positive outlook on life. My Christian faith has greatly influenced my views on practicing gratitude, and although I don’t all have it down perfectly, it is something that I try to constantly grow in and model to my children. Here are some of my favorite passages from the Bible that reveal the significance of having a grateful heart and mindset:

  • Now our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:13
  • I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your deeds. Psalm 9:1
  • Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” John 11:41
  • And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
  • Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

As our family practices gratitude, we found an exceptional book that can be used in all families and classrooms, regardless of faith background. It is called Giving Thanks! More Than 100 Ways to Say Thank You by Ellen Surrey. The book gives prompts to help you and your child/student think of various areas of life in which they can express gratitude.

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing something that you are thankful for today!

For more reading and activities, check out my post Helping Children Cultivate Thankful Hearts.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • For one week, take a prompt from the book and go around the table at mealtime to allow each family member to share their response.
  • Select some of your favorite prompts from the book and with your child, write responses on slips of brightly colored paper. Staple or tape the strips of paper to make a paper link chain. Hang in your child’s bedroom as a visual reminder of all that you are thankful for!
  • If you are a Christian family, take one evening this week to write down a list of what you are thankful for. (This could be incorporated in a devotional or prayer time.) Then use that list to pray together as a family. Hang the list in a prominent place to reflect on throughout the rest of the week.

For Teachers:

  • Use as a journal prompt each morning for a week – or incorporate into morning work or circle time.
  • Have students work together in small groups to make posters of thanksgiving.
  • Write a note to someone you are thankful for – a family member, neighbor, friend or someone in the school. Use this as an opportunity to teach the skill of writing a letter. If desired, allow students to address and mail letters!

 

On the Same Day in March…

March is here and I have the perfect book to recommend at the beginning of the new month: On the Same Day in March: A Tour of the World’s Weather by Marilyn Singer. This book is a fabulous way to help children understand that on any given day, people around the world experience different weather depending on their location. It also features a circular plot, in which the book starts and ends in the same way (or in this case, in the same geographical location).

My daughters both liked reading On the Same Day in March. While at the public library, we even found its companion book by Marilyn Singer titled Nine O’Clock Lullaby. Despite the word “lullaby” in the title, it is not a babyish book. It has a similar premiss to On the Same Day in March, but focuses on how time changes depending on a person’s location in the world. Our family read both books multiple times and found them very helpful for introducing basic concepts of geography, weather and time.

Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Look at the illustrated map before the story begins. Point out where you live on the map.
  • After reading, ask your child which country he/she would like to visit, and why. Also ask which type of weather your child prefers.
  • Make a simple and fun weather chart craft using a paper plate. Then use it each day this week to describe the weather.

For Teachers:

  • Write the name of 5 locations featured in the story on small slips of paper. Place in a basket. After reading the book, ask for student volunteers to choose a slip of paper. As a class, help that student locate the place on a world map or globe.
  • Set up learning stations with activities targeted for a selection of countries featured in the book. Activities can include books, travel guides, popular items imported/exported from the country, coloring pages, music or video clips. Or simplify and create learning centers for one country out of the book that interests you or corresponds to your curriculum. (For example, highlight Argentina with 4 centers: this free handout for  Tradition Day, a colorful buildings art collage center with color print-outs of Argentine streets,  a screening of this 2-minute film and a soccer center with this fun coloring page and some soccer-themed items.)
  • Track the weather for the month of March in your classroom. Integrate into your morning circle, daily work or science class. Check out this free daily weather chart or this free monthly handout.

Reader’s Theater for Early Readers

Reader’s Theater can be such a fun literacy activity for a traditional classroom or homeschooling co-op group!

In our weekly visit to the library, my children and I came across a picture book that would make for a wonderful reader’s theater activity: Where Are You Going? To See My Friend by friends and illustrators Eric Carle and Kazuo Iwamura. This is a bilingual book in English and Japanese that tells the story of a dog who invites animal friends one by one to join him in meeting his friend. It is written in a basic script for early readers to be able to read independently and has a solid pattern and rhythm that will help students to stay on track as they perform.

What makes it especially unique is that the first half of the book is in English, while the second half of the book is in Japanese (which is read from the last page to the middle), with the same text but different illustrations. Such a unique twist!

Where Are You Going? To See My Friend is a fun read aloud when you make a distinct voice for each new animal character who appears in the story. But for slightly older students, it would be very exciting to follow it up with a reader’s theater!

If you’ve never done a reader’s theater before, try it out: After reading the book aloud to your class, simply assign each child one animal and rehearse the lines in groups of 6. (You may need to facilitate the rehearsals more closely depending on the age and reading ability.) Then allow each group to present to the rest of the class!

Note: You may want to check out and utilize these Guidelines for Performing Reader’s Theater. Enjoy! 🙂

Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten (read aloud), 1st – 2nd (reader’s theater)