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Monday, May 22, 2017

Using Highlighters to Find Text Evidence

When Common Core came along, it became much more important to answer text dependent questions in first grade.  I immediately started trying out the best, most developmentally appropriate ways to do this with first graders.  Many ideas were blah and not so great.  But a few stuck.  Maybe it's because I like color coding, or maybe it's because first graders like using anything that's not a No. 2 pencil...But either way it was highlighters for the win with text dependent questions!

Here's a look at how I use reading passages in guided reading to help first graders answer text dependent questions.

Why Text Dependent Passages in First Grade?

As a general rule, I start using reading passages once a week in guided reading groups around January.  I use them with any groups level C (dra 4) or above.  And I typically start passages around October/November for groups who are reading at a level I (dra 16) or higher.

Part of my reasoning for this January routine change is because of state testing that comes in April.  First grade is the first year for that in our state and I want my kiddos to be familiar with the format.  The other reason (and especially the reason I start them earlier with my higher groups) is to show diversity in texts.  We can read fiction and non-fiction, but we can also read passages (like magazine or newspaper articles in the real world) or recipes, or poems.  It's important to me that my first graders don't "box in" what reading looks like.

What Does A Passage Routine Look Like For Guided Reading?

When I first introduce passages in guided reading, I model it.  I show them what it looks like for me to silently read the passage.  This is familiar to them because we do close readings throughout the year as a whole group (read details about close reading in first grade here.)  During a close read, students must circle sight words they see during the first read.  During a passage reading in guided reading groups, I tell my first graders that they can read and circle sight words or just read for comprehension.

After modeling this once, they are usually ready to go!  The next time they come to guided reading for passages, they have their passages set out at the table and know to sit down and immediately start reading.  If they finish reading early, they read over the questions and answers quietly while they are waiting.  No one answers any questions yet...I don't even let them have pencils or highlighters yet! ;)  They can also go back and reread the passage.  But they are to quietly read the entire time.  Depending on the passage length and level of my kids, I may give up to 5 minutes for this.

Once we are finished reading, we go over the questions together.  Most of them should have had time to read over the questions, but now we are ready to answer.  We read the questions together.  I will tell them after we read the question if "the proof is in the passage" on this one or not.  If it is a text dependent question, we highlight the question number in green.  Yes, I always go in stoplight order...green - yellow - red.  Call me crazy, call me OCD, that's just how I roll! :)  Then I ask them to put their finger on the part of the passage that proves the answer.  Once we agree on the answer and the proof, we highlight the proof in green--the same color we highlighted the question in and fill in the bubble with our pencil.

So, ideally, when we are finished, we can look back and see all of the "proof in the passage" and which question that evidence answered, just by our color coding.

Yes, you can do this with crayons, but highlighters are just like magic.  I'm talking immediate engagement.  You would think those things inked pure gold!

As my groups get confident with this, I may start to gradually release the responsibility to them by having them answer the first question and highlight the proof on their own.  And then 2 questions.  And then 3... But honestly, I don't really even consider making this completely independent until they are at least on a level I/J (dra 16/18) and have had lots of practice with text dependent questions.  Let's face it...this is hard stuff we are asking 6 and 7 year old babies to do.  And while they can rise to the challenge, I believe that letting go of our support too soon can hurt many kiddos.  (Side note: the week before state tests, I do make all of my groups try this on their own and then we go over it... just because of state testing realities. #boo)

How Do You Differentiate Text Dependent Passages?

In my Rock That Read passages resource, you will notice that I have 3 levels for every passage.  That is to give access to a range of kids in our first grade classrooms who need practice with text dependent questions.  Before I made my own, I was always frustrated with finding passages on multiple levels for my firsties.  And as a BONUS, these passages each have 3 levels and the same questions (for the most part) ...which means I can use these whole group as a close read and go over the comprehension questions together.  The content is the same...the reading level is differentiated!  It also means, I could pull a multi-level guided reading group for my kids that need extra practice on comprehension and we could focus on comprehension skills without having to worry about finding a text that everyone can read!

Want to try a sample for FREE first?  Go download the freebie here!

All of the passages from this blog post came from my Patriotic Rock That Read Passages Resource.  You can also get the entire year 20% off in my Rock That Read Bundle!




Sunday, May 14, 2017

Analyzing Math Problem Solving Strategies




I blogged awhile back about using anecdotal records in math problem solving.  And I've had a few questions about what these strategies look like--especially what differences we see in relational strategies.

So, let's chat math problem solving strategies: What they look like, what they tell us about kid thinking, and what we can do to help kids in each strategy. #longpostalert

Direct Modeling

A kiddo who is a direct modeler is one who literally models the story problem directly.  They do everything the story problem tells them to do, in the order it tells them to do it.  People outside of the CGI circle might call this "drawing a picture."  For this post, let's use this basic addition story problem:

Whitney picked 42 carrots and 29 green beans from her garden.  How many vegetables did she pick altogether?

What does it look like?  Our direct modeler will draw out all 42 carrots (that look like carrots or just look like circles or dots...doesn't matter).  Then, he will draw out all 19 green beans.  And then count them all up starting at 1 and counting by ones all the way to 71.  These are my babies that are take 30 minutes just to finish one story problem!

What does this tell us about kid thinking?  Direct modelers are telling us that they cannot think beyond the confines of the story problem.  They are not able to see groups of tens.  They are not able to compose numbers into tens and ones (at least without being prompted to do so).  They are not able to conserve a number and count on.  Sometimes, they are able to do these things, but are stuck direct modeling because they think it's easier, what they are comfortable with, or the numbers are too high for them to display those skills.  For example, a kid who counts on in a 13 + 14 problem, may not in this one because the numbers are much higher.

What can we do to help a direct modeler?  A direct modeler who is still drawing pictures just because it's easier just needs a simple push--"Show me another way you can solve this problem besides drawing a picture of every single veggie."  I always find out who my direct modelers by choice kiddos are during Math Talks.  During math talks, these kids see groups of tens, they count by tens, they count on...but they are struggling with or unwilling to make the transition to showing these strategies on paper independently.  Another routine I have in place is making my kids label their counting.  That means if they direct modeled and counted from 1 to 71, they MUST write all numbers from 1 to 71.  While that may seem excessive...it works.  First, it helps with number writing.  But it also gets tiring writing 71 numbers.  When I hear complaints, I simply reply, "Find a faster way then!"

Direct modelers who are stuck in this strategy--and not by choice--need lots of experiences with counting, skip counting, finding groups of tens in larger numbers!  I do this through Math Talks (read about that here) where we can model other strategies whole group, Counting Collections (read about that here) where they can work with partners to count large numbers using groups of tens, and through small group interventions.  During our counting collection or fact fluency partner work days, I pull small groups where we do some guided math interventions...I often pull my direct modelers and work on counting on and finding groups of tens.

Another way I help direct modelers is during share time.  If I share Whitney's direct model strategy with a direct model by tens strategy after it, I can ask, "So did Whitney have groups of tens in her strategy too?  Can anyone come up and find a group of ten in Whitney's thinking?"  And then we highlight groups of tens.  After one person has found one easily, I then call on my direct modelers to force them to find tens.  This helps push them past direct modeling!

Direct Modeling By Tens

A kid who direct models by tens is able to solve with base 10 blocks (or unifix cubes if you've thrown away your base 10 blocks like I did!)  They either use the tools or draw a picture of tens and ones.

What does it look like? A direct modeler by tens will use tools to build 42 and 29 with tens and ones.  Then, she will count by tens and ones to get the answer.  The important difference between this and a relational thinker is a direct modeler by tens HAS to draw the picture or use the tools first and a relational thinker doesn't need the picture.

What does this tell us about kid thinking?  A direct modeler is telling us that she is dependent on tools and pictures.  She can count by 10s and one by ones.  She can decompose a 2-digit number into tens and ones, but needs picture/tool support--it cannot all be done in her head.

What can we do to help a direct modeler by tens? It's important not to rush kids out of this strategy.  The logical next step is relational thinking with base 10 understanding.  That's a super abstract strategy that takes time with concrete tools and pictures to help solidify.  My focus for kids in this strategy is two fold: notation and flexibility.  I work on getting these babies to flexibly move between direct modeling by 10's to counting as needed.  The more flexible their thinking, the more they will be thinking about other strategies and begin to stretch their thinking.  I work on notation because that is the bridge to relational thinking in my opinion.  I teach these kiddos arrow notation and going beyond just writing 42+29=71.  Eventually, when they are ready, the pictures will drop and they will realize that the notation is enough and will be able to follow the abstract steps in the notation.  So, just don't rush this one!

Counting

A kid using a counting strategy is able to count on from any number...not just starting at one.  They can start at the smaller or larger number and still be considered a counter, even though starting at the largest number is more efficient.

What does it look like?  A counter will start at 42 and count on 29 more.  She may also start at 29 and count 42 more.  When I model this strategy, I circle the number to show that I got that number in my head.  And yes, I make them write out all of the numbers just as they counted.

What does this tell us about kid thinking?  Counters are telling us that they can conserve numbers (hold a number in their head and count on).  If they count on efficiently, they are telling us that they can find a larger 2 digit number.  They cannot skip count on from any number.  They may or may not be able to see groups of tens.  Some kids can see groups of tens, but prefer to count anyway because they think it's faster. (And sometimes it is, like in 42+5.)

What can we do to help a counter?  Counters only need our help if they are stuck and unable to use base 10 to solve problems.  If they are not able to solve a problem using a base ten strategy, then I will sometimes pull them with my direct modelers in small groups to talk about finding groups of tens.  Counting Collections will also help build "ten-ness" in these kiddos.  One important thing to remember is that counting is a GREAT foundation for incrementing (a relational thinking strategy), so I am always careful not to push base ten on these kiddos.  If they understand base 10, can find groups of tens, they will be just fine!

Relational Thinking

Relational thinkers do not rely on pictures or tools.  They are able to solve problems mentally or with equations or notation only.  They need to be able to explain or show more than just the equation for the story problem--more on that in a bit!  There are no pictures in their thinking....All abstract, no concrete.  There are 3 different kinds of relational thinkers and each of them look a little differently, but the abstractness of these strategies can make it difficult to differentiate.  Let's take a closer look at each.


Base 10:  These sweeties were most likely direct modelers by 10's before and they just began dropping the picture.  However, we can pick them out easily because we can still see tens and ones in their notation.  How they notate their thinking will depend on what you model in your classroom, but here are several options that I've seen first graders notate with and without help.

Compensators: These kiddos rarely show up in my first grade classroom.  Maybe it's because I struggle to think in a compensating way, but every now and then I will hear this strategy come up verbally in a math talk.  These kids want to work with friendly numbers, so they will compensate to make the equation easier.  Instead of doing 42+29, they will change the equation to 41+30 to make the equation friendlier.  They must have a fantastic understanding of equality to use this strategy!

Incrementers:  These babies were most likely counters before.  I often see counters transition into incrementing once they understand base 10 and counting on by 10's and ones from any number.  Unlike base 10 kids who decompose both numbers, incrementers hold the first number and only decompose the second number.  They count on by 10s and ones (or really any increment...this is just the one I push to help with base 10 understanding) to find the answer.  This looks different than the other strategies because one of the numbers does not change or get decomposed.  And the increments are the same (all 10s and then ones, not 5 more then 3 more, then 10 more, then 2 more...)

What can we do to help relational thinkers?  There may be three different kinds of relational thinkers but I help each of them similarly...My focus for these first graders is focusing on flexibility.  Many relational thinkers already move between strategies easily, but if they don't I focus on this by asking them to show me more than one way or partnering them up with other students with different strategies--like partnering a base 10 kid with an incrementer to share and try out each other's strategies.  I also focus on sharpening their notation skills...which takes longer than first grade to perfect! *wink wink* :)

Which of these strategies do you see in your classroom and how do you help kids keep their strategies moving?



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Sound Unit for 1st Grade

Finding a way to sift through and make sense of the Next Gen Science Standards can be a challenge to say the least! :)  But there is some good content in there with lots of opportunity for hands on learning and integration into the literacy block--which is my favorite way to teach science and social studies!

Here's a look at my newest Next Gen Science Unit on Sound as well as links to all of the resources I use for this unit!
{This post contains affiliate links}

Week 1: What Is Sound?

This unit starts off with lots of exploration of sounds around us.  We chart sounds we hear...
...and then go on a sound walk to record sounds around us.

Then, we explore how to describe sounds (through pitch and volume) with sound exploration stations.  Find most of the instruments I used HERE.  Not included in this pack are drums, a xylophone, or a guitar (you will need two additional instruments besides the big pack.  You can also use what you already have or borrow from your music teacher!

Week 2: How Do We Hear Sound?

During this second week, we research how our ear works to help us hear and sound travel.  Then, we test it out with our telephone cups experiment which you can see in detail here.

We also learn all of the academic vocabulary for sound this week.  We play Find Your Partner with our vocab cards and definitions.  And then we practice independently or during stations with our sound vocab crossword puzzles and word finds.

Week 3: How Do We Use Sound?

The third week our focus is using sound to communicate.  We experiment with making sounds with our vocal cords using the Voice Memo app for iPad...

Then, we brainstorm sounds we make with a carousel activity and anchor chart.

This week we also study what life would be like without sound by researching Helen Keller and learning sign language! 

Week 4: STEM Connection, DIY Musical Instruments

The last week is all about using our new knowledge about sound for our STEM challenge!  We use our invent me anchor chart to learn the steps of building something new.

Then, we work on a step or two each day.  I have full color slides for each step with directions, materials and guiding questions or I can statements for each.  We put up the slide for the day and talk about our goals and then get to building!

The materials we used are already included on the "think" and "plan" slides, but I have also included templates for these without the materials so you can add your own!  Here are the materials we used to build our instruments:
*toilet paper rolls

Since I am temporarily out of the classroom right now, I built instruments with my 4 year old at home and he absolutely LOVED this!  He made 3 different ones...all his ideas!  All I did was set out all of his material choices and have him brainstorm his ideas...
{yes, we did this in our pajamas...everything is better that way, right?? :)}

He made a drum first which was super easy to make.  After this instrument and each one, I asked him to show me how his instrument makes sounds.

Then, he made a guitar...probably because Daddy plays the guitar at church and this boy loves his daddy!  When I asked him to show me how it makes sound, he told me, "Well, it just kinda makes this clicking sound and that's all because I can't make it do notes like Daddy's!"  Bless his sweet heart! :)

And this is his shaker!



Trade Book Resources & Literacy Connections

Sound (Ways Into Science)
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?
Sounds All Around
A Picture Book of Helen Keller

Find the sound unit here!


Monday, May 1, 2017

Teacher Appreciation Gift and FREEBIE

Looking for an adorable teacher appreciation gift that's cheap too?  I made these for our Sunday School teachers at church and they were a huge hit!  I posted this image on Instagram and had lots of people asking how I made it and about the tags.

So, I decided to put together a quick how to blog post on it with a link to the gift tags as a FREEBIE in my store!
{affiliate links are included in this post}

Materials

I got most of my materials from Wal-Mart, but have included links to where you can find them online also.  The succulent plants I used can be difficult to find in our area.  I bought them at our WM Supercenter for $2.50, but I also looked at two other Wal-Marts and couldn't find them before I finally found them at the third store! :)


Steps

1.  Cut 6 inch squares of craft paper...one for each plant.

2.  Put the plant in the middle of the craft paper square.  Pull up one corner at a time and fold the extra around the pot as you go.  



Fold them all in the same direction.  The craft paper should stick above the plant an inch or two.  

TIP: It's not necessary, but is helpful if you use hot glue or double-sided tape to tack each fold down as you go.  It can be a handful to hold all of the folds down during the next step.

3.  Find the "prettiest" side to use as the front.  When I fold mine, there is a part where to folds point toward each other to make a "V" shape.  I like to use this as the front of my plant pot because I just like the way it looks! **NOTE:  I used double stick tape and it sticks but comes loose a little.  Don't worry about this, it will all be fine when you tie it up.  We just need it to stick a little to make it easier to deal with!**

4.  Tie up the plant with twine string, putting the bow in the front.  I really wanted to use striped twine string.  I usually have black and white striped string on hand and planned to use that...
...but I was out (keeping it real!) and Wal-Mart was out of it too!! #sadface  Plus, I didn't figure all of that out until it was too late to order it online.  #doublesadface  So, I settled for just plain twine string and it still turned out great.



5.  Print the labels and cut them out with a 2" circle cutter.  I had to settle for cutting these by hand because my circle cutter was too dull to cut the paper.  I had to trash it and order a new one! :(  If you look super close, you will see the imperfections...these won't be there if you use the circle cutters...and it will save you a TON of time! ;)  Back the white labels on construction paper and cut out with the 2.5" circle cutter.

6.  Tape the labels to the toothpick on the back with washi tape just to make the backside look a little cuter! :)  Then, stick the toothpicks all the way in the plant

Since I had most of the materials around my house, my all in cost was $2.50 per plant!  Super cheap and super cute! #winning

You can find the FREEBIE labels here and shop more gift tags in my store HERE!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

10 Non-Academic Ways To Prepare Your Child For Kindergarten




It's a lot of pressure sending your own kid to kindergarten.  Pressure that comes from a public school system that makes kindergarten harder every year.  As a first grade teacher for 10 years, I watched first grade look more like second grade by my 10th year in the classroom.   And 25 years before that first grade was essentially kindergarten and kindergarten didn't exist in many schools.

Yet today, there is pressure on moms to put our children in the best preschools where academic learning is a priority.  Although my son is 16 short months from starting kindergarten, we made the decision to keep him out of preschool.  Our decision wasn't made lightly, but based on a number of decisions that I'll save for another time....except to say this: I started homeschooling Cooper when he was 3 to help him, "get ready for kindergarten."  And while he loved every minute of it and soaked up the learning, I soon stopped giving him structured "school time" because I felt like I was taking away his childhood because of my academic expectations for him as a teacher mom.  I still find ways to work academics into our daily conversations, but it's no longer my focus.

As a primary teacher, there are so many skills I see lacking in kids even in first grade...even if they were the highest performing students academically.  Maybe we've raised "smarter" 5 year olds over the last decade, but holistically speaking we are failing our preschool children.

Here's how I'm preparing my preschooler for kindergarten (and life!) while still letting him be little!

1. Free Playtime

The single most important thing we can do for our preschoolers to get them ready for kindergarten is to let them play.  Play and learning are not enemies.  They are friends.  They can and should be done together.  Especially for preschoolers.  When a child "free plays" he is inventing, creating, engineering, problem solving, learning to cooperate with peers or learning to work independently.  Research is clear on play: it is a necessary part of early childhood learning.  Children who engage in play have better social skills, language skills, empathy, and self-control.  They are less aggressive and have higher order thinking skills.

Whoah. Did you hear all of those skills in there?  No, not many of them will show up on those performance tests in 3rd grade that many are so worried about preparing our preschoolers for, but those are some serious life skills.  And some serious skills that will indirectly affect those test scores in a significant way.

So, play with your preschooler.  Play with her.  Let him play alone.  Schedule play dates with friends. And don't feel guilty about it.  Not one little bit. #steppingoffsoapbox

2. Doing the Dishes

This may seem silly, but yes it's important.  You would be shocked at the number of first graders that know nothing about what to do with their cafeteria food at lunch.  I could always pick out the kindergarteners across the cafeteria during the first week of school that were responsible for putting up dishes at home.  Yes, eating in the cafeteria is different than eating at home, but there are enough similarities.  I can not tell you how many forks and spoons get thrown away in school cafeterias on a daily basis!  Preschoolers are old enough to learn what is trash, what is liquid and needs to be poured down the sink, and where silverware needs to go.  And it will do them good to have something they can feel proud they know how to do on their own!

So, do your child's kindergarten teacher a favor and make them take their dishes at home and when you go out to eat!

3. Cleaning Up

In a classroom of 20 kindergartners, every little mess is magnified times 20.  And if your child's kindergarten teacher is like me, messy just isn't going to cut it.  Not only does it drive me crazy, but it's hard to efficiently work and learn in a messy space.

So, resist the urge to clean up after your preschooler.  Before they move on to another task, make them clean up the mess.  If they spill something on the floor, make them get a rag and wipe it up.

My first year teaching I had a first grader that spilled her water bottle on the carpet.  She interrupted my teaching another group of students to tell me she had spilled her water.... "Well, what are you going to do about that?" was my reply then and every time after that.  I always had at least one student who was helpless when a mess was made around them.  So, every time my own preschooler makes a mess, we reply, "What are you going to do about that?"  Not only does it put the responsibility on him for his own messes, but it makes him problem solve.  And both of those are skills he needs!

4. Using a Mouse

A computer mouse.  You know, the thing that is used with real computers, but not laptops?  Or iPads, or iPhones or anything else we have around our house?

If your house is like ours, it's full of plenty of screens, but none of them include a mouse.  Yet when our kiddos go to kindergarten they will be in a computer lab at least once a week and need to know how to use a mouse.  Even 10 years later, I still laugh every time I watch kindergartners tap on computer screens hoping it's a touchscreen.  #itnevergetsold

Learning how to use a mouse isn't difficult, but it is a skill that can be time consuming to teach 20 kindergartners at the same time.  Let your preschooler experiment for a few minutes with a "real" mouse and a laptop mouse (many schools have chromebook carts for kids to use laptops in their classroom as well!)  It won't take much of your time and my own kiddo giggles like crazy when he gets to try out Mommy's mouse!

5. Finding Letters on a Keyboard

This one may not be as big of a deal as the mouse...depending on how your child's school handles kindergarten logins.  The schools I taught in required kindergartners to log in to their computer by typing in their name and a number the school assigned them.  It wasn't difficult, but it was time consuming.  There is no way you will be able to find out your child's login before hand, but you can help out by letting your kid practice typing on a computer.

Another great way to practice this would be to write out your child's name or a word and let her type it into the computer.  She doesn't have to know letter names to do this and it's fantastic hand-eye coordination which is an early writing skill!

6. Following Multi-Step Directions

Multi-step directions are a super important language skill.  A typical preschooler should be able to follow 2 or 3 directions given at the same time.  But it is a skill that takes practice.  If I only ever give my preschooler one direction at a time, then he will not develop the skill to follow multi-step directions.

So, give him the opportunity to develop this skill.  This is something that doesn't take any extra time for you and it's an invaluable skill.  Instead of saying, "Go brush your teeth," before bed time, I tell my preschooler, "Go brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, and put on your pajamas."  This requires him to remember all 3 steps and concentrate to follow through with them.

If your child is not able to follow multi-step directions, then start with two directions.  And when you give the directions, get eye level with her and say them slowly a few times and keep it simple:

"Brush your teeth.  Then, use the bathroom.  (wait a few seconds) Brush your teeth. Then, use the bathroom.  (wait a few seconds)   Teeth.  Bathroom.  What do I want you to do?"

Make her repeat the two steps back to you and then send her off.  Giving her wait time will help her process each step and keeping it simple will help her stay focused and not get distracted by extra words.

7. Using Scissors

If your kindergarten experience is like it is here in Arkansas, there will be lots of opportunities for arts and crafts.  And cutting.  Your preschooler doesn't need to perfect cutting before kindergarten by any means, but it will help him to know how to hold scissors and how to hold the paper and cut at the same time.   My little guy LOVES cutting.  He actually begs to cut "big boy lines" at least once a week.  I don't force it on him at all, but I'm happy to oblige when he asks! :)

This is all we do to practice.  It's simple.  It's easy.  And results in tons of giggles every single time.

I get construction paper and draw 4 lines in a thick marker (I use an expo marker).  I always draw 4 different types of lines: straight, curved, zigzag and a loop or circle.

Then, I let him go to town!  The thick lines make it easy for him to see how well he followed the lines.

And I try to encourage him to cut the line in one piece instead of lots of little pieces (which turns into a messy nightmare in kindergarten! ha!)

8. Holding a Crayon or Pencil

Again, this isn't something to master, but most preschoolers can begin to hold crayons and pencils correctly.  It's not necessary that you make your preschooler write with a pencil or even hold one.  But whatever she is holding (crayon, marker, pencil, pen, paintbrush) should be held with a "pinch grip" as I call it.

Too many littles start kindergarten holding a crayon or pencil with a "fist grip."  It's not good for handwriting and it's a hard habit to break once it's formed.  Do your preschooler a favor and break that habit as soon as you see them holding a crayon with the "fist grip."

9. Speaking in Complete Sentences

What's so important about complete sentences?  A lot!! This is a skill we STILL work on in first grade.  Kids who speak in complete sentences are better writers.  Hands down.  In primary grades, we teach kids to write by telling them, "If I can say it, I can write it."  So, if you speak in fragments, you will write in fragments.  If you speak in complete sentences, you will write in complete sentences.

Here's what it looks like:  Let's say we are learning about writing our opinions and I ask kids to write what their favorite food is and give me a reason why they like that food.

A kid who isn't in the habit of speaking in complete sentences will write:
"Pizza because it's cheesy."

A kid who is in the habit of speaking in complete sentences will write:
"I love pizza because it's cheesy."

It is possible to teach the first kiddo to write in complete sentences, but it sure does take a lot of extra practice for him!  Modeling complete sentences and making your preschooler use complete sentence is a way to help her be a better writer without ever having her pick up a pencil!  I have a silly sentences packet in my store that is perfect for practice this in a silly and engaging way.  Even though I used it as a writing activity with my first graders, I just use it orally with my preschooler when we play it together.

10. Read, Read, Read

This may be the closest thing on this list to academics, but it's so important.  I'm not asking you to teach your child to read.  That is not necessary.  I'm begging you to spend at least 20 minutes a day reading to your child.  Don't play a book on tape for him (although there's nothing wrong with that).  Don't replace story time with a video story.  Instead, open up a real book and put it in between you and your child and read out loud to him.

Talk about the story.  Point out interesting things you see in the pictures.  Ask what her favorite part of the story was.  Tell him what the story reminds you of.  Read fantasies.  Read mysteries.  Read non-fiction books with photographs.  Read stories that teach lessons.  Read stories that make you both laugh.  Whatever you do...just read.  Research tells us that reading aloud increases a child's vocabulary, concepts of print, comprehension and interest in reading.  All of these things are crucial to helping our children be successful readers in school!

So, don't stress out about preparing your child for kindergarten.  He will be okay.  She will make it and will learn at the developmentally appropriate time for her.  Take a deep breath and know that your child is worth more than a future test score.  Invest in your whole child.  Read, play, talk and repeat and you will have a successful kindergarten year!