Making A Mark

When a parent or caregiver provides a child with plain paper and washable markers, something magical happens. Washable markers are the easiest for small hands to use. By “making a mark” on paper, the very young child will “read” their drawing. The squiggle may represent “Mommy”, “ball” or “doggie”.


Children may start “marking” with straight lines and then circular shapes and scribbles. Circles become the main part in their beginning narrative with eyes, mouth, stick arms and legs coming out of the actual head. If you ask the child to “tell me about your picture” they can recite a detailed account of their work. Their random doodles and scribbles become symbolic drawings and letters.


It is important for a parent or teacher to record what the child says about their work (pictograph). Use a pencil and write in small print their dictation. Eventually children will write their own story with invented spelling. Children know more words than they can spell. They may write only one letter for an entire word. Invented spellers eventually discover phonics and more correct spelling in a natural way.


When you encourage children to write at a very young age, they know they are writers and storytellers. This exposure to writing provides the foundation for emergent literacy.


Sassy the Ghost Dog

An exciting experience with literature can occur in the most unexpected places. While vacationing at the beach this week, 5-year-old Sarah implored her parents to go down to the beach at night with a flashlight to tell ghost stories. Sitting there in the dark, the ocean waves crashing and the wind whipping, Sarah shone her little flashlight up under her chin and wove an intriguing tale about a ghost dog named Sassy. At the end, in a hushed voice she said that people had been looking for Sassy ever since. Suddenly she was on her feet searching for clues. By now it was getting really dark and more and more deserted. In an attempt to get Sarah back to the hotel room without an argument her parents suggested she draw a picture of Sassy so people would know what she looked like and maybe even some “lost dog” posters to hand out at the beach the next day. Sarah scooted quickly back to the room and drew a picture of Sassy, carefully labeling it. Then she proceeded to make about a dozen “lost ghost dog” posters. Realizing it might also be helpful if people knew Sassy’s story, Sarah wrote and illustrated the spooky tale. It didn’t end there. The next night uncovered the story of Sassy’s 15 ghost puppies, also requiring the completion of an illustrated book.

Sassy the Ghost Dog

Sassy the Ghost Dog

Sarah writing in the sand the next morning.

Sarah writing in the sand the next morning.

Grounded: Connecting Your Child to the Earth

All young children are fascinated with the outdoors. They exclaim in wonder when they see their first cricket, grasshopper or dragonfly. At every opportunity little boys and girls will stomp in a puddle of water and laugh in delight at the splashing result. Finding tiny wildflowers in an ordinary lawn or field can hold their attention for a long time. Even the occasional frog, turtle or rabbit that ventures across a lawn will catch and hold their attention.

Why is this connection to the earth important for young and also older children? Not only does it create interest in the natural sciences but it also gives children the opportunity to appreciate the wonders of nature.

Give your child a zip-lock bag and go on a nature walk. Let them collect sticks, stones, acorns, seedpods, leaves and anything else they find interesting. Take the found treasures home and let the child glue them on a heavy piece of paper. The resulting collage will make a great science project. To extend the activity write the name of each object on the finished work.

Make a nature walk a weekly or daily adventure for you and your child. Not only are you connecting your child to the earth but you also create lasting memories.

Digging in the dirt.

Digging in the dirt.

Read for the Love of Literature

Parents always find it amazing when their young child demands the same bedtime story over and over. Adults can enhance the enjoyment of the story by discussing the illustrations and soliciting a response. Asking a child questions encourages them to become active participants in the reading process.

Soon the child will repeat select key words and eventually read the story to the parent. Once he/she internalizes all aspects of the story, they are ready to move on to a new piece of literature.

By rereading the same story over and over the adult can integrate the basic theme across the curriculum to include dramatic play, reading, writing, science, math, cooking, and art.

Using the same story as a thread to connect the concepts that are learned makes it cohesive and meaningful to the child.

For example, in a story about an ocean the child will work on projects that are related to the theme. Such projects involve a sustained involvement that can last for several days or weeks. This is the basic concept for “Story Play” and the explanation for why and how it works.

Love of literature starts early in life!

Love of literature starts early in life!

Phonemic Awareness

What is phonemic awareness? Why is it important?
A phoneme is the smallest sound in a spoken word that distinguishes it from other words. For example the first phoneme in the word “sit” is “s”. Change the “s” to an “h” and you change the word’s meaning to “hit”. The third phoneme in the word “sit” is “t”. Change the phoneme “t” to “p” and you change the meaning again. Now you have the word “sip”.

When children understand that letters represent sounds (phonemes) and that phonemes come together to form words there is a marked increase in their reading fluency.

How do you check for phonemic awareness?
Children show phonemic awareness when they can demonstrate the following:
1. Break apart a word into separate sounds. (cat = c-a-t)
2. Recognize words starting with the same letter. (ball, bat, bow)
3. Find rhyming words. (dog, log, hog)
4. Point out what the first or last sound in a word is. (The last sound in “cat” is “t”)

A wonderful activity to encourage phonemic awareness is to:
1. Read a story to your child.
2. Let the child select 5 of the important or interesting words from the story.
3. Have the child watch while you write the chosen words onto sentence strips or cards.
4. Let the child trace the word, copy the word, play matching games with the word, etc.
5. Make a “key word book”. Download free instructions here.

Making a key word book.

Making a key word book.

Why Don’t Students Like School?

Because the Mind is Not Designed for Thinking…  This is a fascinating article that appeared in the Spring 2009 edition of American Educator. It was written by Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”. His basic premise is that the brain is not designed for thinking, but rather it is designed to save you from having to think.  In his book, he poses questions a teacher might want to ask a cognitive scientist and then answers them with relevant studies and suggestions for improving teaching. A really great review of the book can be found on the Wall Street Journal’s website; “How to Wake Up Slumbering Minds”.