3 Websites with Free Digital Children’s Books for Primary Students

Did you know that only 30% of children who come from homes without books are likely to complete the 9th grade(1)?

For some of us (myself included), growing up without books at home seems unimaginable. But this is reality for some of the students at my school and hundreds of thousands of other schools around the world.

As teachers, we can send home printable paper books, encourage families to buy books, and even give books as gifts to our students. This makes a dent, but it’s usually not enough.

A Reading Teacher article that I read recently, “Unite for Literacy,” cites a study showing that adding 10 books to a home with no books doubles the likelihood that a child will be successful in school. Moreover, “[i]t is not until the book total in the home reaches around 100 that the impact of subsequent books, although still valuable, begins to taper off” (Mallete and Barone, 2016).

So how can we help our preschool, Kindergarten, and primary students get 100 books in their homes? It sounds like a huge task, but technology can help.

The majority of homes in the United States have an Internet connection, and many families now own smartphones. In addition to “hard copies” of books we send home, we can teach parents how to access free books online.

In today’s post, I’ll share 3 websites with free digital children’s books suitable for primary readers. I’ll also share some paid options at the bottom of the post.

This post has 3 great websites where kids can access free digital ebooks at home or school!

 

Photo credit: Samuel Borges Photography, Shutterstock

1. UniteForLiteracy.com

I had no idea that this website existed until I read about it in this month’s Reading Teacher. But I was so excited to learn about it that I sat down to write this post as soon as I finished the article!

The Unite for Literacy organization is run by educators and writers who want to bring the joy of reading to every home. They have published almost 200 digital books in the free library and have narrations available in multiple languages.

Unite for Literacy is working to expand the collection to include more books, more languages (including sign language), and more diverse texts. The website has SO many wonderful books already there, and it’s growing all the time!

When you first navigate to the site, you’ll be asked to put in your location – and that’s all! There’s no sign-up, no teacher login, nothing like that. This makes it SO easy for parents to use.

UniteForLiteracyHomePage

You can scroll through the books (they are most relevant for preschool through first grade readers) and select the one that you want.

You can also use the icons at the top to select books about animals, plants and food, Earth and sky, technology, health, family, friends, communities, art and play, and foundational skills (math, colors, shapes, opposites, etc.). The organization focuses on STEAM topics (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), which is great for helping expand students’ content area knowledge.

UniteforLiteracy navigation buttons

You can also choose the language of narration by selecting the top left icon next to “Narration.” Families can read aloud the books to their children, listen together, and invite their children to read the simple text if they are able.

Unite for Literacy book

The books have engaging photos and are very easy to navigate! And there’s a mobile-friendly version of the site that families can access on their phones or tablets:

Uniteforliteracy mobile version

It’s probably the easiest-to-use online book website I’ve seen!

2. Oxfordowl.co.uk

This is another website that’s fairly new to me. Oxford Owl actually has a ton of different resources available on the site (some paid), but it also has a lot of free e-books for students to access at home or school.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 11.19.16 AM

When you use it for the first time, set up your teacher account. You can then create a class account so students can login at home or at school (they will need the class name and password).

When a child logs in, they will see this:

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 11.19.55 AM

The can then click on “My Bookshelf” to see the available e-books. Not all of the books in the selection are free e-books – just teach students look for the “e” in the orange circle on books that are available for reading online.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 11.21.32 AM

The books are narrated, but you can turn the narration off if necessary. There are also tips and activities that parents can do with the books, which is wonderful!

If you teach in the U.S., be aware that the narration is done with a British accent, but I think it can be a great thing to expose students to different accents and dialects.

3. GetEpic.com

Epic is another fantastic website that teachers can get free access to for their students.

Epic homepage

Scroll all the way down to where it says “Sign up for free!” if you are a librarian or teacher. Then, it will guide you through the sign-up process (which is fairly simple). You even get to select some favorite topics for books for your students:

Epic choosing topics

After I signed up, it had logged me in as a student. So I had to click on the circle above “Guest” (in the top right corner) and choose that it was me, the teacher, in order to set things up for my students.

Setting up teacher preferences in Epic

Then, once logged in as myself, I had to go to “Profile Management” to set up my class.
Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 10.48.49 AM

There, you can enter students’ names, create PINs for them (not required), and then provide home access by inputting a parent email address.

From what I understand, you can only give your students 30 days for using Epic free at home. Parents can then opt to pay to sign up, or not sign up at all.

Although Epic doesn’t provide the same level of free home books as the other two sites, the books are very high-quality (and there are many in Spanish!) And it’s always free for kids to use at school (where you login to give them access).

Other Places to Find E-Books

Local public libraries are another great resource for free e-books. If you take your students to the library and have families sign up for library cards, this often gives them access to the library’s e-books.

There are also many paid websites that can give students access to e-books. Here are a few:

Whenever I ask parents to use a website at home, I’ve found that it’s helpful to walk them through the process in person, as well as provide written directions with screenshots.

During back-to-school night, I use an interactive whiteboard or projector to show students exactly how to access the site, and then I send them home with directions. I usually send the same directions home again, a couple of times throughout the year, because I know that they sometimes get lost.

Do you have any other websites to add to this list? Please do so in the comments below!

Bibliography

Mallete, M., & Barone, D. (2016). Unite for Literacy: An Interview with Mark W.F. Condon. Reading Teacher, 69(5), 471-481.

(1) Evans, M.D.R., Kelley, J., Sikora, J., & Treiman, D.J. (2010). Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28(2), 171-197 (As cited in Mallete & Barone, 2016).




Why You Should Send Home Family Games with Your Kindergarteners (And How To Make Sure They Actually Get Played!)

Homework is a hot topic right now. Some people are staunchly against it, while proponents say it’s essential for supporting student learning.

Personally, I don’t really agree with either extreme. I do believe that homework can be helpful (because I’ve seen the positive impact it has had on my own students). However, I believe that the homework we assign should not be the same type of homework that was assigned to us when we were in school. I also think that homework should be relatively quick for students to complete, especially in the lower grades.

So what would a “different” kind of homework look like? Well, ideally it would consist of engaging activities rather than a stack of worksheets. It would actively involve parents in students’ learning. And, when possible, it would incorporate technology. (And that’s exactly what I set out to do when I created my literacy homework for Kindergarten).

Sending home family literacy games is one way to provide students with engaging at-home activities. In this post, I’ll explain why family games for Kindergarteners are incredibly useful, suggest some tips for making sure your students actually play them at home, AND give you a free family game to send home with your students!

Read 3 reasons why sending home family games with your Kindergarten students is a GREAT idea - and download a free literacy game to send home with them!

So why are family games so great for students?

  • Games help develop positive social skills and give families a reason to spend time together. Learning how to take turns, follow directions, and lose gracefully are important Kindergarten skills, right? While students do get some practice with this at school, it’s a great idea to extend that practice at home. There, they can practice these important social skills with the close support of their family members. Additionally, assigned games are great because they give families a reason to spend time together. When families spend time together, students have an opportunity to develop oral language and social skills, as well as just plain bond with their parents. This time is so important! Unfortunately, with many parents working multiple jobs, children’s after-school activities, and distracting technology, family time can be hard to come by. When we assign homework that requires students to spend time with their families, we are helping promote healthy interactions at home.
  • Academic-related games give parents a glimpse into what students are learning at school. How many of your students say “nothing” when their parents ask them what they did at school? 🙂 Probably at least a few! And even those kiddos who don’t say “nothing” are probably not telling their parents that they “worked on spelling three letter words with short vowels.” Am I right?! Many parents love to know what their children are learning at school, and family games are one way to share this information with them.
  • Games provide students with extra practice in a playful way. The greatest value of games, in my opinion, is to give students extra practice that’s FUN! Kindergarteners naturally love learning, so why not take advantage of and facilitate that excitement at home, too?

Okay, so family games are great. But how can we make sure that families actually play them? It’s pretty easy to see when a worksheet is completed, but a family literacy game is a different story.

While you certainly can’t follow your students home to watch them play the games, there are absolutely some steps you can take! Here’s what’s worked for me in the past:

  • Have students play the game at school first. If students understand how to play and they already know that a game is fun, they’ll be more likely to insist that the family play the game. How fun for the kids to get to teach their families something new! Click on the image below to download a game that children can play at school and then at home.

Download this FREE consonant blends memory game - perfect for Kindergarten! Make sure to read the entire post and download the parent directions so you can send this home as homework.

  • Provide parent instructions in a few different formats. Just as our students learn differently, so do their parents! I like to have different options for the game instructions, so that families can choose how they learn to play. I may ask them at the beginning of the year how they prefer to get directions, or use trial and error to figure out what works best. Click on the image below to download parent instructions for the game featured above. You’ll notice that I have included 5 different options for instructions! The first sheet includes written instructions (as well as a link to an instructional video parents can view on a phone/tablet/computer). The second includes written instructions with visual explanations (and again the link). Both of these first two instructions sheets have children cutting out the cards at home. The next two instruction sheets are identical but can be sent home when you have already done the cutting at school. The fifth option has instructions in both English and Spanish (and again the link to the video for parents).

Download this free consonant blends memory game for families - directions and link to an optional video included, too!

  • Give families multiple days or a week to play the game. Some nights are just busier than others. I like to send home a weekly homework packet that includes the games, so that families have some flexibility in choosing when they play the game. At the beginning of the year during Back to School Night, I emphasize the importance of not waiting until Thursday night to complete all of the activities.
  • Ask parents to sign something after they have played the game. Although this doesn’t ensure that the game has actually been played, requiring a signature does serve as a reminder to families that they have a task to complete with their children. Click on the image below to grab a little half-sheet document that you can send home with the game:

Family Game Signature.001

All of that said, I do understand that it is not always possible for families to play games together on a consistent basis. But I still feel that it would be remiss to not even attempt to facilitate some type of learning at home. For this reason, I created a set of family literacy games for Kindergarten. There are 35 different games included that cover the following skills:

  • Phonemic awareness (rhyming, beginning sounds)
  • Letter work (letter ID, beginning letter sounds, ending letter sounds, letter formation)
  • Digraphs and blends (reading and spelling)
  • CVC words (reading, making words, manipulating words)
  • Word families
  • Sight words (you can choose your own words for students to play with)
  • Beginning long vowels

All of the games come with parent instructions, optional videos, and all of the materials families will need to play the games (with the exception of a pencil or coins). Here are some photos from the game set:

Ending sounds tic-tac-toe: a family game for Kindergarten

CVC word tic-tac-toe: a family literacy game for Kindergarten

Sight word tic-tac-toe: a family literacy game for Kindergarten

Sight words board game - for Kindergarten families!

Although 3 of the games above are Tic-Tac-Toe games, the pack includes a lot of variety. Some examples are: memory games, BINGO, Go Fish, card games, and some other original games I’ve created.

To purchase or read more about the games, please click on the image below:

Family Games Cover.001

Do you send games home with your students? Any tips or suggestions to share? Please comment below!

Happy teaching!




Assigning Kindergarten Homework That Works for ALL Kids

My first year teaching Kindergarten also happened to be the first year that I had ever assigned homework to students. You see, before I began teaching Kindergarten, I taught Pre-K. In Pre-K, we did not give homework.

When I moved up to Kindergarten, I had big dreams about the homework I would assign. I’d give out exciting and engaging assignments (never worksheets). I’d provide families with fun learning games that would bring them together. I’d send home different homework for different students, differentiating assignments based upon their needs. I was going to make homework an enjoyable and productive part of my students’ home lives!

And then…reality hit. My first year teaching Kindergarten, I had an extremely challenging class. After an 8 hour school day with my kiddos (yes, you read that right – those 5 and 6 year olds were at school for 8 hours a day), I was exhausted. I could barely manage to get materials ready for the next day, much less find or create engaging homework activities.

And differentiation? Yeah, right. That year I had students who couldn’t read a Level A book, and other students who were reading beginning chapter books. I would have been up all night trying to get together 25 different homework assignments!

Needless to say, my grand homework plans didn’t exactly happen.

As the years went on, I slowly assembled a collection of activities to send home. I found and made games, activities, and worksheets to give my students meaningful practice opportunities.

But it still took a good bit of time each week to assemble my weekly homework packet. I only believe in assigning about 10 minutes of homework a night, so you’d think it’d be quick to pull together, but it wasn’t!

I was eventually able to differentiate homework some of the time, but not as often as I wanted to. I really wanted a set of engaging materials – with a lot of different options – that would make it easy for me to assign and differentiate homework for my kiddos.

And then, about 9 months ago, I decided that it was finally time to make the set of materials I’d been dreaming of!

My goal was to create literacy homework for Kindergarten that met the following criteria:

  • Engaging
  • Easy to differentiate (leveled, so that a teacher could use a student’s guiding reading level to pinpoint phonics and other reading activities appropriate for that student)
  • Clear for parents to understand (with written instructions, visual aids, and videos)
  • Accessible for both English- and Spanish- speaking families
  • Suitable for students who have family help and for students who do not have family assistance

I had these goals in mind because I’ve seen kids fail to complete their homework for many different reasons. The homework may have been too hard or too easy, parents may not have understood the directions, students may not have had family help at home, etc.

And I knew I wasn’t alone in my homework struggles – I’ve never met a single teacher who found it easy to get all of their students to do their homework (even though Kinders are usually super enthusiastic learners!). Homework can be helpful and fun for our little learners, but there are so many challenges to assigning quality homework and then getting it back.

While creating my literacy homework series, I came up with some ways to overcome homework-related obstacles. In this post, I’ll share with you the solutions I’ve found to various challenges. Be sure to download all of the freebies, too!

Finding quality homework can take a long time, and not all students bring it back completed. Read this post for ideas about choosing homework that works for you and your students - and grab the homework freebies!

Challenge: My kids don’t have the supplies they need at home to complete their homework.

Solution: Survey families about their needs several times throughout the year, and provide a take-home bag of school supplies.

The more information we have about students’ home situations, the better! Click on the image below to download a free parent survey (in English and Spanish). This survey will give you information about what supplies families have at home. If you’re worried about not getting the survey back, why not have parents fill it out during Back to School night or another school event that most parents attend?

Grab this free homework survey to find out what supplies families have at home, where students complete homework, and other useful information!  Free from Learning At The Primary Pond

Once you know what supplies students do and do not have, you can do several things. First, you can prepare take-home bags of supplies that students leave in their backpacks.  Local churches and libraries will often hold school supply drives – if you are in need of duplicate supplies to send home, just ask around!

Another option is to be selective about the homework assignments that you give, sticking to assignments that don’t require many supplies. This doesn’t mean that your assignments have to be boring, however! There are lots of interactive activities that kids can do with a paper and pencil.

For example, check out this “Super Tic-Tac-Toe” game (download it below). A parent and child take turns “claiming” a space by saying the name of the alphabet letter inside it, and then tracing the missing upper or lowercase letter. Play continues until one person has claimed five spaces in a row. Two different colored pens or pencils are needed- no cutting, pasting, or coloring required!

This free alphabet super tic-tac-toe game makes a fun, no-prep homework assignment!  The student and a parent can play by tracing the missing letter to "claim" a space. The first person to claim five spaces in a row is the winner!

A third option is to give different homework assignments to different kids, depending upon what supplies they have at home. This takes a little time, but my Kindergarten Homework series makes it easy.

For example, to have students practice determining whether pairs of words rhyme, you could send home a) Rhyming Memory or b) a “Rhyming Or Not?” worksheet. Both activities address the same skill, but the memory game requires cutting while the worksheet does not. Download the activities below.

Download this free rhyming words memory game and "Rhyming or Not" worksheet - perfect for a Kindergarten homework assignment!  The game comes with parent directions in English and Spanish.

 

Challenge: The kids in my class have very different needs, but it takes way too long to differentiate homework.

Solution: Keep a file folder for each child with activities appropriate to the student’s skill level. Quickly pull an assignment from the folder when you want to differentiate.

The photo below shows the “Homework Folder” concept in action:

Use a simple file folder to differentiate homework assignments for your students!

On the outside of the folder is a list of the activities that are at the student’s level. All of the literacy activities on this particular list are designed for students whose instructional reading level is a Guided Reading Level A.

Inside the folder are copies of all of the activities on the list. To differentiate homework, just grab an assignment for each child from his/her folder. So quick and easy – and you don’t have to do it for every single assignment.

 

Challenge: I can’t seem to get out of the “worksheet rut” when assigning homework!

Solution: Create a weekly “formula” for your assignments. For example, in Kindergarten, you might assign 1 leveled book, 2 family games, and 3 worksheets per week. If you stick to that routine, then you’ll be less likely to rely only on worksheets for your homework assignments.

And if you use my Kindergarten literacy homework series, then you’ll have leveled books, family games, and worksheets at your fingertips. There’s no need to waste time searching online or in reproducible workbooks each week!

 

Challenge: My students’ parents are often confused by homework assignments. Some of them don’t read English, so they don’t understand the directions.

Solution: Send home assignments that have simple, predictable directions. Spend some time in class teaching students how to complete homework, so that they can teach their parents. Provide visual directions or directions in parents’ native languages whenever possible.

Below is an example of a homework assignment that has simple and predictable directions. These sight word sheets have students reading the word, tracing it, writing it, and reading it again in a sentence.

Each time, the instructions are the same – only the sight words and sentences vary between worksheets. Even if parents can’t read in English, students will be able to complete these assignments if you show them how to do it in class.

Help students practice sight words at home with these predictable, engaging sight word homework sheets!

Another solution is to provide visual aids in your directions, as well as instructions in both English and Spanish. All of this definitely takes a lot of time to put together, but if you use my Kindergarten homework series, the work is done for you!

In my pack, each book and assignment (with the exception of simple worksheets), comes with 5 different options for parent direction sheets. You can choose written instructions with or without visual aids, as well as directions in English or Spanish.

All parent sheets also come with links to videos that parents can choose to watch. The videos explain the activities and give helpful hints, but families can also just read the written directions if they prefer.

Click here to download a sample book and the accompanying parent directions sheets.

 

Challenge: I want to give my students family games and interactive activities. But not all parents are able to help out with homework.

Solution: Try your best to involve all families, but if you know that a child has to complete homework on her own, send activities that she can do independently.

When creating my leveled literacy homework series, I designed two types of activities for each skill: family games or activities that require parent support, and worksheets that students can complete independently.

The rhyming words activities (scroll up) are an example of this. The Rhyming Word Memory game is played with family members, while the worksheet can be completed independently (if students are given the directions at school).

It can be tempting to just send home worksheets with all students if some parents can’t help out with homework. But many parents really appreciate interactive materials like family games. If you have a variety of activities available, you can select homework assignments based upon students’ individual home situations.

 

I hope that this post has given you some fresh ideas for preparing homework for your students! Finding materials can be time consuming, but I’ve seen my Kindergarteners benefit greatly from just 10-15 minutes of homework each night. And parents love the opportunity to be involved in their children’s learning!

To read more about my leveled literacy homework bundle, click here. You can also click on any of the images below to learn more about the homework activities for Guided Reading Level A, B, C, D, or E.

A-E Homework Covers.001

A-E Homework Covers.002

A-E Homework Covers.003

A-E Homework Covers.004

A-E Homework Covers.005

Happy teaching!




9 Ways to Reach Out to Kindergarten Parents

I was always extremely nervous the night before my Kindergarteners started school. Would I have criers? Would I have a runner? Would they listen to me? I rarely got much sleep that night.

Then, one year, I read an article that made me think about the first day of Kinder in a totally different way. I started thinking about it from the parents’ perspective.

On the first day of Kindergarten, we ask parents to – perhaps for the first time ever – leave their babies with complete strangers. For a entire day. They can’t call and talk to their child. They can’t drop in to visit. Nothing. Nada.

My husband and I only have fur-babies (two cats), and I think I’d be nervous leaving them! Our Kindergarteners, however, are real little human beings. Who have only been on this planet for 5 years. And who have spent most of those 5 years with their parents.

After reading that article, I stopped feeling nervous about the first day of Kindergarten. Really. I just stopped! If I felt anxiety creeping back into my brain, I reminded myself, “The kids and their parents are ten times more nervous than you are.”

Taking their perspective and thinking outwardly about the first day accomplished two things for me. First, it calmed my nerves (yay!). Second – and more importantly – it helped me change my thinking about forming relationships with my students’ families.

I then started looking for new ways to actively involve families in our classroom. Involving parents helps them feel more comfortable and also improves student achievement. So today I’m sharing 9 strategies to help you form strong, positive connections with Kindergarten parents. (Many of these ideas are applicable to other grade levels, too!)

Use these 9 strategies to help Kindergarten parents feel more comfortable and participate in their children's learning!

  • Send a welcome letter or postcard. Once your class list is finalized, mail families a welcome letter or postcard. If you like, include a photo of yourself so the kids and parents know who to look for on the first day of school. Click here to see some darling postcards by Teacher Created Resources – they’re just for Kindergarten!
  • Set up brief family meetings before the first day of school (if possible)At one school where I taught, we scheduled 15 minute meetings with each child and family prior to the first day of school. Sure, it was a bit tiring, but oh my GOODNESS was it helpful! Not only did it make families feel more comfortable on the first day, but it also gave me a little sneak peek at what my students would be like. The kids brought their school supplies (and then I wasn’t scrambling to shove tissue boxes into cabinets on the first day). I also gave a simple little assessment to see where the kids were at (grab the assessment for free here). If family meetings are not already in place at your school, why not ask to see if scheduling them would be possible?
  • Share photos (with permission). Snap some photos during the first week of school and send a little photo newsletter home with students at the end of the week (you’ll need parent permission first). My students’ families love seeing pictures of what their kids are doing at school! If you are able to have parent meetings before school begins, ask parents to sign a photo release form during that meeting.
  • Collect family photos and post them in the classroom. Speaking of photos, ask parents to send them, too! At the beginning of each school year (usually when I taught my Our School Families Unit) I had each family send in a photo. I hung up the photos somewhere in the classroom. It was comforting to the kids, and little gestures like this help merge the gap between home and school.
  • Provide family games to help parents create fun learning experiences at home. My Kindergarteners’ parents looooved homework. I never sent any home the first week or two, and I usually had parents ask when the homework would begin! 🙂 Instead of only sending home worksheets, however, I also sent home games that families could play together. The 35 literacy games in my Family Literacy Games pack shown below help families feel involved in their children’s education. The games come with detailed parent directions (in English and Spanish) and links to optional parent videos. Parents love the visual directions provided in the videos!

Family Literacy Games for Kindergarten Cover.001

  • Call home to share positive news. I’m sure you’ve already heard about the importance of positive phone calls home, so I won’t dwell on it. I know that it can be hard to find time to make those calls! Another option is sending notes home. Click here for a set of parent notes in English & Spanish.
  • Invite parents into the classroom on multiple occasions. I’ll be the first to admit that I am much more comfortable teaching in front of 5 year olds than I am a group of parents. However, inviting parents into the classroom has always been a wonderful experience for me. At the end of our second writing unit of the year, my Kinders create little invitations for their parents, asking them to come to a writing celebration. The kids read their stories aloud in small groups while the parents watch. The families absolutely love it! After that initial experience, I then invite parents into the classroom to volunteer, as well as for additional events and performances.
  • Create volunteer opportunities for parents who cannot help out in the classroom. Some parents will not be able to come into the classroom due to jobs or other responsibilities. But they can still help out! Ask if parents would like to help out with cutting or other prep work, and then send home large plastic baggies with directions and the materials.
  • Explicitly tell families how important they are! All of the above actions send the message to parents that they are valued and an important part of their children’s education. But nothing replaces explicitly telling them how much you value them and their input. Some parents have not had positive experiences with the school system in the past. You have the opportunity to help them create a more positive future!

Is there anything that you would add to this list? Please comment below! Thanks for reading. 🙂

Note: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link.




How To Make Take Home Books Work in K-1

Ah, take home books. Do you break out in a cold sweat at the very thought of letting kids take books home? I used to feel the same way!

However, giving kids books to have at home is super important! As you already know, many of our students don’t have books at home. And even those who do have books at home may not have new ones to read all the time. Growing up, my mom stayed at home with us and had time to take us to the library every 2 weeks or so. However, working parents may not have time for regular library trips. Wouldn’t it be best if kids could have access to books no matter what their home situation is?

Once I realized how important it is for kids to be able to take books home, I figured out some strategies to make the process smooth and stress-free. In this post, I’ll share some tips that worked for me – and I hope you’ll share your own tips in the comments!

How To Make Take Home Books Work In K-1

Tip #1: Stick to a regular schedule – but that doesn’t mean kids have to take books home all the time! 

Although I let students in 2nd grade and up take home books of their choice every night, I usually give younger kiddos a book (or a couple of books) for an entire week. I send home the book(s) in a baggie on Monday, and it must come back on Friday. This consistency makes it easier for parents to remember to send the books back.

I have kids keep books at home for a week for two reasons:  1) Kindergarteners and first graders really love reading and rereading books. Having a book at home for an entire week provides time for that to happen. 2) K-1 kiddos tend to be a little…shall we say…less responsible than older kids. 🙂 It’s easier on them (and you) to have to return books less often.

Also, even if you choose to send books home on Monday, this doesn’t mean that you have to send books home with every kid, every Monday! If you know that it’ll be difficult for you to make this happen every week, why not send home books every other week? Or send home half of the class with books one week, and then the other half the next? Alternating or rotating schedules are better than not sending home books at all.

Tip #2: Create an easy method of accountability to keep track of books.

One of the reasons that I was initially hesitant to send books home was the fear of them being lost. And, I mean, that fear isn’t unwarranted…I have definitely lost some books over the years! But as I’ve said in other blog posts, having to replace a $5 book is more than worth giving kids the opportunity to have books at home (in my opinion).

One way to create an accountability system would be to use library pockets. Place a pocket in the front of each book, and an index card with the book title within that pocket. Then, adhere one library pocket per child (labeled with their names) to a piece of poster board or a bulletin board. When kids take books home, they remove the index cards from their books and place them in their name pockets. When books come back, they take out the index cards and place them back in their books. This system ensures that you know which kid has which book (you’ll want to closely supervise the process, of course!). You’ll also be able to quickly see which students did not bring back their books.

Something else I’ve done (with Kindergarten) is designated a set of picture books (20-30, or more if possible) to serve as take-home books for the entire year. I made a list of the books and then rotated kids through the books on a weekly basis. Each week, I put one or two of the books in a plastic baggie and sent it home. I kept track of which book each child had, so when they were returned I could quickly figure out if any were missing. Having this separate set of take home books was very do-able for me, even during the year when I was finishing grad school, getting married, and buying a house in the span of 6 months. 🙂

Tip #3: Have “missing book” notes copied and ready to go.

This tip is pretty simple and may seem a little obvious. But when a book goes missing, it’s easiest if you can quickly fill in the title of a book and hand out the pre-written note. It makes your life easier and also helps ensure that you don’t let too much time pass before notifying parents about the missing book. You can grab some ready-to-go parent notes by clicking here.

Tip #4: Consider sending home books that don’t have to be returned at all.

Yes, it’s great to send home beautiful picture books for families to enjoy. But books that can be printed or copied work great, too! When you use reproducible books, not only do you not have to deal with missing books, but you are also giving kids books that they can keep and read over and over again.

One fun way to start your “take home and keep at home” book program is by having kids decorate shoeboxes. Send a note home requesting that each family send in a shoebox for a special project. At school, let kids use paper, stickers, paint, and even – dare I say it? – glitter to decorate the boxes. You might not even want to tell the kids why they are decorating the boxes – let it be a mystery and reveal everything once the boxes are finished!

Once the kids have finished decorating their boxes, talk to them about how special the boxes are. Explain that these boxes are for keeping books safe at home. Show the kids some examples of books that they might get to take home (and keep at home). Convey a lot of excitement and express that getting to take books home is a wonderful thing. Talk to the kids about how they should read and reread books from their boxes each night. When you send the decorated boxes home, send home a parent letter explaining the purpose of the box. You may also want to send home reminder letters periodically to encourage families to revisit books from the box.

If you need reproducible books to give to your students, check out my take-home books bundle. You can buy each guided reading level individually (A-E), or in bundles of A-B, A-C, A-D, or A-E. Each set of books comes with 10 to 12 printable readers to take home, a response sheet so that kids can respond to the book by drawing and writing, and parent directions (in English or Spanish). The parent directions sheets also come with links to (optional) videos that parents can view. These 2 minute videos give tips to parents about helping their child decode the text, as well as conversation starters to get kids and parents talking about the content of the books.

Take Home Books Bundle Cover.001

5: Educate parents about what they should do with the books.

Last but not least, don’t forget to be very clear about what you want families to do with the books! Do you want parents to read them to their kids? Do you want the books to be read more than once? Do you want the kids to try reading the books to their parents? Do you want kids to practice retelling the story?  Do you want families to talk about new words in the books? Make sure to include clear instructions with the books that you send home (if you use my take-home books, the work is done for you!).

The site Colorín Colorado has some great parent reading tip sheets that are broken down by grade level. They are available in multiple languages, too!

Do you send books home with your students? How do you make the process work for you? Please comment below!




Helping Minimize Summer Learning Loss: Summer Homework and Learning Activities for K-2

Summer is coming up quickly! I love summer break because it helps me recharge for the next school year. But summer break doesn’t always have a positive impact on our students.

Some of our students spent most of summer break playing video games and watching television. Kids can definitely learn from video games and T.V. shows. But those activities are not as enriching as reading, visiting museums, and practicing math facts. Unfortunately, our students don’t all have equal opportunities to extend their learning during the summer.

Here are some other sobering facts about summer learning loss (from http://www.summerlearning.org):

  • Students take a significant hit in their math skills over the summer. The majority of students lose about 2 months of grade level equivalency in math computation skills (Cooper, 1996).
  • Reading achievement also declines over the summer, typically for low-income students. Most low-income students lose over 2 months in reading achievement (Cooper, 1996).
  • More than half of the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers an be attributed to unequal access to summer learning (Alexander et al, 2007).

Yikes. These statistics are scary! We also have to consider that in addition to the summer learning loss that students experience, we use up instructional time re-teaching 2 months’ worth of skills. That re-teaching cuts down on our instructional time for the year, which means students learn even less than they could be learning during those nine months that we do have school!

We work too hard during the short time that we have our students to let them slide back during the summer! Although we don’t have control over what happens at home during the summer, we can definitely take steps to minimize summer learning loss.

In this post, I’ll share FREE parent letters with suggestions for summer learning activities, and I’ll explain why I give my kids pizza boxes to take home over the summer! I’ll also provide links to my summer homework packets.

Use these ideas and FREEBIES to help minimize the summer learning loss that occurs in the primary grades!

The first thing we can do is educate parents about what they can do to prevent summer learning loss. I always provide my students’ parents with a list of 10 fun learning activities that they can do over the summer. These activities are enjoyable, simple, and usually free (for example, a car game that has students reading license plates). These lists also have book suggestions for students to read over the summer.

You can download (for free!) the summer learning tips here for your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade students. Each packet is designed to be parent-friendly, so you can send it home “as is.” Click on the image(s) below to download the handouts that you need – they are included in both English and Spanish.

10 Free Summer Learning Activities for Kindergarten - download a list and hand out to parents! A list of 10 free summer learning activities for first graders (rising second graders!) 10_Free_Summer_Learning_Activities_For_Second_Grade

Another action we can take is to educate our students about the importance of summer learning. For the months leading up to summer break, I talk with my kids about how learning can happen at home and at school. I tell them how important it is to continue reading, writing, and practicing math over summer break. I use an empty pizza box for my students' summer homework and supplies!

Then, toward the end of the school year, I begin preparing their take-home pizza boxes. I ask a local pizzeria if they would be willing to donate one (unused!) pizza box for each student. They always agree – maybe because it’s free advertising! Then, I begin filling the boxes with leftover school supplies. If necessary, I purchase more pencils and crayons to fill the boxes. The boxes are great because they’re sturdy and relatively large (less likely to be lost over the summer).

In the box, I also include a summer homework pack for each of my students. The summer homework pack provides a review of key reading and math skills that we’ve worked on throughout the year. Since I’ve taught Kindergarten through second grade, I’ve developed materials for each grade level. Here are some photos from the packs:

Summer Homework for Kinder Collage 3 Summer Homework for First Grade Collage 1 Summer Homework Second Grade Collage 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re interested in any of these summer homework packs, click on the images above to learn more. You will probably not want to send home everything in each packet (there are tons of materials!) so you can also use some of it for end-of-the-year review.

Once the supplies and summer homework packs are in the pizza boxes, I close ’em up and send ’em home! I make the “pizza box presentation” kind of a big deal. The boxes do sit in the room for a day or two before I give them out, and the kids are just filled with curiosity…most of them think they are getting pizzas. Ha! But they are still super excited when they find out what is really inside.

I am thankful that my own upbringing was such that I did not stop learning during the summers. I feel very strongly that we need to do everything we can to provide similar experiences for our students! We certainly can’t control whether or not they actually DO the activities we suggest, but we can make our best effort to help students extend their learning into the summer.

Have you seen the effects of summer learning loss? What do you do to prevent it?

 




Kindergarten Homework: Is It Appropriate?

Homework has become somewhat of a hot topic lately. I’ve read articles about schools adopting no-homework policies. I’ve seen research on the ineffectiveness of homework. I’ve found infographics on the absence of homework in other successful nations.

All of this has made me question whether or not my students should have homework. I’m a reading specialist, so I don’t assign homework in my current position. But as a Kindergarten teacher, I did give out a very brief weekly homework packet. Was it a waste of my time? Did I damage my students’ learning or home lives? Should Kindergarteners have homework at all?

Kindergarten_Homework

I believe that Kindergarteners can benefit from a very small, purposeful amount of simple homework. No, I don’t mean 5 meaningless worksheets a night. No, I don’t mean elaborate projects that their parents end up doing. But I do feel that a very small amount of Kindergarten homework can be valuable, particularly when the homework is reading. And here’s why:

  • Homework is an opportunity for parents to show kids that they value education. When a parent (or other family member) sits down with a child to work on homework, that adult figure is telling the child, “Hey, this is important. This is something I value.”
  • Homework can give parents an idea of what students are working on in class. Kindergarten was a long time ago for many parents! Kindergarten expectations have also changed greatly over the years. By assigning meaningful homework that is relevant to what is going on in class, we can give parents a window into their children’s daily lives and learning.
  • Homework can provide students with additional practice and repetition. I don’t know about you, but my Kinders sure need a lot of repetition to master concepts! Having my students spend 5-10 minutes practicing something outside of school is an opportunity to get in some of that extra practice.
  • Homework can send kids the message that learning needn’t be restricted to school. When you assign kids meaningful homework that encourages them to interact with their families and home environment, this sends the message that learning happens everywhere – not just at school. Here’s an example of a simple homework task that sends this message:  “Find 4 things in your house that start with the letter g. Draw them on this paper.”

What Appropriate Kindergarten Homework Looks Like

Okay, so what kind of homework is appropriate for Kindergarten? Here are some suggestions for designing positive homework experiences:

  • Emphasize reading. It’s so valuable for kids to spend time reading with their parents. Maybe for homework you request that parents read with their children for 10 minutes a night – and that’s it!
  • Give assignments that are SUPER brief! Kindergarteners’ attention spans are short. So their homework should be short, too! If I send home a task, I try for something that can be completed in about 5-10 minutes. If you do send home a small weekly homework packet, make sure to educate parents about the importance of doing some each night (rather than all of it on Thursday night!). Check in periodically with students and parents to make sure that the homework isn’t taking too long. (And don’t feel like you “have to” give homework every day…many kids have a long day at school already.)
  • Provide tasks that are meaningful. An assignment like “Find 4 things in your house that start with the letter g. Draw them on this paper” is more fun and engaging than a worksheet on the letter g! When possible, involve family members in completing the homework. Games and scavenger hunts can get everyone in the family involved!
  • Assign tasks at the right difficulty level. Why assign homework at all if it’s way too easy or way too hard? It may take a little time, but giving students slightly different homework can help maximize its effectiveness.
  • Create a “homework bag” to provide necessary materials. If you think that students may not have pencils or crayons at home, why not send a few home with the homework? Also, reading with an adult makes for a wonderful homework assignment, but make sure to send home books. Many families do not have access to books in the home.

Challenges of Assigning Kindergarten Homework

In theory, the suggestions above can be relatively easy to implement. But it’s never quite that easy, is it? Here are some of the challenges that I (and my colleagues) have encountered when assigning homework to our students:

  • Not all students have parent or family support to complete homework. I believe strongly in educating parents during Open House and other school events about the importance of devoting home time to learning. However, some parents are still not able to help students with homework for a variety of reasons (language barrier, time, education, etc.).
  • Finding or creating differentiated homework assignments is very time consuming. I always have a huge range of abilities in my classroom, and I want to provide homework assignments at my students’ individual levels. I don’t want students to become frustrated by the homework, or completely bored by it. But differentiating homework takes a TON of time!
  • Keeping up with missing assignments can be challenging. Kids don’t always turn in their homework. I can’t tell you how many times I inquired about a missing homework assignment, only to find out that it had been in the child’s backpack for a week! Kids also don’t always do their homework. Trying to track down missing assignments can take up a lot of time.

Conclusions

In spite of these challenges, I still believe that a small amount of homework or time spent reading with parents can be very valuable for Kindergarteners. Because I know firsthand how time-consuming it can be to find the right homework for students, I’ve created a Leveled Literacy Homework series that you can use with your Kindergarten (or 1st grade) students.

The idea behind the series is to give you materials that are engaging and meaningful (like family games), can be used to differentiate your homework assignments, and are ideal for students who either do or do not have family help with completing their homework.

All activities (except for simple worksheets) come with parent instructions in English and Spanish. They also have links to optional videos that parents can choose to watch to learn how to read with their child or play the literacy games together. To learn more about the series, click on the image below.

AE Cover.001

What do you like to use for homework in your Kindergarten classroom?




This Week In Intervention: Holiday Break Homework and Spanish Bingo

Happy winter break!!  I hope that you’re on break, at least – I know some schools are going a few days into next week, which can’t be fun.

This week was a little crazy – not that I’d expect anything else for the last week of school before break!  On Monday I was out for a district reading specialist training on the impact of oral language development on reading (I’ll blog more about that soon), and then much of the rest of the week was filled with giving assessments, trying to get students’ take home book bags ready (thank you, Reading A to Z!), getting coworkers’ gifts ready, and the usual holiday stuff!  One highlight from the week was playing Spanish letter sounds and syllables Bingo with my kiddos:


Click on the picture for the original post with the free Bingo card downloads (they are in Spanish).  

I totally forgot to take a picture of the bags I sent home with my kiddos.  Oops!  The first and second grade ones were nothing spectacular – just some Reading A to Z books and then a few of my escaleras de fluidez (fluency ladders) for some decoding and fluency practice.



I wasn’t 100% sure what I should send home with my Kindergarteners.  When I taught Kindergarten as a classroom teacher, many of my kids were reading by now, so I sent home little books that they were already familiar with.  I also sent home letter sound flashcards to practice, and some handwriting, too.  However, the Kindergarten students I work with are very low, so I couldn’t send home books, and I wasn’t sure how much the parents would be able to support them with letter sound flashcards.  So I ended up sending home just a two-page packet – the first page was a parent letter, and the second page was an alphabet chart that we use to practice a letter sounds chant everyday in intervention.  The letter basically asked them to take their children to the library and read to them, and to practice the letter sounds a few times each day.

Because I wanted to give parents some support with the letter sound aspect, I decided to make a YouTube video of me doing the chant.  Just for your amusement, you can see it if you click {here}.  It’s really nothing special (and probably a little silly), but it will give you a sense of how easy it was to make.  I gave a link and a QR code on the parent letter, and I also showed the kids the video during our last intervention group.  They were super excited at the idea of being able to watch the video and practice the chant at home!  It would be very easy to do something similar with English letter sounds, or to give instructions on a particular strategy you want your kids to use in math.  All I did was use my phone to take the video, and then uploaded it directly from my phone to YouTube.  My gmail account was already linked to YouTube.

Crossing my fingers that my kiddos will be practicing over break!  Especially my Kinders – we only have half-day Kindergarten at my school, so we have to squeeze in as much learning as possible.

I was also busy this week finishing up and giving out coworker gifts and treat bags.  Here’s a photo of some chocolate covered peanut butter Ritz sandwich treat bags:  


One of my teaching assistants thought that they were professionally made.  Ha!  Ha!  A professional chef I am not.  But they are super easy and turned out looking nice, considering all I did was melt chocolate in the microwave and dip chilled Ritz peanut butter cracker sandwiches in them.  I was also quite pleased with the cute bags from Target!

Well, that was my week – it was about as scattered as this blog post was. 🙂  I hope you had a wonderful week!  Happy winter break (or almost winter break, depending on where you teach)!




This Week in Intervention: Reading 2-Syllable Words in Spanish

Happy Saturday!!  I am feeling pretty good about the fact that we only have 2 more days before Thanksgiving break!  Our district uses Monday and Tuesday for conferences, so I will probably be interpreting so much that I’ll forget how to speak English, but I am still really excited for our short week!

Speaking of conferences…before I get started sharing about our activities for the week, I want to share this awesome link with you:

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.26.20 AM


One of my classroom teacher friends at my building asked me if I had any tip sheets to help parents support their kids with reading.  I immediately thought of Colorín Colorado – a reading site in English & Spanish for educators and families.  I went to the site and found these awesome reading tip sheets for parents!  They have different sheets for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, Kinders, firsties, 2nd graders, and 3rd graders – and they are available in English, Spanish, and 11 other languages!   Wow!  This is definitely a great resource if you are looking for something to give out at conferences or send home over break.

Anyway, this week was another full, normal week for us in intervention, which I love!  My first grade group is really coming along.  We have been working on reading 2-syllable words in Spanish.  But last week I noticed that although they were consistently reading the first part of a word when decoding, they weren’t always attending to the second part.  For example, for “rosado,” they might say, “rosada” or “rojo,” because they looked at the first syllable, “ro,” but didn’t pay attention to the end of the word.  So, for this week, I decided that I wanted our focus to be reading all the way through a word by looking at the word ending.

I started off the week with a dice game that they really enjoyed.  One of my kids can be a bit mopey, but I heard him say, “I love this game!” which definitely made me smile.

To make the game, I used these dice templates that I purchased {here}.  I put word beginnings on one die, and word endings on the other.  When I chose the word endings and beginnings, I made sure that there were lots of different ways to make real words.  I also made a recording sheet for kids to write the words they rolled.


To play, you first roll the word beginning die, and read the syllable.  Then, you roll the word ending die and read the ending syllable.  Next, you put the two syllables together and read them.  You write down the word formed, and if a real word has been made, you circle the word on your sheet.  Players take turns doing this until the sheet is full or time is up, and then the player with the most circled words wins.  You can click on the picture below to download the game for free.

If you teach in English, I can see this being turned into a game for reading multisyllabic words, or a 3-die game to practice reading CVC words.  You also might want to copy the die onto different colored sheets of paper – I just didn’t think ahead that far! 🙂

After we played the game on Monday, I kept referring to it throughout the week as students read (“Do you remember how you had to look at the word beginning and ending in the dice game?  When you’re reading, you have to look at the word beginning and ending, too.”)  

I love anchor games/lessons like this, because the kids enjoy them and then I can refer back to them to reinforce my teaching point.

Have a great weekend!!




Part Three: Summer Learning Activities for Rising Third Graders (and Summer Homework for Second Grade)

Happy Monday!  Today will be the last post in my summer learning series.  If you missed the first two posts, click {here} for tips for rising first graders, and {here} for tips for rising second graders.  

Just like in my past two posts, today I’ll go through ten tips for summer learning, and then provide a free printable PDF that teachers can give to second grade parents.  Today I’ll be focusing on summer learning ideas for students who have finished second grade and will be going into third.  Make sure to scroll to the end of the post to check out some summer homework for second grade!

 

Tips for Parents of Second Graders (Rising Third Graders):

Tip #1:  Make learning fun!  You definitely don’t want summer practice to become a battle between you and your child.  Keep things fun and light by using games, technology, and educational day trips to engage your child.

Tip #2:  Use what’s free and close by.  The library is your best friend!  Visit it every week or every two weeks so your child can check out new reading material.  Many libraries have summer reading programs with incentives (prizes!).  You and your child can also use the library computers to access the links I’ve included in this list.  Use the internet to search for other summer activities in your area.  Local museums, planetariums, and even hardware stores may offer fun (and sometimes free) activities for children, especially during the summer.

Tip #3:  Motivate your child with technology!  Here are some helpful links that you and your child can visit over the summer:

– ABCya.com (variety of fun math and reading games)
– Sheppard Software (reading, math, science, and social studies games)
FunBrain.com (math, reading, and other games)

Tip #4:  Use apps!  Many families have smartphones, iPads, or other tablets.  Turn playtime into learning time by downloading educational apps.  Check out the links below for some reviews of age-appropriate apps for your rising third grader:

– A variety of app reviews by teacherswithapps
– Top apps for kids ages 6-8 by Smart Apps for kids
– Second grade apps by Best Apps for Kids

Tip #5:  Read, read, and read some more!  Kids’ reading skills can easily decline over the summer without practice.  Look for authors or series that your child particularly enjoys.  I also recommend asking your local librarian for some lists or ideas to help your child branch out from what she normally enjoys reading.  Here are some books that your soon-to-be third grader may enjoy:     

         

Titles:  Pee Wee Scouts:  Cookies and Crutches (Judy Delton), Judy Moody Was In a Mood (Megan McDonald), Magic Tree House:  Dinosaurs Before Dark (Mary Pope Osborne), Jigsaw Jones:  The Case of the Missing Hamster (James Preller), Bailey School Kids:  Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots (Debbie Dadey, Marcia Jones), Chameleons are Cool (Martin Jenkins), One Tiny Turtle (Nicole Davies), Heart Stopping Roller Coasters (Meish Goldish), Great White Sharks (Sandra Merkle)

Tip #6:  Keep practicing those math facts!  In third grade, your child will be doing more complex multiplication and division.  Knowing addition and subtraction facts by heart is key to your child’s success with higher level math.  You don’t have to rely on flashcards to practice, however.  Here are some links with ideas to get you started:

– Awesome list of card and dice games for practicing addition and subtraction facts (click HERE)
– Free website with math fact practice by grade levels (click HERE)
– Collection of fun activities and free printable materials for practicing math facts (click HERE)

Tip #7:  Cook up something in the kitchen!  Choose a simple recipe and have your child take charge (with your supervision, of course!).  Reading comprehension is so important at this age, so have your child read the directions and then try to explain them to you.  Have your child do the measuring, too, and help your child learn how to double a recipe or cut it in half.  Here are some links to child-friendly recipes:
Kids’ Recipes from Kraft
childrensrecipes.com   

Tip #8:  Bring out the scientist in your child!  Here are a few ideas:

– Help your child record and track the weather from day to day, using TV reports or the Internet.  Discuss temperature, humidity, wind speed, precipitation, etc.  Have your child predict what the weather will be like the following day.

– Build something!  Make a marble run from household items, such as paper towel tubes, PVC pipe, plastic funnels, cardboard, and tape.  See if your child can figure out how to make the marble go the fastest.

– Have your child help you grow a vegetable garden.  Experiment with sun exposure, amount of water, fertilizer, etc. to see what makes the best conditions for growing plants.  Track the plants’ heights from week to week.

– Visit a local nature center.  Forest preserves, botanical gardens, and park districts also often have nature programs designed for kids.

Tip #9:  Take out the camera!  Kids love working with pictures of themselves!  Here are a few writing activities that you can do with photos:

– Have your child use toys, action figures, blocks, dolls, etc. to take a series of photos.  Your child can stage a few scenes in order, take photos, print the photos, and then write a story to go with them.

– After taking a vacation or special trip, print out photos (1 per page).  Have your child write captions for the photos and staple them together to create a memory book.

– Take photos of your child playing outside, swimming in the pool, and doing other fun summer activities.  Print them out for your child and have your child write a letter to a family member, friend, or teacher about the fun things they are doing over the summer.

Tip #10:  Last but not least…don’t forget to take time to relax!  Summer camps, vacations, sports games, and summer homework are great, but don’t forget to leave your child some “down time.”  When your child has free time, she’ll have the opportunity to use her imagination, be creative, and get to know herself better.  Even if your family has a busy schedule, be sure to build in some down time before the new school year begins.  Enjoy the summer!!

If you’re also looking for some summer homework practice pages for your soon-to-be third grade students (or child), check out this summer learning pack.  All you need to do is download, print, and you’ll have a wide range of activities to choose from.  Click on the picture below to read more about using this pack as summer homework for second grade.

If you’d like to download the 10 tips for rising third graders in a PDF format, click on the picture below (it’s free!).

That wraps up the series!  Happy learning, and have a wonderful summer!