fun, authentic writing for kids: power notes to nana

fun, authentic writing for kids: power notes to nana

fun, authentic writing for kids: power notes to nana

 

Oh, boy the last few weeks have been funny for us.

And by ‘funny’ I mean not really laughing funny but funny in a tricky kind of way.

Pretty much everyone’s been on and off sick.

My husband and Maddy have been suffering from allergies like whut.

Maddy had it for a good week, then I was out for an entire weekend, and now Cora has it.  I’m crossing my fingers that the rest of us steer clear of it.  Because friends, it’s not pretty.

However, in the midst of it all, we were able to do a bunch of fun things and spend time together.

We’ve been doing something for the last few months that has been a whole lot of fun for us all: we’ve been writing power notes to Nana.

Power notes are nothing that crazy–it’s simply fun, authentic writing for kids.  Tons of notes written in one sitting. Power writing power notes. Get it?

Fun. And Authentic.

And really, fun and authentic are the keys when it comes to getting kids to write.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Fun, Authentic Writing for Kids–Power Notes to Nana: 

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

These ‘power notes’ are simply written all in one bunch–all in one sitting.

Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I find a time when we can sit down for an hour or two, and then we each write 4-6 notes to Nana.

Nana is 92, and she’s had a long, rough winter. Getting old is tough, and it’s made even more difficult when you add ice and snow to the mix–because then visitors are less frequent, and outings are more difficult.

And because we live three and a half hours away from her, there’s very little we can do to entertain our amazing 92-year old Nana.

So we write notes.

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

And we write more notes.

And we write even more notes.

And we:

  • decorate,
  • embellish,
  • add photos,
  • tell stories,
  • include games,
  • draw pictures,
  • add stickers,
  • make puzzles,
  • print crosswords,
  • add newspaper articles,
  • ask questions,
  • decorate envelopes,
  • and do just about anything and everything we can to make the letters fun for Nana.

We usually begin by going through recent photos. 

 

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

 

I flag about 8-10 of them, and I print them out. And then Maddy, Owen, or Cora will use the photo as a starting point for a letter.

He or she will simply write a few sentence about the photo: what’s going on? who’s in it? what did we do that day? why is it important/silly/funny/ etc.?

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

It’s very easy to have letters to elderly family members all be the same ole, same ole:

Hi, Nana!

I hope you are doing well. School is fine, and soccer is fun! I am ready for summer. Hope to see you very soon.

Love, Owen

But using photos as starters helps break up that mold. It helps liven things up a bit. And Nana loves seeing her great-grandchildren!

Other times, we’ll use puzzles as a starting point. 

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

Puzzles are a super activity for Nana. We print out mazes or sudoku, or word searches.  We even make puzzles for her.

Puzzles can be a short, quick inspiration for a letter, and they give her something fun to do for a few hours the day she receives her letter.

But really, the important thing is that these power notes are a chance for my kids and me to just write

We write about anything that comes to mind because Nana wants to hear it all.

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

If Owen wants to write about soccer, he writes all he wants about soccer.

If Cora wants to write about her cheer competition or the book she’s reading, then she writes about her cheer competition or the book she’s reading.

If Maddy wants to write about her 5th grade graduation or her latest school project, she writes about graduation or her school project.

The key is that everyone’s writing about things that interest them.

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

And they’re writing for a real, live audience.

And their notes are meaningful, and they’re going somewhere.

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

 

And when we’re done, we get them ready for the mail.

 

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

We address them all, seal them and stamp them, and we put sticky notes on them indicating the day we want them to go out in the mail. So in the end, we have a pile of notes in a basket on the counter, ready to grab and put in the mailbox every 2-3 days.

It works.

And because we cannot stop by for a visit like we wish we could–because nothing replaces that in-person hangout time!–these letters help. Even if just a teeny, tiny bit.

This kind of writing really counts, friends. 

The cool thing is that research shows that the most successful writing activities are for real audiences and authentic purposes:

The teachers in one study reported ‘that students came alive when they realized they were writing to real people for real reasons or reading real-life texts for their own purposes. . . . more authentic literacy activities are related to greater growth in the ability to read and write new genres.

Duke, N.K., Purcell-Gates, V., Hall, L.A., & Tower, C. (2006). The Reading Teacher, 60, (4), 344-355.

It makes sense, right? When people are doing something for a purpose–a real, true purpose–for someone else, they’re likely to want to do it and want to do it well. So they push themselves a bit, maybe learn a little something, and they grow as writers. Bam. Super exciting!

 

Need a few more ideas to get your kids writing for fun and meaningful purposes?

Check out:

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary

Summaries are difficult.

Writing summaries, oral summaries–it doesn’t matter.

Both? Difficult.

No matter the student’s age, the act of reading something–anything–and either retelling or summarizing is really, truly tough.

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary

Summarizing is a skill that must be explicitly taught. And it’s a skill that must be modeled.

And it’s a skill that is worth revisiting time and time again, year after year.

This year, Maddy’s been challenged with the weekly task of reading her choice of a news article and summarizing it. I love the assignment. Personally, any repeated effort to improve a student’s reading and writing skills is a win in my book.

However, her summaries were rough at first. Really rough.

So I dusted off my teaching resources, updated a few things, and handed her this: the 1-hand summary.

Here’s the skinny. . .

How to Teach Summary Writing–The 1-Hand Summary:

My goal with this was to have it work for anything Maddy chose–a news article, a magazine article, anything. And for the most part, it works.

I started with the very article that Maddy chose for her homework–a piece from The Washington Post about Jennifer Yu, a local chess champion.

Maddy knew she needed some support with her summary writing assignment; she had written summaries for about four weeks, and each time, we worked together on multiple edits.

 

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary | teachmama.com

 

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary | teachmama.com

Her summaries were not summaries.

She was including her opinion.

She was missing major details.

She was adding too much detail.

She was not including the ‘stuff’ of summaries.

So I handed her the 1-Hand Summary Sheet.

We looked at the hand and talked about the components of a strong summary:

  • title and author
  • strong topic sentence
  • facts and no opinions
  • conciseness–say everything you need to say in as few words as possible
  • 5 W’s and H are covered (who? what? why? where? when? and how?)

We read the article together.

And then I showed her the sample summary.

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary | teachmama.com

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary | teachmama.com

Kids must see models. They must. There’s no way kids automatically know what a good summary looks like or sounds like.

So reading the one I created helps. We talked about why it works.

We talked about some strategies to use while reading to save time later: highlighting or circling important details or putting a star or a checkmark in the margins. You can even write in the margins if it’s a newspaper article.

We talked about how this summary includes the infamous 5 W’s and H (who? what? why? where? when? and how?) but incorporates them in an easy to understand paragraph.

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary | teachmama.com

We talked about why the topic sentence is so important.

We talked about how you can grab words and phrases from the title of the article to make your writing easier.

The 1-Hand Summary helps.

I love the format of this 1-hand summary.  Yes, it covers the typical: Someone. . . wanted. .  .but then. .  .finally.

But for a more advanced writer, it includes a topic sentence where students can incorporate the title and author of the piece. I think that’s important. And it will prepare kids for higher level writing down the road.

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary | teachmama.com

The 1-Hand Summary is here to download if you’d like: one hand summary writing _ teachmama.com

(If you choose to share (and we hope you do!) please link to this page instead of the attachment page. Thank you!)

In order to succeed in school and in life, strong readers need to be able to summarize what they’ve read.

Summarizing is a foundational skill of the Common Core State Standards.  It’s a building block and a necessary component of any comprehensive reading program, and summarizing is an element of every grade, every year:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

But even before the CCSS’s were around, we all know that summarizing is a skill necessary for success just about anywhere.

 

Want a few more resources for summary writing?

 

 

A few more resources on summary writing:

 

fyi: Huge thanks to the following resources for information here: http://www.corestandards.org/ | Literacy Implementation Guidance for the ELA CCSS | The Washington Post article by Tom Jackman

help kids start a blog: get them reading, writing, thinking, creating

help kids start a blog get them reading, writing, thinking, creating | teachmama.com

post contains affiliate links

 

 

How old should kids be before starting a blog?help kids start a blog get them reading, writing, thinking, creating | teachmama.com

Should kids even have their own blogs?

What should kids blog about? 

How should kids even set up a blog?

Is blogging safe for kids? 

—————–

Maddy has been asking me to help her start her own blog for months now.

Months and months and months and months.

And just like the awful parent I was when she asked me to let her join the dive team five years ago, I gave her the Um, well. . . let’s just think about it a little, okay, sweetheart? 

Dive team meant early–early!–practices and lots more on our summertime to-do list. It meant schlepping Owen and Cora around the town even more than we already did.

After a year or so of asking, I signed her up.

Now? Dive team has come to mean year-round training and has become one of Maddy’s–and Owen and Cora’s–most coveted activities.

Who knows if the situation will be the same with Maddy’s blogging, but after asking and asking and asking, we’ve finally got her all set up with her own blog.  After all, blogging does get kids reading, writing, thinking and creating. So we thought we’d give it a go.

She’s ten, and she’s blogging.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Help Kids Start a Blog–Get Them Reading, Writing, Thinking, and Creating:

You can totally use any device for blog writing, but Maddy has really stuck with our Acer C720P Chromebook.  

help kids start a blog: get them reading, writing, thinking, creating

This spring we were asked to try out the Acer C720P Chromebook, and so far, my kids love it.

It’s small, it’s quick, and it’s light. And? It’s touchscreen which makes it a cool combination of a laptop and tablet.  It’s a paired down version of our Intel AIO–which they also totally love–but which isn’t as portable as the Chromebook.

Anyway, here’s how I helped Maddy start a blog. . .

 

1.  We looked at examples of strong blogs. I’ve talked about the importance of modeling before, and with blog writing, it’s no different. The best advice I can give to parents with kids who want to blog is to start a blog themselves.

The big thing with student blogs is that the turnover rate is super-high.   Kids are busy. It’s hard for them to keep up with things, so it’s hard to keep up with blogging.

There are a few great ones to look at as examples, though:

help kids start a blog | teachmama.com

We also looked at this blog (ours, teachmama.com) and we looked at some of my good friends’ blogs. These are the women whom Maddy has grown to know over the last few years and whose children have become her good pals:

We talked about how these blogs were alike and different, how they covered different ‘niches’ and how they used things like layout, text, and photos.

 

2.  She and I sat down and filled out the blog brainstorm teachmama.com.

I created this handy little packet for a blog writing workshop I led at Digital Family Summit last year, and I have honestly handed it to a ton of friends and family members.

help kids start a blog brainstorm sheet  teachmama.com.png

blog brainstorm teachmama.com.

Essentially, it’s a quick guide for people who want to start a blog.

It has people reflect on a few blog-focus questions:

  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • What do you know a lot about?
  • How can you help others with your blog?

blog brainstorm sheet  teachmama.com.png

And it covers some logistical and safety questions as well:

  • Who will read your blog?
  • Do you want to include your name? personal photos? your location?
  • What adult will support you in your blog writing?

These questions are ones that the family should answer together, especially if your child is 13 or younger.  Every family is different, so every family’s decisions will be different. 

The blog brainstorm sheet also includes an empty calendar so soon-t0-be-bloggers can start an editorial calendar and a sheet filled with thought-provoking questions and topics which will (hopefully) help with blog writing.

If you want to download it and use it, go right ahead: blog brainstorm teachmama.com.dfs

Please, if you use it and share it (yay and thank you!) I’d appreciate if you shared from this blog post and not the pdf itself. Thank you!

 

help kids start a blog | teachmama.com

3.We went to wordpress.com to set up her site. 

Though this little bloggy blog here started on blogger.com, I’ve since moved to wordpress.org and am much more familiar with this platform.

I knew that if Maddy really began to take her blog seriously, we could quickly and easily move her from wordpress.com to wordpress.org.  Though there are differences between wordpress.com and wordpress.org, essentially blogs on wordpress.org are self-hosted so you end up maintaining more control over content and design.

And, even though wordpress.com’s Terms of Service clearly outline that users must be at least 13 years of age, I registered the blog under my own account.  That means that I will always have editing control over Maddy’s posts, photos, and content.

Other sites that are worth checking out for hosting kid blogs:

  • edublogs.com: no age limits with terms of service because it’s designed for students
  • kidblog.com: great for a classroom or very large family
  • Edmodo.com: incredible for connecting students in a class

If you know what you’re doing and want to head straight to buying your own domain name, try GoDaddy.com.

You may want to show your kiddos the video below from Edublogs: 

4. She started designing, writing, and creating. 

We’ve explored and played and created on picmonkey, which is the platform I use to create all of my photos. It’s easy. It’s intuitive. It’s fun for kids.  (And adults.)

And that’s that. I have always been right there, helping her upload photos and talking her through decisions, but really, she’s done it all on her own from there.   She goes in waves, like most kids with most things.

One month she’ll be nuts writing, taking photos and writing posts. Other times, she lets it go for a few weeks.

I have a feeling this summer will be a blog-busy one for one 10-year old in our house–which is fine with me!

 

Having second thoughts? Want a few beginner steps for your digital kid before they take on the blog?  Check out:

 

 

GoDaddy.com
 

fyi: I am in a partnership with Intel AIO . Through this partnership I gain access to content, product, or other forms of value. Affiliate links are used in this post.

 

first steps to writing: teaching grip to first letters and words

first steps to writing cover collage teachmama.com.png

I just shared a cool series over at the Scholastic Parents Raise a Reader blog, and I think it will be of interest to many parents.

It’s all about first steps to writing and what parents can do to help with teaching their kids proper grip to first letters and words.

Super-quick reads.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • First Steps to Writing–Teaching Grip to First Letters and Words:  It’s hard to know where to start and what to do as a parent when it comes to writing. How are we supposed to know what to do? Don’t kids just know how to hold a pencil properly? What’s the deal?

No. Humans aren’t born with the innate ability to hold a writing tool and they really do need help learning the proper positioning.

And? There are tons of easy ways parents can support this learning at home. Early in the game.

Click on the images to read more.

first steps to writing fine motor skills

first steps to writing: build fine motor skills

**********************

early writing skills how to teach grip

first steps to writing: how to teach grip

**********************

letters and words to teach your kids first scholastic

first steps to writing: letters and words to write first

**********************

Need some more name-learning inspiration? Check out:

Want some other cool ideas for creating words and sending messages? Check out:

Have fun and feel free to link up any other ideas you have–I’m always up for more sneaky fun ways of spending time with my kiddos!

turn your kids into grammar sharks: national grammar day

become a grammar shark | teachmama.com

be a grammar shark | teachmama.com

I have been as sick as a dog–sick as a dawwwwg— for the past few days, but today I had a little spring in my step because it was National Grammar Day.

And this old gal, though she may have strep and she may have spend the last few days in bed, sure does love her grammar.

But what I realized is that my kids do not. 

My kids don’t even have the opportunities we had–way back when–to hunt down misplaced modifiers or to diagram sentences.

They’re too busy learning other super-important big stuff, analyzing poems for author’s voice and decomposing numbers and then composing them back up again like little magicians.

So what I decided was that, because our Word-A-Day Cards went over so well, why not get a little grammar-happy with something similar? Could I create Grammar Sharks out of my kids, just by hitting them with a little dose o’ grammar at breakfast time?

I am going to try!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Turn Your Kids into Grammar Sharks–National Grammar Day:

First of all, what’s a ‘Grammar Shark’?

A Grammar Shark is a person who in the blink of an eye can spot the misspelling on the restaurant menu.

turn your kids into grammar sharks: national grammar day

turn your kids into grammar sharks: national grammar day
A Grammar Shark is a person who has to bite her tongue in order hold back a

‘OhmygoshwillyouPLEASEstopsaying’feelbadly’whenitreallyshouldbe’feelbad’??!! or a ‘Sohelpmeifhesays’awholenotherstory’onemoretimeIamgoingtolosemymind!!!’ so as not to lose friends on a daily basis.

A Grammar Shark is a person who can clean up a misplaced modifier in no time flat, who knows the difference between who and whom and who likes to talk about the 7 Comma Rules.

turn your kids into grammar sharks: national grammar day

Really, there aren’t many of us out there, and I’m not planning on brainwashing my kids into becoming hard-core grammarians. I will, however, do my best to make sure that they move through life knowing the basics of our English grammar.

I am hoping that by capitalizing on that precious mealtime that they will read not only the cereal boxes and the Kids Post but also my teeny, tiny little Grammar Shark Cards.

So turn your kids into grammar sharks: national grammar day

I’ve included a ton of grammar hang-ups that everyone should know, including the ever-challenging:

  • to vs too vs two;
  • a lot vs alot;
  • they’re vs there vs their;
  • who vs whom;
  • are vs our. . .

And some cards have little ?’s — questions to ponder.  Not all, but some.

All I did was print the grammar shark cards cards onto brightly colored cardstock (because grammar is FUN! and BRIGHT! and EXCITING!), punch a hole in one corner and throw a ring clip to keep them secure.

Feel free to print, share, email to a buddy, pin, tweet, whatever. And if you tag me (@teachmama or @teachmama or @teachmama1) I’ll respond! Give you a virtual high five! A huge and happy thanks hug!

I’ll chest bump ‘ya–from one mama who’s trying to another!

And that’s it. We keep our Grammar Shark Cards  on the snack bar open to one card a day.  Slowly but surely, we’re creating Grammar Sharks over here. Slowly but surely.

Do you have a grammar hang-up or pet peeve? Let me know! 

If it’s not currently on the Grammar Shark Cards, I’ll make sure it’s on the next batch. And happy National Grammar Day, my friends!

celebrate creativity: PBS Kids writers contest for K-3

celebrate creativity: PBS Kids writers contest for K-3

celebrate creativity pbs kids writers contest

One of the greatest ways to get kids invested and interested in writing is to give them authentic reasons to write.

When I was teaching high school, I kept a huge bulletin board in my room where I posted tons of contests that my students could enter. It was awesome–so totally fun–when one of them won or placed.  They were overjoyed.  Their parents were thrilled.

We always celebrated in some way as a class.

So any time I run into a contest that my own kids can enter, I make a rockin  huge deal out of it. 

There’s a great one going on right now, and it’s hosted by our friends at PBS Kids.

While Owen and Maddy are working on homework, Cora’s been working on her entry.

Here’s the skinny. . .

That’s right. It’s a contest open to children in Kindergarten through grade three.

And the prizes are great–perfect for kids–and the contest site is set up brilliantly: it’s easy to navigate, clear, and basic enough for kids and parents.

There are tons of former entries to read, organized by grade level and prize, which I think is awesome for so many reasons.  It’s writing that kids want to read; it demonstrates the types of submissions they receive and what kinds of pieces win.

Cora has pored through the stories for the last few days, reading them one by one on the computer and letting us know when she finds a ‘good one’.  And? Some are pretty awesome.

celebrate creativity: pbs kids writers contest

Very clever. Very creative.

It forces kids to bring their A-game to the contest.

And the cool thing? Kids can create–and save–their stories right on the platform.

Here are the deets:

We’ll see how it goes.  Owen and Cora are interested in entering, and they both have partial drafts completed.  Let’s hope they finish them, feel good about them, submit, and (maybe!?) even get recognized!

Totally worth checking out if you have kids in Kindergarten through third grade!

 

What are your fave spots for finding kid-friendly writing contests? Do tell!

We rely heavily on The Washington Post’s Kids Post, which often shares information on contests for kids.  My kids have entered a ton.   And we’re still waiting for a win.. . . maybe now’s their time!

analog twitter wall to build relationships and digital citizenship

twitter wall in the classroom teachmama.com | analog twitter wall

twitter wall in the classroom  teachmama.comThe following guest post is written by Drew Minock, of Two Guys and Some iPads and the Two Guys podcast.  Drew knows his stuff. Check him out.

I absolutely love this idea for so many reasons.

——————————

  • Analog Twitter Wall to Build Relationships and Digital Citizenship, by Drew Minock

We live in a time where just “1 Click” can ruin someone’s life.

Students in my 4th grade class are very aware of various social media websites, and some even have accounts. Instead of acting like social media does not exist, we need to teach them how to properly use it to keep them safe from others, and most importantly safe from themselves.

It was on May 2nd on this year I decided to create a professional Twitter handle to connect with educators around the world and to share stories from my classroom. It did not take long for me to realize how powerful Twitter can be as a way to connect and learn from others.

During this past summer, I heard about many educators using Twitter in their classroom.

twitter in the classroom | teachmama.com

I loved the idea but did not know how to start, or incorporate it into my classroom.

I decided to go against the digital trend and use an analog Twitter wall to encourage students to express their feelings and thoughts.

On the first day of school, I gave each student a laminated sentence strip. Each sentence strip had a couple of magnets attached to the back to easily attach and remove from our wall. To get started, I went through the “Twitter Basics” to explain the definitions of a tweet, twitter handle, hashtag, and followers.

twitter in the classroom | teachmama.com

Idea from https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2013/06/20/twitter-in-the-classroom/

My students were very excited at the opportunity to tweet.

Each student created a personal Twitter handle. I decided to make tweeting a main segment in our daily morning routine. Each morning the students enter the classroom, they follow the same routine:

1. Place homework or notes for me in a blue bucket

2. Tweet

3. Lunch Count/Attendance

twitter in the classroom | teachmama.com

After lunch count and attendance is finished, we gather for a morning meeting to discuss the days schedule and have the students share their tweets.  Each tweet also allows me to learn about my students’ interest, exciting events outside of school, and daily emotions. This allows me to build a stronger relationship with each student and help them reach their greatest potential.

During the school year, we have discussed appropriate tweets, comments, and the importance of building a positive digital footprint. I also write an analog tweet each morning to help model digital citizenship.

twitter in the classroom | teachmama.com
Creating an analog Twitter wall with my 4th grade class has helped me build positive relationships with each student, address the important topic of digital citizenship, and create an activity to start each day–an activity that makes every student excited about school.

Other educators around our school have seen the excitement tweeting brings each student and have decided to join the fun. It is great to see students sharing their feelings, while learning to be importance of being digital citizens at the same time!

——–

Thank you, thank you Drew for taking the time to share this idea with us! I think it could be used in the classroom, at home, or just about anywhere. Awesome.

Best-Keynote Solo

Drew is a 4th grade teacher in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and Co-Founder of the educational blog Two Guys and Some iPads and the iTunes News and Noteworthy podcast The Two Guys Show. You can find Drew on Twitter @TechMinock.

 

Looking for more information about digital literacy?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards: 

Or these great blog posts:

 

rockstar sunday promo teachmamaThe response to our Rockstar Sunday feature has been overwhelming. I am in awe of the ideas, submissions, and shares!

Having been in the blogging space for 5+ years, we know for sure that our readers are always up for fresh and fun ideas on literacy, math, technology, parenting, and learning in the every day. They love crafts, hands-on teaching ideas, printables, cooking with kids, and anything that makes their job as parents easier, better, and more fun.

You don’t have to have a blog of your own–just cool ideas to share! We look forward to hearing from you!

other posts in the series:

 

secret message valentines: homemade, candy-free, totally cool

secret message valentines magic and totally cool teachmama.com

post contains affiliate links

 

secret message valentines  magic and totally cool teachmama.com

 

Longtime fans of the ole homemade Valentine, I’ve had to get a little more clever and crafty as the kids get older.

But I still want them writing, reading, and thinking (come on. . . at least a little!) while they’re making them.

So when I did some Valentine searching this year, I found a ton of cool ideas.  A ton of cool ideas.

There are about a million, trillion awesome homemade Valentines out there.

But the Secret Message Valentines caught my eye. I knew Maddy, Owen, and Cora would totally love them, and they do.  They really think they’re fun.

Secret Message Valentines that are homemade, candy-free and kids still think they’re totally cool? Like a dream.

And they won’t break the bank.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Secret Message Valentines–Homemade, Candy-Free, Totally Cool:

Want to make these for this year’s rockstar Valentines? Super.

Your kids will love you.

You’ll need:

secret message valentines | teachmama.com

secret message valentines | teachmama.com

 

Here’s a quick video with the ‘how-to’ for making Secret Message Valentines:

 

 

Before Maddy, Owen, Cora and I started making them, we did a whole lot of ‘message brainstorming’.  I wanted them to realize that though some of the Valentines required that they only signed their name, other ones left spaces for real secret messages.

What would those messages be? 

What should they be? 

We came up with some ideas:

magic message valentines -| teachmama.com

magic message valentines -| teachmama.com

magic message valentines -| teachmama.com

 

Having the ideas helped, especially because messages had to be short.

And because they were writing the messages with white crayon on white paper, the messages had to be simple.

 

magic message valentines -| teachmama.com

magic message valentines -| teachmama.com

magic message valentines -| teachmama.com

 

These kind of reminded me of the Scratch-Off Tickets we made a few years ago during holiday time in the way that they carried a secret message for the kids to find.

I think I just may use them for Valentine cards next year. . . hmmmmm.

What are your favorite super-cool, candy-free Valentines for kids to make? I’d love to hear ’em!

Here are a few of ours:

 

HUGE and happy thanks to all the folks who came before me and made similar Valentines. Though I love this idea, I by no means invented it! I did not use one particular post as a model, but the following posts were my inspiration: SpanglishBaby Secret Message Valentines; Small + Friendly Secret Message ValentineSecret Message Valentine Mini-Edition; Spoonful Secret Message Valentines, & more! Thank you, thank you!

 

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kid-happy, pet-inspired poetry writing: haiku and cinquain

kid-happy poetry writing haiku and cinquain

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We’ve been dumped on.

Big time.kid-happy poetry writing haiku and cinquain

Tons of snow has kept us indoors for the last few days, save from the few hours we’ve spent freezing our tails off in the white fluffy stuff.

So we’ve had more than enough time to do some kid-happy, pet-inspired poetry writing. And we’re not messing around.

We’re going big-time here, rockin the haiku and cinquain.

Bam.

We all listened, supported, and gave Maddy feedback on her entry into Pets Add Life’s 6th Annual Pet Poetry Contest.

YAY!!!

And after paging through the entries, my Maddy decided that in order to set her poems apart from the rest, she was going to have her poems follow a slightly different format, a format that she’s recently learned in fourth grade and one that she really loves writing.

She couldn’t decide between the haiku or the cinquain, so she did both.

One stanza is haiku and the other is cinquain, and together they make her rockin entry into the contest. I mean, how can a person decide between those two options? They’re both awesome, right?

So we brainstormed, refreshed her memory about the specifics of the haiku and cinquain, and did some kid-happy, pet-inspired poetry writing.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Kid-Happy, Pet-Inspired Poetry Writing — Haiku and Cinquain:  Really, now that she’s in fourth grade, Maddy led the show with this.

She knew she wanted to write about our birds because she thought they would be a unique pet and that not that many kids would be doing the same.

She also knew the basics of haiku and cinquain format but wanted me to double check for her.

kid-happy, pet-inspired poetry writing: haiku and cinquain | teachmama.com

So she and I searched ‘haiku writing for kids’ and ‘cinquain writing for kids’ and came up with two really easy-to-follow resources:

kid-happy, pet-inspired poetry writing: haiku and cinquain | teachmama.com

kid-happy, pet-inspired poetry writing: haiku and cinquain

A quick refresher:

  • Haiku is all about syllables. It’s a three-line poem, with 5 syllables in first line, 7 syllables in second, and 5 syllables in the third.
  • Cinquain (pronounced sin-kane) is a five-line poem with a pretty specific formula:

    a one-word title, a noun
    two adjectives
    three -ing participles
    a phrase
    a synonym for your title, another noun

kid-happy, pet-inspired poetry writing: haiku and cinquain

She grabbed a piece of paper and started jotting down some brainstorming notes, starting with the cinquain and then moving onto the haiku.

When questions arose about word choice, she asked.  I need some help thinking of -ing words about the birds.  What sounds better: ‘budgie’ or ‘parakeet’? 

Owen and Cora were nearby, and though they are too young to enter the contest (boo-hoo!), they were on hand to help their sister.  And after a few drafts and several revisions, her poems were finished.

kid-happy, pet-inspired poetry writing: haiku and cinquain

kid-happy, pet-inspired poetry writing: haiku and cinquain

Though she loved writing her poem, I am willing to bet that Maddy’s favorite part was entering it on the computer, on the PAL website.  My kids love using the computer, any time of the day.

And after she finished, she and Owen re-read the entries, trying to narrow down her competition.

Talk about some fun reading–they laughed at the funny ones and got teary at the sad ones.  Some of those poems, written by kids are pretty darn good.  Gulp.

Really, kids can write haiku, cinquain, or any sort of free-verse or rhyme poem inspired by their pets any day of the year. Pets are a super topic because kids often have seriously strong feelings about their fuzzy, scaly, feathery, slimy brothers and sisters.

Find a funny pet photo or recall a silly memory of a pet’s naughty behavior, and you have ideal pet poem content!

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But now is a particularly awesome time to get your kids writing in the name of their pets because the PAL Children’s Poetry contest has some pretty great prizes.  Kids in grades 3-8 may enter, and prizes are a $250 gift card for each age group and $1000 for the winners’ classes!

And aside from the prizes, kids feel awesome when their writing has a real purpose.  A real-life application. But the deadline is January 31, 2014, so you have to act quickly.

Check it out.  Share this blog post or the Calling All Creative Kids! post with your friends and your kids’ school.

Or just share the Children’s Poetry Contest site with them, and you’ll still be good.

fyi: This is a sponsored post; I was asked to share information about this contest by my friends at PAL, and I gladly obliged knowing it’s a serious win-win!

pet poetry contest: calling all creative kids!

pal pet poetry contest

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pet poetry contest | @PetsAddLife

As a longtime friend of PAL, Pets Add Life, I’m happy to share news about a cool opportunity for our students, teachers, and parents.

Now through January 31, 2014, Pets Add Life invites students in grades 3 – 8 to enter the 6th Annual Pets Add Life Children’s Poetry Contest and write a poem about their pets.   So fun.

All entrants have a chance at winning a $250 gift card and a byline in a national publication or online outlet.  But there’s more.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Pet Poetry Contest–Calling All Creative Kids:  Pets Add Life is a nonprofit campaign established by the American Pet Products Association.

And I love that PAL does this every year to not only get kids writing (yay!) but to celebrate our furry, feathery, scaly, fuzzy friends.

Love pets? Your creative student could win $250 plus $1,000 for their classroom!

That’s right.  Each winning student’s classroom will receive $1,000 to spend on pet-related education!

pal pet poetry contest

Teachers are encouraged to submit students’ poems in one entry on behalf of their classrooms. For more information or to submit poems, visit www.PetsAddLife.org.

PAL_logo_hiYou can enter the contest here: PAL Pet Poetry Contest.

Thinking about entering? We are too! Please stay in touch and let us know if your kiddo–or student–is a winner!

fyi: This is a sponsored post; I was asked to share information about this contest by my friends at PAL, and I gladly obliged knowing it’s a serious win-win!

word building, letter writing, stamping to spell

stamp to spell

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stamp to spell | use stamps for early literacy learning and spelling | teachmama.com

 Originally published on 2.23.11 but republished because it’s that important.

During Maddy’s homework time yesterday, Owen had one task on  his mind: he wanted to write a get-well letter to his buddy who recently had surgery.  He knew exactly what he wanted to write–he told me at least two times during the day what his letter would say, and we knew exactly what we wanted to put in his pal’s little ‘get well quick’ package.

But my O-man wanted to make his letter special. He wanted to make it fancy he said, because he wanted to really cheer his buddy up.

So I brought down the alphabet letter stamps–our favorites from Melissa & Doug–and I asked if he wanted to stamp his letter.  Score! He did, so he got stamping. . .

. . . and while Cora initially began her own letter to Owen’s friend, she quickly switched gears and decided that she instead wanted to ‘stamp names’. So stamping names my little Cora did.

All the while, Maddy and I rocked out her homework, and I’ll tell you, overall, homework time went pretty smoothly for us.

  • Word Building, Letter Writing, Stamping to Spell: Before Owen began, he dictated his letter to me.  I wrote it down and placed it next to his blank card and the alphabet stamps.

I asked,  Do you want me to make lines for you, Owen?

No, I know what to do, he said.  And apparently he did. He got rolling and only stopped when Maddy mentioned something to him about spaces between words.

You should really try putting two fingers on the paper and use that as the space between words so it’s not all one big word on the page. That’s what my teacher taught me last year.

stamp to spell | teachmama.com

Owen tries out Maddy’s ‘two fingers for a space’ trick.

I confirmed her suggestion, and Owen started using his two tiny fingers as spaces. He got hung up when there wasn’t enough room on the page for the ‘u’ in ‘you’ so I tried to squeeze it in for him. It didn’t work:  Now it looks like a ‘q’ Mommy. Come on. Really, what am I good for anymore?

So I did what I could to fix it and he didn’t ask me for help again.

stamp to spell | early literacy | spelling | teachmama.com

stamp to spell | teachmama.comMy sweet, sweet Owen was so proud of his letter.   And he should be.

And I really didn’t need to, because he did know what he was doing. Sure, he moved back and forth between uppercase and lowercase letters, but at this point, that’s no big deal. He used his eyes to follow the words on the letter I wrote, found the correct letter stamp in the set, and then marked that letter on the page. That’s not easy.

Sure, he got tired and decided to omit a whole line of his message, but that doesn’t matter. It wasn’t an easy task, and he worked hard.

He stamped some flowers, dogs, hearts on the front of the card, and he added his own few hearts for his buddy.  If that doesn’t cheer a guy up, I’m not sure what will.

stamp to spell | early literacy | spelling | teachmama.com

stamp to spell | early literacy | spelling | teachmama.com

  • Stamping Family Names: While Owen stamped his letter, Cora stamped our family’s names.

Lately, she’s brought down our Family Name Chart at least once a week; she’s traced names, doodled on the page, anything.  Sometimes she just has the chart next to her as she colors.  Maybe because she likes the ‘older’ pictures of our family? (Cora was maybe a year old when I made it. . . )

The Family Name Charts are here to download if you’d like. They include three charts: one with MOMMY, DADDY and 3 blank spaces; one with Mommy, Daddy, and 3 blank spaces; and one with 5 blank spaces.

new family name chart (in Word, so you can change it yourself), or new family chart–BLANK ( as a pdf, so you can write in the names yourself).  Enjoy!

Cora began with Maddy’s name; she said, I need an ‘M’, I need an ‘M‘.  And when she found it, she stamped it.  Then she’d continue: I need an ‘A’, I need an ‘A’, I need the ‘A’. . . as she searched for it in the box.

stamp to spell | early literacy and letter recognition | teachmama.com

 

stamp to spell | early literacy | letter recognition | teachmama.com

Once Maddy was stamped, she went on to Owen, but before she started, I drew four little lines for her.  You can put the letters right on these lines so each letter is in the right place, I said.  I did the same for her name and Brady’s.

It was hard enough for her to follow the letters from the sheet, to the stamp set, to the paper, and keep them all in the correct spot, so I thought the little lines would give her a little help.

 

stamp to spell | early literacy and letter recognition | teachmama.comCora stamped family names.

And that’s it.  Cora stamped out family names, Owen stamped his buddy’s note, and when Maddy was finished with her work, she stamped a few fancy pictures for her pals.  Quick, easy, and worthwhile time spent for everyone, building words, writing letters, and stamping to spell, all the while practicing fine motor skills and spelling.

Our kiddos don’t always have to write in order to learn letters and words; in fact, sometimes when we mix things up a bit, they’re even more interested in ‘playing’ and (secretly) learning.

Want some other cool ideas for creating words and sending messages? Check out:

Have fun and feel free to link up any other ideas you have–I’m always up for more sneaky fun ways of spending time with my kiddos!

 

fyi: affiliate links are used in this post