In Part One of Early STEM Activities , I discussed what STEM is, why STEM is important, listed my favourite STEM materials and shared some of my favourite STEM activities. In Part Two of this Early STEM Activities blog, I am excited to share plenty more STEM ideas. Continue reading “Early STEM Activities: Part Two”
Developing literacy skills in young students is extremely important in the early years and a large proportion of the school day is spent teaching these skills. To help me develop my students’ literacy skills, I use a wide variety of teaching tools and resources within my literacy program. Over the past few years, my collection of literacy resources has grown, yet I always seem to return back to my favourites; the resources that can be used in a myriad of ways. In this blog, I have compiled a list of my ALL TIME favourite literacy resources that I use regularly in my classroom and explain the different ways they can be used.
Chunky Alphabet Beads
There is something about threading activities that really captivates children’s attention. I have used these Chunky Alphabet Beads in both kindergarten and school settings and both age groups have adored them. On top of the obvious hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills that threading resources promote, there is also a range of literacy skills that these Chunky Alphabet Beads encourage. I have used these beads with my students to develop their letter recognition skills, name and word building skills, as well as awareness of uppercase and lowercase letters and alphabet sequence. Some of the activities I have implemented using these Chunky Alphabet Beads include:
- Spelling names (focus on using uppercase letter followed by lowercase)
- Spelling sight words
- Spelling CVC words
- Matching uppercase and lowercase beads together
- Sequencing the alphabet
- Letter finds (e.g. finding all of the e’s, or finding the letter that makes a /s/ sound)
Wooden Alphabet Sorting Tray
I LOVE resources that can be used in a variety of ways, which is why this Wooden Alphabet Sorting Tray is included in my list of All Time Favourite Literacy Resources. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have used this tray in my early years classroom and it is one of my ‘go-to’ resources when planning hands-on activities for literacy rotations. Some of the activities I have implemented using this Wooden Alphabet Sorting Tray include:
- Sorting and matching magnetic letters into compartments (using tongs for added fine motor opportunities)
- Matching an uppercase letter manipulative with the matching lowercase compartment
- Practising letter formation by writing letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper and then placing them in the matching compartment
- Writing words that start with each letter on a piece of paper and then placing them in the correct compartment
- Beginning sound match-up (having a range of small toys and sorting them into the correct compartment according to their beginning phoneme)
Alphabet Bean Bags
In early years classrooms, there are many times in the day when students are transitioning from one activity to another. I like using these transition times as a teachable moment to consolidate learning and to give the children an opportunity to showcase their understanding. One of my favourite ways to transition students (e.g. from the carpet to the tables) is by throwing an alphabet beanbag to each student. Each child will catch their beanbag and tell the class what letter they are holding. This activity can also be adapted by having the student explain what sound that letter makes, or say a word that starts with that letter. Besides transitioning, other activities I have implemented using these alphabet beanbags include:
- Throwing beanbags into a hula hoop and saying the name of letter/correlating sound
- Laying letter cards out on the carpet and throwing the beanbags on top of matching letters
- Uppercase/Lowercase game where the beanbag is thrown and then depending on what side it lands on, students will say “Uppercase!” or “Lowercase!”
Phonix CVC Group Work Set
Along with making CVC words, some of the other ways we have used these Phonix cubes in the classroom include:
- Building sight words
- Building word families
- Building names (they have uppercase on one side, lowercase on the other)
- Sequencing the letters of the alphabet (my students love this one because they end up with a really long creation, which they think is fun!)
Lowercase Alphabet Dough Stampers
Playdough is ALWAYS a hit in my classroom and is perfect for developing those important fine motor skills as well as allowing children to engage in sensory play. To add an extra element to playdough play, I love adding these Alphabet Stampers to our playdough table to encourage letter exploration and word building. We frequently use our Alphabet Stampers to practise our sight words, which is a great way for students to familiarise recognising, reading and spelling these important words. Other ways we have used these Alphabet Stampers in our classroom include:
- Stamping names into playdough
- Stamping CVC words into playdough
- Tracing letters with a finger after stamping
Write and Wipe Sleeves
These Write and Wipe Sleeves have saved me SO much time and money over the past year, which is why I’ve included them on my All Time Favourite Literacy Resources list! What teacher doesn’t love saving time and money?! There is no need to laminate sheets with these Write and Wipe Sleeves, I simply place whatever sheet I need for the lesson inside the sleeve and then voilà! Students can write with whiteboard markers on these sleeves and then easily wipe away. Some of the activities we have used these Write and Wipe Sleeves for include:
- Roll and Write sight words
- Tracing and writing sight words
- Tracing letters or using resources (rocks etc) to trace over letters
- Making playdough letters
Developing oral language skills and comprehension skills are vital components of our early years curriculum. One of my favourite resources to support development of both of these skills are Storywands. Storywands are a fun way to encourage discussion and understanding of stories. We have used them in whole-group shared reading sessions, as well as small-group guided reading. Each star has a different question on it, which encourages students to focus on different story elements. These Storywands are used extensively as part of our reading program and in a variety of ways, including:
- In whole-group shared reading
- In small-group guided reading (where each student answers a question)
- Using one star per lesson as a focus (for example, students will draw a picture to answer the question, ‘How did the story end?’)
- To focus on developing the reading skill of prediction
- To focus on developing oral retelling skills
Wooden Alphabet Discs
I have a weakness for any type of wooden resource – especially ones that can be used in so many ways! These Wooden Alphabet Discs have 26 uppercase and 26 lowercase discs and are perfect for simple letter recognition and letter matching games. I have used these beauties in both kindergarten and school settings in a variety of ways, including:
- Letter match-up sheets (matching letters, matching uppercase to lowercase)
- Looking for alphabet discs in rainbow rice
- Separating numbers and letters (with the addition of Wooden Number Discs)
- Letter Partner game (hand out uppercase and lowercase discs to students and then they have to find their partner with the matching letter)
Lowercase Letter Beads
You already know that my students LOVE threading activities, so it probably won’t surprise you that I have included these Lowercase Letter Beads in my list of All Time Favourite Literacy Resources. I love that these beads are lowercase and they can be used with lots of different tools such as string, laces or even pipe cleaners. We mainly use these beads to practise spelling our sight words. Our favourite way to do this is by threading them onto a string as well as using tongs to pick them up and arrange them into a word. Other ways we have used these Lowercase Letter Beads in the classroom include:
- Spelling names
- Sequencing letters in the alphabet
- Creating a string of words in word families (e.g. mat, cat, sat)
Alphabet Soup Sorter Cans
Last, but definitely not least, on my list of All Time Favourite Literacy Resources are these Alphabet Soup Sorter Cans. My students always get super excited whenever I bring these out because of their fun nature and opportunities for hands-on learning. This resource encourages students to sort the object and letter cards into the correlating cans and supports alphabet awareness, letter and sound recognition. Some of the ways I have used this resource in my classroom include:
- Whole group activities when introducing a letter/sound
- Consolidating a group of sounds (e.g. SATPIN)
- Small group sorting with some or all cans
Have you used any of these resources within your literacy program? What is your all time favourite literacy resource? We’d love to hear from you.
Heidi Overbye from Learning Through Play is a Brisbane based, Early Years Teacher who currently teaches Prep, the first year of formal schooling in Queensland. Heidi is an advocate for play-based, hands-on learning experiences and creating stimulating and creative learning spaces. Heidi shares what happens in her classroom daily on her Instagram page, Learning Through Play. See @learning.through.play for a huge range of activities, play spaces and lesson ideas.
“Drink in the beauty and wonder at the meaning of what you see.” Rachel Carson
I recently watched the film ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, and as the film came to a wonderful and uplifting end, I was struck by a couple of strong elements that weave their way through the film and demonstrate how we can allow children to take the lead in their quest for answers to questions that matter to them.
Talking about it
We are a society that struggles with grief, we don’t know how to talk about it, how to enable it and how to live with it. In my own experience, grief is often overwhelming and debilitating, so I was surprised to see this children’s film, based on P.L. Travers’ books, featuring grief and loss as central and underlying themes. ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is a lesson on living with grief, it’s woven through the film in a number of ways, the loss of the children’s mother, the impact this has on their father, the impending loss of the family home, the loss of of innocence and that sense of wonder and the loss of childhood. We are reminded throughout the film of the strong community ties that were quintessential of that time, ties that we see less and less of now in our sprawling cities and disconnected lives. There is a very strong emphasis on the need to talk to others about our problems, and a clear message that talking to family and friends when you are struggling allows you to get the support you need to effectively manage your feelings.
Seeing the world through children’s eyes
When Michael Banks is told he’s “forgotten what it’s like,” by the Balloon Lady, he responds, “To hold a balloon?” , “To be a child,” she replies.
This simple quote by the Balloon Lady (Angela Lansbury, 93) captures the other main element that runs throughout the film, “When did we forget how to be children?”
This film was built around the notion of letting children lead and giving them opportunity to give a voice to their ideas and theories, to delight in the magic and unexplainable and be in the moment with them.
This begs the question; are we, as early childhood educators, at risk of becoming so focused on curating the child’s life with us (every moment accounted for and photographed, notes on toileting, eating, sleep, pencil grip, physical skills, knowledge, social networks and everything in between) that we are missing the very thing we should be focused on? How children see the world and how they understand and make sense of what they see.
Have we actually forgotten how to be children and to see the world as children see it?
Seeing the world through children’s eyes is challenging, because it requires us to suspend our existing thinking and knowledge and to see the world with new eyes for the very first time, to be in the moment each and every day, for every child. For some, this their everyday practice, whereas for those of us who are more like Michael, and have forgotten what it’s like to be a child, it can be a struggle to really listen and see and we can often be bogged down in the collecting, curating, cleaning and the sound of our own voice. Anne Pelo challenges us to “fall into moments” with children, to “join our attention” with them and what they are doing, to put down the pen and pad, to listen more deeply to what children are saying, to look at the world with the child’s eyes and see that everything is new.
“To be as curious and as open to what is possible as a child.”
Now, this is not new thinking. In fact, I believe the song lines of our First Nations People is an extraordinary example of explaining how the world came to be, such was the richness of these song lines that they are actually linked by generations of storytellers to the beginning of the Dreaming.
Rachel Carson, writing in the Woman’s Home Companion magazine, July 1956 said:
“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”
Carson challenges us to be these adult companions, to listen deeply to children, not muddy their ideas with our rationalism and encyclopaedic knowledge, but to be lead by children as they discover the world around them. She asks us to be the keepers of “Awe and Wonder” in each child.
This reimagining our own role in the early childhood space is supported in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), asking us to enable children to actively construct their own understandings and contribute to others’ learning. They recognise their agency, capacity to initiate and lead learning, and their rights to participate in decisions that affect them, including their learning.’ EYLF p.9
This is a powerful way of seeing how we engage and enable children to be at the very centre of their learning journey. It will challenge how we let children take risks and has the potential to enrich the lives of families as they learn how powerful and uplifting those moments can be when adult and child are captured by the beauty, wonder and awe of what is around them.
The solutions to climate change, curing diseases and making clean drinking water accessible to everybody on this planet will be solved by a child who sees the world through a lens that we can provide and build into their thinking. This pattern of reflective thinking could be set out in a series of simple questions that ask the child and adult to focus, such as:
“What would you like to know about …?”
“What do you think will happen if your idea is correct?”
“What do you think will happen if… or when…”
“Why do you think that will happen?”
“What will you need to do to find out…”
“How might you let others know about this?”
“How might you do this again?”
“Wonder is the centre of all motivation and action in the child. Wonder and beauty are what make life genuinely personal. Wonder attunes to beauty through sensitivity and is unfolded by secure attachment. When wonder, beauty, sensitivity and secure attachment are present, learning is meaningful.” L’Ecuyer (2014)
“Facilitate and engage, then step into the world of children.”
Who was Rachel Carson?
Rachel Carson worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (1936-1952) and in 1962 published “Silent Spring” based on her research into the effects that pesticides, in particular DDT, were having on birds, fish and small animals. It is cited as one of the catalysts for the birth of the environmental movement. It also reflected on something else that Ms Carson had been mulling over for sometime, which is how children see the world and how this engagement was being diminished by the modern world in which they lived.
About the Author
Neville Dwyer has a long history in early childhood services, with 32 years as Director of a community-based long day care service and, prior to that, five years coordinating a mobile children’s service and a short stint teaching at TAFE.
In 2005, Neville received the National Excellence in Teaching Award – Early Childhood and 2009 his early childhood service was the first to be named as a winner in the Australian Awards for Teaching Excellence in the School and Its Community section.
Neville has also sat on a number of management committees, including those for Griffith Neighbourhood House, Griffith Early Intervention, Western Riverina Family Day Care Scheme, Western Riverina Respite Care, Riverina Children’s Activity Van, Mobile Resources Services Association and Contact Inc. In 2018, he completed a 25-year stint as a board member of the CCSA (Community Connections Solutions Australia – previously known as the Country Children’s Services Association of NSW).
Neville’s passion is outdoor play environments, the natural world, risk and its value in play and development, technology, management, STEAM, and a service model that provides much more than just child care for preschool children.
Anne Pelo, in the “Thinking Together Video series ‘Joining children’s inquiry – with Anne Pelo” , Early Childhood Australia, 2015
Pelo A The Language of Art: Inquiry-Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings. Red leaf Press
Pelo, A ; The Goodness of Rain, Exchange Press 2013
L’Ecuryer, C (2014) The Wonder Approach to Learning, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Oct Vol. 8, Art 764 www.fronCersin.org
“Help Your Child to Wonder,” Woman’s Home Companion magazine, July 1956 h[p:// digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/ref/collecCon/document/id/1055
STEM! It’s a word we have all been hearing a lot about lately! At the beginning of this year, I started teaching at a new school and quickly learnt that STEM was a focus for teaching and learning. Continue reading “Early STEM Activities: Part One”
We often think of independence in young children as an end goal, something to work towards with the finish line being adulthood. What we often don’t consider, however, is that there is no magical point in time where we think, “AHA…we passed the line, independence has been achieved!” Continue reading “Fostering Independence”
In its recent review of early intervention resources for children from birth to 12 years, Australia’s National Mental Health Commission found that 83 per cent of experts agreed that ‘increasing resilience among children aged 0–12 could potentially prevent mental health issues during childhood and/or later in life’. As teachers, we know that our students’ well-being is not just related to their physical health.