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Teaching Kids to Write About Dinner

A fun writing lesson for kids about dinner?

A fun writing lesson for kids about dinner?

I’m headed off to the classroom today to teach 100 first and second graders what is supposed to be a fun writing lesson.  (Fingers crossed!)

Here’s my plan:

Learning Objectives: This lesson is focused on prewriting and drafting.  My goal is for there to be so much scaffolding that it’s easy for kids to get their initial ideas on paper.

How I’m going to activate prior knowledge: I’ll start with a brief (2 minute) discussion on what dinner is like at their houses.  There’ll be lots of opportunity to complain about their moms’ cooking!

Materials: “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, “A Pizza the Size of a Sun” by Jack Prelutsky,  and Who wants to eat princesses, anyway? by yours truly.  Also, paper plates, markers, pencils, papers and two cans of soup for props.

A fun way to prewrite.

A fun way to prewrite.

The Plan: I’ll show the kids my plate chart, and perhaps draw a giant one on the board.  Then I’ll read small experts from each piece of writing; a chapter book, a poem, and a newspaper column.  After each reading, I’ll show how that gets organized on the plates.

Of course, Laura didn't really write this all by herself.  Thank you Rose Wilder Lane!

Of course, Laura didn’t really write this all by herself. Thank you Rose Wilder Lane!

From “Farmer Boy”: From the chapter “Winter Evening”, the two paragraph description starting with “Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans”.

Too many feathers to be tasty.

From “A Pizza the Size of a Sun”: The poem “My mother makes me chicken”.

Eating Cinderella would be yucky.

From “Who wants to eat princess, anyway?”: Just a few lines about eating Cinderella vs. eating Agent P.

After the readings: The body of the lesson will be kids getting the plates and organizing their own ideas. This is called prewriting, and I’ll walk around the room and help.  After about 10-15 minutes of prewriting, we’ll move on to drafting.  I’ll pass out some notebook paper and let them start writing.  If we have time, kids will share what they have written during the last five minutes of the lesson.

What about the 5 Step Writing Process?: That would be prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.  I won’t have time to get to all of that in one lesson!  😦  But this will be a good start.

Kindergarten to First Grade Summer Bridge

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Summer should be fun, full of lots of free time, and enriched with the opportunity to experience boredom. But you can also use summer as a way to give your child the one-on-one targeted academic attention she might be missing out on during the regular school year.

Here is what I would do for a neurotypical 6 year old:

Morning Message

  • I sound like a broken record on this one, but writing a daily Morning Message on a little white board while your kids eat breakfast is a great way to teach phonics, reading, writing and punctuation. Use your own intuition to level this activity according to your child’s individual needs.

Homemade books

  • Go to the store and buy a whole bunch of paper and special art supplies. Put them in a big box or bag, but don’t let your child use any of it. When he is asleep, staple together a whole bunch of homemade blank books. The next day, tell him that he can each make one book every day all summer using the special art supplies.
  • The trick will be that you need to heavily facilitate the writing of the books. The child is the author and illustrator, but you are the secretary. (This is like the grown up version of the homemade books I’m making with Jenna.)
  • Make sure you are writing sentences that your child will be able to read 95% himself. At the end of the summer you should have a big box of 50 or 60 books that your child has authored, and is proud to read independentely, or to Grandma and Grandpa.

Structured Math Lessons

  • If you can afford it, I would use summer as a way to teach structured, hands-on math lessons to your child every day all summer. I think that Right Start, is a great way to go. (Oh, how I wish they were paying me money to say that!) There is a really good online placement test to help you pick out which kit to get.
  • Right Start is a bit of an investment, because you’ll need all of the math manipulatives, but you can use those tools later on to help your child understand their public school homework all the way up to at least fourth grade. Right Start would be a substantial improvement than any regular “workbook” you could buy at Costco.


Computer Time

  • I can’t say it enough, but those darn Reader Rabbit programs really helped Bruce learn math. I like them a lot better than the Jump Start series. For entering first graders, I’d recommend “Reader Rabbit 2nd grade math”, which has a good range on it, even though it has 2nd grade in the title.
  • It would also be worth checking out, at least for the first 2 week free trial, Dreambox math. Bruce has really enjoyed Dreambox in the past.
  • There’s also Houghton Mifflin’s free online Eduplace math games.
  • Here’s an extra sneaky trick we use in our house. Bruce has to do 2 pages of math to earn screen time. Then the computer things he plays are all educational. What a racket!


TV Time

  • Television? Yes, because you’ve got to be able to make dinner sometime! If you haven’t already seen it, set your DVR to tape PBS’s The Electric Company. It’s a big step up from “Super Why” in terms of plot line, but still teaches a ton of phonics. It really helped solidify Bruce’s reading skills when he was four and five.
  • If you still sense a weakness in your child’s phonics skills, check out “Leap Frog Talking Words Factory #2” from the library. It goes over lots of serious phonics rules in a fun way.
  • Once again, in our house Bruce has to do 2 pages of math to earn screen time! But you could modify this to 30 minutes of independent reading time, or whatever you need.

DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read)

  • Studies have shown that the more words on a page your child is exposed to and tries to read himself, the better his reading level abilities will be. High word count and practice is a better predictor of reading success than even teaching phonics or reading aloud to a child. So if you have an emergent or reluctant reader, it’s imperative that your make sure your child does Independent Reading every day, even if you have to resort to bribery!
  • Set up a cozy reading corner somewhere in your house, and stock it with a box of books you know are at an easy reading level for your child. You could even let your child munch on crackers or something, while she reads. Set the timer at 10 minutes, and slowly build up to 30 minutes by the end of summer.


Read Aloud

  • If I could recommend just one read aloud book for the summer before first grade, I’d suggest reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. You could read it together at bedtime, or check out the audio book on CD and take it with you to listen to in the car on your next camping trip. I’d choose this book for so many reasons, but mainly because it’s an American classic, and also because I think boys especially should be hooked on to this series before they think it’s too “girly” and refuse to read it.

Those are all of my main ideas, but I’m sure there are lots of other good ones out there. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, and to forward along the link to this page to anyone you think might be interested. Have a fun summer!

How to Make Jam

If you have never made jam before but have always wondered how, then this post is for you!  Or, if your daughter is currently obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and you want to seem like a hero, then go buy some fruit.

I am blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law who has taught me many things. How to can my own jam is one of them. I thought I would share what she has taught me, in case you want to give it a whirl.

Today at Whole Foods they had a special, one-day blueberry sale where they were selling 12 pints of organic blueberries for $19. That’s a really good deal! So today when Grammy took Jenna(2.5) to the beach, I made my family’s favorite low-sugar jam. My recipe includes:

  • 4 cups berries
  • 3 T low sugar Ball pectin
  • 3 t lemon juice
  • 1 cup apple or white grape juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar

1) First you have to make sure that your kitchen is brand-spanking clean. Use disinfectant and bleach out the sink, just in case. Then wash your canning jars and bands on the absolute hottest setting your dishwasher has to offer. Some people sterilize their jars in boiling water, but Grammy said that the dishwasher will work too.

2) Next prepare your berries. You need 4 cups of fruit, gently mashed. You can’t use a food processor or blender, because this will completely ruin everything, and your jam won’t jell right. With blueberries I usually don’t mash them because my family likes jam a bit chunky.

3) You also need to prepare your work station. Once everything is boiling, you don’t want to have to hunt down sugar. I use brand new canning lids every time, but I reuse jars and bands. I keep the lids in warm water, so they are ready to go.

I have an actual, water bath canner (shown on the left), but you don’t need one of those. An extra-large soup kettle will work too. That’s what I used for my first few years of canning. On the right is a small pasta pot used to make jam. I only cook one batch at a time, because otherwise the pectin jelling process can get screwed up.

4) Bring 4 cups berries, 3 T low sugar pectin, 1 cup juice and your lemon juice (if using) to a boil. Stir constantly.

5) Once you have a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, add your sugar. Continuing stirring and let boil for one minute. I usually let this boil for two minutes just be safe.

6) Fill your jars up to about 1/2 an inch at the top. Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel. Do you see the “gimpy” jar on the bottom left? That one is not going to be canned. Safety first!

7) Put on the lids and screw on the bands. You might hear some popping sounds, and that’s normal. It’s okay if you don’t hear anything though.

8 ) Put your jars in your kettle and cover with a lid. Let the water heat up until it is boiling.

9) Boil for ten minutes with the lid on. I usually let it go a little bit longer, just to be safe. It is okay to hear the gentle clinking of glass. Canning jars are really strong, and I have never had one break. But if it is sounding totally crazy in there, turn down the heat a little bit. This is called “the water bath method”.

10) Take the lid off and leave the jars in there for about 15 minutes.

11) Take your jars out and put them in a safe place. They need to stay there and rest for at least 24 hours. Once again, you might hear some popping sounds but that’s normal. The heat pulls the seal in and you hear a “pop”.

This type of jam is shelf-stable for up to a year, but be sure to refrigerate after opening. It makes great teacher gifts, especially if you add a gift card with it! 🙂

P.S. More information about home canning can be found here.