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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Awesomely Easy Toddler School: Letter A

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.  My opinions are all my own.

Last time, I introduced Toddler School as a way to incorporate learning into your toddler's every day routine.  Today, I'm going to go over specifically what we did with the letter A, so if you wanted to, you could use this as a kind of template to make it easy on yourself.  No need to reinvent the wheel!

Just as an aside, please remember that this is not forced or meant to be a super structured sit-in-a-desk time.  This is a fun, do whatever she's interested time.  Not every child responds to this kind of thing.  If yours doesn't, you'll have to get sneakier or more creative about how you introduce information to them.  You can still do it, but maybe not in this way.

Ok, but if you do want to do what we are doing, this is how we do it.

Calendar Time and Number Play

First of all, we start out day by doing our calendar.  I talked about it in my last post.  The calendar is a great way to practice counting, number recognition, prereading skills, days of the week, months, and more!  I also use calculator play, number puzzles, and the Poke a Dot books for number and counting practice throughout the day.  These are not really related to my alphabet theme, but I do try to make a point to do at least one number activity or book with her each day.

She loves playing with "her" calculator.

Alphabet Unit

As I said in my last post, I decided to do units based on a letter of the alphabet.  Each unit lasts approximately two weeks.  During that time, I try to cover two famous people (one man and one woman), at least one animal (usually a bunch), one place, and one object, all beginning with the target letter.  I also choose a character trait that is usually based on at least one of the people we are studying.  (It may or may not begin with the target letter.)  Here are the ones I chose for the letter A.

Man:  Albert Einstein

I have some leeway in whether I want the first or last name to start with the target letter, and it varies depending on which person I choose and honestly, which books my local libraries have.  We found a couple of simple ones on Einstein, and we emphasized that he worked hard and studied so that he could discover new things.

Also, I recently got her this book, Quantum Physics for Babies:

It is awesome, and the last page says, "Now you are a quantum physicist," with a picture of Einstein, so it got read a lot.

Woman: Amelia Earhart

This was Cricket's favorite part of the whole letter A unit.  She absolutely loves Amelia Earhart!  We got several books from the library about her, but Cricket's favorite by far was this one, called I am Amelia Earhart.

It really is a cute book, and apparently the illustrator used to work for Marvel Comics and some other big names.  Cricket would often repeat the lines Amelia said, like, "This is awesome!" and "This isn't a good idea.  It's the BEST idea!"  We emphasized that Amelia Earhart was very brave to do all the things she did, and the book makes a point of saying that she wasn't a natural pilot.  She just worked harder than anyone else.  I loved that part.

Brian found an old pair of tinted goggles that
immediately became her "Amelia Earhart goggles."

I used this coloring page for Amelia Earhart, but you can find plenty just by Googling it.

Animals: Alligator, Ant

We got a book about alligators and crocodiles and had fun reading it and looking at the pictures.  I used this coloring page for the alligator.  It is actually a whole set of letters made in the form of animals that begin with that letter, so I am making a little book out of them as she colors each one.

Places:  Atlantic Ocean, Antarctica, Australia, Alabama, America

Letter A is the jackpot when it comes to places.  Print off a map and you'll realize that the majority of the continents begin with the letter A, as well as several oceans, states, and countries.  (Not all of them begin with the traditional "A for Apple" sound though, so I used those for letter recognition, but not for the phonics emphasis.)  The main place we focused on was the Atlantic Ocean because it went along with the life of Amelia Earhart.  We also found some library books about Antarctica and Australia, so we ended up talking about those some, too.  They were a cute little series that was just perfect for a toddler attention span, with cool pictures and facts.


I printed off a world map to cover the oceans and continents, and I printed off a map of America and a map of Alabama, because we live there.  We also checked out a colorful children's atlas to look through, and a couple of books on Alabama.  Cricket especially liked Y is for Yellowhammer.  It goes through the alphabet and tells an interesting fact about Alabama for each letter.  They make them for several different states.

Object: Apple

The activities from 1+1+1=1 (more about them below) were all apple themed, so that was our main object, but of course, we talked about lots of words that started with A when we found them in our books or just out and about.  I think we even managed to eat applesauce and/or an actual apple sometime during the two weeks.  I am not stressing about trying to coordinate snacks to fit my theme (like some blogs I've read).  This one just happened to fit.

I also used this airplane coloring page because we were already talking about Amelia Earhart, so she had seen the word airplane a lot. The word airplane doesn't start with the traditional "A in Apple" sound, so we didn't focus on it for the phonics part, but we did use it for the letter recognition.  Airplanes are also great to talk about because toddlers are just starting to be aware of airplanes in the sky, so it comes up regularly.

By the end of our two weeks, our kitchen cabinet display was pretty full.

Character Trait:  Bravery

I know it doesn't start with an A, but since bravery came up naturally in the Amelia Earhart books, I made a point to emphasize it during these two weeks and beyond.  When she did something on her own the first time, we told her she was brave like Amelia Earhart.  We talked about how being brave meant doing something even when you were a little scared, like going into her bedroom when it was dark and turning on the light herself.  This has been something we have continued to talk about with other historical figures and Bible figures, emphasizing that there are many different ways to show bravery.

Bible Activities:

As I mentioned before, I printed off these amazing verse cards and put them on a ring.  The verse for A is "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  Joshua 24:15."  Cricket had no trouble memorizing this.  I would just read it to her and show her the card each morning, and for almost a week, she just listened.  Then one day, in the middle of lunch, she just started saying it.

I have to say, I was a little skeptical of trying to get her to do memory verses.  I didn't know if they were too long or too complicated, but she picks them up so fast!  We still review all of them every day, but she absolutely can say them by memory by the end of the two week unit, just saying them once a day like that.  Kids' brains are amazing.

We also read a Bible story every day from our Big Picture Interactive Storybook.

I did a blog post a little while ago on how and why we chose that storybook Bible.  We are loving it so far.  The stories are a little longer than Cricket's normal books, and since there is one story per page, sometimes she gets anxious for me to turn the page, but she usually makes it through the story ok, and she is definitely picking things up.  The other day she started repeating, "God always keeps His promises," which was the theme of the story on Abraham we had read that day.

I also try to make sure we listed to some praise and worship music or some verses set to music at some point during the day.  Pandora has a great praise and worship station, and Seeds Family Worship has some AMAZING Scripture set to music that she and I both love.

Other activities we did during the two weeks:

Play Dough

I have a set of alphabet cookie cutters that my sister-in-law gave me, and boy have they come in handy over and over!  Here's a set you can get on Amazon:

When we were talking about the letter A, I gave her the A cookie cutter and she had a blast making her own letters.

Google eyes and pipe cleaners are also super fun.

Alphabits are the new Cheerio's at our house.  I got them for her birthday party, but she loved them so much, I've kept getting them!  (And they're surprisingly not full of sugar!  They have a pretty short list of ingredients, too.)  She loves pointing out the letters as she's eating them, and even spontaneously decided one morning to look through her bowl of dry Alphabits to find the letters that spelled April.

It didn't even occur to me to do that, but we've done it several times with different words since then.  Whenever she finds a target letter in her Alphabits, we make a point to say the sound it makes.

Alphabet toys and puzzles

I absolutely love my Melissa and Doug Alphabet puzzle.  It is how she learned her letters in the first place, back when she was potty training.  She would spend forever working on that puzzle, and by the end of the week, she could recognize every letter and say the word for the pictures underneath them.  She still plays with it a lot.

Other alphabet toys that I love are the foam bathtub letters,

the magnet alphabet on our fridge,

and this Light Up Alphabet Apple that I got at a consignment sale.

They are all great review and practice for letter recognition and phonics sounds, and there are lots of things you can do with them.


As I mentioned before, I use several printables from 1+1+1=1.  It is a great site with just TONS of stuff you can use for your young child.  I just use a few basic ones, like the traceable target letter and the letter with a couple of pictures around it, both of which I put in page protectors so she can use dry erase crayons to color every day.

If you haven't discovered this combination yet, you're welcome.

Toddlers are not able to write letters accurately yet, so don't push that.  Just let them color the picture and watch you make the letters.

I also print out a couple of her pages on cardstock that Cricket can play with over and over.  There is always a little puzzle picture for the target letter, a matching shadow game, a sequencing game, and a lacing picture.  Cricket loves these and often asks to play with them several times a day.

So there you go.  That's everything I used for the two weeks we focused on the letter A.  Please remember, I didn't do all of this every day.  Some of it, like the play dough, I may have done once a week.  It just depends.  Also, remember this is just an introduction.  This isn't kindergarten.  My goal was for her to be able to recognize the letter, give the sound it makes, (or one of them anyway, since it's a vowel), and learn some stuff about people and places.  I didn't work on lots of phonics practice or writing drills.  It's just directed play.

I hope this helps inspire you.  If you come up with other ideas, please post them in the comments so we can all try them, too!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Awesomely Easy Toddler School

I have been waiting for this time to come!  For two years, I have been holding back my teacher-self, but since Cricket recently turned 2, I decided it was ok to let go of the reins a little bit and start a more formal approach to our time at home.  I call it Toddler School.

It's been awesome.

Seriously.  We have both had such a great time in our first official month of "Toddler School."

What is Toddler School?  (Or Tot School or Mommy School or whatever you want to call it.)  It's just a way to introduce some learning into your toddler's daily life.  Most daycare or mother's day out places do this in some form.  This is just the version for the stay-at-home toddlers.  It's not forced.  It's not "sit down and do school" work.  It's fun!   It is just being intentional about teaching while you go through your day.

I have geared our lessons around the alphabet.  We are slowly going through each letter, learning the sound it makes, words that begin with that letter, and famous people and places that begin with it.  This is a very basic way to do a unit study that helps direct both me and her.  It takes us about two weeks to get through one letter, which is fine by me.  I want to enjoy it and really cover the things we learn about, not rush through it.

Ok, so what exactly do we do?  It looks like this.

Calendar:  After breakfast (and after I've finished my coffee) at some point, I'll ask Cricket if she wants to do her calendar.  This is a great little blank calendar I use.  I got mine through Usborne Books. Amazon doesn't sell it, but you can find it here.  (That's not an affiliate link.  Just thought you  might want to find it.)  It just has cute pictures they can color, and all the months are blank, so you can start it whenever you want.  We started ours in April.

Every day, we count all the days up until we get to the new day (which also reinforces one-to-one correspondence, number recognition, and left to right prereading skills).  I write in the new day and she colors it (and usually a couple of other days for good measure).  We say the days of the week together, and we review what month it is.  (She learned the days of the week very quickly just doing this once a day.)  I show her how we can use the calendar to find out what day it is (introducing graph concepts).

This is what it looked like by the end of the month:

Bible Verse:  Then I pull out our Bible verse ring and we say the Bible verses we have learned.  (I printed off these amazing ABC Bible verse cards for free!)  It is so fun to watch her memorize verses, and she is so proud of it!

Coloring Page:  Then we color a picture.  I print off a bunch of coloring pages ahead of time that go with the current letter, and she usually colors one a day.  I try to find two famous people that begin with that letter, one man and one woman.  I also find one place (country, city, continent, whatever), at least one animal (usually we end up with a bunch), and one object. I find my coloring pages just by Googling, but here are a few sites that have been really helpful.

Alphabet made with animals
Pages with the letter and several corresponding pictures
Lots of pages with historical figures and animals
Good pages for women in history and lots more

When she is finished coloring, I display them so we can talk about them throughout the time we are working on that letter.

After I took the A pages down, I taped some page protectors on the cabinets in my kitchen so I can just slide the sheets in easily and not worry about trying to get the tape off the paper each time.  When we finish with one letter, I put all of her coloring sheets in one page protector in a binder.  By the time we're finished, she'll have a whole "book" of pages to look through!

Games:  I have a few "learning games" that I pull out after she finishes coloring.  Cricket loves these and usually asks for them several times a day.  I found them at 1+1+1=1, which is a fantastic site for all kinds of printables and ideas for what she calls "Tot School."  My approach is a little more laid back that hers, so I usually just print off a couple of the games on cardstock, like the three piece puzzle, the lacing card, the shadow matching cards, and the sequencing cards.  Those are perfect for her attention span, and they don't break my printer ink and cardstock budget!

Reading:  Then, we read her library books on the different things we found that start with that letter. Cricket loves to read and will regularly bring me all 10-15 books that we have checked out to read through.  This is great learning time, and great snuggle time!  While we are reading, I make sure to point out examples of our current letter when it comes up.

That's all the "official" time we spend on it.  Usually the whole thing takes about an hour, depending on how many books she wants to read, or how much she gets into her coloring.  It has become a nice morning routine for us, so we both really enjoy it.

The key though, is that I integrate it into the rest of our day, pointing out that she is brave like Amelia Earhart when she climbs the steps by herself, or that she is learning so much like Einstein when she pulls out books to look at.  We talk about words that we see that start with A, find the letter A in her Alphabits, and look for Australia on the world map shower curtain when she goes to the potty.  We use her letter A cookie cutter when she plays with her play dough.  It just becomes a part of our day.

Here is a picture of my "lesson plans" for one day.

I don't really "plan" very far ahead of time.  I usually write most of it down at the beginning of the day.  They are just a few simple things in each subject that I want to cover, or have already covered in our morning time.  When I look at this list, it encourages me!  Look at all that she is learning in just one day!  It reminds me to be intentional, so I will point out a few things about bees when we are playing outside, or tell her how I measure ingredients for her morning smoothie.  Anything is a teachable moment for her!

I hope this helps, and maybe encourages you to try to add a few learning elements to your toddler's day.  The main thing is to keep it simple.  No big curriculum or expensive manipulatives needed.  Just the things you have around the house, some library books, and a few things printed off the Internet! That's all you need!

Next post, I will show you specifics about how we did the letter A unit.