Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by award-winning Eric Carle inspires crafts, activities, and parties everywhere. With the bright vibrant colors, beautiful artwork and captivating story, it’s no wonder kids of all ages love this book.

The age of five seems to be a great time to introduce bookmarks. The kids are learning to read in kindergarten and I have noticed that if they don’t finish reading (or flicking through pages of) a book before we leave the house, or before bed, they are looking for something to mark their spot.  So we recently made some fun bookmarks inspired by The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I decided this would be a great learning activity too, so instead of having the kids just draw a picture of the caterpillar and color it in, we would stamp the letters to spell out ‘caterpillar’. Not only was this activity teaching them how to spell the word, but also teaching them letter and color recognition as they matched the colors to make the caterpillar. The wonderful thing about having the kids stamp this, is that it’s a wiggly caterpillar, the letters didn’t need to be stamped right next to one another; instead the curvier, the better. We later added feelers and little feet to each letter and then I attached a jump ring and a little ribbon to the bookmarks.

Note: We cut up an old cardboard box to make this project, which is also a great way to teach the kids about re-using and re-purposing materials you have laying about the house.

After finishing our caterpillar bookmarks, the kids wanted to keep crafting, so we decided to make caterpillars using an egg carton.

These caterpillars are a fun project for kids and simple to make. Just cut out one row of an egg carton.  Have the kids paint the egg cups.  Attach wiggly eyes and use a black marker for making the mouth. Poke two holes in the top with a needle, and thread a purple pipe cleaner down one hole and back up through the second hole.

Here are some more activities you can do with your kids to learn more about caterpillars:

  • Have them cut out images from grocery store ads or magazines and create a chart of the days and types of foods that the caterpillar ate.
  • Have them study the life-cycle of caterpillars.  If you need ideas, the kids and I did this recently and celebrated with a fun party on the day we released our butterflies.
  • Take them on a nature walk with cameras (or a sketch pad and pencils) in hand so they can photograph (or sketch) caterpillars in their natural habitat.
  • Have them create a beautiful collage just like Eric Carle’s by painting paper with watercolors, then cut the papers out and layer them to make a caterpillar.

Staying in Touch with Writing


My seven-year-old daughter is my “minnie me” in many ways. She looks like me, loves pretty, girly things, and as of last week, started wearing glasses, just like me. One of the other ways my daughter is like me is that she loves to write. She has journals and notebooks all over the house. Most days you can find her with one of her journals writing a short story or drawing pictures in one of her books.

A few weeks ago, when I was grumbling about not having sent out any of my Christmas cards yet, my daughter, in true form, remarked that she also wanted to send some cards. I found a stack of old cards that I had from years past and handed her a few. We sat down together and, for a few minutes, I went over how to write a letter. I showed her where to write the date, the greeting, the body, and then the closing. After our quick lesson, she thought carefully about what she wanted to write and to whom her first card would be written. I didn’t want her to stress about doing the card “right” so I walked away and let her work peacefully

She sat at the table and got to work. She took out her pencil box and, for almost an hour, wrote out her first card. It was a card for my brother, his wife, their new baby, and the three dogs. She thought intently about what she would write. Every once in a while she would ask me how to spell a word, but for the most part she worked independently. Before she was finished, she drew a few pictures and then put her crayons down.

Justice jonesie letter written by child

She was so proud of her first card; you could just see it on her face. She read the card back to me, and then to her brothers, and then we sealed the letter in an envelop and dropped it in the mailbox. She was beside herself with her work; it was just so sweet!

That morning she had a chance to practice her reading and writing skills while staying in touch with family. She had fun writing her letter and I had fun teaching her a new skill. Pretty soon she’ll be able to write out my holiday cards for me too!

Rusty and Rosy’s Gift for Young Readers

Christmas R&R working file

Ever wonder how Rusty and Rosy got all their fun songs for their software? Of course there are many stories, but one has special meaning this time of year. It’s the story of the “Flower ABC” song.

The Day before the Holidays (Rusty and Rosy’s Great Gift)

Twas the day before the holidays, and working in shifts
Rusty and Rosy were busy, finishing their surprise gifts.
Many presents were wrapped, tied with bright bows
In hopes that all would be happy and have no sorrows.

They knew that children everywhere were learning to read,
But only some studying letters and sounds at light speed.
And Rusty in his red outfit, and Rosy in her cap,
Grew more excited to give gifts from their burlap.

When out front of the office there arose such a clatter,
Rosy sprang from her chair to see what was the matter.
Away to the entrance she flew like a flash,
Tore open the doors, and threw up her sash.

The sun was bright on the new-fallen snow
And gave the luster of color like a bright rainbow.
When, what to her wondering eyes should appear,
But an ABC parade pulled by eight tiny reindeer.

With some little funny letters, small and cute in the face,
Rosy knew in a moment what they must be: lowercase.
Faster than cheetahs their coursers they came,
And they whistled, and shouted, and called out their names!

“A, b, c, d, e, f, and g
H, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, and, p
Q, r, s, t, u, and v
W, x, y, and lastly z.”

As fast cars that before the holidays fly,
When shopping is crazy and presents hard to buy,
So up to the building the coursers they came,
The rear full of letters, shouting each name.

And finally out came Rusty ready to greet,
Carrying the burlap, hanging close to his feet.
He said, “Hi,” to the letters, each he addressed in turn,
Then opened wide his burlap, like a gaping cavern.

The letters jumped in; not a word they did peep.
They knew what Rusty had planned for a holiday treat.
Rusty closed up the sack and headed inside;
He set the burlap down, the top still untied.

The letters how they giggled, their giddiness so merry!
Their joy was as full as Rusty’s bowl full of cherries! (Quite full!)
But soon their giggles grew faint and slowly subsided
To hear Rusty and Rosy as they confided.

“Oh what fun!” Rosy whispered in Rusty’s big ear.
Rusty in turn exclaimed, “The best holiday gift of the year!”
“Are the letters ready?” Rosy then inquired.
The letters piped up, “We’re ready and quite inspired.”

To the raccoons the letters did tell
Of their alphabet number, sung all cheery and well.
They had a special song that only lowercase could sing.
To young readers everywhere, learning it would bring.

Children would hear it quite beautiful and plain
How lowercase letters are letters just the same.
Just as uppercase letters that stand tall and erect,
Lowercase letters have the same sound and affect.

Rusty and Rosy then turned, went straight to their work.
They had much to do; chores they could not shirk.
The computer they booted; they heard the soft hum
That meant their software was loaded and ready for fun.

Then grabbing the burlap from the warm, cozy floor,
Rusty poured out the sack, let the letters fall with a roar.
Into the computer, the letters did go;
As part of the software the letters would flow.

Then pushing eject, Rusty grabbed the small disk.
He packaged it nicely, but with no bow he did risk.
Hurry they must, Rusty and Rosy sure knew.
They had a sack full of gifts, but a song just for you.

Happy Holidays from Rusty and Rosy.

Taking Ownership in Learning


It is so important when introducing learning for the first time that children feel ownership. They need to know why they should care. What do numbers and letters have to do with them?

That is why learning to write and spell her name was what opened up the floodgates of learning for Lizzie. When she began to recognize the letters and realize she could spell “who she is she was so excited!

You can branch off from a child’s name in a variety of fun learning activities. Here are Lizzie’s current favorites:

  1. Sign Language. Not only can she spell her name, but she can also spell it with her hands. She loves this new language. After Lizzie learned how to say her name in sign language, we transitioned easily to learning to sign different songs.
  2. Words that begin with “her” letters. Early on, “L” was Lizzie’s letter. Every time she saw an L in a magazine or book, she’d point to it and say, “L like in Lizzie!” So we go a step further and write out L-I-Z-Z-I-E and brainstorm words that begin with each of those letters.
  3. Reading books with Lizzie as a character. This is especially fun! One of the benefits of such a common name is the ability to find a book (or two) with Lizzie as a character. She can read her name, so as we read the book together, she quickly points out every instance of “Lizzie” on the pages. This can also work with unique names if you find one that starts with the same letter.
  4. Use her number too! Lizzie is four-years-old. To her, 4 is her number. Throughout the day we give her four grapes for snack and she counts them backwards as she eats them: 4-3-2-1; all gone!  If she wants an apple, I give her four slices, two at a time, and she tells me how many more she needs to get: four!

By investing Lizzie personally into learning I am teaching her why she should care about learning new things. We don’t just follow the rules at school, we learn new things because they matter to us. I hope this passion for learning follows her throughout her life.

Your Child’s Story

Dress Up

I recently read about how children come to tell stories as their minds develop. First, the story may start out with just a few thoughts and very little detail. But as the child gets older and grows in language, the stories become more elaborate and detailed. These stories may be their own experiences or fun stories they have heard that they want to share with others.

Your child is a natural storyteller and is excited to share the things he or she is learning. You can help your child’s imagination and creativity flourish as you encourage your child to tell stories.

Here are just a few ideas:

Help your child create a book. This book can be full of pictures, with few words or lots of words, and be full of lots of creativity. Make the book out of paper and staple the pages together, or you can get a little more creative and bind the pages together with a cardboard cover.

Tell your child a story and then have your child tell the story back to you. This is a great way to also practice listening and comprehension skills. You can be creative with this one as well by creating a play or storybook of the story in your child’s own words. A great example of this is seen in Kid History on YouTube. In each video, children recite a story their parents have told them. The story takes interesting turns, especially as the different aged children contribute their two cents.

Start a story and let your child finish it. The beginning can be as simple as “Once upon a time, there was a pirate who loved to sail the seas…” You and your child will both have fun as you discover where your child’s imagination takes the story.

Help your child create a script or outline for a play and then put it on for the rest of the family or record it to watch later. You can also have fun picking out costumes and props to make the story more interesting.

It’s fun to see where your child’s imagination takes a story. Have you had any great experiences listening to your child’s stories?

Feature image courtesy of Tina Phillips /

Homemade Gifts for the Holidays

cookie mix in a jar

We are just a few days away from Christmas and the to-do list is so long. The shopping list seems to be growing too as I remember people who need to be added. Each year the kids and I work on some homemade gifts for teachers, neighbors, and friends. This year my littlest one and I made M&M’s Gift Jar Cookie Mix from the M&M site. The process was fun and best of all I had almost all of the ingredients on hand; we just needed to buy M&M’s.

This is a great project to get the kids involved. Depending on their age they can measure and/or pour ingredients and, of course, sneak a couple candies during the process. (Great for working on fine-motor skills.)

kids helping with baking


Quart size Mason or canning jar with tight-fitting lid
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup M&M’S® MINIS® or regular size Milk Chocolate Candies
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups uncooked quick oats


In a small bowl gently blend flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In your clean-and-dry jar, layer flour mixture, walnuts, M&M’S®, raisins, brown sugar (don’t pack), and oats. Make sure each layer reaches the outer edge so it can be seen. Seal jar. DONE

We added a festive gift tag that included the mixing and baking directions and simply decorated the jar with rustic twine. This is a perfect gift for any family. Who doesn’t like cookies? Have you made gifts in a jar?

Letter Play

Learning to sound out words

As my five-year-old son is learning how to read, we try lots of different ways to make it fun or to switch things up. We discovered a fun way to do this was to use the game Scrabble or a similar game with letter pieces. The wood tiles prevent them from overlapping and let us practice making words without having to erase or recreate the letters if we were using a pencil and paper. This is also a great game for older siblings, who can already read, to be able to help teach their younger siblings. My four-year-old can not quite play this game, yet, but boy does she love to watch her brother!


Step 1: Separate from the Scrabble game pack one tile for each letter of the alphabet and place them face up on the table.

Step 2: Choose two letters that create the end of a word and pull them out. i.e. i-t, a-t, o-t, a-p, a-n, etc. You see where we are going!

Step 3: Add a front letter and have your child practice sounding out each letter. We were told the best way is to sound out each letter and then the child should be able to recognize the word and say it. “H-A-T . . . HAT.” To be honest, when we first started, it did not come that quickly to my son and we had to sound out the letters/word multiple times before he would figure out which word he was saying. But after some practice he is figuring it out quicker!

Step 4: Once you have got the word, switch out the first letter for another and start again. Once they have the hang of the two-letter-end sound, you can switch that up, too. I usually like to just switch one letter, so it is still similar.

Sometimes we are only able to do a few words, and sometimes we can play this for quite some time, depending on how into it he is.

Remember to be patient! It is a skill your child is learning, and even though it may seem obvious to you, it may not be to your child, yet. The more you practice, the easier it gets!

Letter to Santa


If you celebrate Christmas, I’m sure your children are getting more and more excited as the big day draws near. They are probably eyeing the presents under the tree, wondering what surprises await them. They may be watching the fun kids’ Christmas movies that play on the TV this time of year. Or they may be talking about all the gifts they want Santa to bring them.

This last Christmas hobby offers a great opportunity for a traditional Christmas activity—one that is actually great for reading/writing practice. It’s writing a letter to Santa.

The activity, of course, is simple. You just need paper and a pen or pencil. Your older children, who know how to write, can write their letters themselves. Your younger children may need a little help.

This is also a great time to teach your children about letter etiquette—the structure of a letter. A Santa letter always opens with “Dear Santa,” which is then followed by a new line that says something nice about Santa, such as thanking for the presents he brought last year. Last is the list of things desired for this year. Then close with “From _____.”

Here is a great example from my four-year-old niece:

Dear Santa,

You’re the best Santa ever. And if I clean my room, will you give me all the little girl toys. But also save some for the other little girls.



P.S. My stocking is in the middle. Please write back.

Once your letters are done, you can put them in an envelope to mail to Santa or put the them somewhere Santa will be able to find them Christmas Eve. My niece and nephews each put their letters in their stockings for Santa to find.

What Christmas traditions does your family do that also promote learning?

Make Reading a Natural Part of Your Family’s Day

Kid with books

Reading relaxes us; it keeps our brains moving and our minds in tune to our surroundings. For many, this skill comes naturally, but some need encouragement. There’s no better time to encourage reading at home than when children are young, to help them build a natural love of reading.

Be a Reading Role Model

Allow your children to see you actively reading in your home. By keeping a book nearby and taking time to sit and read, they’ll see that reading captivates you and will be curious to feel the comfort that you feel when you read a book. The more you are observed reading, the more likely your child will also pick up a book. Try to set aside at least 10 minutes each day for family reading time. Often times, it won’t even have to be announced as such. Just as a yawn can be “contagious,” so can picking up a book.

Allow Your Child to Explore a Book

A child doesn’t have to actually read the words on the page to be able to enjoy a book. Looking at pictures helps children identify key words and helps a child to preview a story before reading it. Children become more and more creative when they are able to create a story based on a few familiar words and the images featured. Encourage them to make stories; don’t always make them focus on the words that are written. Even toddlers can “read” independently by turning pages and drooling over the images, which teaches them how a book works.

Keep Books throughout the House

Reading materials can be kept in nearly every room so that there’s always something to read, not just in bedrooms or library areas. Keep books in bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and even the car. Getting lost in a good book can happen anywhere, at any time.

Invest in a Variety of Genres and Topics

Your child may be interested in trucks this week, but keep books about artwork and travel nearby as well. Children’s interests change by the minute, so make sure that you have a bit of everything that will interest your child at any time.

As Long as there are Letters, It’s Reading

While it’s ideal that a child will read a book, other materials such as stories, poetry, encyclopedias, cookbooks, magazines, computers, newspapers, and brochures all offer opportunities for reading. Encourage children to read many mediums to spark interest, broaden their horizons, and relate to topics of interest.

Encourage Reading with Positive Energy

The topic your child is obsessed with today may not be of interest to you, but take 10 minutes to show pride that your child is so interested in a topic, that she’s is picking up information on it and wanting to learn more. Chances are you’ll soon learn and embrace her interest.

Discuss What You’re Reading

Whether you’re reading together or your child is reading on her own, ask questions. Asking questions helps your child to see that you are interested and encourages him to want to read more. Ask questions that help him to reflect on what he has read as well as predict future outcomes, which will likely make him want to read more.

Read Together

Share what you’re reading, take turns reading out load, or read to your child. What’s important isn’t that the words are read correctly, it’s that you share a love of the stories and an interest in words that create stories that paint your days. Read often and enjoy it.

The more it becomes natural in your home, the more your child will become a natural reader. Soon, he’ll be the one encouraging you to read at home.

Featured image courtesy of photostock /

Feed the Curiosity


I recently read a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where the dad talks to Calvin about school. This is how the conversation goes:

Dad: “Calvin, your mom and I looked over your report card and we think you could be doing better.”

Calvin: “But I don’t like school.”

Dad: “Why not? You like to read and you like to learn. I know you do. I mean, you’ve read every dinosaur book ever written, and you’ve learned a lot, right? Reading and learning are fun.”

Calvin: “Yeah.”

Dad: “So why don’t you like school?”

Calvin: “We don’t read about dinosaurs.”*

It’s true that in school, our children must learn what the teachers have prepared. There is a purpose to learning math, science, and history after all. Such subjects prepare our children’s young minds for the future.

Sometimes, however, children will learn about something that is only touched on in school and gain a great curiosity for it. They want to learn more. We may see such interested in our children’s play, in the things they talk about, in the books they choose to read from the library. The point is that our children have curious minds that want to be fed.

So, what do we do? Of course we need to encourage our children to keep doing well in school. The basics and things they learn there will lead to greater learning and, hopefully, greater curiosity. But, we can help our children quench their new curiosities by finding ways to teach them more about their interests. Here are just a few ideas:

Internet. There are plenty of resources just for children on the Internet. Look for kid-friendly websites that teach about science, animals, words, or music. Many of these sites are interactive, allowing and expecting children to not just absorb information like a sponge, but participate in a process of discovery.

Library. The library is always a great resource. With shelves full of books, your child should be able to find a book that meets his or her interests. If your child can read, teach him or her about the encyclopedia and magazines (there are children’s magazines too).

Museums. If your child is anything like Calvin, a natural history museum filled with dinosaur bones should get your child excited for a day trip. You can also find museums for art, history, military, science, and more.

Zoo or Aquarium. If your child is interested in animals, take a day to learn more about them. Zoos and aquariums sometimes have shows where you can learn more about a specific animal. Plus, seeing an animal up close is always more interesting than just reading about it in a book.

Concert. A concert is always a fun activity for any agenda. You don’t have to take your child to a big concert that is going to empty out your wallet. You can find orchestra concerts through universities. Plus, many communities often have free concerts, depending on the time of year.

There are plenty of resources to help satisfy our children’s interests. The point is that our children have curious minds. Let’s feed them.

How do you feed your child’s curious mind?

*Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson