Counting Down to Kindergarten – Blog


Discussion Guide: Holes, by Louis Sachar

Discussion Guide: Holes, by Louis Sachar

  1. How is the story illustrated by the author’s use of wordplay?

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(We see the development of irony and double meaning in expressions :Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston and dad’s foot odor spray, Camp “Green” Lake, “Kissing” Kate Barlow, Mr. “Mom” Pendanski, Mr. “Sir”.)

  1. Why do the boys use undesirable nicknames for each other? 

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(Perhaps it serves as a coping mechanism during this hardship. It may help them feel like tough guys who are unaffected by the hazardous conditions. It also might be a bit rebellious, distancing their true selves from the staff.)

  1. Stanley lies to his parents when he sends home letters depicting camp as ideal. Why?

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(He wants to spare them the burden of knowing the painful truth.)

  1. When Stanley blames his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing” great-great grandfather for all the family troubles, is he just avoiding accountability?

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(We believe this at first, but throughout the book we discover more than injustice that affects generations.)

  1. When Zero runs away, all evidence of him is destroyed as they let him run to his inevitable demise. How does this work to his favor in the end?

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(They are forced to release him from camp since there is now no evidence that he belongs there.)

  1. Zero eventually confesses his part in the stolen sneakers story. What effect does this have on his friendship with Stanley?

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Stanley finds it easy to forgive his best friend. In fact, he is tickled to have a best friend at all.)

  1. What causes the yellow spotted lizards to decide not to bite the boys?

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(They have been eating onions – the ones from Sam’s field. The lizards don’t like “onion blood” and refuse to bite them.)

  1. Barfbag allowed himself to be bitten by a rattlesnake and Kate allowed herself to be bitten by a yellow spotted lizard? Why?

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(Barfbag puts an end to his misery. Kate uses death as revenge, avoiding Trout, who demands to know where she hid the loot that she stole from Stanley’s great great grandfather.)

  1. What is sploosh?

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(Canning jars of Kate’s spiced peaches. Zero and Stanley find these under Sam’s old boat and enjoy drinking/eating them. The jars are many years old by now, but give the boys something to sustain themselves.)

  1. The song “If Only” seems to link Stanley and Zero. How?

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(Zero is a descendant of Madame Zeroni, who gave Stanley’s great-great grandfather the pig in order to impress an eligible bachelorette in town. Stanley’s ancestor broke his promise to carry Madame Z up the mountain to drink the water and sing the song to her. Thus a curse was born, and Stanley’s ancestor became a pig thief. Once Stanley performed this act for Zero, the curse was lifted.)

  1. How was Kissing Kate Barlow’s curse lifted?

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(Once it is revealed that Stanley’s name is on the box and the warden has no claim to it, Stanley and Zero are happily on their way to freedom. Now the rain begins after 110 years of drought.)


Discussion Guide: The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

Discussion Guide: The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

  1. What technique does the author use to compare basketball to jazz music?

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(Poetic phrasing, type font, and word placement is used to visually compare the artistic theater of basketball to the dynamic expression of jazz music)

  1. Why does Josh’s father call him Filthy McNasty?

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(A fan of jazz music, the dad compares Josh to a famous song by Horace Silver, the legendary American jazz pianist. Dad says that Josh is “fast and free” like Horace Silver on the piano.)

  1. The author occasionally gives us basketball rules. Are they strictly meant as rules for playing basketball?

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(No, they are life lessons)

  1. With dad as a retired basketball player plus a twin brother who is also exceptional at basketball, what complications arise for Josh?

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(Pressure. He lives with the pressure to live up to his dad’s reputation and standards, but also has to deal with competition from his twin. There is the need to be seen as an individual but also to exceed already high expectations placed on him socially)

  1. Give some examples of intentional double meanings that the author employs to make an impact:

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(chapters titled “the nosebleed section”, “storm” , “man to man”, chapter ending in “game over”, and the book title “crossover” to name a few)

  1. Josh and his brother experience conflicts with each other. How does the author convey Josh’s feelings about their struggle?

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(pg. 156 “Sometimes it’s the things that aren’t said that kill you.” JB gives Josh the silent treatment and won’t accept his apology. Josh begins to feel very alone and alienated without his brother’s support. We see this in the letter Josh writes to JB on pg. 159 and many other chapters as well.)

  1. Josh had to learn CPR in gym class and rolled his eyes over the whole experience. Was it a waste of time?

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(the father’s health fails and Josh has to perform CPR on him. Thankfully, he recalls his training during this very stressful scene.)

  1. The doctor encourages Josh to speak to his father who is in a coma. Did it help?

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(Immensely. First, Josh is able to speak from the heart without pressure. When he opens up, he asks his father when he decided to “jump ship.” Once awake, the father replies, “Filthy, I didn’t jump ship.” His father did, in fact, hear Josh – and the message was clear.)

  1. The championship game and the father’s failing heart take place at the same time. What feelings come to the surface for Josh?

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(Guilt, because he was playing basketball with his dad when the heart attack happened. Loneliness, because his brother is still angry with him and barely speaking to him. Jealousy, because his brother has a new girl and Josh has no one. Frustration, because his parents removed him from the team as a punishment and now he has a chance to play in the big game, but his dad is terribly unstable at the same time. Scared, because he doesn’t know how they’ll be a family without their dad. Unprepared to face his father’s death. Plus many more feelings, I’m sure.)

  1. Why did the parents allow Josh and his brother to play the championship game if their father was on his deathbed?

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(Perhaps the father didn’t want his sons to see him weak and dying. He wanted to protect them. Also, they technically had an opportunity to say their goodbyes to him when he was in and out of a coma. Going to the game gave them a chance to do something about their situation: to pay tribute to their dad’s legacy and to move on with their lives in a positive way.)


Felt S’mores

Felt S’mores

You will need: needle, thread, scissors

  1. Embroider the face onto the center of the white rectangle. I used the black sequin as the base and stacked a black bead on top to make a 3 dimensional eye.
  1. Make the eyes approximately 1 inch apart
  1. Use embroidery floss to stitch a smile
  1. Stitch the bottom circle to the rectangle
  1. When you finish the bottom circle, then close the flap on the rectangle
  1. Stitch the top circle, adding fiberfill before closing up
  1. Square up the tan felt if necessary for making the top and bottom cracker. Each cracker piece will be doubled up with just a pinch of fiberfill to go inside. Stitch both crackers.
  1. Make a wavy cut for the bottom piece of brown chocolate. Also freehand cut a drip or two for the top piece of brown chocolate
  1. Assemble your smores and use long piece of thread to sew it top to bottom, securing all 5 layers

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The Importance of Play through the Senses

Each week at Counting Down to Kindergarten, I will have a sensory bin set out. Sensory bins provide opportunities for the children to interact, negotiate, and problem solve with each other. They use communication with each other, and with help, expand their vocabulary.  Also, while playing at the bins, the children are exploring the properties of the materials through their hands and sense of touch, and exploring concepts such as flow, sinking or floating, and viscosity.

Much of the learning in preschool is embedded in play. I usually hide letters or numbers in the sensory bin for the children to find and match with a poster that is usually set along side it. This way, as a child finds a letter, the parents or teacher can explain what letter it is and what sound it makes. This type of learning is very natural and is easily absorbed by the child. The sensory bin also helps calm an anxious child as playing with the materials is soothing to him/her. I have found, as a preschool teacher that the sensory bin or reading to a child helps comfort the child in transitional periods such as separating from parents, starting something new, or the child is shy. So you can see why sensory bins are such an important element of our program. So much learning and reinforcement of concepts can be accomplished through sensory bins.

To read more about the importance of play through the senses click here and here.


Dramatic and Cooperative Play Helps Develop the Whole Child

The element that I would like to focus on this week is the dramatic play/ cooperative play element of the program. For example, depending on the theme, I set up a flower shop, a grocery store, a pizza shop, a castle, or we play with life-sized building blocks. This also includes any time the children take toys off the STEAM cart and play together. Dramatic play is where the children take on roles and by doing so, they gain an understanding of social studies, develop their language with words pertaining purchasing items and running a store, and develop the very important social and emotional skills such as taking turns, sharing, and dealing with emotions when they don’t get their way (self-regulation). Cooperative play creates an opportunity for the children to work together and to learn to negotiate and speak kindly to each other. When considering kindergarten readiness, the social/ emotional aspect of readiness is very important. The ability to negotiate and speak kindly to each other, take turns, and self-regulate are integral skills that children need to have practiced before entering kindergarten. This skill, along with fine motor skills, are even more important than academics, if you can believe it. That is why I include this element each week. I also do not mind if it becomes the hit station, while all the other stations sit empty, because of the skills the children are learning at this station and how important these skills are to the developing child.
I will always have counting, name exercises, and letter matching every week, so they will always have an opportunity for those skills, plus, these skills can always be practiced at home as well, but dramatic play/ cooperative play is special to this environment and the children should be encouraged to spend as much time as they want at this station.

To learn more about dramatic play and cooperative play, click here, here, and here.


Tabletop Activities: Our Many Stations

In Counting Down to Kindergarten, we have many tabletop activities for the children to choose. These include our matching games, sorting games, and additional fine motor games. Most weeks there will be a letter station, math concept station, name station, sorting station, and fine motor station. For example, I always have something out for the children to sort. The reason behind this activity is that it builds their cognitive functioning overall, but in particular, they are exercising their mathematical skills of matching, recognizing similarities and differences, and organizing the objects into groups. I usually have a letter matching station as well. My motivation behind this station is to give the children exposure to the letters and to see if they can match uppercase to uppercase, and some weeks, matching uppercase to lowercase, which is a stretch for some of the children. Most of the times, I also have the letters on matching backgrounds to give the children extra help. Sometimes the activity will focus on fine motor skills such as beading or taking stickers off the paper and creating a scene with them. This type of activity focuses on developing their fine motor skills and their cognitive development. They are using their fingers to peel the stickers off the sheet and placing them on the paper. The peeling of the paper really takes delicate fine motor skills and placing the sticker takes mental planning. Another example of this is an activity of matching beads to colored feathers and threading the beads onto the feathers. This is another example of exercising their fine motor skills as well as continuing to build their color matching skills. We also have tabletop activities that help the children with their names and I go into more detail about this in a previous blog.

To learn more about the importance of sorting click here, and if you would like some sorting ideas, click here. To learn more about developing your child’s early literacy skills, and specifically letter recognition, click here.


Developing Fine Motor Skills

In Counting Down to Kindergarten, the art project and playdough stations are the main builders of a child’s fine motor skills. The first and foremost goal behind these stations is to help develop the child’s fine motor skills and build hand dexterity. Many articles online and academic journals state that a child who enters kindergarten with much experience building their fine motor skills will feel more successful in kindergarten (click here and here for the latest research). In fact, it is the second most important factor that many kindergarten teachers state as a determiner of kindergarten readiness (the first being the social/emotional skills of negotiation, getting along, sharing and using kind words). Many people think that fine motor skills is the ability to write with a pencil. It is in part, but there is so much more to fine motor skill building. If we, as teachers and parents, can get the children to use their hands in a myriad of ways, then we are building optimal fine motor skills.

When children are engaged in activities that help develop their fine motor skills, they also are developing many other skills: self-regulation (self-control), cognition (creating art and considering design), coordination, language development (talking about what they are doing and using vocabulary), dexterity, and following directions (following the steps in each project). This is where the playdough and art element of our projects come into play. We enjoy open-ended art projects each week using numerous materials and art mediums. The playdough station helps give strength to the child’s hands, develop their coordination with cutting, rolling, and forming the dough, and builds their cognitive skills by planning what they are building and carrying it out. It is also one of the ultimate sensory experiences. I scent our dough so it has a fun smell, the child uses his/her vision to play with it as well as its pleasant to look at, and they are touching it repeatedly. Many senses are involved in playing with playdough. It seems to me that each child really enjoys spending time at these stations and that is wonderful because of the skills they are developing.

Here are a few articles that stress building the child’s fine motor skills (click here and here). Click here and here for simple art ideas to do with your child at home. Click here for the playdough recipe that I use (I also add a packet of Kool-Aid drink mix to color and add scent.)


The Importance of Circle Time

Let’s talk about the circle time. At our circle time the children are working on and learning many skills, all of which are helping them with their readiness for their academic life beginning with kindergarten. The biggest skill the children are practicing is self-control and self-regulation. These get practiced when the child sits in his/her spot and listens to the teacher and to the instructions. The child, to the best of his/her ability is learning to quiet him/herself and control his/her body. Every child develops the ability to do this at his/her own rate. Practicing this every week helps the child develop these skills.

Another part of circle time that helps your child with his/her development is the singing, rhyming books, and finger plays or movement activity. These are important because the singing, rhyming, and finger plays help the children with the development of their phonemic awareness skills. These are simply the understanding that words are made up of separate sounds. Singing helps draw out the separate sounds and rhyming helps the child in the future with learning word families. Finger plays and movement help the children develop and refine their fine and gross motor skills. Additionally, as children are read to, they increase their print awareness knowledge, that is, they learn the parts of the book, how to turn pages, that the words and pictures work together to tell the story, and left to right orientation.

Circle time is also a wonderful opportunity to introduce and practice certain academic concepts. Usually, these concepts touch on curriculum areas such as early literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies. Some concepts that I teach during circle time are letter and number recognition, one-to-one counting, shapes, patterns, size, sorting and categorization, order, comprehension, comparisons, and print awareness.

To learn more about the importance of circle time, click here