Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Early Childhood Advice on Teaching the Common Core State Standards

As school has started over much of the United States  or is in full swing with teaching procedures, two words seem to be causing stress for many early childhood teachers.  The "Common Core" State Standards are infiltrating our vocabulary, our planning, our assessments, and our instruction.

Don't get me wrong.  I am a BIG fan of the Common Core.  But we have to remain focused as early childhood teachers and remember that we teach young children.  Just because a worksheet says, "will help the students learn the "Common Core" or a book cover states, "will teach the "Common Core" doesn't mean it is effective.  Teachers are implementers of this instruction and need to remember what is developmentally appropriate and impacts student learning along with the method needed to teach it.

My youngest daughter has Down Syndrome, Diabetes, Celiac Disease, and a thyroid disorder.  I'm going to make an analogy of what I see happening to many teachers across the United States to Tessa having Celiac Disease.   When you have Celiac Disease, you cannot eat wheat, oats, or barley as it damages the intestine and causes a multitude of medical problems.  1 in 133 people in the United States have it and don't know it.  If you want to know more about Celiac Disease click HERE.

My daughter has to be on a gluten-free diet.  This was very difficult to do when she was first diagnosed in 2001.  Celiac Disease had been under-diagnosed for many years, but started receiving more attention around the time of my daughter's diagnosis.  She had to go completely gluten free.  One crumb could damage her intestines causing auto-immune diseases.  So off we went to the health store to try and find all of the gluten free items we could.  After all we were good parents, and we wanted to ensure that our daughter had what she needed. It was an expensive trip.  We thought we needed everything at once. And what we discovered was that many of the products were not edible - they tasted horrible.  We also discovered that fruits and vegetables were gluten free, Tessa loved them, and we already had them. We wasted a lot of money.  It took time to figure out what Tessa liked, tasted good, and was nutritious too.

Fast forward to 2012 and I feel that is where we are headed as teachers with the Common Core.  Let's step back and really internalize these standards and see what we are already doing that aligns and what needs to be added to meet the rest.  As a national presenter, I was very interested in the Common Core when it was released.  I wanted to see how my classroom teaching and sessions held up to the standards.  I found that I was already doing many of those things required in the standards and saw areas that I could enrich and take up to the next level.  But I really noticed that I had already been differentiating my classroom instruction to meet the needs of my students, so I had activities, songs, technology, and games ready to meet those standards.  I had embraced the move towards nonfiction text being a crucial part of teaching reading.

That's where we need to remain focused as educators.  We need to read the standards.  We need to use it as a lens to look at our teaching.  And then we need to make informed choices that look at the needs of our students and their learning styles.  They still need movement.  They still need choices.  They still need FUN!  Happy, motivated children learn more.  That's research-based.  Our classroom environments need to promote inquiry brain-based learning that allows for creativity and enrichment.  It needs to be open-ended with areas that require critical thinking. Worksheets do not accomplish this.  Hands on activities that require cooperative learning such as games, along with movement, dramatic play, and singing that are focused toward instruction, make a huge impact on student learning.  Students who are given time to read - read better.  Students who are given time to write stories  - write more effectively.  Students who are engaged in math activities that require critical thinking, problem-solving and promote showing their reasoning create mathematicians.

Nonfiction is HUGE and exposes our children to rich vocabulary.  But as we teach this vocabulary, which makes more sense . . . having our children act out the vocabulary during group time as we come to these rich words . . . apply them to different situations in our lives . . . find a word to connect this new learning?  Or sit down and do a worksheet where you draw a line to match the word to the meaning.  Which one would help you remember as a teacher if I was teaching new vocabulary during a professional development session?  Happy engaged teachers learn more :-)  They become empowered.  They become creative.  They connect it to their prior experiences. They go back to their classrooms and impact student learning.

I have many entries on the Common Core on my blog and will continue to bring ideas on how to meet the needs of your students while providing "hands-on" engaging activities to meet the "Common Core" standards.  As you search across Pinterest and other sites, use your early childhood lens that has now been adjusted to include the Common Core and choose your activities wisely.  And yes, I do sell products that are designed to teach the Common Core Standards along with many other wonderful teachers out there.   Just remember my first gluten-free shopping trip for my daughter Tessa.  I bought everything I could find that was available.  I had researched some of it but not enough.  I hadn't discussed it with other parents who had experience using these products.  And I ended up throwing much of it away.  

Here is an example of one of my products that I made that is "frequently purchased" on Teachers Pay Teachers and meets the Common Core State Standards for Reading Foundational Skills for Kindergarten and 1st Grade.  Let's look at it through the early childhood lens that has now been adjusted with the Common Core State Standards. I have the song and/or multimedia file "Five Word Families."  I've created it to produce a memory connection along with motions to make it auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.  I included technology.  I created a game/activity pack with word sorts, games, and activities to reinforce this skill during whole group, guided reading, and literacy centers.  I've created books with the pictures and words from the song to support early readers. I've given the students a "hook" to remember word families that end with the same sound/pattern along with a song/actions to support their learning of short vowel sounds and familiar word patterns. I've modeled (on a YouTube video) how to take this song and differentiate it to meet the needs of students who need a wide range of phonological awareness activities whether it be rhyming, letter/sounds, along with substituting the first sound in a word.  And my students and many other students LOVE it.  Of course, I am partial to it because my now 10 month old grandson loves it too :-)

So what I want everyone to take away with them tonight is that WE CAN do this.  I am your biggest cheerleader. We are doing a lot of it already.  Let's regroup, study, and reflect on our current teaching.  What can we do to impact student learning along with implementing the Common Core State Standards this year?  And how can we make that learning engaging for our youngest learners.  They deserve our best and we have it in us to teach.

Thanks for stopping by.  My favorite quote from the Cat in the Hat applies not only to our students but to teachers as well.  "It's fun to have fun but you have to know how."  We can have fun, create memories, and impact student learning too.  We just have to know how. Follow my blog as we explore these new standards together and keep the smile and laughter in our students' lives too.

Here is a short clip of my Five Word Families multimedia file along with the activity game pack if you want to learn more about it.  You can also look at the book set and mp3 song to put in your listening center or "just right" book boxes on my TpT store.  If they can sing it, they can be supported in reading it.  

Click HERE to view this on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Click HERE to view this on Teachers Pay Teachers.


  1. Well said, Kathy! Love it!
    Heidi Butkus

  2. Thanks Heidi! We can both be "early childhood developmentally appropriate cheerleaders" when we are presenting at conferences this year. We have so many amazing teachers out there that need to hear they can do both.