{Early Literacy Stage 3} Utensil Prewriting and Uppercase Letter Writing

The development of early literacy skills progresses in stages.  Beginning concepts should be taught before introducing more difficult ones.  By following a proper developmental progression, we assist the child’s natural learning capabilities.   This is why I have decided to write a series about {Early Literacy Stages}.  These stages will all inter-mingle with one another, but it is important to define them, and I recommend introducing them in this order.

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Here are the Early Literacy Stages for childhood learning:

  1. Uppercase letter recognition

  2. Tactile uppercase letter writing

  3. Utensil prewriting and uppercase letter writing

  4. Lowercase letter recognition (and matching uppercase with lowercase letters)

  5. Lowercase phonetic sounds

  6. Lowercase letter writing

The entire scope of literacy includes the following: reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing.  I am focusing on reading letters and writing letters for this series.  However, the other components are very important in developing the whole child towards literacy and becoming a lifelong learner.

Please note: I do not label these stages by age — I have met 18-month-olds who have learned all of their upper and lowercase letters and I have taught 5-year-olds who were still struggling to learn both.  It is important to meet the learner where they are and embrace the child’s pace!

Please see my {Early Literacy Stage 1} to read about why I am teaching uppercase letters first.

How do we introduce utensil prewriting and letter writing to our children? How do we set them up for success in handwriting? 

1.   Read, read, read!  Literacy begins from infancy on.  Reading to your child will always be my first suggestion to parents.  Children are opened up to a world of imagination and developmental readiness towards learning through books and fine literature.  If you are unable to invest the time in any of my {Early Literacy Stages} due to time constraints or affordability, please go to your library and check out some books!  Also, the springtime is the perfect time to visit garage sales and buy a library of books for your child for a very low cost.  If you read to and with your child, you are already setting them up for success!!

In addition to making books available for your child, your child should see you reading in the home to know that reading and literacy is an important and worthwhile investment of your time.

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2.  Using markers and crayons: Give your child experiences with writing utensils from an early age.  This is while knowing that every child has different interests — I know some 18 month olds who could draw for hours, and I know four and five year olds who are uninterested.  Every child is different.  Keep in mind that short utensils promote proper finger grip.

Until recently, my son had not been interested in drawing or coloring.  For example, during our Tot School, I have asked him to color the apple on the “A is for Apple” page, and he would scribble on it briefly, but then want to move on.  Lately, he has paid closer attention to actually coloring the object, and he has wanted to do more pages as well.  My advice is to follow your child’s lead and have materials available for them to work with!

Here are some art bin suggestions: {this post may contain affiliate links, please see my disclosure policy, thank you}

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3.   Proper “pencil grip”: Children aged two to four are working on the development of their fine motor skills (small muscles).  If a child lacks the ability to: pick up small items, lace beads, use a tweezer, or do a knobbed puzzle, then your child’s fine motor skills need to be further developed.  At a very early age, your focus should be on promoting learning, and playing, to develop these fine motor skills, rather than perfecting the pencil grip.  You do not want writing to be a negative time or experience, and you should always teach with the learner’s abilities in mind.  However, with that being said, if they learn (somewhat) the proper grip from day one, it will be that much easier and smoother for a transition into more advanced learning and writing.  Here are some helpful steps and tools:

  • Determine which hand is the child’s dominant hand.
  • Holding a writing utensil requires the “tripod grasp”: using the thumb and index finger and resting the middle finger on the index finger.
  • A trick to learning proper pencil grip: lay the pencil, point facing you, pinch pencil about a half inch up with thumb and index finger, and flip the pencil so it rests on the fatty part of your hand.
  • We have the Pencil Grip Writing Claw which also may be helpful.
  • And I have also heard good things about trying the Pencil Grip Ergonomic Writing Aid.
  • I found another great (and free!) suggestion from Teacher Lisa’s Class about using a rubber band around the wrist and around the pencil.
  • See Handwriting Without Tears 4 Steps to Teaching Writing Grip for more beneficial information.

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Here my son is working on his pencil grip — this is a quadropod grip (which is discussed in the Handwriting Without Tears link above) — and includes holding with four fingers instead of three.  He is, of course, still learning!

4.   Prewriting tracing sheets:

  • There are many free resources from many wonderful bloggers.  We use 1plus1plus1equals1‘s Tot School ABC’s tracing sheets.  These sheets focus on straight lines, while promoting left to right familiarity for reading and writing.  (Below is my son using dry erase markers with heavy duty sheet protectors.)

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The above is from 1plus1plus1equals1’s Nativity pack and Mama’s Monkeys Fall pack.

5.  Ordered letter writing: When it comes time to write uppercase letters, a proper sequential order is needed to set your child up for success in handwriting.  I wrote about the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum in my {Early Literacy Stage 2} post.  Since all of the alphabet letters include either straight lines, diagonal lines, and/or big and little curves, this curriculum helps children learn the letters in a sequence that is easiest.  It begins with allowing children to create their letters using alphabet letter templates.

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These templates can be found for free from the following two sites — I made mine out of colorful paper-foam: Build-A-Letter Templates (includes mats) from Tired, Need Sleep Blog or Magnetic Alphabet Builders from Confessions of a Homeschooler.  

I highly recommend the Handwriting Without Tears book “My First School Book.”  It includes arrows as well as large, thick prewriting lines and circles to help your child succeed.  The following is the recommended schedule for learning to print letters:

    • Vertical & Horizontal Lines: L, F, E, H, T, I, U

    • Magic C: C, O, Q, G, S, J

    • Big & Little Curves: D, P, B

    • Diagonal Lines: R, K, A, V, M, N, X, Y, Z

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Further resources, to use in addition to or in place of purchasing the “My First School Book” by the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum:

  • Erin at Royal Baloo created an amazing free printable series called Zoomin’ Movin’ Alphabet. These truck printables include pre-writing pages to prepare children to write their letters as well.  You could use her wonderful curriculum with your child using the letter sequence above.

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  • ABC Jesus Loves Me has a wonderful Learning to Write series for free individual (not classroom or commercial) download pre-writing and letter practice.  I recommend the letter sequence above, as written by the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum.

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  • Carisa at 1plus1plus1equals1 created Raising Rock Stars Preschool which includes wonderful printing pages.  You can also buy them from Teachers Notebook. She recommends an order similar to the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum.

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It is difficult to find printables that only include uppercase letters.  Here are two additional letter writing free printables that may be helpful to you — from Homeschool Creations and 123Homeschool4Me:

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What are your challenges with teaching your child to write?  What other resources have you found helpful?

Check out all of the Early Literacy posts: 

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{Early Literacy Stage 2} Tactile Uppercase Letter Writing

The development of early literacy skills progresses in stages.  Beginning concepts should be taught before introducing more difficult ones.  By following a proper developmental progression, we assist the child’s natural learning capabilities.   This is why I have decided to write a series about {Early Literacy Stages}.  These stages will all inter-mingle with one another, but it is important to define them, and I recommend introducing them in this order.

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Here are the Early Literacy Stages for childhood learning:

  1. Uppercase letter recognition

  2. Tactile uppercase letter writing

  3. Utensil prewriting and uppercase letter writing

  4. Lowercase letter recognition (and matching uppercase with lowercase letters)

  5. Lowercase phonetic sounds

  6. Lowercase letter writing

The entire scope of literacy includes the following: reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing.  I am focusing on reading letters and writing letters for this series.  However, the other components are very important in developing the whole child towards literacy and becoming a lifelong learner.

Please note: I do not label these stages by age — I have met 18-month-olds who have learned all of their upper and lowercase letters and I have taught 5-year-olds who were still struggling to learn both.  It is important to meet the learner where they are and embrace the child’s pace!

Please see my {Early Literacy Stage 1} to read about why I am teaching uppercase letters first.

How do we further develop uppercase letter recognition through tactile experiences?

1.   Read, read, read!  This was my first suggestion for my first stage of learning as well.  A child must have experiences with books morning, day, and night.  Reading to your child opens them up to a world of imagination and developmental readiness towards print awareness and learning.  Here are more suggestions to promote tactile exploration in book reading:

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2.  Use shaving cream on your tabletop: experiment with prewriting straight and curved lines by first showing your child how to write with his/her pointer finger.  The goal is exposure and not perfection!

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This is my son exploring shaving cream, but when he is ready, he will use his pointer finger and try to write his letters.

3.   Put a shallow amount of sand or sugar in a bin: prewrite straight lines and curved lines and write the letter with a finger.  

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Here is a friend working with blue sand in her outdoor water table.

4.   Tape a squishy bag to a table top or window and have the child write straight and curved lines and the letter with a finger.

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5.  Use a push-pin-pen with a letter page and poke the letter to get a feel for its straight and curved lines.   Small push-pins are not safe for children to use, but I love this concept, so I taped a push pin to a marker very securely.   You can get these sheets from Confessions of a Homeschooler individually, by letter, or you can print the uppercase letters from Alphabet Printables.

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6.  Use Do-A-Dot markers to write the letter.  Here are some awesome printables and ideas from Confessions of a Homeschooler.

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7.  Learn how letters are built using alphabet letter templates.  This is an advanced step and should be taken closer to when you think your child is ready to begin writing uppercase letters — this will also be a part of my {Early Literacy Stage 3}: Utensil prewriting and uppercase letter writing.

All of the alphabet letters include either straight lines, diagonal lines, and/or big and little curves and these awesome letter builders help children to grasp the parts of the letters.  You can buy wooden ones from the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum.  I love their no-fuss approach to handwriting.  They recommend the following schedule for learning to print letters:

  • Vertical & Horizontal Lines: L, F, E, H, T, I, U
  • Magic C: C, O, Q, G, S, J
  • Big & Little Curves: D, P, B
  • Diagonal Lines: R, K, A, V, M, N, X, Y, Z

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These templates can be found for free from the following two sites — I made mine out of colorful paper-foam: Build-A-Letter Templates (includes mats) from Tired, Need Sleep Blog or Magnetic Alphabet Builders from Confessions of a Homeschooler.

How have you taught your child the alphabet?  What tactile experiences have you used to help your child learn and write letters?

See {Early Literacy Stage 1}

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{Early Literacy Stage 1} Uppercase Letter Recognition

The development of early literacy skills progresses in stages.  Beginning concepts should be taught before introducing more difficult ones.  By following a proper developmental progression, we assist the child’s natural learning capabilities.   This is why I have decided to write a new series of blog posts — {Early Literacy Stages}.

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The entire scope of literacy includes the following: reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing.  I am focusing on reading letters and writing letters for this series.  However, the other components are very important in developing the whole child towards literacy and becoming a lifelong learner.

Please note: I do not label these stages by age — I have met 18-month-olds who have learned all of their upper and lowercase letters and I have taught 5-year-olds who were still struggling to learn both.  It is important to meet the learner where they are and embrace the child’s pace!

Here are my Early Literacy Stages for childhood learning:

  1. Uppercase letter recognition

  2. Tactile uppercase letter writing

  3. Utensil prewriting and uppercase letter writing

  4. Lowercase letter recognition (and matching uppercase with lowercase letters)

  5. Lowercase phonetic sounds

  6. Lowercase letter writing

There is debate surrounding whether children should be taught uppercase or lowercase letters first.  Some teachers opt to teach them together.  I believe that children should be taught recognition of uppercase letters first.  They should certainly be exposed to lowercase too, (we call them “big” and “little” letters), as they are presented in many picture books together, but at the beginning, the focus should be on uppercase.  Certainly, children who are taught lowercase first, or both together, can also become very successful (for example, a Montessori approach is to teach the lowercase letters first and name them their sound names: “This is aah” and “This is “bbb”).  My decision is based on the following reasoning:

  • learning 26 letters will set your child up for success sooner than trying to learn 52 letters,
  • uppercase letters are more distinguishable from one another,
  • they have many more straight lines, so when it comes time to begin printing letters, children can excel, and
  • uppercase letters represent the majority of letters in print outside the home (on street signs, in the grocery store, etc), so learning these will expose your child to a world of print outside the home.

Now how can we help develop this initial stage of learning in our children?

1.   Read, read, read!  If you can do anything with your child at home, this is it!  Reading to your child opens them up to a world of imagination and developmental readiness towards print awareness and learning.  Reading doesn’t have to become “lesson time,” just enjoy a book with one another morning, day, and night!  Here are more suggestions:

  • Books with no words teach story sequence.
  • Nursery rhymes are especially wonderful for phonemic awareness.
  • Begin pointing out the “Big” letters at the beginnings of sentences.
  • Dr. Seuss is the master — our particular favorite is his ABC book.  This book focuses on uppercase letters while exposing children to the lowercase letters!  We also love There’s A Wocket in my Pocket — Dr. Seuss had an amazing ability to speak to children through rhyme and this book helped my son learn about rhyming.

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2.  Singing songs at home, all day, every day!  There are many songs that introduce letters and sounds.  The Alphabet Song can be coupled with simple ABC books for a fun and teachable daily read-aloud.  Our favorite children’s collections are Songs for Saplings ABCsThe Little Series and Jewel’s Lullaby and The Merry Goes Around.

3.  Point out uppercase letters both in and out of the house.  “The ketchup has a K, K, K, K!” and “The magazine has a P, P, P, P!”  My son gets very excited about this, and he asks, “What’s that?” when he sees a letter he doesn’t know.

4.  When your child has learned the letters “A, B, C” from reading and alphabet singing, move to a simple letter of the week focus (or curriculum)!  Don’t be intimidated, just start small!  Even if you only do one or two of the below, that is enough, your child will learn as he grows!

  • This can be as simple as writing the uppercase letter A on a sheet of paper and sticking it to the bottom of your refrigerator!  Talk about the letter every day.
  • Think about purchasing some magnet letters from Melissa & Doug.  This linked set includes uppercase and lowercase, and again, I would begin with the uppercase letter to set the child up for success at the beginning! Here is our ever growing collection (with many magnets purchased from garage sales — I have one lowercase letter for exposure only)!

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  • Create some tactile experiences for your child with sandpaper letters or Do-It-Yourself puffy paint letters.  Touch the uppercase letter and say its name and sound.  Again, exposure to the lowercase letter is fine, but the focus should always be on the uppercase, so your child has a chance to excel!
  • Consider an uppercase letter puzzle!  Melissa & Doug and Lauri are both wonderful options.  My son got his start in learning letters with one of these.
  • For more tactile fun, print out some magnet pages from Making Learning Fun and have your child put magnets (or pom pom magnets) on the letter and image on a magnetic cookie sheet.

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  • There are many free online printables available from many homeschooling mama blogs to choose from — my advice is to keep it simple so you won’t be overwhelmed.  Choose a couple of pages that you think your child may be interested in.  (We love 1plus1plus1equals1‘s Tot School ABCs as a model — the below pictures are all a part of her free online curriculum.)
  • Choose an object to focus on for your letter of the week. (A is for Apple, B is for Bug, C is for Cat, D is for Dog, etc!)  Find that object and keep it in a special place — in a small bin or basket or reusable sour cream container! — along with a handwritten or printed uppercase letter for some informal phonemic awareness learning.  Below we are learning “H is for Horse”:

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  • Let your child color on a piece of paper with the uppercase letter, with a corresponding object, like the “H is for Horse” above, with markers or crayons.  (Remember not to expect the child to print the letter or even color in the lines of the picture — that will come later  — when they are developmentally ready!)
  • Do-A-Dot markers are amazing tools.  Write the uppercase letter many small times on a piece of paper and have your child “dot” each letter and say it at the same time!  My son loves this!

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  • Use uppercase letter stamps and stamp on a picture or a piece of paper or project.
  • Print out or make large uppercase letters and have your child jump from letter to letter (or throw a beanbag or other object) as you call them out for a review.
  • More tactile exploration can come from a letter sensory bin.  Include a base (beans, lentils, rice, etc.) and add the letter and objects corresponding to that letter.  Below is a “G Sensory Bin” — I included one lowercase “g” in addition to many uppercase ones — please keep in mind that sensory bins can have only a few objects in them and children will love them just the same as the extravagant ones!:

DSC00339How have you taught your child the alphabet?  Did you focus on uppercase or lowercase first?  What made you choose?  Or did you teach both at the same time? 

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Defining gross motor and fine motor skills

I want to set my son up with activities that promote development of both fine and gross motor skills.

Gross motor skills use the large muscles of the body.  Running, jumping, hopping, steps, throwing, balance while dressing or sitting.

Fine motor skills use the small muscles of the hands and fingers.  These include grasp, manipulating and releasing small objects (such as coloring materials, buttons, zippers, scissors, silverware, toothbrushes).  Also included are hand preference and coordination of both hands.

These motor skills must be developed to emphasize self-care skills and learning play, as well as to aid in building self-esteem and creating important social skills.

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Skills your child should develop by age four:

Fine Motor Skills

  • select hand preference for tool use
  • pincer grasp (i.e. threading a shoelace, snaps, buttons, zips, laces)
  • screwing and unscrewing a small jar
  • build a tower of 10+ blocks
  • create block designs (i.e. train or bridge with 6+ blocks)
  • complete 10 piece puzzle
  • use pencil grip
  • uses scissors properly
  • copy lines, circle, square, cross
  • draw a recognizable person

Gross Motor Skills

  • walk and run around objects
  • walk up and down steps with one foot on each step
  • stand on one foot for 3+ seconds
  • hop on one foot
  • jump with both feet
  • catch a ball with elbows flexed and arms in front of body
  • throw a ball with direction
  • kick a ball
  • pedal a tricycle
  • enjoy playground play and equipment

The above lists have helped me organize some of our activities and I hope they help you too!

Resourced from Frances Dobson’s Fine and Gross Motor Development Briefing.

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Sharing the Easter Story with Resurrection Eggs

In my babysitting days, I remember when one of my sweet girls came home with an egg carton telling the Easter Story.  She shared the whole story with those little eggs.  I want my children to know the Most Wonderful Story too, using this simple and thoughtful method, so I researched for ideas and made our own carton of Resurrection Eggs.  I found many wonderful resources around — I listed them below — but I decided to make my own printable to go along with the objects and Scriptures that I felt were the most important.

Making your own Resurrection eggs is easy!  All you need is an empty (and clean) egg carton and 12 plastic eggs (these are the only thing that I actually bought — for $1!)  Now fill the eggs with the below items from around your house!

Fill an egg carton with plastic eggs. Number the eggs 1 – 12:

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Click here for the printable that I made for the Resurrection eggs:

(At first I cut these in strips and put them in the eggs, but that seemed to distract from the objects inside the eggs, so I laminated this and keep it with the eggs.)

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Now fill the eggs with the following items:

1: Donkey & Palm Branch

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon [a donkey].” Zechariah 9:9

Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David;
 Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”Matthew 21:8-9

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2: Bread

While they were eating Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. ‘Take and eat it,’ He said, ‘This is My body.’” Matthew 26:26

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3: 3 dimes

Then one of the twelve disciples, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?’ They counted out thirty silver coins and gave them to him.” Matthew 26: 14-15


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4: Small string

Pilate wanted to please the crowd, so he set Barabbas free for them. Then he had Jesus whipped and handed Him over to be crucified” Mark 15:15

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5: Purple cloth and crown of thorns

They stripped Jesus’ clothes and put a scarlet robe on him. Then they made a crown out of thorny branches and placed it on His head, and put a stick on His right hand; then they knelt before Him and made fun of Him. “Long live the King, of the Jews,” They said.” Matthew 27:28-29

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6: Cross

He went out, carrying His cross, and came to Golgotha, that is ‘The Place of the Skull.’ There they crucified Him.” John 19: 17-18

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

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7: 3 small nails

They nailed Jesus to a cross and gambled to see who would get his clothes.” Mark 15:24

And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Colossians 1:20 

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8: Sign reading King of the Jews

Above Him were written these words: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Luke 23:38

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9: Sponge and spear

One of them ran up at once, took a sponge. He filled it with vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.” Matthew 27:48

“One of the soldiers plunged his spear into Jesus’ side, and at once blood and water poured out. John 19:34

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10: White cloth and spices

Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” John 19:40

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11: Rock

Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a new linen sheet, and placed it in his own new tomb, which he had just recently dug out of solid rock. Then he rolled a large stone across the entrance to the tomb and went away.” Matthew 27:59-60

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12: Empty

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” Matthew 28:5-7

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I was creative in a lot of them, but I think it all works : )

I used a bay leaf for my palm branch, I know that’s a horse and not a donkey, but my son can’t tell,

a gluten-free roll for my bread (my son can’t touch gluten),

a piece of string,

a cut purple felt shirt and a little branch I shaped into a crown of thorns,

a popsicle stick broken and colored with red marker and a cut up sponge,

and a cut white t-shirt for the linens and spices from home – cinnamon and dried chives.

My son absolutely loves this and keeps wanting to “play Easter eggs” every time I bring it out.  He is slowly learning about the crucifixion and how Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  He gets a sad, sweet look on his face when we talk about the nails and I think he is really grasping some of it, in his innocent little mind.  I am so thankful for this hand-on tool!

I resourced this idea from Play Eat GrowWomen Living Well, and ICC Religious Education.

The Resurrection Eggs can be bought at any Christian Book store or right over line on Family Life website or you can make them yourself, I found these on Pinterest.

I hope this blesses you and your family!
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The case against praise

While studying for my Masters in Elementary Education, I researched educator Alfie Kohn.  His work emphasizes to parents and educators that praise can be detrimental.  All of those “good jobs” don’t do a child a lick of good.  I scoffed at this notion, children need to be loved and taught that they are wonderful; well, of course, but he brings in practical reasons as to why praise should be so much more.

Here are some notes I wrote in my substitute lesson plans during my time as a Kindergarten teacher, based on Kohn’s article “Five Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job”:

  •  Focus praise of students to encourage and support their intellectual work and their self-confidence. I want the students to have motivation to learn and not simply depend on your response to their work.
  •  For example, during Language Arts, Centers, or Writer’s Workshop, students will want to show you their work, instead of just saying, “nice job,” focus praise to specific reasons why you think his/her work/writing is improved or can be improved.
  •  Instead of “good,” say “I like how you….” or “You remembered….”
  •  While circulating, do not say anything at all. Sometimes a walk around the room to check on the students’ work suffices for students to know you care, but you value their responses and their ideas.  Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.
  •  While circulating, ask questions about the students’ work, such as, “How did you know?” and “Where did you get that idea?” to support the students’ autonomy and asking what he/she thinks of their work, rather than telling him/her what you think.

I just came upon this chart from Teach Preschool’s Facebook group which sums all of this up very nicely:

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The New York Times published an article on this topic entitled “The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids”.

Living Montessori Now, also, posted the “A Montessori Approach to Praise” which lists reasons why children need us to be constructive in both our words and our actions.

What do you think? What are your experiences and/or thinking?  Are they aligned with this view of praise?