Practice Makes Perfect

I love technology.  Learning new programs to use in a classroom is one of the things I miss in retirement.  I do however have some issues with technology in the classroom.

You can call it an app, I call it a game.  That’s not all bad because good learning games are great for reinforcement.  My problem with most apps is that there is too much fluff.  In a lot of them the “story” that take the child though the game over shadows the skill.  There’s a reason teachers teach and reteach.  There’s a purpose for drilling a skill.  The more you practice and use a skill the more likely you will remember it.

When I was teaching we had several math apps on the classroom iPads.  I found them lacking content and too heavy on graphics.  They always left me longing for “Funnels and Buckets”.

For those of you not familiar with Funnels and Buckets it is a DOS math game from the 1980’s.  You choose the problems, you choose the sound effects, you choose the speed.  The object of the game is to zap the math facts falling from the sky before they fill the buckets.  Start simple, start slow.  Learn the facts.

Sadly, it’s no longer available.  Why do I miss it?  I have two children who are really smart in math.  They practiced and practiced their math facts using Funnels and Buckets.  They got really fast and didn’t get let the buckets get filled.  They knew their facts.  Knowing the basic math facts makes math easier.  Fewer errors, more correct answers….it’s simple math.

A simple game, lacking graphics, teaching basic facts.

Oh, Funnels and Buckets how I wish you were still around for the children that need you……… but there are still flashcards.  They’re a little boring compared to Funnels and Buckets but using them every day with an adult will get results too.

Funnels and Buckets, come back!

Hello app developers, are you listening?

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Spelling Test This Friday!

Growing up I was not a good speller and I dreaded the Friday spelling test. I’d take a practice test the night before. With my mother calling out the words I’d write them but when it came to taking the test I didn’t know the words well enough to not second guess myself. I’d take too much time deciding which way was the right way to spell the current word and end up getting behind on the words being called out. As a consequence, I’d get flustered and wish I was anywhere but in a classroom taking a spelling test.

I’ve tutored several elementary aged children in spelling. The one thing I’ve learned from the experience is that some children cannot be successful on a spelling test when they start studying the night before the test. It seems like a logical statement……some children cannot be successful on a spelling test when they start studying the night before the test. Unfortunately, some parents can’t recognize the importance of the statement even when their child week after week does poorly on their spelling test.

Some children need to start no later than Sunday night. That’s why most teachers send home and/or post the words online on Friday. They need as much exposure to the words before the practice test on Wednesday or Thursday. Many children can write the words 3 times every day and be good to go on Friday. Others need more exercises to help keep the correct spellings fresh in their mind.

To me the first thing the child needs to know is what the words are. If your child isn’t a reader yet, read the words to them. If they are older and can read, have them read the list to you. As the words are read by whoever is reading them make sure the child knows what they mean. One of the words this past week on a test I was giving was “barnacle”. It’s a word I don’t think I’ve ever used in writing but because I’ve seen it in print, can pronounce it and know what it is, it would be easy for me to write.

There are many spelling activities to help your child prepare for a test. One of my favorites is air writing and it’s especially good for troublesome words. In air writing they are making a picture in the air of the word. Eyes are raised up to an imaginary paper or board. An adult says the word and watches to make sure the air writing is done correctly. As the word is being spelled with the index finger the eyes are following the finger and the letters are being said by the child as they are written. When the word is spelled it is “underlined” from left to right. Then the adult starts asking questions. Lets say the word was “house”. Questions might be:

  • How many letters do you picture in “house”?
  • What two vowels do you see in the middle of “house” ?
  • What letter do you picture at the end of “house’?
  • What letter comes after the “o” in “house”?

Some other good exercises, especially for the lower grades are:

  • Write the words three times is a standard but when I’m tutoring I ask them to say the letters as they write them.
  • Rainbow writing – girls seem to like this one better than boys but if camouflage colors were used the boys might like it better. First you copy word in pencil. Then you take 3 different crayons, markers or my favorite, colored pencils, and outline the word in one color, then the 2nd color and then the third color.
  • Block writing – write how every many letters as there are blocks in each row. Letters should be said as they are written.
  • Unscramble the words
  • Read and Write – Spelling list is in one room and paper and pencil are in another room. The child looks at the word goes to the other room and writes it. When the last word is written the paper is brought back to the list to see it is all correct. Yep, the boys like this one and usually run to the other room! I’ve used it with upper elementary age boys.
  • Break the list up in to word families or just practice 4-5 the first couple of days. On the night before the test concentrate on the missed words but don’t skip the others when giving a practice test.
  • Spelling City on the internet
  • Pinterest has many, many more ideas!
Rainbow Writing
Block Writing

It is so disheartening for a teacher to watch a child week after week struggle with spelling tests. They want to cry for the child that never gets that 100 on the practice test to earn the privilege of reading or drawing while others are taking the Friday final test. Please, please, please help your child be victorious on Wednesday or at least by Friday. Please help them feel good about their efforts. Please, if your child needs it, start working with them by Sunday on their spelling list. Hopefully it will result in a big smile and a high five at the end of the school week!

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Don’t Push!

In the past few years I have experienced first hand what it is like when people constantly make remarks hoping to push you into doing something you are not ready to do.

Here’s the back story…..

I don’t know when it happened but I ended up with a bowed right leg. I suspect my meniscus tear contributed to it happening. I ended up with arthritis in the knee which sometimes hurt and sometimes it didn’t. Some times I limped and sometimes I didn’t. During this time not much was said, except for once in awhile someone would ask why I was limping.

A few years later my left knee became windswept. X-rays showed that the top bone had slipped off of the bottom bone and my knee pointed to the right. How it happened is a mystery. It didn’t hurt but it made me look crippled. It was with this knee that the comments started coming:

How much pain are you in? …….I’m not. Does it hurt to walk?…..No. When are you going to get your leg fixed?….When I’m ready. When I’m ready. When I”m ready!!!!!!!

Last spring I decided I was ready, not because I was in constant pain or because of the comments, but because I had finally gotten tired of the stares. The stares along with the difficulty of walking up stairs without handrails encouraged me to make the appointment.

Keep in mind that when I make a decision I jump all in. So with the decision made and the surgery date set I started making a plan. Surgery was in 6 weeks and I decided I needed to strengthen my legs. I set up an appointment with a trainer and he showed me what to do. He said I should do the routine 3 days a week and I went 6. After the first 4 weeks I was walking up stairs easily. I was doing so much better that a friend asked why I was going to have the surgery. I told her because I was ready.

Four months after right knee replacement I scheduled surgery for my left knee replacement. Like I said I jump all in. My reward? I now have two straight legs. Can I climb those stairs without a handrail? Yes. Do I feel comfortable coming down stairs without a handrail? Not yet. I’m still in the healing phase.

My whole point of this post is that the desire to do something that others think you need to do has to come from within you. You have to want to do it. You have to be ready to do it.

The same goes for children in the classroom. Let me give you an example. I substituted in a 3rd grade classroom years ago. There were two boys that never finished their work and never got to go out for recess. Fast forward to two years later and I substituted in their 5th grade classroom and they were among the first to finish. I asked what happened and they told me they had just decided to do their work. Doing work, behaving in class, participating in class, being nice to classmates and the list goes on………to want or be ready to do these things has to come from within the child. Pushing, nagging and hounding isn’t going to make it happen until they make the decision to want to make it happen……and maybe some maturity along the way.

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Math Facts Are A Must!

Babies, operations and the confession to myself that I missed teaching were the reasons I ended up in the classroom 3 times during the 2017-2018 school year. Don’t get me wrong, I love retirement! Having the flexiblility to travel whenever I want to can’t be beat but I found myself missing being around the elementary students. So I accepted not one, not two but 3 long term substituting jobs.

The third and longest of the three was 10 weeks to finish out the school year. With the help of the other two teachers everything went smoothly until I realized there was higher math involved. There was a little bit of panic and a little bit of convincing myself that I could step out of my comfort zone of teaching children to add and subtract numbers 1 through 10.

With Smartboard pen in hand, I blindly led twenty 3rd graders towards learning two quotient division. Along the way there was a lot of different approaches to see which one would click. After many trials and errors and turning the lined paper horizontally, finally, we were on our way to success.

I am proud to say every child in the class ended up knowing the necessary steps and understanding the concept. However not every child got an “A” on the test. The reason was simple. They didn’t know their multiplication and division facts.

Children can not be successful in math if they do not know their basic math facts! Children can not be successful in math if they do not know their basic math facts! Children can not be successful in math if they do not know their basic math facts! Children can not be successful in math if they do not know their basic math facts! ……………..I can’t stress this enough.

They need home practice. They need home practice often. Children practice music at home before their recital, they shoot baskets at home before the big game so it makes since that they need to practice math facts at home before they advance to the more difficult math concepts.

Help your child be successful in math. Please.

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Do Something Everyday For Someone Who Can Never Repay You

At some point in time I read somewhere,” Do something every day for someone who can never repay you”. I try to live up to that quote. I’m not successful everyday. I interpret the quote to mean to be kind and thoughtful so if I’m out and about its not hard to stay on track. Be kind to people, be kind to animals, and be kind to your environment. It’s really pretty simple.

I transport rescue dogs so they can be united with their new family or safely watched by a rescue until their forever family comes along. Those precious dogs can’t repay me for the time or money that I’ve invested in their future but the kisses of gratitude are priceless.

A couple of winters ago in Wyoming I saw a woman starting to walk with her elderly mother on an icy sidewalk that I had almost slipped on. I told her why she might not want to continue that way. Do I expect to have them do something for me? No, the chances of ever seeing either of them again is very slim.

In my 20’s I had just gotten off of a very bumpy flight in a small plane. A young mother from that same flight ended up in the ladies room in a panic. She was so nauseous and didn’t know what to do with her baby. I held her baby until she was able to do so herself. We never exchanged names (although at this point in time I would probably offer to give her my driver’s license) and I’ve never seen her again.

I was recycling the other day and someone just dumped their boxes. So after I put my cardboard in the bin, I broke their boxes down and put them in also. I know they won’t ever be able to pay me back…..they don’t seem like the kind that would.

I love the commercial where someone opens a door for a stranger and the recipient pays it forward and then there is a domino effect all day from that one act of kindness. I try to teach students to pay if forward if someone has been kind to them. I just think it helps them be better adults.

In many cases of doing kind things for others, you are never thanked. That’s never bothered me before……..until now. You see, today, someone did something for me that I can never repay them or even thank them. I was at the drive up window at Starbucks ready to use my reward. When I got the window I was told that it had already been paid for by the person two cars in front of me. I have no idea who it was.

So, to whom it may concern, THANK YOU! Thank you for reminding me that kindness can come when you least expect it. You made my day and you can be assured that I will pay it forward.

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Memories Along The Road To Getting Older


I have a brain full of memories. Some are happy, some are sad.  Some of them are trying to get lost the older I get.  It gets harder and harder to pull them out and remember all of the details.  Cherished memories from my childhood and younger adult years are being bullied by newer memories…….”You’re in my space!”…….”Get LOST!”……”She doesn’t need you anymore!”…..and the list goes on.  No, I don’t have the onset of dementia.  I just have a 66 year old brain with 66 years of memories.

Even though I get frustrated sometimes when my memories are fuzzy, my brain is trying to make them crystal clear.  It has a team of five, busy all the time, sending messages back to tell it which memory to pull out next.

My memory champions are see, smell, hear, touch, taste. We learn about the five senses in elementary school to help us connect with the world around us.  Now they are stepping up their game to help me reconnect with memories that I thought were long forgotten. Memories come at me from all directions in whatever environment I happen to be in at the time.

Stepping out in to the crisp, clean air with the smell of pines the first thing in the morning.  Walking on a western town’s boardwalk.  Listening to the river going by.  Looking at the rocks at the bottom of a clear mountain stream.  The smell of a canvas tent in the heat of the afternoon.  Summer vacation.

Hot humid summer nights. Felling freshly pressed cotton. The scent of bath powder. Watching fireflies and listening to the frogs and crickets.  A breeze coming through an open window.  Sounds from a nighttime baseball game.  Seeing an old army cot.  Summer nights.

Examining handmade doll clothes.  Finding a pretty cup and saucer.  Eating Campbell’s chicken soup.  Children buying grocery store toys and coloring books.  Teen magazines.  Saltine crackers with white icing.  A mid century divan.  Pneumonia.

Little snakes in interesting places.  Fishing poles and red and white bobbers.  Eating pan fried fish.  Roasting hot dogs on a stick.  Climbing rocks.  A country car ride.  State Lakes.

I could write a book.  Nothing concrete, just memory jolters here and there.  I never know when one is going to pop up.  They just do and I smile and hold onto them until they settle back into the pool of memories ready to pop back up when needed.

And they are my happy thoughts.


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Childhood Sick Days

I’ve been sick.  Sickest I have ever been in my adult life.  It made me miss my mother.

Even though husband did an excellent job of making sure I got better there were times while I was sick that I just wished my mother was taking care of me.

When I was a child I was sick a lot with bronchitis and pneumonia.  My brother and I slept upstairs and it wasn’t unusual for him to go downstairs in the middle of the night to announce to our parents that I was sick.  My father would come up to get me while my mother was making a bed for me on the divan (the sofa of the 1950’s) in the living room so they could monitor me the rest of the night.

In the beginning I was usually too sick to do anything but cough and sleep until the doctor made his house call (yes, I’m that old), left some awful tasting medicine out of his black leather bag and with much fuss, my parents gave me a spoonful.  If my fever got out of control my mother would give me these wonderful rubbing alcohol back rubs and then changed the divan to clean, fresh sheets.

By lunchtime my father would walk home from work and have his lunch while my mother went to the grocery store to get the “sick supplies” and then on to the school to pick up my work.  The sick supplies usually consisted of new crayons, coloring books, chicken and rice soup and popsicles.  Sometimes there would be a little grocery store toy.

Once I began to feel better, I began to get bored.  This is when my mother’s caregiving skill would shine.  As a housewife of the 1950’s-60’s she had a lot to do during the day whether she had a sick child at home or not.  She still had to cook 3 meals everyday for the rest of the family, do the laundry, ironing, dusting and all the other chores on her daily list.  On top of her routine, when I was home sick, she spent a lot of time with me.

She would sit in a chair next to the divan and color with me.  She’d have me pick a doll and she would sit and hand sew a new outfit for it.  My favorite activity was the tea party.  She’d get the little demitasse cups and saucers my grandmother gave me and fill them with throat soothing hot tea.  Then she’d put white powder sugar icing on regular saltine crackers for our cookies.  They tasted like a cone for ice cream and whenever I get to that part of my ice cream it takes me right back to the tea parties.

She never wavered in her sick days attitude.  As I got older, I got sick less. Sitting next to me became sitting in the room with me, coloring books became teen magazines, doll clothes became knitting lessons but the chicken soup and the tea parties remained the same.

I miss her just remembering …………



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No Fuss Crockpot Chili Stew

There are summer recipes and there are winter recipes.  Chili Stew is one of my favorite winter recipes.  It takes only minutes to assemble and always has a thick, spicy sauce and oh so tender chunks of meat.  Sometimes I serve it with biscuits for a fancier alternative to basic chili.

Chili Stew – serves 4

Here’s what you need:


1 lb of stew beef cut into chunks

2 medium onions cut into quarters

2 carrots cut into 1 inch lengths

1 16 0z can of tomatoes

2 cans of red kidney beans

2 tbsp of flour

1 package chili mix

Place the onions and carrots in the crockpot.  (I had one large onion that I rough cut and some baby carrots that I cut in half).



Place the beef cubes over the vegetables.


Cut the tomatoes into smaller chunks (I used canned diced tomatoes).  Pour off the juice into a small bowl and put the can of tomatoes in the refrigerator until later. Add the chili mix, flour and if needed some water to the juice so you have at least 1/4 cup.


Spread the juice mixture over the beef, put the lid on the crockpot and cook on high 4 hours (I have cooked it on low for 8-10 hours with the same results).


Now, this is the hard part…….DON’T TAKE OFF THE LID AND DO NOT ADD WATER!!!!!  I know it will be tempting.  You’ll look through the lid and think  it looks dried out, but trust me, it isn’t.  All that moisture on the lid is dropping down on the mixture below creating yummy goodness.

About 30 minutes before serving throw in the reserved tomatoes and the two cans of beans into the crockpot. Give it a good stir and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes.  Then it’s time to serve it up and enjoy. 


This recipe is husband tested and recommended.  He loves this stuff!

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Drowning In A Sea of Photos

I’m finding retirement is a constant battle of what I want to do and what I know I should be doing.  Things I ignored around the house, during the 19 years I worked full time, have filled the void once occupied by work guilt.  I’m not a hoarder…..well, my husband might disagree.  He has NO trouble getting rid of things but I do.  Someone needs to be the keeper of the memories.  What about the family memorabilia ?  Someone has to keep those so they don’t end up in some junky flea market.  To my credit most memories are stored in neatly stacked boxes.

But then there’s the photos…………………….

My relationship with photos began in the 1950’s when I was born.  They were black and white and very small.  They were pictures of different relatives holding me.  It was expensive back then to get pictures developed.  People were choosey about what they took pictures of.  By my first birthday my father had upgraded to a Kodak that took color slides. That’s where the rest of my childhood resides, on slides, in a box.

When my daughter was born we had a nice Cannon that used film.  When our son came along they were offering double prints.  Perfect!  Each child had a photo album for each year of their life and two prints fit the bill.

Then I started working.  The pictures still got taken but writing the information on the back and putting them in the albums didn’t happen.  They got put in a box “to do later”.  Then another box, and another, and another and…….well, you get the picture.

On Saturday, I got brave and got out the boxes.  Yes, I threw some double prints away but mostly I spent time going down memory lane.  I found pictures from when we were first married.  Who were those two young people?  What is a cat doing in our apartment?  Did we almost become cat people?  Why didn’t we keep it when there is proof that it and our puppy got along?

Then panic set in.  Will I ever remember what year these pictures of our children were taken?  Why didn’t the processing put the date on the back?  They put other numbers on them.  Am I missing pictures?  Will I even be able to find a photo album to put these in?  What about the slides that have come unglued?  Is there even a place anymore that can put them back together or will I need to figure out how to do it?

After about 4 hours of going through photos I was a bit overwhelmed so I threw away the doubles and bad shots, consolidated everything into less boxes and put them away until the next time I am photo guilt ridden.

One thing I did learn from my attempt at organization (other that I had an encounter with a pretty black and white cat) is to choose your family photos carefully.  Love doesn’t always last.  Take pictures of just your family.  Then after you’re finished invite the boyfriend from freshman year of college to join you in one.  Take a picture of your son at graduation with his girlfriend then move on to pictures of him and his other friends.  Now that he’s in a serious relationship and almost 30, he probably isn’t that interested in having a bunch of pictures of him and is high school sweetheart.

Divorced?  Your love may not have lasted but your children’s love for both of you has.  If you are both present at an event important to your child take pictures with them and your ex to document it.  The two of you are still their family.  After that you can take a picture of your children and their extended family with the step parents and step and half siblings.  You’ll send a powerful  message that you may not still love each other but you do love them.

A project for another day……figuring out what do to with the pictures stored in the computer. I’m overwhelmed thinking about it!!


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Young Writers and Inventive Spelling

Once upon a not too distant time I had a parent who felt her first grader should be taught only second grade work.  She felt he was way beyond our first grade curriculum and as proof she brought to our conference a paper he had written in kindergarten.  Keep in mind that I had been working with this child for a few weeks and knew his writing style which included, at that point in time, no capitalization or punctuation and sprinkled in were some misspelled words.  What she shows me is this beautifully written story with no mistakes.  There was nothing in his present work to indicate that he had written the story by himself.  It looked as if he had dictated it to someone and they in turn sat by him and told him exactly what to write so it looked like a masterpiece.  It gave a false indication of his level of work and his level of developement. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this done.

As an early childhood teacher I want my students to love to write just as I want them to love to read.  I want them to be creative.  I want them to enjoy what they are doing.  In my experience, I’ve never had a student that loved to correct and rewrite until they had a perfectly written product.  I’ve seen correcting and rewriting stop them dead in their tracks  and they never finish which made me rethink the way I was teaching writing.

Young writers should first learn to love writing and what they write should be celebrated without question.  This is why I feel inventive spelling is a huge part of creating a writer.  Its a foundation that eventually leads to the more sophisticated writing process of prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.  Inventive spelling is part of the writing process.  I see it as the foundation.

When a young child is learning to explore creative writing, they need to feel in total control of it.  It needs the same freedom as learning to draw.  Great parents ask their child to tell them about the scribbles and shapes they drew on a piece of paper.  They don’t ask, “What is it?”  The same should apply to something a child has “written” in scribbled lines.  They see you writing grocery lists, reminders, etc.   They want to be just like you so they imitate you.

As a child matures, their drawings mature.  They go from scribbles, to a single crayon of choice person with no neck and arms probably coming out of the head, to a person with arms with fingers.  By the time they are in 1st grade most of them draw people with clothes in detailed color.  Being able to “draw the man” is an indicator of developmental maturity.  On the first and last day of school my students draw me in their journals.  I’m always amazed at the progression of maturity and detail when I look at the first drawing and the last drawing of the year.

That same maturing pattern is true in their writing as well.  Their writing starts out as scribbles, just like their beginning drawings.   Eventually, as they learn the alphabet and start to associate the written symbol to the letter name, the scribbles turn into random letters.  Parents should now be asking them to tell about what they wrote.  Even though the answer might be just their name, the random letters show they are beginning to realize they can put their thoughts on paper.  When they put sounds with the symbols inventive spelling begins.

When inventive spelling starts there are 3 things I want my students to learn before they learn to spell correctly.

* to recall events

* to order the events

* to write in complete sentences because they speak in complete sentences

One of my favorite examples of watching a child to naturally mature in to a writer was a 1st grade girl that entered into my class with very few writing skills.  In late September, after being in school for over a month, it was time to celebrate Johnny Appleseed’s birthday.  We watched the Disney movie, peeled apples using an apple peeler, measured the length of  the apple peels, tasted red, green and yellow apples, and made apple crisp.  Later they wrote about the experience in their journals.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 2.42.51 PM

“We celebrated Johnny Appleseed’s birthday.  My favorite activity was when we tasted the apples.  My favorite was the red apple.”

By looking at her account of the day you can see that she knows how to spell a few words and knows the beginning and some ending sounds of most of the words.  Her inventive spelling tells me I need to work with her hearing and identifying ending sounds.

About three weeks after this was written we began teaching spelling as a subject.  Learning to spell along with rhyming and reading leads to becoming a proficient speller.  Each week I teach the children to rhyme other words with their spelling words.  If the lesson is teaching cat, bat, and hat, rhyming will teach they can also spell fat, mat, pat, rat, sat, vat, flat, plat, etc.  So instead of learning to spell 3 words they now can spell 11 or more. Spelling rhyming words greatly increases their spelling vocabulary.

 By the end of the year we reach the “ou” and “ow” words.  One year I gave my students the assignment to use their “ou” and “ow” words to write a story.  My same little girl that somewhat struggled at the beginning of the year as a writer wrote this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 2.43.27 PM

It wasn’t edited and as you can see she progressed through out the year to become a excellent first grade speller.  She also learned to love writing and in second grade she won and essay contest.

When she first started her writing journey inventive spelling gave her the luxury of focusing on what to write and not having to focus on how to write it.  The rest came naturally as more was taught.  When we ask a 4, 5 or 6 year old to rewrite their work until it is perfect we are not teaching them to love writing.  They view it as what they wrote is not good enough and rewriting it as a punishment.

So I changed my way of thinking to ease my young student’s writing frustrations. I now feel in the beginning of their writing experience a young child needs to be able to enjoy the content of their writing and not worry about the mechanics.  We shouldn’t stifle creativity for the sake of a perfect finished product.

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