Class Rules

In my combined first and second grade, my goal was to allow children to participate in a peaceful, productive, and comfortable atmosphere while learning well. We developed as few rules as possible but enough for cohesiveness and fairness for all. Some were a class’s decision, and some were mine. Most of the time the rules were taken for granted and obeyed. When a problem did occur with any child or group, there were spontaneous responses with problem solving and discussions about right vs. wrong, hopefully increasing their moral awareness. Stories and literature writing assignments often included a moral at the end.

One kindergarten class from years ago, were capable of making all their own rules. The class would decide and vote and then try out a new rule with changes made when necessary. What a joy that was. Those children could get out finger paint, use it, and clean up afterwards without any input from me. Also, the children enforced the rules among themselves. And I never had a class afterwards that could initiate and follow through with that much responsibility. I began to wonder why??? Well, first of all in that school, four kindergarten classes were divided according to age, and those children were the oldest group. In addition, many of those children came from very large families and had jobs to do at home. In my future classes, children did problem solve and make decisions about rules but could never initiate all. There was always a combination of their rules and mine.

Read more about children’s personal development and social interaction in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Independence and Responsibility in First and Second Grade

Throughout each year children, in my combined first and second grade, were told our class was like one big family within our school community with respect, thoughtfulness, and support for one another. Sometimes they had choices with freedom to be unique when it didn’t interfere with the rights of others. Children should have rights and independence as long as it’s with an equal amount of responsibility. They must coexist. A teacher once told about believing that developing independence in young children was a mistake. He told about a child who thought he could do anything at all causing great problems in the class. He said he was totally independent resulting in such negative results. Well, that child did not have an equal amount of responsibility. The same thing is true with freedom. Great freedom in a class without responsibility creates chaos – but such harmony when blended.

Read more about programs, including a section on Personal Development and Social Interaction, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

A Concentration Game for Learning Beginning Sounds

A simple concentration game was made with cards and stickers. A pack of plain cards were divided in half. Half the cards were made with a letter on each one and the other half with a picture of something, usually cut out of a beginning sounds workbook, which would begin with one of the letters. Two different stickers were found that went together, such as Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. Then Mickey Mouse was on the back of each letter card and Minnie Mouse on the back of each picture card. Then all cards were placed down with Minnie and Mickey facing up. A child would pick up a Minnie and a Mickey card to see if they matched. If so, she kept the cards and if not, replaced them. Another way cards were made was to use the same sticker on every card but the letter cards were a different color than the picture cards. So a child would pick up two cards, each a different color. The winner, of course, when all cards were gone, was the one with the most cards.

Read more about the reading programs along with games and activities in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Warm Fuzzies and Cold Pricklies

TA for Tots and Other Prinzes by Alvin Freed was printed in 1973 and is still available today. I’m retired now but it was used in the beginning of every year with my combined first and second grade classes.  TA stands for Transactional Analysis, a system for personal growth and change. It’s about feeling warm fuzzies and cold pricklies and feeling that they are prinzes instead of frozzes (his unisex terms for princes, princesses, and frogs). The two terms were easy to understand and simplified discussions about getting along and during conflicts. “Are you feeling some good warm fuzzies today?” Or “I know you’re having cold pricklies right now. How can you change that?”  Children loved the book and used the terms easily with one another.

Although written for young children, I once used it in 4th grade explaining that the content can apply to any age.  That 4th grade thrived with it also.

Read more about children’s personal development and social interaction in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Succes. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Using Basal Readers for a Literature Study

In my combined first and second grade there was a literature study for the first semester, using basal readers.. All second graders took part, and every year a few first graders were included who were beyond the beginning reading programs. People often asked why basal readers were used with the controlled vocabulary that eliminated the style of the author – and call it a literature study. Well, first of all, the fiction, non-fiction, plays, and poems in the basal series that were used were excellent.1 A few, such as poems, did not have a controlled vocabulary. But even those that did were well-written in an interesting manner. We talked about the style of the author in the afternoons when literature was read to them, sometimes comparing a current piece with a story in a basal reader. But the major reason might well be that keeping track of so many different books for a semester might not be manageable. Also, in those beginning years there wasn’t much money for new books, prohibiting the collection of multiple copies of various pieces of literature. The final reason, but not the least important, is that although many children could read various children’s literature comfortably, some could not, usually because of perceptual problems.

The program included questions that combined components of literature with cognitive processes. Children interacted orally with a peer and then a large group, sandwiched between reading and writing at their own ability level. My hope was that the knowledge gained transferred into each child’s own reading in selected books of interest.

1. Early, Margaret, Senior Author. 1979. “The World of Giants and  Monsters”, People and Places, 7-57. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. (It has long been out of print but there are used book stores on the web that still carry the series.)

Learn  about using this literature study, in a class or how to design your own, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where this program and others, plus classroom activities, can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Phonogram Flip Cards

In my combined first and second grade, children learned phonics as an aid in learning to read with phonograms in a Reading Folder. See a copy of the Reading Folder:

Each phonogram was made into a flip card. A flip card was made by cutting paper into 5” x 1½” oak tag pieces. Many pieces were stapled together on the right side edge. Then the left side edge was folded over 1½” and stapled at the folded edge. Sometimes many pieces of paper were cut into 4” x 2” pieces and more paper cut into 2” x 1½” pieces with a few made out of oak tag. Then one piece of oak tag was on the bottom of the larger papers and stapled at the right side and another small piece of oak tag on the top of the flips, stapled all together on the left side, strengthening the whole flip card. Using a marker, a phonogram was printed on the flat piece, beside the edges of the short pieces and one beginning sound or consonant blend was printed on each 1½” or 2” piece. So, each of the small pieces were flipped to the next, continuing through all. The number of pieces of paper stapled together was the number of beginning sounds or blends that could be made with the phonogram. For instance, the phonogram, _and can use eight beginnings – b, h, l, s, st, gr, br, and str. (Other phonograms might include th, sh, ch, and ph if applicable.) That would mean that eight pieces of paper would be used to make the flip card, _and. Phonograms I used at first were simple, such as: at, up, ook, it, all, and ake. As they became more proficient, I included phonograms such as: ight, tion, ick, ung, and ound.  Of course, any phonograms desired can be used.

Read about the beginning reading programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Freedom of Choice for Choice Time

In my combined first and second grade, Choice Time met daily for 30 to 40 minutes each day. There were five learning centers – math, science, art, reading, and writing. They weren’t told where to go since I never felt that children’s intellects would develop in a lopsided manner. They would prefer activities that would help them grow. They wouldn’t select anything boring, and they weren’t going to be involved in something too difficult. They would decide upon activities of interest and often something that challenged them. They would choose something that kept their minds active which is such a great asset, not only for building and expanding concepts in Choice Time but for interacting in all areas throughout their day. So why would I attempt to choose a Choice Time activity for them? Therefore I didn’t.

The closest I came to steering a child to a different center was one time when, Lee, a new second grader who couldn’t read entered the class. Big perceptual problems. For the first half of the year, day after day, he chose to build with Cuisenaire Rods. Since I didn’t know why he was choosing as he did, or why it was wrong, I never interfered. During September, he often called with great excitement, to come and see what he had built. It was a jumble to me, but he was so enthused that I would always think of something favorable to say. Finally, perhaps in mid-fall, when he called me over, I saw that this one had more structure. It stayed together and had a little height. But I still didn’t know why this kept him so occupied. By the way, I forgot to mention that Lee was a brilliant child. He had an enormous vocabulary and was fascinating to listen to. Finally, about mid-year when he called me over, I thought I could tell what he had been trying to do throughout the fall. This structure was symmetrical, and symmetry was a half-year or sometimes a whole-year project in class. Meanwhile, I had just heard about his testing results for perceptual problems. The examiner said she’d never seen such consistency. In test after test, Lee couldn’t coordinate the left side of his brain with the right side. So now I thought there was a reason why he may have chosen the same thing over and over again. He was trying to coordinate his thinking. He was trying to make symmetrical designs, one side equal to the other, which is probably something his brain was craving. A mental harmony that he lacked. I was glad I never stopped his choice. He was helping himself to grow cognitively.

Lee’s choice is an extreme example of how children became involved in Choice Time. Children may have been building and constructing in the art or math centers, sorting and classifying as they went along, or problem-solving in a profusion of situations as they interacted with others. This mental activity, forged ahead through choices, was a great asset throughout each day. They were thoroughly enjoying Choice Time while allowing their cognitive development to flourish.

See my two entries about cognitive growth:

A complete description with materials and activities of all five learning centers are in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Opportunities for Cognitive Growth During Choice Time

In my combined first and second grade, Choice Time was an important part of each day, allowing children’s self-initiated learning to grow through their freedom of choice. There were math, science, art, writing, and book centers each providing activities and materials to inspire and nurture a child’s excitement about learning. Concepts developed in the centers overlap one another. And every afternoon, there was an evaluation time to show, discuss experiences, and add more information about all to extend future learning in the following days.

For instance, in the math center classification was involved whenever there was sorting of materials for building a structure or for solving a puzzle or making a design – looking at  the parts and deciding how to fit them into the whole thing, the finished creation. In the science center, shells and stones were sorted and classified according to different properties. Children frequently looked at likenesses and differences plus comparing and contrasting, all pre-requisites to classification, in many things such as birds’ nests and feathers, various kinds of plants, and collections of bark, fall seeds, fungi, etc. And when they tried to see if a bug was an insect, identifying the five parts was a huge classification feat. In the art center, there were constant opportunities to notice likenesses and differences – exposure to the various textures of the materials. Classification was involved whenever separate materials were combined to make a whole – collages and painting and creating designs and using small boxes to make whole structures.

Classification formed in the learning centers are the very tools required for successful achievement in all academic areas. It is necessary in social studies when studying various groups of people and geographical features. In addition to ordering and sequencing, good ability to classify is necessary while alphabetizing, using the dictionary, and spelling. To anticipate or predict outcomes in literature require looking at the parts (the details) compared to the whole (the plot) plus comparing the parts among the parts. To understand paragraphs, children need to know the sequence of events and be capable of looking at the details (the parts) compared to the whole written piece. Identifying the main idea requires understanding the relationship of the whole to the parts. Decoding is an immense classification feat. And all of the above are required when children are writing, composing a story, or an article.

Much of math requires classification, and it must become internalized before children can understand and use their math without objects. Addition involves sorting and then classifying – looking at all the parts compared to the parts and those compared to the whole. Then multiplication is just a more complex form of classifying – looking at multiple groups of numbers in relation to wholes. Subtraction and division require all of the above plus reversibility of thought. Solving the missing addend, 2 + ? = 5 or ? + 3 = 5, requires reversibility of thought, and most first graders are too young for that. Fractions need an understanding about how the parts relate to the parts, the parts to the whole, and the whole to the parts.

Understanding conservation requires the ability to see transformations and reversibility. Once that is understood, children will know that two amounts are equal no matter what form they take. In the math center, they see a bucket of Cuisenaire Rods using various amounts of space – dumped on the floor, made into a building, or into long roads and then these same rods gathered up and put back into the bucket. A whole puzzle is dismantled, spread out on a table and then put back together again in the smaller space of the completed puzzle. And sometimes during Choice Time there was water play with different size containers. Following this in the afternoon with the whole class, the class would be shown one amount of water, and then have them guess if it would fit into other shaped containers. In the art center, cleaning up with sponges is a good example – a sponge full of water squeezed out and then the same water reabsorbed. All children helped clean up at one time or another. Any kind of modeling medium, such as clay or plasticine or play dough, starts out with one ball, and then can be rolled or shaped into many different configurations, and finally returned to the same original size ball.

In the art center there are many transformations taking place without reversibility – any kind of painting where one small amount of paint on a brush or a sponge is spread over a wide area. At least once a year, they became enraptured with making paper chains as long as they could – first to the length of the room and then back and forth until finally they’d give up. Some 9 x 12 pieces of paper, cut into strips in one pile, can then be connected to a long, long chain.

If Merry is a competent math student, she must also have a good understanding of conservation. She must recognize that the number is always the same no matter what sizes or shapes are presented. It could be five marbles or five buildings or five children. And they could be in a straight line, bunched together or scattered far and wide. It is still five. Merry must recognize that a dime is not less than the bigger nickel. She must be able to internalize patterns of numbers to do mental math. In order to measure liquid accurately, she must be capable of seeing different shaped containers holding the same amount. In reading, before she could imagine cause and effect, she would need to have acquired conservation and therefore, reversibility of thought. As long as her thinking is static, she could not reverse her thinking to imagine an effect from a cause, nor could she think about the effect if she could not imagine the original state.

Losing egocentrism is such an important process to overcome – to be able to see and understand other viewpoints, both intellectually and socially. For Jerry to realize that the whole world doesn’t see things exactly the way he does – that there are many different views and aspects to situations. Whenever children are looking at all parts of a structure while building in the math center or constructing in the art center with boxes or clay or making mobiles, they are exposed to all sides plus the top and sometimes the bottom. If Helen, an egocentric child, looked at only one side of a structure she wouldn’t be able to imagine the shape of the other sides. So, constructions in the math and art centers help children overcome their concentration of static situations. During social conflicts there were opportunities to point out the other side of a situation trying to help a child realize there are other opinions and attitudes. Always. Piaget believed that one reason children lose their egocentrism is because of disagreements with their friends. A child begins to realize there are other viewpoints and after enough exposure with concrete experiences, children begin to think abstractly.

Losing egocentrism is also important for achieving good reading comprehension. Eventually, if a child cannot consider any other viewpoint and believes that everyone understands and sees things exactly the way he does, then he cannot understand the viewpoints of the author, empathize with the characters, and consider hypotheses, or notice similarities and differences in order to make comparisons and contrasts. He also would be incapable of evaluating and understanding the whole. And if he could not manage any of that, his writing would be very weak indeed. And think of the massive misunderstandings that would occur in social studies. How can we expect any child to appreciate others or be compatible if one’s thinking is so static?

So, concepts developed during Choice Time are the very tools which contribute to good comprehension and development in all academic areas. Certainly many of the cognitive traits are expected and taught in academic areas; however, if the concepts are not developed in real life experiences, then a child’s comprehension will be very weak or completely lacking. When these concepts are materialized, then a child’s very best achievement can be attained. Once when teaching an advanced third grade class in reading, half of them could not comprehend a story about the ocean and tides. I asked how many had never been to the ocean, and the very ones who couldn’t understand it raised their hands. Well, you can’t very well experience tides around the Great Lakes where we lived. And, of course, we couldn’t offer any experiences in tides during Choice Time. The point is that without direct experiences, understanding can’t take place. So, the more those children are able to incorporate a good cognitive structure, the more depth of understanding will occur. Therefore, the cognitive abilities attained in the math, science, and art centers are vital contributions to good achievement in all academic areas, and there is a direct association between the two.

Now, of course any child wouldn’t be completely lacking in all of the concepts presented here. They overcome a little at a time and in an uneven fashion – and continue to develop throughout life. So Troy, for instance, could be egocentric or lacking behaviors in some areas and not in others. The point is that Choice Time is a time to further develop these abilities necessary for good to excellent achievement in all academic areas. And opportunities in a school program are unlikely to allow such advances in concept attainment as there are in a Choice Time with learning centers.

So, as children are engaged with materials and each other during Choice Time, plus reading books and discussing those activities during evaluation time in the afternoons, they are absorbing a tremendous amount of knowledge about their world. These concrete experiences create ideas which are then expressed through language. While busily occupied and helping each other, they are engaged in friendly conversations plus discussing, debating, and arguing with their classmates. And school programs are not likely to offer children the opportunities for cognitive growth without a period of Choice Time. They may learn as much from each other as they do from adults.

A complete description with materials and activities of all five learning centers are in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

A Simple Game for Learning Beginning Sounds

After determining the number of sounds to be learned, using blank cards, a picture was pasted on each one. The pictures could be cut out of a beginning sounds workbook. In my combined first and second grade, beginning sounds were divided into three groups. Players could use one pack until proficient, then use the second pack, and finally the third one. However, as their skill increased two or three packs would be used for one game.

To play the game, each card in the pack was placed on a table or rug with the picture side up. A small marker, such as a lima bean, was placed on each card. During a child’s turn, she would point to the beginning sound of a picture on a card and if correct, would take the lima bean. Her play continued until she couldn’t remember any more. Then she counted her lima beans and marked her score on a piece of paper. Her beans were replaced on each blank card. While her partner took his turn, her attention was apt to be focused on his responses to try and remember more when it was her turn again. I’m retired now but my favorite classes were  combined first and second grades.   The first graders loved this game and chose to play it over and over again.

Read more about beginning reading programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Rehearsals for First and Second Grade Plays

The best way to study drama in my combined first and second grade was to visit a professional theatre, before simulating the whole process in our class. Before reading about my entry for rehearsals, read first about the creation of 3 plays and then about the scenery and costumes:

The school stage was at one end of our cafeteria, therefore called the auditeria. Children brought their reading, math, and writing with them to each rehearsal. While one of the three plays was in rehearsal, the children in the other two plays did their school work. I still met for about ½ hour each morning and some time in the afternoons going over writing and math assignments. The assistant teacher and parent volunteers were in the auditeria to assist children, when needed.

For the very beginning, it was explained how loud their own voices sounded but when on the stage, how soft it was to the audience, and about the necessity to project voices without yelling. So to begin with, each child went up on the stage and said a few lines as loud as they could without yelling. I would ask for repeats until I thought the child was speaking as loud as they could, comfortably. Occasionally, a child wasn’t quite loud enough but when it was obvious it was the best to be accomplished, each one was told it was terrific and to try and keep that volume.

Time was spent explaining the need to be confident and poised while always staying in character. They were to fully concentrate upon others on the stage and looking at the audience would be totally out of character. It was interesting to see the results of trying to explain and demonstrate how to be expressive in portraying feelings and emotions consistent with their character – and then to see what they did! Some learned a great deal and were able to initiate their own version of the character they were portraying, some had louder or softer voices, and some just said their lines. I worked with each until I felt it was their best effort no matter what the actual result was. This was a study of drama, never a professional production. Each child should feel proud and pleased with their part. And each did – no matter how accomplished they were or not.

So, with the plays created, scenery and costumes completed, and after final rehearsals, the plays were presented to some grades at school one morning and presented again that evening for parents and friends. I sat close to the stage to help with any cues needed. I was never aware of a child feeling anything but joy and excitement for a job well done. The final productions varied quite a bit. Sometimes they were better than ever varying to sometimes, worse than during rehearsals. But no child or play group was ever told that, and I always heard nothing but how wonderful each child felt with their part. Of course I made every effort to sincerely compliment each child.

Read more about programs, including the whole drama program, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved