A Study of Maps for First and Second Grade

“As I draw something on the blackboard, try to guess what it is, and if you know, raise your hand – but be sure to keep it a secret,” my combined first and second grade were was told. As I drew the map of the room, keeping it secret kept children intent upon the goal without spoiling it for others while deciding for themselves. When I finished, and the correct answer was given, as they sat on the rug watching where I put an X, they were to raise their hands if they could go to that spot in the room. There was a huge variation – some that accomplished it with ease to those who were near but not quite there to those who went to the wrong place. Map study is very difficult for many young children incapable of transferring symbols to concrete surroundings.

So for the next activity a map of the school was given to a pair of children, hopefully of equal ability. The map had major areas such as the art and music rooms, the cafeteria, etc. identified, but all classrooms except ours was left blank. Each map for a pair of children had 4 X’s marked on different classrooms in the building. Each pair was to go to the X classrooms, look at the numbers on the doors, discuss it, and then record the numbers of the doors on their map. (They were to try very hard not to disturb any classes and to be as quiet as possible.) Again, there were variations with only a few having no difficulty, some identifying two out of the four, and some unable to find any. And this was a map of a building that they used daily.

So, why are young children expected to understand maps of a town, city, state, nation – and the world??? They can’t. Well, a few may be able to understand very local maps of our class, school, and maps of Kiddiecity and Miniville, built in our classroom, but very few. Children certainly can learn to give the correct answers, but most without any adequate concept.

A more experienced teacher told me about her explanation to develop an understanding of larger areas, such as towns, states, and the USA. And that was to draw three concentric circles on the board. In the middle was Fayetteville, the town we lived in; the middle circle was New York State; and the outer circle the United States. Preceding this, we used the same circles as we thought about each having a bedroom, in a house, in a neighborhood, in Fayetteville and then in our classroom, in our school, in our town.

Since I was unconvinced that they were old enough, lost enough egocentricity, to fully understand the concepts, I decided one year to do an experiment. Throughout the year, I showed them books, newspaper pictures, and maps of cities and states explaining the similarities and differences. My plan at the end of the year was to give each child two pieces of paper and ask them to create any kind of a city map on one piece and a state map on the other. Each one would not have to duplicate a real one. It could be imaginary. Well, we ran out of time with finishing the end of the year projects. I told the class about my plan that we couldn’t do, because the end of school was so close. I asked them if each received two pieces of paper, could they draw a city map on one and a state map on the other. Without exception, they nodded their heads in agreement and saying of course they could do it easily. So I asked what would be the difference in the city map and the state map. Expecting inaccuracies, I was still surprised at their answers, as they related things like, “There would be more grass, butterflies, birds and dirt in the city than the state.” etc. As each answer was given, heads nodded in agreement. They had no idea concerning the relationship of one to the other, except for one child. And, I had many very bright children. Only one girl looked puzzled as each gave their answer. When I questioned her, she did indeed have a correct concept of the differences. She was only in our school for three years before returning to Europe. She had flown back and forth three times. So she saw the differences from the airplane.

There’s nothing wrong to introduce young children to simple maps of their classroom, school and town and then of our country and the world, but it is wrong to believe that correct answers indicate accurate concepts.  Children may understand how small a map of our classroom and school is compared to the real thing and know that a map or globe of our world is very small in comparison, but their responses may be purely verbal without a good concept. Young children are able to put a United States puzzle together correctly, but it isn’t any different than putting a picture puzzle together. They may only have known or learned what shapes go beside another, not what a vast expanse of land it is compared to their town or school or home.

Learn more about 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 www.amazon.com

Yes, Teach About Christmas and Hanukah

In my combined first and second grade, in December we did  not avoid learning about each other’s religion and whatever other winter holiday a classmate celebrated in their home. This always included Hanukah and sometimes Divali from India. Likenesses of various religions, such as using candles for light and exchanging gifts, plus the differences were explored. Every child made a craft appropriate for each holiday along with presentations and books read both about our holidays and other mid-winter holidays around the world. It was a glitter Christmas tree ornament or molded clay candle holder for Christmas, and a dreidel for Hanukah  (a dreidel pattern with directions are in Appendix W) followed by learning and playing the game of Dreidel.

Special crafts were brought in by mothers of any other religions. Children and parents participated in presentations about their religion. The purpose of learning about various religions was not to celebrate any in school but to understand others’ rights and beliefs, so hopefully in the future the children would be kind and accepting of many others. Parents were very helpful and supportive of this approach, but occasionally a Jewish parent would point out that Hanukah was not a major Jewish holiday. My answer was that no one could avoid Christmas in the community, and my explanation about using Christmas, Hanukah, and other winter holidays as an example for understanding and accepting others resolved the issue.

Learn more about the 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 www.amazon.com

Children’s Creations of Islamic Designs

In my combined first and second grade, Arabic repeating mosaic designs that children made on graph paper were very popular. The whole class was first introduced to the process, and after that it was a popular Choice Time activity.

We began with ½” graph paper. In a block of four squares, a child would make a design with markers. Then, skipping one or more squares next to that, they would repeat the same square and design and continue across the page and making identical additional rows until the whole page was covered. When they felt the squares were complete, they would make some lines or designs in the blank squares connecting the decorated ones. Again, these lines and designs were identical. Sometimes a child might outline the four squares and repeat that square with the spaces across the page and continue the rows until the page was covered. Then they would go back and put one design in every square, returning to add additional identical designs in every square, and then connecting all the squares.

After being first introduced to the whole class, the youngest children had some difficulty carrying out their repetitive pattern but didn’t realize it. They just didn’t choose to make any more after that first one in the fall but were apt to design some later in the year. I’ve often thought how amazing children are when they choose to do the things they are capable of and just neglect to participate if it’s beyond them with no apparent discomfort. They just get involved in something else.

Graph paper was always available for future designs, and as time went on designs became more and more complex. Some would use 1” graph paper or ¼” graph paper, began their design with six squares or a rectangle, or just became far more elaborate with each additional design created. It was a very popular activity  because each child could participate at her own level.

The designs involved the concepts of patterning, symmetry, transformations, and geometric shapes.

See an illustration of the Islamic Designs and read about the math 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 www.amazon.com

“I’ve Got an A” Game for Learning Names of Letters

“I’ve Got an A” game used a set of 4” wooden letters placed in a bag. The game board was a large piece of poster board, about 24”x 28”. It was covered with a piece of wrapping paper with tracings of each wooden letter on 3” by 5” labels’ The labels were pressed on the board in alphabetical order. The game could be played using a small set of letters or using the whole alphabet. A child would reach in a bag and pull out a letter and say, “I’ve got a B” (or whatever letter was pulled out) and place the letter over the white one on the board. This continued until all letters were covered on the board with a wooden one. There was no winner.

A variation included a pack of cards with two letters on each card. The cards were placed down in a pile. The required wooden letters were spread out in front of the game board. When a child picked up a card, he would look and see if one of the letters was available, pick up the letter, and say, “I’ve got an S” and cover the white S on the board with the wooden one. If he had the letter, he would keep the card. If both letters were already on the board, he would place the card in a discard pile. The child with the most cards at the end won.

A little more advanced variation involved putting all the letters in front of the game board and each child taking a turn naming and placing as many letters as possible on the board. When no more letters could be remembered to place on the board, the covered letters would be counted. Letters were taken off the board for the next child’s turn. After all turns were taken, the child with the highest number won.

Read about games for beginning readers 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 www.amazon.com

A Simple Naming Letters Game

Beginning first graders in my combined first and second grade seemed to especially enjoy a very simple game for naming letters. There was a pack of cards (companies sold blank packs of cards), each one containing an upper or lower case letter. Any number of cards could be used or if they knew most of the letters, all could be used. The cards were placed letter side up with a small marker, such as a lima bean, put beside each letter but without covering it. A child would say the name of a letter while pointing to it and if correct, take the lima bean. When the child could not remember any others, her own lima beans were counted and the score written on a piece of paper. The beans were replaced before the next child’s turn. A nice feature of this game was that when a child was waiting for his turn, he was listening as the letters were called out, so he would know them when it was his turn. It was important to involve two children of about the same ability so one wouldn’t overpower the other one. This game was not played just once, but over and over again.

Read about games for beginning readers 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 www.amazon.com

Spelling for Young Writers

In my combined first and second grade, learning to spell occurred throughout the day while playing a phonics game, during a casual discussion, during mini lessons in the afternoons, and throughout the writing sessions. Children used “My Wise Owl Speller” (See below in my book about how to download “My Wise Owl Speller”) initially for spelling unknown words and after that for privacy. Scraps of paper were always available to request a word, a phrase, or in the beginning sometimes whole sentences. Misspelling was accepted while composing when fully engrossed in creating, knowing that it could be corrected later. After learning to use the dictionary some used it but more often, I corrected all in their first drafts. For first graders, when only making a first draft, corrections they were ready for were made with explanations using a pencil and eraser. First drafts, preceding second drafts, were corrected with red pen and explained during early morning conferences. And as with all their writing, children knew that the first draft was their working copy, that any misspelled words could be corrected later.

Encouraging invented spelling as always acceptable was very distressing. For the last few years I taught, some children began to arrive in first grade using any combination of letters freely with no spelling conscience, no motivation to spell words correctly. I preferred children arriving without this belief. And trying to then develop a spelling conscience after a year of invented spelling was not so easily overcome. Early in September, for instance, Mari wrote a piece for her father with such imaginative spelling, it couldn’t be read easily. Asking if I could help fix the words so her father could read it, she exclaimed, “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll just read it to him.” Well, of course, this indicated no idea of her audience and the whole purpose of writing. So right then I accepted her reason, walking away and wondering what to do with her next story. Thank goodness for the modeling of the other children. As time went on, Mari began to care about her spelling. Accepting invented spelling encourages a child’s egocentrism instead of encouraging him to overcome it – to write for an audience, others, instead of for oneself.

Spelling, of course, has tremendous variations – sight, site, cite, height; gate, weight, gait; rough, muff, and on and on we could go. I can’t resist presenting the following:


Eye halve a spelling chequer. It came with my pea sea.

It plainly marques four my revue miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word and weight four it two say

Whether eye am wrong oar write. It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid, it nose bee fore two long

And eye can put the error rite. Its rarely ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it, I am shore your pleased two no.

Its letter perfect in it’s weigh. My chequer tolled me sew.

Would yew bee happy two no it is based on a poem buy a Professor Jerrold Zar of Northern Illinois University? His entire poem is entitled, “Candidate for a Pullet Surprise.”

(Nye, Jody Lynn. 2004. “Candidate for a Pullet Surprise.” Reader’s Digest, 7/2004, page 24.)

And another one…


Aoccdrnig to rescheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in what order the ltteers in a word are, the only iprmoetnt thing is that frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total

mses and you can still raed it wouthit problem. This is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by istlef but the word as a wlohe.

(Powell, Johnathan. 2003. “IT’S ALL SO OVIBUOS.” Reader’s Digest 12/ 2003, page 79)

So, what does that say about teaching spelling? Frank Smith believes that: “Spelling, for example, demands the memorization of every word we are ever likely to write. The ‘rules’ of spelling can be numbered in the hundreds and still carry only a fifty percent probability of being correct for any particular word.”(Smith, Frank. 1988. Joining the Literacy Club. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. page 18.)

How many times do adults, wondering how to spell a word, end up with the dictionary because they are not sure the word will fit a known rule? Spelling is not something to be invented. It’s already been done. When children are too busy writing to stop and do feel free to misspell a word, they are still apt to try and imitate or reproduce the correct spelling. That’s different than full acceptance of invented spelling. By using “My Wise Owl Speller”, children were quickly spelling many words from memory.

In addition to the daily emphasis and focus on spelling while writing, there were three spelling programs. Learning to spell using phonograms offered some consistency plus an opportunity for children to develop spelling sense and the ability to spell words according to classes involving common patterns. And finally in order to be good spellers, they must memorize the words that fit the patterns plus the exceptions. So, by the end of the year, the spelling programs included the common patterns of phonograms plus memorizing the spelling of irregular words. (A copy of each test is in my book.)

Read about the techniques of writing 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 www.amazon.com

Fairy Tales for Young Children

Children seemed captivated with fairy tales read to them in my combined first and second grade classes. Perhaps this great interest was because the plots begin and move along quickly with simple but well-defined characters. Most begin with a problem which is solved by the end, quite often involving magic. Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects is contained in the happy endings, even in different versions of the same story. No matter how difficult the problems are, they are solved. One might argue that life’s problems do not always have happy endings, that it is not a realistic view. However, how many successful solutions can be achieved without the belief that it’s possible?

There are sometimes debates about the suitability of fairy tales for young minds because of the violence. However, the violence in fairy tales provides an acceptable outlet, and it is never rewarded or in any way viewed as acceptable. And children can readily identify with the good characters.

Fairy tales are also a good beginning for understanding more complex symbolism in literature later on. Most often each character, whether good or evil, is entirely pure throughout, never displaying any other trait. Contrasts are most apt to be clearly portrayed, such as good vs. evil and rich vs. poor. A large bulletin board displayed fairy tale book covers with the following words: characters, good vs. evil, powerful, greed, brave, beauty, jealousy, obedient, violence, magic, problem solving, kindness, pride, trustworthy, rich vs. poor, and Does it teach a lesson? The bulletin board served as a reminder, for both children and teacher, of what traits might be applied to the fairy tale just read. It was explained that those words were not often, or ever, used in the story, and children were then asked what parts of the story enabled them to identify each character’s personality. Children became quite proficient at identifying the various qualities. And all of their understanding, of course, was an aid for their own personal story writing.

Read about reading and writing 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 www.amazon.com

Reading Comprehension for Young Readers

Reading specialists believe that reading for comprehension is the most important goal of reading and naturally I do too – but not at first. In my combined first and second grade, there was no stress upon comprehension while the beginners were learning how to read, not even in their own reading book. A child’s first book was a basal reader of interest to the child – one that she would want to understand. At first, each beginner was with an adult or child partner. Then later on, when they were capable enough, children read only stories or articles of interest and skipped others. These beginners were learning how to read – with or without phonics – relying upon their strengths.

If children were using basal readers and concentrating on breaking-the-code in their own way, how would they acquire good comprehension? Well, simultaneously while they were learning how to read, during the afternoons when stories were read to the class various types of comprehension were explored – about characterization, the style of the author, the setting, moods and feelings, the plot, the theme, etc. Also, they were writing constantly with a big emphasis upon stories. They each were thinking about introducing their characters and developing the plot with a good conclusion. I believe that’s where much of their comprehension developed, during discussions of stories read to them and through their own  writing, perhaps before they could understand all that they’d read themselves. Some understood what they’d read while they were very busy decoding, but others did not.

One time at a conference, the presenter put up a paragraph and covered up the top half of the words which we were to decode. My friend and I were so absorbed trying to decipher the words and soon thrilled that we were able to. Then the presenter put up another paragraph and covered up the bottom half of the words. This was really difficult. I don’t remember now if we were just able to do some of it or if we accomplished the whole thing with much struggle, but it suddenly occurred to me when it was over that I had no idea what I had just read. What it was about.

That’s exactly what I think happens when these beginners had their own book, and they wanted to read so much that they strived, willingly and enthusiastically, to decode. And as their decoding became easier, they proceeded from pure decoding to the inclusion of good comprehension – indicated by the high comprehension scores in standardized tests. Perhaps when children are accomplished readers and have poor comprehension, it’s because they are forced to read material they weren’t interested in.

Read more about beginning reading and the various 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 www.amazon.com

Animals and Natural Science in First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade classes, children’s self-initiated learning took place during Choice Time. These concrete experiences served as a background for gaining new insights and understandings.

It isn’t important which things are offered but vital that science is a big part of young children’s lives. The resulted learning is immense. Science can promote curiosity, discovery, investigation, and experimentation resulting in extending children’s vocabulary, language, and concepts about their world. It offers opportunities to develop rational and critical thinking, and the skills of problem solving, comparing and contrasting, classification, and observation. There are also opportunities for significant reading and writing.


a terrarium                                                           birds’ nests

feathers                                                                   plants, seeds, and bulbs

collections: shells, stones and rocks,                toads and turtles

fossils, bark, fall seeds, fungi, acorns,

microscopes chestnuts,

everything blue, etc.                                     lizards

land crabs                                                                  slugs

pumpkins                                                                   monarch caterpillars and butterflies

cycle of mealworms                                                         and others, plus chrysalises and

fish and snails                                                           cocoons

slugs mice

pollywogs                                                                   spiders

live and dried insects                                             snakes

ants                                                                             molds

crayfish                                                                     parakeet

praying mantis                                                       science books

magnifying glasses

The collections and materials above found their way in our science center during each year. An exciting exhibit in the early fall was monarch caterpillars and chrysalises. Children were busy watching closely the sequence of the life span until finally – the butterfly

There was always a forest terrarium to house whatever might be brought to school. In the fall we had many creatures that grew in the area. Most we would keep for about a month and then let them go in a proper place. In the spring, we would have local creatures again. Other animals and reptiles found their way into our terrarium from parents or purchases from the pet store. We sometimes had a toad that lived in the terrarium all winter and seemed to become quite tame. There was a never-ending interest watching the toad whipping out its extended tongue to eat a mealworm. And then raising mealworms to feed the toad continued our study of life cycles. (Mealworms can be raised in a box of oatmeal containing cut-up potatoes.)

We accepted anything that we could properly care for and the children could hold and catch. There wasn’t often an aquarium because interest was high during the talks and preparation but waned after the fish were introduced. It happened with anything that could not be held.

There were also collections, such as shells, fall seeds, and birds’ nests and feathers. While some sorted and classified shells, others tried to guess what properties were involved. A big display of fall seeds emphasized life cycles and how they travel through wind, animals and people. We read a book about various birds’ nests to help in identification. Observing the various birds’ feathers, children tried to determine what parts of the bird the feathers had originated from and what purpose each had.

With the help of books in the afternoons, children learned more about the exhibits in the science center. For instance, books could be about the differences between various nests, a toad and a frog, a butterfly and a moth, a turtle and a tortoise; the differences between instinct and learned behavior.

For insect study, there was a chart showing the five parts – the head, the thorax, the abdomen, two sets of wings and six legs. Then we looked and searched for small things to see if they were insects or not. What a classification feat that was!

Raising mice each January, we became involved in a study about genes and heredity. It was most exciting each time we had a new litter – which was very often. We transferred the knowledge about the mouse genetics to other animals and people.

During the spring, a variety of seeds were planted from those found in fruits and vegetables, such as apple and melon seeds and the eyes of potatoes plus an assortment of bulbs and flower seeds.

Concepts gained during science activities not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.

Read more about Choice Time and the science 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 www.amazon.com

Patterning in First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade, patterning was a popular activity in the math center during Choice Time.

When using geoboards, most often symmetry was the choice of design, while sometimes repeating designs or making pictures were created. Initially, young children might have put as many elastics on as possible, and we might guess how many were used. But, as they observed others, their choices became more elaborate.

When a child presented a pattern on a pegboard during evaluation time, children were asked to tell what the pattern was. They might see, for example, if the pattern was red, blue, green, yellow, red, blue, green, yellow, red, blue, in the first row, then the second row would start with green and yellow. After looking at the horizontal pattern, we would look at the vertical one and see it’s now red, green, red, green, etc. with each successive row containing just two alternate colors. Then, we’d look at the patterns diagonally noticing red, yellow, green, blue, etc. Since this equipment involved colors, numbers could substitute, so 1 was red, 2 was blue, 3 was green, and 4 was yellow, exposing them to the patterning of number. After seeing the patterns with colors, the board might be hidden, and asked if we went vertically, what would the numbers be? And then show them.

Of course, the youngest children might present a pegboard with no recognizable pattern. They might be asked if there were more red or blue pegs. Let’s count and see. Or, if they were ready for something more complex, are there more red and blue pegs than green and yellow? Again, counting to see. This equipment, as with all equipment and activities that were provided in the class, accommodated different abilities and yet was shared with all. The youngest children received as much attention for their efforts as the older ones. However, the youngest children were always exposed to higher achievements that they, too, could participate in when they were ready. By making the simplest offerings more complex, it still could appeal to the brightest. Hopefully, everyone had a chance to feel good about their projects.

So, patterning was a big part of our program. It is important because math is a patterning of number and a study of patterns. So many problems can be solved if patterning is well understood plus it contributes to their study of geometry.

Read more about the math center and patterning 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 www.amazon.com

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved