Sharing Early Literacy Learning Journeys

A duck family goes for an early morning swim on the lake.

A Canadian geese family goes for lunch and a swim in the lagoon.

And in the afternoon, a mother starling
feeds her hungry family in their nest in a tree!

Different families. Different times of day. But love and caring in all the families…

See here for more interpretations of ‘Family’.

The old, brown, metal cupboard lurks at the back of my classroom. It is full – very full! Materials, made and collated over recent years, are stacked inside. The latch is stiff. On the second attempt to open the doors, I lean into the cupboard with my shoulder. The doors burst open. A mini avalanche of books, charts and cards cascades into my hands!

Yesterday focussed on the physical environment of the room – getting the class ‘areas’ organised and placing the furniture. Today is about sorting materials and constructing the calendar wall.

Sorting literacy and numeracy cards and charts

Sorting cards
Literacy and numeracy cards are sorted into broad categories:
* alphabet
* numbers
* days
* months
* colours
* sight words
* sentence starters
* high-interest word/photo cards
* CAFE labels

Literacy and numeracy cards feature big print. This enables children to read the cards from various parts of the room and is especially helpful for children seeking spelling support during writing times. The cards are A4 size, colourful and laminated to last.

Alphabet rhyme cards (Ants on the apple, Violent volcanoes),
colour cards and two sets of number cards

Yesterday, today and tomorrow cards for the calendar wall,
early sight words, sentence starters (I am…, I like…, We went…)
and months cards.

Some of the cards are bundled with elastics and bulldog clips and stored on shelves for easy access. Number cards are taped beneath the calendar wall and colour cards are pegged on the wires near the mat area. Alphabet cards will go up one-at-a-time, according to class interests, children’s names, curriculum and handwriting sequences, etc. over the next few weeks of first term.

Sorting charts
Literacy and numeracy charts are sorted into categories:
* alphabet charts for phonics and handwriting (will go beneath the whiteboard)
* word lists, e.g. people we know, time starters (various walls and wires)
* months of the year (will go beneath calendar wall)
* days of the week (will go beneath calendar wall)
* attendance chart (will go on calendar wall)
* songs, chants, poems (will hang on wires)
* action rhymes, number rhymes and nursery rhymes
* simple starting school rhymes (see picture below)

Literacy and numeracy charts feature big print enabling children to read the charts from the floor and tables in various parts of the room. The charts are A2 or A3 size, colourful and laminated. Four rhyme charts are pegged on a wire so they are easy to read from the mat area.

Rhymes, reading and a ‘rule of thumb’

Children, especially young children, need to move – and they need to move often.  Yet, we frequently ask them to sit for long periods of time for shared reading, shared writing and explicit teaching. Here’s a ‘rule of thumb’ that works for me:

Time a child can sit ‘fairly still’ = child’s age + 3 minutes

Thus, a Prep or Year 1 child may sit ‘fairly still’ for 8 – 10 minutes, but then s/he needs to get up and move – really move; jump, hop, wriggle, stretch!

Rhymes play a fun and purposeful role here as they give opportunities for children to move their bodies to the rhymes and at the same time, hear rollicking, rhythmical language. Reading is also involved; children see, say and hear the words simultaneously as I point to each word with a metre stick.

Rhythmical rhymes:
Jump, Teddy Bear, Tall as a House, Jack be Nimble

Starting the calendar wall¹

Back to work! The calendar wall takes shape from left to right – the same direction we read/write and the order in which we will do the calendar tasks:

* January chart at lower left corner (for children to touch/write on) 
* yesterday, today and tomorrow cards
* days of the week cards
* attendance chart
* 100 board
* 100 grid

The month chart is at the bottom left for L – R reading
and for children to reach and write on.

The January month chart is ruled up and labelled on large ‘poster’ card.

 ‘Yesterday, today and tomorrow’ cards are pinned/stapled to the board.
‘Blu-tac’ is used on the back of the day cards so they can be moved easily.

The attendance chart goes up next to the days of the week.
(Counting, adding and subtracting in a meaningful context).

The 100 number board goes up next.
It’s heavy and needs to be secured with strong hooks and string.
(Counting by ones, tens, fives and twos).

Great! I don’t have to do anything here.
The 100 grid is already painted on the hinged
blackboard in the corner of the calendar area.

Finally, months of the year chart, days of the week chart and number cards are stuck on the bottom half of the calendar wall, with blu-tac (see photo above).

In the first two weeks of school, a large chart of the children’s names and a schedule of days and times of specialists’ classes (music, computers, library and physical education) will be added to the calendar wall.

For the first 4-5 weeks I lead the class through the calendar tasks, then children take turns to complete the tasks as the ‘calendar person’:

* day, date, month, year
* counting children in attendance
* adding boys and girls
* subtracting absent children
* sequencing numbers for the number of days at school
* talking of days and times in sessions with specialist teachers
* recording happenings like a child’s birthday, a class event and a school activity

¹ (Read more about the Calendar Wall in  Teaching Strategies for Literacy in the Early Years  ‘Dates with the Calendar’ Pg. 22).

Quiet reflections

Looking around the room I reflect on what has been accomplished today…

Cards and charts, constructed, collected and collated over the years (some by me, some by my teacher aides) are sorted.

Some cards are displayed. Others, like alphabet cards and sight words, are more relevant and meaningful when the class is involved in placing them on walls and wires over the next few weeks, as we build literacy and numeracy displays together.

Almost completing the calendar wall is a relief – it’s a big job and it has to be ready for the first day with children.

Two more days to complete finishing touches before children arrive. But for now…it’s time to go home!

Coming next: Starting School Series, Part 3: Gathering hands-on materials and books


Excited and a wee bit apprehensive. A new school year. A new bunch of kids.  An adventure. Take the short-cut between the demountables.  What state will my room be in? Things are always moved for holiday cleaning! I’ve set aside four days to organise my room and prepare materials for the arrival of the children. Time to think, plan, experiment and create.

Four days to go: physical environment

The physical environment of a classroom reveals what a teacher believes about how children learn.

Walk up two flights of stairs to my room.

Put down my bag, insert the key and open the door. What will I see?

It’s quiet and dark.

Turn on the lights. Look around the room. Can’t miss the big pile of furniture – small tables, chairs, shelves – off to one side. Folding doors that separate the two classrooms are open. The fishnet ‘word wall’ that stretches across the doors is intact. Wonderful!
Most of the room is clear – a clean slate on which to design our learning environment. Perfect! Can’t wait to start moving things.
But first…

Where to start?

1. List the class ‘areas’ we need: 

mat area for the whole class
reading, library, bookshelves
calendar wall
word wall(s)
computers and printer
art /wet area

wooden blocks
construction materials
home corner/drama
morning message board
display areas
children’s storage (backpack/hats/lunches)

2. List the stationary items – things that can’t be moved:

whiteboard (a major part of class mat area)
IWB /data projector and screen
shelves/hooks (for children’s backpacks/hats)
refrigerator (for children’s lunches)

electrical outlets
computer connectors (computer area)
sink/counter/wet area (art area)
display boards on walls
built in cupboards
folding doors (word wall)

When I start the year in a new classroom I make a rough sketch and label possible class areas. But it’s my third year in this room and the sketch is in my head! One year I did a ‘proper’ plan of the classroom for my Doctoral Thesis in 2004 – not to scale!

Doctoral Thesis Classroom Plan

Plan of a classroom physical environment.
Different room. Different stationary items. Different layout.

Stationary items determine some class areas

1. Mat area and whiteboard
The mat area is what makes my classroom ‘tick’. The placement of the mat area is determined by the whiteboard (for shared writing, explicit teaching and teachable moments), the screen (for a ceiling-mounted data projector) and a large display board that becomes the calendar wall. Presto! Class mat area.

The mat area is essential for whole class sessions – BIG enough for children to gather together comfortably. BIG enough for children to sit, stand and stretch. BIG enough for class story time, small group ‘co-operative show and tell’ and class circle for reporting/sharing times. For ease of class sharing, the following items will be adjacent to the mat area:

  • calendar wall (for morning maths sessions)
  • big book stand (for shared reading)
  • pocket chart (for interactive reading)
  • audio and CD player (for music and interactive story books)
  • laptop (to use through the data projector onto the screen)

The mat area is the ‘hub’ of class gatherings
for shared literacy and learning practices.

2. Children’s backpacks/hats/lunches
That’s easy. Two long shelves for backpacks and hats are near the classroom entrance. The refrigerator stands against a nearby, out-of-the-way wall.

3. Computers
That’s easy. One printer and a bank of four computers are near electrical outlets and internet connectors – although wireless technology makes a difference now! Some older classrooms don’t have enough power outlets – for a laptop, data projector, fish tank, CD player, electric pencil sharpener, battery rechargers…  power boards may solve outlet problems but be aware of safety issues: no loose cords across the floor for children to trip over.

4. Art
Another easy one. My art area is a wet area with vinyl floor, sink and counter. I add a collage trolley, a painting easel and tables for playdough/clay and collage.

5. Display areas
Two wires are strung across the room about a metre below the ceiling. Wonderful! Peg up and display children’s work – paintings, drawings and writing. Display boards are on several walls for longer term displays.

6. Word wall
The fishnet word wall stretches in front of the folding doors – these will be closed before the classes arrive.

Things are going well. Six ‘areas’ are placed around the stationary items – things that cannot be changed. Now for the other class areas on my list…


Once again, dig into the pile of furniture to construct the remaining class areas. Be creative!

Lifting, dragging, pushingbit by bit the pile shrinks.
One at a time, pull out:
metal, triangular bookshelf  (library/reading area)
*large floor cushions (library/reading area)

*pink, plastic, play stove (home/drama area)
*big book stand/small white board (shared reading, near mat area)
*pocket chart (whiteboard ledge, near mat area)

*morning message board (reading, door entrance)
*block shelves (block area)
*maths materials and shelf
*construction materials: buckets and boxes of mobilo, lego, duplo, etc.

*children’s tables and chairs

The pink, plastic, play stove goes in the home/drama area

Reflection: bigger area or smaller area?
‘Can the block area be improved?’
Last year it never seemed big enough. Can’t find anywhere else to put the out-of-the-way defined space (roads and buildings are often left up over days and nights so the area cannot be in a class walkway). Make the block area bigger?
Make the maths-shelves area smaller?
Yes. That’s OK. Children don’t ‘work’ in the maths area – they take materials from the shelves and work at tables or on the floor.

Decide on the block area.
Do not want to move the ‘blocks’ shelf too many times!

Establishing remaining class areas
Block area done. Maths shelves done. Home corner done. Bookshelves and reading area done.
Mobilo, lego, constructions and puzzles – not yet done.

Brightly coloured covers on big cushions brighten the reading areas –
where children sit, read, rest and talk.

Place tables and chairs where children will ‘work’, putting tables together to make hexagonal tables or clusters of rectangular tables.

Children face each other to interact, discuss, co-operate  and
share – essentials in my beliefs about how children learn!

Finding a home for the last table
Finally… the pile of furniture has vanished! The last table finds a home in the science /discovery area. Improve the tatty table with a cream, cotton cloth. That’s better!

Stand back and survey
I’m happy. Six areas are established around stationary items. Five other areas fall into place:
bookshelves/cushions/reading area
hands on materials/maths area
science/discovery area
blocks area
home corner/drama area.
Construction materials, like lego, duplo and mobilo are still without a home. Maybe tomorrow?

Survey the scene.

The physical environment of the classroom is taking shape. Tomorrow, sort materials, put in their places and create the calendar wall for ‘real world’ maths.


Stop by the office. Pick up my class list. Check for familiar names – wonder if there are younger brothers or sisters of children in previous classes? Tomorrow, use the class list to make name charts, name cards and class book pages for the children’s first day. But now, put the list away. It’s time to go home.

Coming Next:
Starting School Series, Part 2: 
Sorting materials and making a calendar wall.


Talking Teaching

“Where have the holidays gone?”

“And where do I start?”

Although not full-time teaching any more, it’s still exciting for me to hear friends, parents and colleagues ‘talking teaching’ – to hear of their hopes, plans, ideas and concerns for beginning another school year.

In response to requests and encouragement from Early Years teachers, I will re-publish over the next 14 days, my Seven Part ‘Starting School Series’ of blogs for ‘old’ and new teachers of Prep, Year 1 and Year 2, in particular for Early Years teachers in Australia, who are busy preparing for their new school year.

I have revised and enhanced the series; clarifying, simplifying and reorganising each of the seven parts. A scanned photo from my Doctoral Thesis of the physical layout of a previous classroom, has been inserted in Part 1 of the series. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, all the photos have been edited and enlarged for easier viewing.

Here’s what you’ll find in the new Seven Part ‘Starting School Series’…

Part 1: Organising the physical environment

Part 2: Sorting materials and starting the calendar wall

Part 3: Gathering hands-on materials and books

Part 4: Finishing touches – in preparation for the first day

Part 5: Reading and writing on the first day: morning session

Part 6: Reading and writing on the first day: afternoon sessions

Part 7: How many ways did I read today? A child’s perspective

Copyright © More than Reading 2014

Stranded Stars

Alone on a sandy beach. A leisurely walk on a sunny afternoon.
Suddenly, spot a stranded starfish.

Two weeks later. Another beach.
Another leisurely walk on a sunny afternoon.
This time, with our son (Let’s call him Fred).

It’s hot. 34C. Wear flip-flops. Burning sand, too hot for bare feet.
See washed up coconuts, dried seaweed, assorted shells and sticks and twigs.

A fallen tree trunk, now a giant, sun-bleached log, rests on the sand.
I rest on the log. Fred walks over and rests beside me.
We watch a man on a paddle board glide into shore. Three small children run to meet him whilst their mother waits in the shade of the trees.

Suddenly, Fred gets up from the log and takes several steps. He stares at something on the sand. I get up and look too.
A blue-ringed octopus?
Fred pauses.
No. Only five legs. I thought it was a snake at first.

The stranded creature looks hard and dry. Using a long, thin rock and a flat rock,  Fred carries it to a shady part of the beach. It looks brittle and we don’t want to break it. Fred places it gently on a brown leaf. The mystery creature is beautifully preserved, I assume by the sea salt and the sun, flat and hard like a pressed flower.

Britttle Star

We find out later, it’s a Brittle Star  – in the Starfish family.

We also find out that marine scientists are trying to rename ‘starfish‘ as Sea Stars – because they are not ‘fish’.

Beginning of the day...

Ahhh… beginning a new day

Beginning of life

and beginning new lives…

To see how others interpret ‘Beginning’, click here.


Grandma and toddler sharing New Year’s morning at the beach.

‘One travels more usefully when alone because he reflects more,’
said Thomas Jefferson.


What is this hitch-hiker thinking
as he heads towards Missoula, Montana?

Is he feeling loneliness or solitude in light of Paul Tillich’s words:
Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone
and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.’

And, is he a solitary person as in Paul Theroux’s statement:
‘Solitary people make the best travellers’


And, as we all know…
‘The one thing that matters is the effort,’

(Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
as we ‘…climb every mountain!’

For more interpretations of ‘One’ see here.

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