Snowy Days Poetry Round-up

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Snowy Days in … March? snowy days

Here in New England, our calendar says it’s spring. Despite what the date is, we can experience snowy days in New England from October through March. We might have just celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, but we are having a winter that just won’t quit.

Whether you have a one day winter, or live in a place where winter lasts for months, you can tie snowy days into your literacy block through poetry.

In this Poetry Round-up, you can find snow-themed poems for your winter weather studies, or for a day like today, when winter weather sneaks into spring. So, get out your snowshoes and come along for this snowy ride…


Snowy Days Poetry for Poets of all Ages

Poetry is an amazing way to teach students about visualization. Because a poet has to create a strong feeling or image in a small space, the words used must be powerful, and well-chosen.

The poems I have chosen reflect the snowy days theme, grouped by grade level band. When choosing poetry for your homeschool or classroom, there are some rules that can help you select the proper reading level:

  1. Poetry is often more difficult for students to understand than stories. Look for the student’s reading level, and then choose the level below as a starting point.
  2. Practice a new skill or strategy with a poem that is easier to read. Don’t be afraid to use a poem that is “lower” than your child’s grade-level or usual reading-level. The child spends more energy understanding the poem then, rather than figuring out how to read the words.
  3. Students should hear the language of poems just a little beyond their reach. Choose a poem to read aloud that is from the band above where the child normally reads.


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Your Snowy Day Poetry Library

I like to have a range of levels of poetry in my classroom. Consider creating a snowy days theme basket, and adding poetry of a variety of levels for independent reading, read-aloud and small group literature circles.

  • PK/K ~ Incorporate songs and finger plays  about snowy days and winter weather into your daily routine
  • Grades 1/2 ~“Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Robert Frost; Snow, Snow: Winter Poems for Children, Jane Yolen
  • Grades 3/5 ~“Snow,” Karla Kuskin; It’s Snowing! It’s Snowing! Winter Poems, Jack Prelutsky; “Jack Frost,” Gabriel Setoun; “The Ant and the Cricket,” Anonymous; “Winter-Time,” Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Grades 6/8 ~ “A Riddle ~ On Snow,” James Parton; “Picture Books in Winter,” Robert Louis Stevenson; “Talking in Their Sleep,” Edith M. Thomas; “Winter Sport,” Anonymous
  • Grades 9/12 ~ “Joe’s Snow Clothes,” Karla Kuskin snowy days


Link Winter Studies to Literature

Add variety to your science lessons by beginning your science class with a poem or a passage about snowy days. When you link science and poetry you add interest to your lessons. You also show a link between science and literacy, and keep your students intrigued.

If you’re packing up your winter literature for the spring, tuck a few of your favorite winter-themed poetry books into a tub and start a snowy days theme basket ~ See my Swiss Family Robinson theme basket directions for details.

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Kindergarten Literacy and Science

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The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. ~ Albert Einstein

Kindergarten Literacy and the Common Core State Standards

There is a storm brewing in early childhood education land.

Recently, two educators began a discussion over the Common Core State Standards, and whether or not kindergartners should be required to read by the end of the year. The conversation is creating a greater discussion about what kindergarten literacy really is. The post below shares both sides of the issue.

Peter Greene vs Robert Pondiscio: Should Kindergartners Be Required to Read?

I wanted to LIKE this post a million times.

First, I want to clarify that I am NOT an opponent, in general, of the Common Core State Standards. I do, however, have some reservations about basing so much of what we do, as parents, educators and schools, on this one set of standards. I think we are at risk of losing the parts of kindergarten that help ensure that our kids become great readers later on in school.


What Should All Kindergartners Know, Understand and Do?

Most early learning standards include multiple domains as part of a child’s “curriculum framework,” including social skills, motor play, creative arts, and other areas as part of teaching the whole child. Math, reading, science and writing are included as the parts of the cognitive domain. Early learning standards typically follow a developmental range from approximately age 2 to age 6, which would include most kindergartners and even some first graders.

The Common Core State Standards, which have become the only standards most American public schools even discuss, focus only on language arts and mathematics. With such a pressure for students to do well on the high-stakes tests in the elementary grades, our early grades have become hyper-focused on guided reading, reading skills, reading assessments, and reading support groups. Mathematics might be in there, but we are often hard-pressed to find science and social studies. Creativity, motor play and other areas are relegated to “Fun Friday,” recess, or other teachers, in the form of “specials.” They now assume a “nice-to-have” status that is easy to cut out, when test scores reveal reading problems in higher grades. Science, nature study and outdoor exploration find no place in most kindergarten curriculum.

We really don’t children who can read and write. We want children who are readers, who are writers, who are literate in all senses of the word. We want them to be able to speak about many topics, to ask questions and figure out how to answer them, and who are lifelong learners. When we define kindergarten literacy narrowly as reading and writing, we have ignored the foundations of oral language, experiential learning and inquiry that create scholars. kindergarten literacy

Rich learning experiences create opportunities for writing. {Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 1996}

What is Kindergarten “Literacy?” How Should It Be Taught?

A report in the Washington Post outlines some interesting findings about the “new” kindergarten:

  • Many children are developmentally unready to read in kindergarten;
  • No research shows long-term gains from learning to read in kindergarten;
  • Play-based kindergartens show more long-term effects on learning than ones with a more academic focus;
  • Children learn from hands-on, playful experiences with materials, the natural world, and caring adults;
  • Active learning, conversation, and play give preschoolers the skills needed to be great readers in elementary school;
  • Teachers in successful, play-based kindergartens weave literacy and language into real-life experiences. kindergarten literacy

Kindergarten literacy includes a variety of receptive and expressive language opportunities. {Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 1996}


It is sad to me to see kindergartens barren, no easels, no dramatic play. Construction centers and sensory tables disappeared long ago from most classrooms. Blocks and puppets have been replaced with skill worksheets and letter cards, and nature walks have moved aside to make room for “intervention” groups. We wonder why 2nd graders can’t follow a set of directions or solve math problems with counters, or why 3rd graders don’t know how to use a measuring cup or eyedropper in science class. All that “play” isn’t really play, is it?

When we give kids interesting things to do, they want to read about them, and write about them.

Two of my four children had very late birthdays, and were also readers before entering kindergarten. At home, they spent hours a day, exploring the outdoors and catching things in jars. They started school at age 4, and were four for a long while.

Could you pick them out in the class? Absolutely. Both by their rolling around on the floor and acting “immature” (read, like a preschooler), AND by their ability to read. They couldn’t sit still for longer than five minutes in class, but they knew the names of all the birds at the bird feeder, every insect in the garden, and the difference between a frog and a toad. Today, they would likely be considered not ready, age-wise, and their science knowledge would be  a footnote on the report card. kindergarten literacy

Conversation about real-life experiences creates a strong language base, essential for success in elementary literacy. {Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 1996}

What are Your Thoughts on Kindergarten Literacy?

What are your thoughts on literacy in preschool and kindergarten? How do you feel the Common Core State Standards should be implemented in the early childhood years? Do you successfully weave science and the CCSS together in your kindergarten class? Leave a comment below.

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The Legendary Narwhal

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The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. {Jules Verne}

Winter Weather Not Fit for Man nor Beast? Look at the Narwhal!

It is February 15, 2015, and New England is being hit again by snow, below zero temperatures and hurricane force winds. Boston and other coastal cities are struggling to cope with more snow and depleted snow removal budgets. It would appear that all life needs to retreat to someplace warm and hunker out yet another round of winter weather here in the Northeast.

But there are amazing creatures that thrive in the very kind of weather and climate that causes us, humans, to cringe and run for cover. In the waters north of  New England, and all the way to the top of the blue marble we call home, there is one sea creature who is superbly made to withstand life in the icy waters of the extreme Northern Atlantic and under the ice floes of the Arctic Ocean: the narwhal.

Today is World Whale Day, and to celebrate the occasion, and to keep with our winter weather theme, let’s get up close and personal with this incredible, cold-loving whale.


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The “Unicorn of the Sea” ~ the Narwhal

The narwhal, Monodon monoceros, the only living relative of the beluga whale, is a year-round resident of the frigid waters of the Arctic, off the coasts of Canada, Russia and Greenland. Its unique single tusk, which is really a tooth, makes the male narwhal readily identifiable by even the littlest whale enthusiasts. This tusk grows from 7’ to 10’ long, and points slightly upward, giving the narwhal another one of its names: Qilalugaq qernartaq (in Inuit, “the one that points to the sky”) {Female narwhals sport a much shorter tusk}. Scientists don’t really know why the narwhal has this long tusk, so it’s been the subject of much speculation and legend.

This mid-sized whale can grow to nearly 20 feet in length, and an adult male, at maturity, can weigh nearly two tons. narwhals

Narwhal range and distribution. Hashed area represents winter range; dark area represents summer range. {Image credit: (c) Wikipedia, 2015}


Being a toothed-whale, narwhals are meat-eaters, dining on flatfish, cod, shrimp, squid and other ocean life that lives deep in the Arctic Ocean. While feeding, narwhals have demonstrated the ability to dive up to 5000 feet below the ocean surface, and remain submerged for up to 25 minutes without surfacing for a breath. Like many other sea mammals, the narwhal uses echolocation to find prey while hunting.

Like other whales, narwhals use a variety of clicks and calls to communicate with one another. As you can imagine, their icy home, deep-diving habits, and relative rareness make it hard for us to know a lot about the narwhal’s calls. Fortunately, there are marine scientists who specialize in the study of this rare Arctic resident. The Narwhal News Network recorded this audio clip of a pod of narwhals at night, off the coast of Greenland, on February 9, 2011: narwhals

A pod of narwhals, off the coast of Greenland in winter. {Click image to hear audio clip of narwhal communication, from the Narwhal News Network, February 9, 2011}


The Narwhal in Legend and Folklore

The name narwhal, itself, is an Old Norse word that means “corpse-like,” in reference to the mottled gray, white and black fur covering the whale’s body. It is said that the Vikings, a legendary sea-faring people, thought that the skin and shape of the narwhal’s body resembled the bloated, decaying body of sailors who had met their demise in the icy deep. Not a pretty picture…

Their unusual appearance has caused the narwhal to be the center of some interesting folktales and ideas over the centuries. Their horns have washed up on the shores of lands in the far North, adding credence to legends of unicorns and “proof” of their existence. Royalty over the centuries have paid small fortunes for these horns, although trade of these is now illegal in most lands.

Creatures that resemble narwhals have appeared in woodcuts and early maps, among the “sea monsters” that were said to inhabit the unknown waters to the west of Europe, and the narwhal has been proposed as one possible identify of the “leviathan” mentioned in the Bible.  This mysterious whale is featured in the following passage from Jules Verne’s science fiction novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea:

“Captain Farragut was a good seaman, worthy of the frigate he commanded. His vessel and he were one. He was the soul of it. On the question of the monster there was no doubt in his mind, and he would not allow the existence of the animal to be disputed on board. He believed in it, as certain good women believe in the leviathan — by faith, not by reason. The monster did exist, and he had sworn to rid the seas of it. Either Captain Farragut would kill the narwhal, or the narwhal would kill the captain. There was no third course.” (Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870).

The University of Washington Press has published a book about the mysterious narwhal, entitled Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World. The video, below, is a synopsis of the book ~ take note of the ancient woodcuts showing the narwhal as a sea monster on maps:



More Legends of the Narwhal

If you are intrigued by this denizen of the icy deep, read more about the narwhal in the following legends:


Winter Animal Study and Literature Links

Study the Narwhal as part of your winter studies

Connecting science and literature is a great way to add some excitement to your winter lessons. Why not add a study of the narwhal to your seasonal plans for February? This lover of the icy North is a perfect example of how an animal’s structure and habits make it suited for a seemingly inhospitable climate, and the legends around this rare creature lead to some fascinating legend studies.

The ebook, “Nature Study Notebooking Pages: Mammals” ($5.95, The Notebooking Treasury) is a big help for students organizing both facts about mammals and literature connections from their studies. This 392-page volume has both primary- and narrow-ruled pages of a variety of formats, including range maps and summaries of the life habits of 49 popular mammal species, as well as a set of template pages for the study of any other mammal, such as the narwhal and beluga whale. I have found these pages to be a big help in organizing students’ research on many topics, and use them at home with my own homeschoolers. Click the link above to order directly from this page, or click the image below for current specials from this publisher.


February Subscriber Freebie


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Preschool Weather Observations

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In seed-time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. ~William Blake

{This post is Part 1 of “The Weather Calendar:  Science Activities for Preschool, Elementary Grades and Beyond,” a 6-part series on weather observations as part of daily math and science teaching in the early childhood years, and beyond}

“What is the Weather Today?”

Are you looking for a way to hook your students in your daily lessons? Do you have some students who still struggle with number concepts or math and science vocabulary? Has winter weather disrupted your flow and distracted your students?

Of course, most of you will answer yes, yes and yes – especially if you live in the Northeastern United States, where we (once again) are being buried in snow. If this is you, consider adding a weather calendar to your morning routine.

I once was working with a group of first grade teachers and recommended calendar routines as an important addition to the daily mathematics repertoire. One teacher balked, saying, “I think calendar routines are a big waste of time. There are so many more important things to do during that time than calendars.” I so disagree! While those of us who have taught kindergarten no doubt use a weather graph somewhere in our school year, weather observations and calendar routines can be adapted and used to teach important grade-level concepts from preschool through grade 3, and higher:

  • By keeping the number of data points low (under 31), weather observations on a calendar can be used for initial or remedial teaching of important concepts of number;
  • Through careful choice of what is recorded on the calendar, grade-level earth science concepts can be layered on and emphasized;
  • Because of the discussion format of calendar time, proper use of the content vocabulary of math and science can be practiced.
  • During conversation, students will have the opportunity to ask and answer questions, analyze and make predictions and statements about data.
  • By focusing on weather phenomena, students can practice new ideas using familiar, readily observable content (the weather).

With better understanding of the grade level math and science possibilities, preschool weather observations, and weather calendar work, can be incorporated into daily routines in all early childhood (birth to grade 3) years, and beyond.

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Understanding Toddlers and Preschoolers

The preschool years are a time of incredible physical, social, interpersonal and cognitive growth. Babies step out of the familiarity of their home into the bigger world of preschool, daycare or play group. They take in and make sense of a seemingly infinite amount of new information, and begin to make sense of it all. The big advantage teachers (both homeschool and classroom) have when working with children at this age is their innate sense of wonder about everything. Using observations about the weather can be a great way to hook students on looking at the world like a scientist.

In order to make the most targeted use of preschool weather observations and calendar routines for your students, it helps to first note what important number and science concepts toddlers and preschoolers should understand:

 Toddlers to Preschoolers~

  • Understanding and working with numbers to 5
  • Observing and recording patterns in the weather
  • Sorting objects into groups based on one attribute
  • Noting the effect of weather on the environment

A “Circle Time” Staple: the Weather Calendar

Let’s break the concepts above into individual pieces, and see how your weather activities can address each. For each part, I will share some ideas for how to make the best use of this wonderful time of the day. For veterans, some of this information will be old news. But I will also tell you why these activities work with young children, and how they can be powerful ways to emphasize important math and science concepts.

Focus on School Day Observations, Monday through Friday

What to do:

In my classroom, I had one pocket chart that had spots for the date or weather cards for each day of the week: seven pockets in all. Because my preschoolers often didn’t really understand the difference between Saturday and Sunday (especially if they didn’t attend preschool every day of the week), I sometimes ignored the weekend pockets. Sometimes, we knew about an event (“Sarah, your birthday party was on Saturday, right? What was the weather on Saturday, do you remember?”). But mostly we used observations that we made right then, so we focused on the days of the school week. preschool weather observations

Use a weekly (rather than a monthly) calendar for weather recording with preschoolers. {Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2015}


Why it works:

By focusing on Monday through Friday on our winter weather calendar, we can then practice counting within five: an important skill to begin with toddlers and preschoolers. Very young children learn to master the numbers up to five, because they can count them on one hand!

But understanding the idea of the numbers 1-5 is also an important skill for students to master before they work with larger numbers, which they will learn to break apart into the smaller, “friendlier” numbers of 1-5. For example, they will use tools, such as a ten-frame, to see that the number 7 is made up of 5 and 2 more. In fact, adults do this when counting large numbers of objects, or memorizing phone numbers (which are broken into series of 3- and 4-number sections, not by accident). So really understanding the meaning of the numbers 1-5 is a foundation for work with bigger numbers when they are four and five years old.


The Daily Weather Report

What to do:

As a preschool teacher, I taught in a co-op, where parents helped out with some of the daily tasks of running the school. The classes with 2- and 3-year-olds had two helping parents; the 3- and 4-year-old classes had one helper. If your parent was a helper that day (and everyone’s parent helped), you were the Weather Reporter for the day. {If you don’t have a co-op, or you are doing this in your homeschool, you can set up a rotating schedule for this job.}

We would all sing the “What is the Weather?” song, as the Weather Reporter(s) looked out the nearby classroom window, to decide what the weather was that day:

What is the Weather? {sung to “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Short’nin’ Bread”}

What is the weather, weather, weather?

What is the weather {clap} today?

What is the weather, weather, weather?

What is the weather {clap} today?


The Weather Reporters then either chose from a selection of pre-made weather symbols (that fit inside each pocket), or drew the weather symbol on the chart (when we used a hand-made version). Once the Weather Reporters came back to the circle and reported their findings, we finished the song:

Jesse says it’s sunny, sunny, sunny.

Jesse says it’s sunny {clap} today.

What a good job, job, job,

What a good job Jesse did!


I will not be lying if I told you that sometimes observing the weather took a looooonnnnggg time! If a child had a hard time doing this task (which often happens with the littlest ones), buddying up helped. Sometimes we would need to narrow down the choices for kids (“Is it cold or hot today?”) Focusing on one type of weather observation (sunny/cloudy, hot/warm/cold, etc) often helped the youngest children. This also helped later when we began to sort our observations.



Why it works:

When children are very young, our goal in science, and in all things, is to get them to LOOK. The patterned and predictable nature of a calendar routine helps define for little ones what observation looks, sounds and feels like. The song routine helps them to develop the content specific vocabulary around weather that helps them later ask and answer questions about the weather.

The Weekly Weather Report

What to do:

After a week of weather watching, my kids had between 5 and 7 weather observations on their weekly weather calendar. The Class Mathematician (a class “job” that I used in grades pK through 3, for attendance, calendar work, number line work… any time we needed to count anything) would remove the weather symbols from the calendar, and sort them so that like symbols were grouped together. {Note: Velcro or magnet dots on the backs of the cards enable you to use your felt board or white board as a place to sort.} Once sorted, we would chorally count how many were in each group. preschool weather observations

Make use of a classroom window to make weather observations in the winter months. {Photo credit: (c) Glenn Beltz, 2014 via Creative Commons}


Why it works:

Before children learn that a numeral matches a number name, and matches a quantity, they learn how to match one object with another: they put one plate next to each chair, one napkin on each plate, and one spoon on each napkin, while setting the table for snack. They also learn how to visually discriminate among objects, and match like objects with like objects. This 1:1 correspondence is an important concept that lays the foundation for understanding the meaning of numbers later on. Because we are limiting our observations to seven, it is easy for little ones to count the cards in each category, as the quantity will be a number within five.

What is “sunny?”

What to do:

As we studied new weather words, we began creating posters for each word. I used large butcher paper or chart paper, which I hung on an easel near our meeting area. An ongoing center in my classroom was the magazine center, where (in this case) students would be looking for pictures that show what sunny looks like. These pictures, plus students’ own drawings and mini-paintings, would be glued to the poster. Every morning, during the weather calendar, we would talk about the poster, and ask, “What does sunny weather do to the environment?” Children would use their own work to describe the effects of sunny weather on the environment: grass grows, snow melts, clothes dry, etc.

When we finished discussing a weather term, I laminated the poster and hung it on the wall as a reference tool for students. preschool weather observations

Let children express understanding of weather words in many ways. {Photo credit bberlin2015, 2010 via Creative Commons}

Why it works:

I like to tie language and vocabulary into all my teaching, because I want students to talk like scientists and mathematicians. Part of the process for little children is to connect words, images and the real world together, to build the vocabulary understanding in the child’s mind.

A child’s understanding of a concept is called schema. In the beginning, they have relatively little understanding of a concept (“I see a sun. It is sunny.”). With each exposure to the idea, they begin to build understanding of the idea. Sometimes, their schema contains errors or misconceptions. One thing I often had to clarify is the difference between “sunny” and “warm.” Children would see the bright sun in January and say it was “warm” outside, or see snow on the ground, on a sunny winter day, and say it was snowy. Taking kids outside for a brief nature walk on a sunny winter day, or having them look closely at where the snow was (“Is the snow on the ground? Or is it in the air?”), were needed to clarify this misconception. The iterative process of researching, visualizing and discussing the relationship between weather and the environment helps refine the child’s schema, or conceptual framework, related to weather.

Preschool Weather Observations Yield Mighty Learning Results

Weather routines do much more than give kids a chance to check the weather. As we’ve seen, with a proper focus, they can be a way to get daily practice with important grade-level ideas in science and mathematics. They also provide opportunity for students to discourse about their learning.

So let’s dust off those pocket charts and get ready for some weather reporting!

Weather – Watching Materials for Your Classroom

I’ve gathered some helpful materials for weather-watching and weather studies with preschoolers, all in one place. Click to order directly from this page.

Poem in My Pocket: Winter PreK-1 ($13.99 at Barnes & Noble)


Poetry + pocket charts = lively literacy lessons! Each book features five original poems. For each poem, the book provides word and picture cards designed for use in pocket charts, and much more! This Volume, “Winter,” is a perfect accompaniment to your winter weather observations.

COMPLETE Calendar & Weather Pocket Chart ($36.99 at Barnes & Noble)

Complete calendar and weather study pocket chart, with date cards, months of the year and days of the week, weather symbols, and more!



Emma’s Cold Day ($1.99 at Barnes & Noble)

In her latest escapade, Emma is one game hen with a big problem. It’s the middle of winter and the chicken coop is freezing. Learn about how farm animals stay warm in the winter in this zany tale of Emma, an adventurous chicken, in this award-winning children’s book.










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The Science of Fruit Ripening

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Plant Senescence (Aging and Ripening)

Kitchen Counter science


Are you looking for an easy-to-do experiment on plant growth regulators?

Check out this experiment on the role of the plant hormone, ethylene, in fruit ripening, that you can conduct right on the kitchen table or lab counter. Very few materials, and the learning can be applied to many other contexts.


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2013 Annual Report and Review

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Happy 2014, Friends!

WordPress so kindly whipped up this review of Simple Science Strategies’ year in this great graphic-filled summary. Check it out!

Thank you all for making this year a success! Be blessed, and have a great 2014!

Kim at Simple Science Strategies


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Thematic, Integrated Centers Can Enhance Your Science Teaching

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Thinking Like a Scientist

My kitchen windowsill tells a lot about the kind of mom/teacher/learner I am. Besides the assortment of usual suspects (small appliances, wine rack, utensils holder, cookbooks) on the counter, right now you will find other goodies:
  • a warbler nest in a glass dish, nestled against a garden snail shell and blue jay feather;
  • a box of hummingbird nectar mix;
  • two cakes of fancy suet for my bird friends;
  • a big plastic container with the empty chrysalis of a black swallowtail butterfly that we released first thing this morning;
  • the dried body of a parasitized spotted leopard moth caterpillar in a jar, awaiting necropsy.
We have field guides and giant magnifying glasses strategically placed around the house, and save every plastic and glass container, “just in case.”  Even the less scientific among us have been caught checking over the latest critter in a jar — the investigative spirit is contagious.
With a few simple additions, you can turn any classroom (whether at home or in a school) into a classroom full of scientists. In this article, I will use examples from my former kindergarten classroom to show some easy changes that can be made to your learning space, today.

For more on observation, invitations and science centers, see “The Nature Corner: An Invitation to Observe” (c) Kim M Bennett, 2012

Simple Changes Lead to Big Thinking


Looking for a great professional book to help you achieve greater scientific thinking in your instruction? Check out The Essentials of Science and Literacy, reviewed on this blog.

Not Just Another Fun Science Activity…

The ideas presented above are not just fun activities with a science twist. With the addition of the proper materials, they can be used to address important science, numeracy and literacy standards.

Below, I will show you a second grade integrated science center that includes 25 fiction and non-fiction resources, realia, and other materials that can be used to teach about life by the seashore. You will see that it combines a number of the suggestions from the list above, to provide a multimodal learning opportunity that has multiple access points, and meets the needs of all students in the classroom.

Theme Basket for Four, for 2nd grade: “Life on the Seashore”

This thematic library is constructed using the theme basket approach, in which students interact with different types and levels of text in order to support their comprehension of the main, grade-level selection. It is designed for four students, the ideal number of students for this center. The theme basket approach will be explained ever-so-briefly in this post; if you’d like more information on the research behind it, please see “Blending Multiple Genres in Theme Baskets.”

Attached you will find an Excel spreadsheet with detailed information about these texts.

Standards to be addressed:

  • 2-LS4-a. Make observations about the variety of plants and animals living in an area and identify the specific places they live in order to make comparisons between different areas.
  • RI.2.9 Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic. (2-LS4-a),(2-LS2-a)
  • SL.2.1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

Component 1: The Container


  • One large plastic beach tote
  • Two colorful, large beach towels

The storage of the text set in a beach basket makes this center both portable and helps reinforce the theme of life on the seashore. The inclusion of the beach towels also adds to the theme, as well as helping to define the center in a setting where a permanent library is not possible, such as family living area, an afterschool program or a shared classroom.   For more ideas on creating beach-themed interest centers, grades N-2, see Early Life Foundations. [Photo Credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2019]

Component 2: Early Readers


  • A Day at the Beach: A Seaside Counting Book  (Sandy Seeley Walling; Grade K)
  • At the Beach (Mandy Stanley; Grade K, board book)
  • Fun Dog, Sun Dog (Deborah Heiligmann; Grade K)
  • Sea, Sand, Me! (Patricia Hubbell; Grade K, poetry)

The texts in this component are purposely selected to be well below the grade level of your class. If you are planning a theme basket for a different grade, you can adjust the level of these texts up or down, but these should always be picture books, even when working with high school level students. The purpose of these books is to provide needed background information, through visuals, for students to understand the core text. Include one copy each of enough selections for each student in the group to have a different book.

All students read all of the texts in this section, regardless of their independent reading level. They may read them independently and pass them to a classmate, read them in partners or read them aloud to one another.

Component 3:  Picture Books


  • On My Beach, There are Many Pebbles (Leo Lionni; Grade 1.3, fiction)
  • The Berenstain Bears at the Sea (Stan & Jan Berenstain; Grade 1.4, fiction)
  • Super Sand Castle Saturday (Stuart J. Murphy; Grade 1.7, realistic fiction)
  • Brave Norman (Andrew Clements; Grade 1.8, realistic fiction)
  • George’s Store at the Shore (Francine Bassede; Grade 1.9, realistic fiction)
  • Mermaid Dreams (Mark Sperring; Grade 1.9, fantasy)

The texts in this component are all picture books, and all fiction (NOTE: If preparing this basket for older elementary or secondary students, use children’s chapter books , such as Dolphins at Daybreak, by Mary Pope Osborne, for this component). The purpose of this component, like the last one, is to provide background knowledge to support the core text, and to provide choice – an important part of engaging readers. Narratives are easier for students to comprehend than non-fiction texts at the same grade level, providing a needed scaffold for the meatier informative text in the core selection.


There are six selections available, from which each student will select two to read independently.  All are narratives set on the beach, to provide needed background information about the sights, sounds and activities common at the beach – important for students who may lack these background experiences.

Component 4: The Core Text



One Small Square: Seashore. $8.95 at Barnes & Noble (click to order)


This component includes two grade-level options for the core text, one at the beginning of the complexity band, and one at the end. A teacher could vary the main selection, depending on the time of the year the theme basket was used, or use both selections, changing the core selection depending on the needs of an individual group, and keeping the remainder of the theme basket constant. Titles are hyperlinked to purchase information.

These two selections have very similar content, enabling a teacher who uses both to have a whole-class debrief where students jigsaw the specific content as a whole group.

All students will read/interact with the core selection, so multiple copies of the same text will be included in the basket.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In any classroom, the literacy needs of individual students vary greatly, and you will be tempted to change the grade level of the core text to meet the reading level of the students. Don’t! The purpose of the varying parts of the theme basket is to provide scaffolding for students to understand the core selection, which should always be grade level. Rather than changing the grade level of the core text, vary the manner in which students interact with the text: read-aloud, book on tape, literature circle,  supported small group read, partner read, independent read.

Component 5: Advanced Texts


  • Hello Ocean/Hola Mar (Pam Munoz Ryan; Grade 3.1, bilingual, realistic fiction)
  • Beach (Elisha Cooper; Grade 3.9, poetry)
  • Sand Dollar Summer (Kimberly K. Jones; Grade 4.5, fiction)
  • Interrupted Journey: Saving Endangered Sea Turtles (Kathryn Lasky; Grade 4.6, non-fiction)
  • At the Beach (Novato; Grade 5.4, realistic fiction)

For this component, above-grade-level selections are provided for advanced readers or other motivated students to read independently. The component presents a variety of genre, to address multiple interests of the students, and includes texts from one to three years above the target grade level of the class. (NOTE: When preparing a theme basket for middle grades, include high school level texts; when preparing for high school students, include young adult and adult [but age-appropriate] titles).

These texts are optional student reads, but not optional for the theme basket.  Include enough title for all students to have a book, and a choice.

Component 6: Non-fiction, Reference and Non-Traditional Texts


  • When the Tide is Low (Sheila Cole; Grade 2.7, non-fiction)
  • Sea Shells, Crabs and Sea Stars (Young Naturalists Series, Grade 3.8, field guide)
  • The Seashore Book (Charlotte Zolotow; Grade 4.5, field guide)
  • Photo album with magazine images and photographs about the seashore
  • Plastic sand pail full of beach “finds:” shells, dried seaweed, sand dollars, skate egg cases, sea glass, beach pebbles, etc.
  • Container of plastic seashore animals (from the local dollar store or toy store)
  • Materials for labeling

The point of this theme basket is to help students understand the grade-level core text, and meet the grade-level science and literacy standards, regardless of their reading level. The items in this component are specifically designed to guide students to those two goals, and extend the learning of all students.

  1. Students love field guides, and looking things up. The field guides (the three texts) will naturally lead students to research and compare the beach objects included in the center, even though the reading level of the texts might be well above the independent reading level of the students.
  2. Inclusion of a photo album or other picture file helps support the comprehension needs of the earliest readers, and also encourages student-to-student discourse about the science content.
  3. Inclusion of real objects helps engage students in the content, and helps students to move from concrete (real objects ) to representational (images) to abstract (words) comprehension.
  4. Young students need to be able to demonstrate their understanding in four ways: by acting it out, by showing with objects, by showing with pictures, and by showing with symbols (words and numbers). The addition of items for replica play helps students demonstrate their comprehension of the core concepts in a developmentally appropriate way.
  5. Adding labeling materials leads students to use their science literacy in an authentic way (my students used to make “museums” whenever we studied something in social studies or science).

I once worked with a fourth grade teacher who did an amazing job using visuals to scaffold the learning of his struggling readers by carefully selecting images that he stored on his Smart Board, and allowing students to take a tour through the photo gallery as part of their centers time. seashore


For More Information

The teacher would design a series of tasks associated with the core text of the basket, and supplementary tasks that the students could complete using any of the basket’s contents. For examples of lesson plans that can be used with the core texts, please see the following links:



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