I heard a teacher say on facebook that she was not allowed to do "cute." Now, this teacher was distraught, it wasn't something that she was supporting, but the fact is that she felt the pressure to not provide those activities for the children in her room.
"Cute" activities are actually dendrite producers. Now, let's be certain that we are talking about "fluff with stuff" and not just cute for the sake of cute. Cute activities are actually called novelties in brain research. Novelties stimulate interest within the brain. This interest allows for the production of dendrites.
Here's an adult example. I love to shop. When I am walking through the mall, I seek out The Black and White Store and The Loft. These are both stores that I know to have quality clothes that fit me well, look professional and last a long time. This is like us using research best practices. We stick to them because they give results. However, sometimes I also find myself wondering into stores that I don't even know the name of. Why, because I am intrigued by what I see in the window. The clever window dressing pulls me inside much like nicely "dressed" activities pull our children in. These novel activities provide the Segway to rich content that will stick with the children due to their high interest. Here are some novel ideas using a reindeer theme that are rich in content and standards based.
What fun to make a reindeer sandwich. This is the "cute" factor. So where is the standard? The reindeer cookbook provides the children will procedural nonfiction text from which we can teach our reading nonfiction standards. After making the sandwiches, the children cut and sequence the pictures to tell how to make the sandwiches. This is another reading standard. Then, the children cut apart sentences and get the words in order to produce the text. This provides practice with sentence structure, capital letters, punctuation, and the reading strategy "does that make sense." If I am counting right, that is 6 different standards all packaged into a cute activity!
Here's another cute activity. I get a parent volunteer to help the children make the reindeer by painting a foot and their hands. The parent works with one child at a time while the other children are actively engaged in centers. Once the prints are dry, the children cut and assemble their reindeer. Where is the standard? The children use various items to measure the length of their reindeer. They count and record the numeral of objects. Then, they compare the quantity of the various items to indicate which ones took more and which objects took less. The children then use that information to predict how many it will take of another item. Not only are we teaching many standards, we are also working at higher levels on bloom's taxonomy than most workbooks will provide.
Cute activity number 3: Reindeer story problem. In this activity we are providing the opportunity for children to develop a deeper understanding of mathematical practices. All new mathematical concepts should be learned through conceptual learning. Conceptual means manipulate. By providing the reindeer clip art for the children to manipulate as they make sense of the problem, we are providing that opportunity. Workbooks at best are pictorial. This means the children either draw a picture to show their understanding or look at a picture. These do not provide the opportunity for manipulation. This can lead to misunderstanding and confusion for most children.
Producing your own text around high interest topics provides a hook to engagement. I produced this text about Santa looking for Rudolph. The pages provide simple text that I can project on my smartboard. This provides the opportunity to engage while teaching text features and print concepts. The book also provides the opportunity for children to make inferences and predictions. On each page, Rudolph is hiding. The children can predict if Rudolph is hiding and whether or not Santa will find him.
The children can then each produce their own book by supplying the missing sight words. By selecting a few key words, the children have repeated practice. This book also becomes a part of their "bag of books." According to Resinski, in order for children to be fluent readers they must have two skills. The children need to be accurate and automatic with sight words. Too much time spent decoding, allows little time for comprehension. The children also need to have prosody. Prosody is the natural rhythm that comes with good reading. Prosody is developed through repeated reading, songs, poems, and chants.
According to Marcia Tayte, games are a dendrite producing activity. A dendrite is a connection in the brain. Here's what's cool...not only do games help children learn the intended skill at a higher success rate, but because they produce dendrites they also give children a great opportunity to learn future standards. Games make kids smarter! Wow! To play this fun game, make a set of reindeer with sight words or whatever standard you are teaching. Provide a few Santa cards. Put the cards in a bucket and pass around the room. As each child gets the bucket, they draw out a card and read the word. When someone pulls out the Santa, all the reindeer are returned to the bucket.
All of these activities are from the Rudolph Unit.
Since we were doing a full week all about reindeer, we needed some nonfiction text! Each month I have developed 5 readers with high interest topics. As I move through the months, I add more nonfiction features. By the end of the year, my kids are a master of nonfiction features!
The Reindeer book is included in my December Guided Reading Unit.
So do cute as much as you can! Just be sure that the standard is clear and evident. Be sure that the cute is used as a Segway to mastering the standards. Be sure that you have "fluff with stuff!" :)