kevin henkes

Just read this little quote from Kevin Henkes at Highlights Kids about how a teacher inspired him. Made me think of the importance of classroom environment!

KEVIN HENKES is an award-winning author and illustrator whose books include Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, The Year of Billy Miller,and Kitten’s First Full Moon, which won the Caldecott Medal, a special honor given each year by the Association for Library Service to Children.

“I grew up in the school days of silent hallways and desks in neat, even rows. One day, our fourth-grade teacher allowed the class to move the desks out of rows into groups of four. It might seem like a small thing now, but it taught me that you could do things differently; you could think outside the box. That teacher helped me view my world differently. Good teachers can change lives. And here’s a video clip of Kevin Henkes talking about a new character he’s created named Penny. Share it with your students!


Recently I had the privilege of participating in the 20th Annual Plum Creek Literacy Festival at Concordia University in Seward, NE as the literacy expert featured speaker. What a joy! Not only did I get to share my ideas on literacy stations with Nebraska educators, but I got to hear Eric Litwin who wrote the amazing Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes and other stories.

I’ve been enamored with the Pete the Cat series for a while. But my infatuation deepened when I saw how my granddaughter, Chloe, connected with this character at only 20 months old. In fact, this is the first storybook character she’s identified with. We have the first four Pete books and of course, the stuffed animal book character.

When she arrives at my house, Chloe usually enquires about Pete the Cat and then goes in search of him to cart around and engage in play. As an early childhood educator, I’m fascinated by her language development and pay close attention to it. Recently, at 25 months old, I heard her use five-word sentences for the first time. (Only two weeks prior, it was four-word sentences.) And, interestingly, her longest sentences included Pete! As she went into her playroom with the little kitchen and play food, here’s what she had to say:

“Get Pete the Cat, please.”

“I hold Pete the Cat.”

“Pete hungry.”

“Here, Pete.”

Yesterday morning, when I found out that I was presenting in the auditorium that Eric would perform in after my sessions, I was thrilled! I could meet the guy behind these engaging stories. I’d been a bit confused on if he was the author, the songwriter, the illustrator, or just what. He told his story, and it all made sense.

Eric Litwin was a teacher of young children. He gets little kids and what they love! He gets early reading instruction! And he gets my vote for being an outstanding entertainer with outstanding pedagogy!

Why weren’t little kids becoming joyous readers? is a question he investigated. He found that the combo of only phonics and high frequency words wasn’t enough. It’s important, but not enough. So he added his winning pieces… repetition, rhyme, call and response, prediction (in the form of questions), and music (which helps the brain remember those high frequency words and beginning sounds). Pure genius! No wonder Chloe loves these books!

He shared with me that he wrote the first four Pete the Cat books only. Eric Litwin met James Dean at a folk art festival and loved his paintings of Pete. They combined their strengths, James Deans’ art, with Eric Litwin’s story and song, to make four wonderful books!

Eric plays the guitar, dances, and is totally silly (but fun!). I learned that he has created several new series with fun new characters… the Nut family (based upon his own family) and Groovy Dog (to be published by Scholastic). I can’t wait to introduce Chloe and the children I work with around the country to these new characters, stories, and songs.

To hear over 100 of Eric Litwin’s songs, go to www.thelearninggroove.com. You and your children will be glad you did!

Do you have a story about your children and their love for Pete the Cat? I’d love to hear it!

Eric Litwin Chloe and Pete the Cat

Taking a break

I am currently on hiatus as I put finishing touches on my latest book, Growing Independent Learners (Stenhouse Publishers). But meanwhile, please have fun exploring all the information posted here. You can browse posts by using key words to the right or the search bar at the top of the page to find helpful resources from my work in classrooms all over North America. For more information, please visit my website or Facebook page.

Look what was posted on the Stenhouse website last week! It’s not quite yet available, but click over to the website to order your copy!


There’s still time to register for this year’s institute in Richmond, VA! The first day of the institute, Thursday, Feb. 28, will focus on literacy work stations, and the second day will focus on math work stations.
You will learn how to manage independent learning through work stations, how to use your current core curriculum to plan for and implement meaningful partner practice, how to work smarter as you meet new demands and challenges, and much, much more!
Plus this is your chance to meet and brainstorm with fellow teachers and ask me questions!

Check out my post from a previous institute in Richmond! If you’d like to register, visit my website.

Storing manipulatives

Here is another quick preview from my new DVD, Moving into Math Stations, K-2. It’s a tour of a math teacher’s closet where he stores manipulatives. How do you get your math stuff organized?

One more sneak peek!

I am very excited to be able to share a new clip with you from my new math DVD, Moving into Math Work Stations.

In this clip I conduct a whole-group lesson on measuring distance:

I hope you enjoy this preview! If you would like to be notified when the DVD becomes available, visit the Stenhouse website and sign up!

Here are some pictures of the “after” photos of the classroom I set up after school yesterday. As part of the training on small group reading instruction, we looked at how to set up a classroom a la  my book, Spaces and Places. One of the teachers there talked to me at the break and explained that she was graduating from college on Friday (this week!) and starting in her first teaching job next Monday. She wondered which space she should focus on setting up first. I always recommend planning classroom spaces on paper before moving any furniture. So, I told her I’d help her for a little bit after class.

We drove several miles to her new school, and the teacher whose class she’s taking over was gracious enough to let us plan and move the furniture. Less than 2 hours later, the new look was taking shape.

10 after Callahan Paige in whole group with tech center in corner(1)

The “new” whole group area (with tech in the corner)

caption 2: the "new" small group area (by the built-in shelves which are perfect for storing small group materials)

The “new” small group area (by the built-in shelves which are perfect for storing small group materials)

12 after Callahan new library

The “new” classroom library with books graciously donated by the teacher who is leaving to teach P.E. We moved and reconfigured the bins and shelves from a different part of the room.

I’ve been thinking about and searching for peace after the turbulence of the past few months and came across this poem. I hope it brings you peace, too.

The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

No Words

Our family: Jessica, me, Tom, and Jon

My husband, Tom, passed away peacefully in the early hours of Sun. Sept. 23, the first full day of fall. We will all miss him terribly. When confronted with the choice of two weeks (with no treatment) or two months (with more chemo and hospital procedures), he bravely chose two weeks. “What can you do in two months that you can’t do in two weeks?” were his words of wisdom that will echo in my heart forever. Tom was generous, thoughtful, intelligent, witty, and inquisitive through his very last day on this earth.

Our newlywed son, Jon, and his wife Brittany, and our daughter, Jessica, did so much to care for him in the past three years since his diagnosis with multiple myeloma. We are both proud of them and thank them for their love and strength. Please pray for comfort and healing for them during this very difficult time.

Tom’s memorial service will be held Sat. Sept. 29 at 11 AM in the chapel at Grace Presbyterian Church (at Beltway 8 and Westheimer in Houston) with a reception following at Royal Oaks Country Club from 12-3.

We thank Vitas Hospice for the angels who helped us care for Tom during his final two weeks at home. There were no more hospitals, no more treatments, no more labs… just time at home with his family and close friends… which is where he wanted to be. Tom asked that donations be made in his honor to the SPCA. He loved his Great Dane, Atlas, who was also by his bed until the end.