Thursday, March 5, 2015

Flannel Friday Guest Post Palooza: Guest Post by Mari Nowitz

In honor of Flannel Friday's fourth birthday Guest Post Palooza I am hosting this post by Mari Nowitz, a Youth Services Librarian at Tumwater Timberland Library in Tumwater, Washington:

A few years ago, my library system brought in Gena Lebedeva from The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington to present a training session for our youth services staff.  It blew my mind.  She had so much fantastic information about how kids learn!  It was fascinating and also overwhelming.  About halfway through her program, I knew I was experiencing brain overload.  I decided to try and tease out some cool bit of what she was sharing and use it to develop something I could add to my preschool story time programs.  This is what I came up with.  I call it “Word smushing!”  

The snippet of information that I grabbed onto, as I remember it now, was that non-word repetition is a good thing for developing phonological awareness in preschool age kids.  The word that Gina shared was “ver-bug-lee-mush.”  I could totally imagine a room full of preschoolers gleefully repeating “ver-bug-lee-mush.”  It’s so much fun to say!  That made me wonder how to turn non-word repetition into a game.  After a little tweaking, this is how we played with nonsense words each week.

I made a list of one syllable words that would be easy to represent with a picture.  I turned these into laminated flannel pieces that look like this:

Each week, I would pick out three word pieces that I thought went well together.  When it was time for the flannelboard, I’d ask the kiddos if they were ready for a little brain exercise.  Word smushing time!  Some days, I’d give them hints about the words.  For example, if you came home from a walk, and your door was locked, you would use this to unlock it.  A key!  If we were running short on time, I could skip the clues and just show them the pieces.  Kids who were starting to recognize letters and words would have the benefit of seeing the word written out, but kids who weren’t at the same point could know what the word was by looking at the picture.

Once the three words were up on the board, we would say them slowly once or twice.  Bat.  Key. Bee.   Then we would smush them together into one big crazy word on the count of three.  “One, two, three. . . Batkeybee!”  I’d usually say something like, “That is a ridiculous word!  Let’s say it again.  One, two, three. . .Batkeybee!” Then we’d change the order of the pieces to make another silly word.  Perhaps Beebatkey.  Or Keybeebat.

This often elicited giggles and later, excitement as the kids got better and better at smushing the words together.  Once we’d been doing it for a while, some of the older kids could smush them super-quickly, without even taking time to say them slowly first.  My guess is that creating the brain connections that smush these syllables together will come in really handy when trying to sound out new multi syllable words as they learn to read.  As a further literacy boost, I would try and throw in some rich vocabulary as well as some background knowledge work when getting them to guess the words as I put them up on the board.

I’m taking a turn doing storytimes for infants and babies at the moment, so word smushing isn’t a part of my weekly routine.  I miss it!  If you try this out, I’d love to hear how it works for you and your storytime friends.  

Thanks for sharing your idea Mari! Happy Birthday Flannel Friday!


  1. This is absolutely genius. I love when we can support what we do by research. I also know from my 3-year-old niece that kids would think this is the funniest thing ever. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. I just love saying Word Smushing. Though, I think it needs to be Wordsmushing, don't you? Nonsense words are a great way to learn to read. Thanks for sharing this clever idea. Are you inspired for starting your own blog, Mari? You could call it Word Smushing!!

  3. Mari, word smushing - my new favorite thing! thanks for the idea - must steal ~ jane

  4. Love the sheer goofiness of your wordsmushing idea and the great lit lesson as well! I will be borrowing this for sure!