Monday, October 26, 2009

Super Easy, Fast, and Fun

Try this one once your child has begun to feel comfortable pretend reading with a book he or she has memorized. This activity encourages developing the concept of word.

Take one sentence from the book (very short, simple, memorable) and write it down in plain text on a piece of paper. The best sentences are those in which each word starts with a different letter. Read the sentence to your child, pointing at each word.

Next, have your child "read" the sentence back to you. Practice it a couple of times.

Cut the words apart, but leave them in order. Slide each word up or down on the table as you read it aloud, but leave the words in sentence order. Have you child try this activity.

If things are going well, it's time to try mixing the words up. Go slowly and let your child lead here. Then, go back to the beloved book and find the sentence in place.

You can try a similar activity with the letters in your child's name. Other words are probably too difficult at this point though. Believe it or not, it is easier to sequence a sentence than it is to identify all the internal sounds in a word.

Monday, October 12, 2009

HL Meeting

I'm live blogging the meeting on October 12, 2009

Please use your real name to submit any comments questions or they will not appear.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't forget to include books you love too!

It's important to teach your child to comprehend complex stories while you're working on building pre-reading and early reading skills. The Biscuit books, while wonderful, aren't exactly rich literature. The vocabulary is kept intentionally simple for early readers. Therefore, it is important that you read books to your child that s/he is clearly not ready to read alone yet.

Why is this type of reading important? For several reasons. One of the most important aspects of preschool development is building a large database of words. Vocabulary development depends on exposure to a rich diversity of words in a child's life. Books are an important resource in surrounding a child with language. Gorgeous illustrations, such as those in The Wild Swans (really, any of Susan Jeffers books) can help teach the meanings of the words in the story in a more natural way than having to stop and "teach" the new words. Don't forget that children absorb words over time, so one reading doesn't necessarily do it.

Another reason for reading more complex books is for the story structure. In Goodnight Moon, all that happens is a little bunny going to bed. In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs though, the sky is literally falling, along with pancakes, drifts of mashed potatoes, and all kinds of crazy fun. You'll have the chance to discuss much more with your child after reading this type of book.

Books can also help you teach your child about history or science. When you child sees you look up when to plant okra in your gardening book, s/he realizes that books are for more than stories. Share non-fiction with your child, looking for books with connected text, such as One Tiny Turtle as well as those that contain mostly illustrations with captions.

The final reason to read more complex text to your children is that it is more fun for you! I'm currently about halfway through Charlotte's Web with my daughters. I know they aren't getting it all, but they are thoroughly engaged. I read just one or two chapters a day and it's idyllic--we read all snuggled up together in my bed. These are the moments moms, frugal or not, live for!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sequencing with Nursery Rhymes

Does your little one know that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end? Are you sure? It might seem obvious, but learning about sequencing is an important part of learning to read with comprehension. So, the next time you read a story to your child, ask him or her to re-tell you the story.

There's a really fun way to practice sequencing involving nursery rhymes. This British website has free printables of favorite nursery rhymes. You can download these and cut the sequencing pictures apart with your child (fine motor skills!). Now, read the rhyme together, then put the pictures you cut out in a line (not a box) in order from beginning to end. Have your child re-tell the story while pointing at the pictures to use as guides. Don't worry about memorizing the nursery rhyme, but don't be surprised if it happens either!


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Messy (and clean) fun

Sometimes, holding a pencil is just too much for a little one. Crayons and markers are nice alternatives, but if a child is just not there yet with fine motor development, then you may need to think more creatively.

Children can learn to "draw" in many ways that bypass the fine motor requirements of grasping a writing instrument. On a hot day, they can "paint" with water and sponges on a concrete driveway or sidewalk. The letters don't last long, allowing for repeated fun in the same place. Or try this alternative--shaving cream on a place mat. In this case, I formed the letter in the shaving cream first, my daughter traced it a couple of times, then "erased" my letter and formed the letter on her own. We had a blast!

We've done the same thing with shapes as well. I like it because it gets the placemats nice and clean. You could easily do the same thing on the walls in the bathroom during bath time. What else might be fun? Whipped cream? Pudding? I'd love to hear more suggestions for ways to "write" without writing. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Game Time

Children often learn the alphabet song pretty easily without clearly realizing the letters are all actually being said by name. Elemenopee? Here's a simple game that can help solidify letter identification for children and teach alphabetic order as well. This is best played with one adult or older child and two younger children. All the materials you need are a set of alphabet cards that includes lower and uppercase letters. Deal out a manageable number of cards to each player, keeping them face down in a stack. With my two four year olds, that's five cards.

Each player turns up the top card of their stack. The person with the card that comes first in the alphabet gets to take all the cards. At first, kids will have trouble identifying which letter comes first unless there's a A or B in the group. So, start singing the alphabet song with them, and point to the letter that "wins" when you get to it.

Of course, there are many variations possible with this game. Change the winning letter to the last one. Make it trickier. If the person with the card doesn't hold up her hand when it is sung, she doesn't win.

The whole goal is just to have fun, practice letter identification, turn taking and sportsmanship. Enjoy!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Big kid, little kid

I received a suggestion from a friend asking that I describe an activity that would foster both reading and relationships among siblings. Well, not in so many words, but that's the direction I'm going with it.

Let's suppose you have a pre-reader (we'll call her Frannie) and an early reader (we'll call him Will) in your home. There are several activities your children can do together that will introduce reading and phonemic awareness concepts to little Frannie while cementing those same concepts for big Will.

Nursery rhymes make great read alouds for siblings to share. Since Will probably has many of the rhymes nearly completely memorized, the reading task will not be too challenging or intimidating for him. Reading the same rhymes over and over to Frannie will help Will build his reading skills and speed while delighting his sister.

In turn, Frannie will be learning about the sounds that join together to make words. Nursery rhymes are a delightful way to learn how to identify the first sound in words "Wee Willy Winky" or listen for rhymes "Hickory, Dickory, Dock." Making up hand motions to go with the rhymes can add to the general fun and silliness all around.

Another activity for Will and Frannie involves scissors again. Use your computer and a basic word processing program to make a table of letters in different fonts. Here's an example, you'll want to make yours with more or fewer letters depending on your children, their level of patience, and your tolerance for messy paper clippings all over. Make sure that you include multiple forms of letters (check out the various lower case a's in the example screen shot).

Leave enough room between the letters for little hands to cut the letters apart. Then teach your children how to mix the letters up, then sort them. You'll need to do this activity with them the first time or two. After some practice with you, your children should be able to work together while you relax and catch up on Facebook. Ha! JK! You'll be making dinner while simultaneously doing a load of laundry and searching for something (I'm always searching for something).

First they can just sort the letters into A's, B's, C's, etc. Then you can have them separate lower case from upper case. My children like to find the "baby" for the "mommy" letter and match them up in pairs. When one set is mastered, you can move on to new letters, make the fonts trickier, or more letters to the mix.

I hope this is helpful, and I'd love to get any suggestions or questions you may have for a future post!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fun with scissors!

Identifying the first sound in a word is an important skill for children to master. The first sound in a word is often the easiest for children to hear; however don't be surprised if your child answers the question "what does WORD start with" by repeating the last sound of the word rather than the first.

To help your child separate and identify the sounds in a word, there are several activities you can do. One of my favorites involves using scissors, old magazines, catalogs, and coupons. If you're attracted to the word "frugal" in the blog title, chances are you are a coupon clipper. Children love to cut, as many a mom has found out too late to save an unread copy of her favorite magazine!

The next time you are clipping coupons, give your child some safe scissors and a catalog or old magazine. Choose a sound, and have your child cut out pictures that start with that sound. Use a glue stick (another favorite of preschoolers) and glue the pictures to the back of a sheet of recycled paper.

Remember, the focus is sound, not letters. When we were cutting out pictures that started with the sound usually represented by J or "juh" recently, my daughter's page included a picture of a gymnast. Perfectly fine!

The first few times you do this, your child will probably need significant guidance. Choose more common sounds at first (k, s, m, b, d) which might mean not using your child's "special letter." After a few times, you'll find your child will become more independent, leaving you more time for efficient coupon clipping!

This activity is also an opportunity to develop your child's vocabulary. If your child is frustrated looking for pictures that start with the P sound, point out a picture of a dog and remind your child that a dog is also a pet.

So, tomorrow is Sunday, grab those coupons and start looking for sounds!

A quick explanation of sounds vs. letters.

My goal with this blog is to offer ideas about activities you and your child can enjoy that also help your child get ready to read. This post contains background information that you can skip or read. If you are a researcher, then you'll want to go further than the brief explanation I'll provide here.

The activities described in this blog promote phonemic awareness. Don't I mean phonics? No! Phonemic awareness comes first, then phonics.

Here's an easy definition of phonemic awareness: an understanding that words are made up of smaller and different sounds. For example, the word BATH is made up of three sounds: "buh" "a" and "th."

Phonics is what happens when kids start associating the sounds with letters. Children learn to use the spelling of a word to determine what it sounds like.

You can't "do" phonics until you understand the sounds first. So, while it is fun and perfectly fine to sing the alphabet song and learn the sounds each letter makes, pre-reading activities focus on developing that phonemic awareness.

My favorite reading professor describes the difference this way "phonemic awareness activities can be done in the dark." In other words, you don't have to see the letters to learn about how individual sounds come together to make words.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Reading Skills Are NOT Expensive!

Do you feel guilty that you haven't bought your child an expensive phonics kit or the latest reading system? Is your home missing the stack of $20 "educational" DVD's that you see at friends' homes? Are electronic books NOT on your shelves?

Well, don't fear. Teaching a child pre-reading, reading readiness, and beginning reading skills isn't about buying electronic gizmos that make noise, flash images, sing songs, or mis-pronounce some of the words.

Who am I to tell anyone anything about reading you ask? I'm a teacher (I've taught special education, science, and language arts at the middle school level) and I'm in the last semester of my post-master's graduate program to become a licensed reading specialist. Most importantly, I am mom to two four-year-old girls who are my test subjects for all the ideas I'll share here.

I'm operating under the premise that you want your child to enjoy reading and be ready for reading when he or she is developmentally ready. That being said, there are many free or low-cost activities you can do at home to help your child. Each week, I'll post one or two fun activities for moms and preschoolers to do together that will focus on an area of pre-reading skills. I'll try to incorporate video and photography to help.

Today's idea is a quickie since this is the first post. If your child's name starts with a simple sound (if not, see below) then identify your child's "special letter." Try to name the "special letters" for all the members of your family. Children already know the sounds that start the names, so now you are associating that sound with a particular letter.

By the way, it is not necessary to address the fact that some letters have more than one sound right away. So, if your child's name is Abby, then A makes the short a sound. If your child's name is Abel, than A makes the long a sound. Enough said. Explain more complex concepts as your child matures. If you have a George, then teach the soft G sound first, then move on to the idea that G can also make the hard sound (as in game) later.

*This can get tricky if you have a name that starts with a more advanced sound, for example, my girls have a friend named Chelsea. The sound "ch" is called a digraph by reading teachers. Chelsea's mom will need to address the idea that her name starts with two letters that make a special sound together.

I hope this will prove helpful, I welcome comments and suggestions for activities you're doing to help your child with reading readiness!