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!