Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Getting Messy with Letters

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to make a finger painting for my mother-in-law. Our first attempt turned out, let's say, less than perfect. L smeared all the paints together and his masterpiece turned into a big, black blob of paint. So, we went with it, and decided to make letters in the wet paint. We started with me showing him the motions and he copied. Next time I'll ask him to form some of the letters on his own before introducing him to new ones. With this activity it is important that you model proper formation and motions when writing the letters, as this is an introduction to handwriting. (For example, a C is made in one motion from top to bottom, not bottom up!)

Remember, forming letters this way, as well as with objects like in my Rock Letters post, is a pre-writing activity. Can you imagine how a child would feel if, for his very first exposure to forming letters, he was given a piece of paper and a pencil and was expected to write his letters? So many skills are involved with that task that it just wouldn't be fair to ask this of a child. So, pull out those paints, a piece of canvas or cardboard, and get messy!

Tip: I let the black paint dry when we were done and will use the canvas over again next time, only we will be using white paint all over the canvas so the dried black paint will show through. No need to waste materials. You can use the same canvas over and over again!


Hey, it's just paint. It'll clean up. Mostly. 




Yes, those are my child's ribs you see. I do feed him...constantly! But, for some reason he wakes up every morning and says, "I'm hungry AGAIN!" Dude, didn't I just feed you yesterday?!?!?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Scramble with Kids

Big L sees me playing Scramble on my iPhone all the time. I'm slightly addicted. Quite frankly, I'm surprised that I get anything else done. For those of you that play, you know what I'm talking about here. For those of you who don't, you are seriously missing out. (Or maybe not and you actually have real life adult interactions on a day-to-day basis that keep you entertained.) Anyways, the game is like Boggle, where you are timed and have to make words with the letters that you have. 

Big L was sitting in my lap watching me play the other day, and he was reading most of the words as I made them. He couldn't get enough of it, so I decided to set up his own board to play. (I couldn't waste my precious game tokens and let him actually play on my phone, now could I?) He's 3 and a half, so of course he didn't abide by any kind of rules whatsoever, but he had fun with it. We worked on word families and plurals. (Everyone knows that the key to getting more points is by making the same word again and just adding an "s" to it.) He also made some nonsense words, like zoobu, which we would sound out and decide weren't words. 

There are so many activities you can do if you have a set of letters on hand. The ones below are wooden Melissa and Doug letters. More posts to come on what else you can do with letters....

What could you do to modify this activity for your child's ability level? Leave your suggestions as a comment below.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thinking Beyond an Activity

Big L loves these puzzle pairs. We have a few different ones (ABC & Numbers, Opposites, and Simple Words).




The problem with the Simple Words puzzle is that he knew all the words the first time we did them, but wanted to keep matching the words with the pictures over and over again. I say that's a problem, because Mommy thinks she might go crazy if she has to do this puzzle with him one more time. (Can you tell, yet, that I get bored easily?)

Here's a tip for you moms out there that have a kid that obsesses over an activity that he has already mastered; come up with a way to extend the activity, or change one or two elements of it to make it more difficult. Bonus: It'll keep you entertained, too. 



We have done this puzzle a number of ways:
  • Child completes it independently
  • Mom keeps all the words, child spreads out all the pictures. Child must read word before matching.
  • Child spreads out the words, mom keeps pictures. Child must skim for the word and match it to the picture.
  • After all the matches are made, do a "creative clean-up." 
    • Give me all the words that start with the /d/ sound. (phonemic awareness)
    • Give me all the words that can hold water. (word awareness)
    • Give me a word that means the opposite of hot. (word awareness)
    • Give me a word with the sounds /p/, /i/, /g/ (phonemic awareness - segmentation)
    • Give me two words that rhyme. (rhyme awareness) 
    • Give me a word that belongs to the -ag word family. (onset & rime awareness)
The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Search & Find Books

I will add Search & Find books to my list of "most annoying books ever," along with Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Don't get me wrong. They are all excellent books. But, they find themselves hiding in the closet because the boy child wants to read them over and over and over again. I wish he had the same degree of passion for eating vegetables. 

So, I posted this question on Facebook with zero, count them 0, responses. I'm guessing that is because no one knew the answer and not because you all weren't interested. (Yup, I'll just keep telling myself that!)

What important reading skills do I Spy books, as well as other search & find type books, foster at a young age?


Skimming and scanning a reading passage for information is an essential reading skill that many children often lack. It takes practice to be able to quickly pull out the information that you need while disregarding all the other words on the page. (Pop quiz: Can you skim for the word test in this paragraph? How long did it take you to find it? What you just did is the skill I am talking about here!) When I was working with high school students prepping them for their ACT's, I was surprised by how many of them had difficulty with this skill and it affected their test scores a great deal. Let your toddler/preschooler have fun looking for objects in search & find books. His brain is working over time trying to sort out relevant and irrelevant visual shapes and colors. He's becoming a more skillful reader AND he's having fun! 

Some search & find books we love:
Look and Find: Disney Cars (The Cars 2 edition is much harder!)

Of course, they make roughly a million search and find books, so you are sure to find something that interests your child. These are just the boy child's favorites. Enjoy!




Monday, May 21, 2012

5 Components of Reading

I can't tell you how many times I have met with parents and they were absolutely SHOCKED at their child's reading level.

"But, my third grader is reading books at a sixth grade level."

Or, it would go the other way...

"But, he reads so sloooooowwww. He can't be able to read a book that difficult."

Most parents don't realize that there are actually 5 Components of Reading, and teachers must look at all five when determining a child's reading level. It'd be like saying that someone is a great swimmer if he could only hold his breath under water for over a minute, without actually being able to take a single stroke. Being able to hold your breath under water is only ONE skill you need in order to become a great swimmer. Children need to meet grade-level standards for all 5 components of reading to be considered "on grade level."

  1. Phonemic Awareness - the knowledge and manipulation of SOUNDS in spoken words. (I already had a post with information about this.)
  2. Phonics - the relationship between written and spoken sounds and words. For example, the letter k makes the hard /k/ sound. 
  3. Fluency - the pace, accuracy, expression and phrasing at which a child reads. Not too fast. Not too slow. Not robotic. Not choppy. 
  4. Vocabulary - knowledge of words and their meanings within context. In context is important. A "sista," (close female friend) is different than a "sister" (an actual sibling). Vocabulary is also different in a formal setting vs. informal. 
  5. Comprehension - The understanding of meaning in text. 
Of course, within all of these components there is a breakdown of rudimentary and more difficult skills. But, these are just the basic components. 

Now, even if your child is preschool aged, there are things you can do to foster learning in each of these categories. (That's what my blog is all about!) He'll start school with an advantage, even if he doesn't actually start reading until kindergarten. 

Someone asked in response to a previous post, "What is the current best practice for teaching reading?" The answer to that would be a balanced approach. Everything in moderation, right? Don't hammer on phonics and forget that kids need to be taught an appreciation of books in order to promote comprehension. Likewise, don't just ignore working on phonemic awareness and phonics because your child just wants to be read to because he "likes listening to stories." Many, if not all, primary reading skills can be worked on through play and hands-on activities, so he can have just as much fun working on phonics skills. 

I apologize for not having any tips or ideas in this post that you can take away with you and use right away, but this is the foundation to teaching a child how to read. I needed to put it out there, so we can all have it to refer back to! Also, this post was short on jokes. So, here you go...

What's green and has wheels?

Grass. I lied about it having wheels. 

I know. I could do better, but the girl child just woke up from her nap, so I am out of time! 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Playdough Letters

I explained the reasoning behind working on forming letters using manipulatives in my Rock Letters post.  Here's another idea for you...

Use construction paper to draw/write whatever you want. (I wrote individual letters because we then used them to make words.) Cover the construction paper with clear contact paper for an instant play dough mat.




If you hate your kid playing with play dough, then here's some advice; you just need to get over it. Play dough is fun and kids like playing with it. And, it's great for strengthening their fine motor skills. I used to have this hang-up about doing messy crafts and activities when my son was a toddler, but I worked really hard at trying to let go of my anxiety with it. What's the worst thing that will happen? He'll get play dough on the floor? Oh well! It'll clean up. I still have to give myself a little pep talk every time we take out the "messy supplies."

Also, if you are like me and GAG at the smell of store-bought play dough, here's a great recipe for homemade playdough. Not only does it smell infinitely better, but you can make it to the texture/firmness that you want. My son has difficulty with play dough, because he has weak fine motor skills. We are working on strengthening the muscles in his hands to help improve his fine motor skills, so I make his play dough on the softer side. I'll firm up the next batch just a tad. Although it may be kind of a pain to make, this play dough lasts a long time in an airtight container. So, you can make a bunch at one time and it won't dry up like the store bough stuff.

I've also used this activity idea to make math play dough mats.



Embrace the mess and have fun! 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rock Letters

Formation of letters is an important skill for kids to master. Big L is 3-years-old, so he is not developmentally ready to start writing his letters (and he's a bit delayed in the fine motor-skills department), but that doesn't mean we can't, or shouldn't, work on forming letters. Be creative with what you have around the house and start working on this skill today!

On this day, we decided to use rocks from my planter to form letters on the couch. In the beginning, I had to help him out by creating most of the letter and having him complete it. Start with the simple letters, L, T, H, etc., and then move on to the harder, curvier letters, B, D, and S, for example.


What else do you have around the house that you could use? Coins, cotton balls, bingo dots, ..... Leave your suggestion as a comment below. 

Pennies in a baggy would make a great busy bag for the doctor's office. You could even leave one behind (heads up, of course) and make some sick kid's day! Though, leaving a quarter would be better. But, this isn't a blog about math. Just reading. 

Getting Your Child Ready for Reading...

You are all reading this blog because you want to know how to teach your child how to read. But, first you must ask yourself, "Is my child even READY to start learning how to read?" 

He obviously must know the letters of the alphabet before he can begin to read, but reading readiness is more than just that. Phonological Awareness is necessary to a child's ability to learn how to read. Trying to teach a child, who has little to no phonological awareness, to learn how to read is like trying to teach someone, who has never sang a song or even heard a simple melody, how to play the piano.

Phonological awareness addresses the sounds of language. It does not teach the symbols that represent sounds, but rather the sounds alone. 

Teaching phonological awareness includes the following:

  • Word Awareness: Words have meaning. For example, the spoken word cat represents an obnoxious 4-legged creature that thinks it runs your household. 
  • Rhyme Awareness: Certain words sound alike, therefore contain the same sounds. (Notice, I said contain the same sounds, not letters. We aren't working on letters, yet. The words "sigh" and "try" rhyme, but represent different spelling patterns.)
  • Onset and Rime: Onset is the initial sound. Rime is the remaining sounds that follow. For example, in the word "take" the onset is the /t/ sound, and the /ake/ sound is the rime. 
  • Syllable Awareness: Words are divided into parts. A child with syllable awareness recognizes that "fart" has one syllable and "poopy" has two syllables. (Practicing with "dirty" words makes it more fun somehow. Ah, 3-year-old humor.) 
  • Phonemic Awareness: Words make up smaller units of sound. Your child needs to be able to segment, blend and manipulate these units. For example, the word "cat" has three sounds: /c/, /a/, and /t/. To segment the word would mean to break the sounds apart. To blend would mean giving your child the individual sounds and him being about to put them together and say the word fluently. 
The nice part about working on phonological awareness is that all the activities are FREE! No materials are needed (we are just working on listening and speaking skills here), so they can be played anywhere: in the car, in the bath tub, on a walk, etc. Here are some word games you can play and the skills they are reinforcing: 
  • Tell me a word that rhymes with car. (rhyme awareness)
  • What does obnoxious mean? (word awareness)
  • What is the opposite of thin? And, don't say Mommy! (word awareness)
  • What word means the same as large? (word awareness)
  • Do fly and mine rhyme? (no) Do star and far rhyme? (yes) (rhyme awareness)
  • Let's clap the number of parts in the word "sister." (2) (syllable awareness)
  • Can you tell me all the sounds you hear in the word "bat?" (/b/, /a/, /t/) What about in the word "star?" (/st/, /a/, /r/) (phonemic awareness)
We will work on these same skills with manipulatives later on, but for now just try to work these word games into your daily routine. And remember to have fun with it! Kids like being silly. And, yes. It's okay to say poopy and laugh! 


Friday, May 18, 2012

Is every moment really teachable?

Yes. Yes, it is.

I was talking about this very topic with my son's pediatrician a couple of weeks ago. She was saying how she liked how I talked to him and explained why he could/couldn't do something. At the time, he was opening all the drawers in the room and wanting to take out every tongue depressor and cotton ball he could find. I think my response to him was something like, "Big L, please don't touch everything in the drawer. Your hands are grimy and ridden with germs, and we don't want other kids to get sick. Remember how you were scratching your butt earlier? Yeah, that's why they are filthy." (I'm actually kind of surprised that the doctor complimented me on this!)

Then a couple of days later, my son's babysitter noticed how I "talk to Big L like a little adult," meaning I don't dumb things down for him and explain things to him like he is an intelligent human being. Imagine that. Speaking to a child like his thoughts and actions actually mattered! Hmmmm, I may be on to something here.

Developing receptive language skills in an important aspect of language. Let me categorize the 4 facets of language for you..


Reading & Listening............. Receptive Language

Writing and Speaking............ Productive Language

I am working on my son's reading comprehension skills before he even learns how to read on his own, and without even using a book. Now that's talent!

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How do you talk to your child during teachable moments? Do you respond to his actions with a short, stern "no," or do you take the time to explain the consequences of his actions and the reason behind your disapproval? Put his brain to work and get him thinking about the word! 


Sharing a Love for Literacy

Mommy the Literacy Master? Wow. Someone thinks highly of herself.

I am, in fact, the rock star of Literacy Specialists (don't scour my posts too hard for grammatical errors, please), but my honorary title was not self-appointed. Shocking, I know. I'm actually a little disappointed that I didn't come up with it myself. I mean, it's absolutely perfect, just like me. 

If you are amused because you realize that I am totally being sarcastic, then please pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee (or whatever your preferred stimulant may be) and stay a while to read. You are the kind of mom I want following my blog! (Dads are welcome, too.) Oh, and you have to have an interest in teaching your child how to read. Qualifications met? Okay, let's get started...

I have wanted to start this blog for a while now, but finally was encourage to get my butt in gear and just DO IT already when a good friend of mine asked, "Okay, Ms. Literacy Master. Have any tips for teaching my son to read?" 
Yes! Where do I even begin? 

I'm assuming that you enjoy reading, or else you wouldn't be reading this right now. So, this is where you should begin in your journey towards raising a literate child: with yourself. Show your little one that not only CAN you read, but you ENJOY reading. Who says that you have to be on the floor playing with your toddler all day every day in order to be a "good" parent? It is just as important for your child to see you reading as it is for you to be engaging in reading activities with him. So, turn to your toddler or preschooler and tell him, "Mommy is going to sit here and read her book for 15 minutes. You may pick out a book to read, too, or you may play with your toys quietly." If screaming and kicking ensues, then pour yourself something other than coffee for your reading time. A glass of wine, perhaps? 

"Sit and read while I ignore my child?!?! Is this woman crazy?" 

This is the best parenting advice blog ever! Am I right, or am I right?

Ways to share the love...
  • Let your child see you reading for enjoyment (books, magazines, e-readers, whatever you fancy)
  • Let your child see you reading for a purpose (looking up information online, skim the grocery flyer for deals, etc.)
  • Have a variety of reading materials around the house, for both you and your child, that everyone has easy access to. (Our son likes to pull our books off the shelf and look through the pages. He doesn't rip out pages or anything. He is just curious. Daddy gets irritated, thinking he is going to destroy the books. Mommy the Literacy Master is always thrilled with his curiously in books!)
  • Read to your child everyday. Not just at bed time, but during play time, as well. (You don't want your child to associate reading with falling asleep, now do you?)
  • Let's not forget about writing... Let your child see you writing for enjoyment and purpose, too. After all, raising a literate child is more than just him knowing how to read. To be literate, you must be fluent in all areas of communication (reading, writing, listening AND speaking). 
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This blog will consist of reading tips and advice, information about how children learn to read, and suggestions for developmentally appropriate activities that you can do with your child. I'll also have lots of pictures of activities that I do with my son (and daughter when she becomes a little older). My kids are pretty darn cute, so I hope you stick around for that. 

Please, leave me a comment if you have any questions or suggestions for posts that you'd like to see. I'm so excited to be taking this journey towards a literate future with you and your child(ren)!