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Reading Focus

Julie Haden —  : Oct 28, 2014 — Leave a comment

Often times my parents will tell me that their children are having a hard time focusing when reading – especially the parents of kids just beginning to read independently. Here are a few techniques to try with your child to help increase their reading focus, fluency and comprehension.2014 10 28 focus

First, when your child is reading aloud, track each word for her with your finger as she reads. If she misreads a word or makes a mistake, keep your finger on that word so she is aware of her mistake until you teach her the correct word or help her focus on the skipped words.

Another way to increase focus while your child is reading aloud is to ask questions periodically about the context of the text or story to insure she understands what she is reading. Help bring her focus to the main idea and specific details about the story.

Finally, bring your child’s attention to words that she misreads aloud. As you track the words while she reads, highlight words that she misreads. So you can review these words with her, copy a chapter at a time as she progresses in the book or text. Then after each chapter, review missed words with your child. This technique also teaches your child to be aware of how many words she skips, since skipping too many words might affect her comprehension of what she reads.

By practicing these three techniques, you are teaching your child how to have greater focus as she begins to read independently.

What helps your child learn to have focus while reading?

Want a fast, fun way to expand your preschooler’s vocabulary and understanding? I found one while working with a student who is an English Language Learner. English Language Learners often have limited exposure to English vocabulary at home. Vocabulary is important to building reading skills and listening comprehension as well as increasing conversational speech.

zoo toobMy new student and I started playing what I call “prop” stories. Prop stories start with small three-dimensional toy figures, or pictures on felt or magnets, that depict animals, people or other realistic or fanciful objects. A blank background can work or you can use a specific background like a zoo theme for example. The key is to focus on your child’s specific interests.

To introduce these prop stories, I model the story first using specific sentences, which I ask my student to repeat. For example in my zoo prop story I might say, “A mother takes her son to the zoo. They see the penguins swimming in the water. They see the elephants swinging their trunks.”

As your child gets more comfortable with vocabulary and sentence structuring, he can begin to create his own stories without your prompting and labeling of words.

zoo feltProp stories are great for children as young as 18 months – 2 years and for older children too. You can find materials for your child’s prop story around your home or can purchase magnetic and felt story sets at teacher school supply stores.

Prop stories are fun. Your child will see them as play and will be motivated by the imaginative interactions with you. As your child plays with you, she expands her vocabulary and language skills as you label the words and create a better grasp on sentence structuring. Your child’s creativity grows too as your child creates and tells stories.

How do you help build your child’s vocabulary through play?

This time of year, my parents ask for ideas to help their children make letter formations.

wilson pageStart your child working on lower case letters before capitals. I can’t emphasize that enough! Your child will see and use mostly lower case letters when she is reading or writing. A question I often get from parents is, “Which letters should we work on together?” The Wilson Reading System provides a fantastic chart that shows which letter formations to teach together.

Tactile tools are great ways for getting letter formations instruction to “stick”. Tools include placing paper over a plastic grid and then having your child use a crayon to make a letter. You can use “house paper”  to help your child place the specific letter in the right space. After your child writes a letter, have her use her finger to feel the bumps impressed in the paper from the crayon going in the direction of the letter formation. The tactile perception will help your child remember how she formed the letter.letter in the house

letter in the house detail

Another tactile teaching tool is to have your child write letters in chalk on fine-grade sandpaper. Have your child trace the chalk letter with her finger. Alternatively use shaving cream. It is messy, but your child will both feel and see in contrast letters as she forms them.

Tracing letters in letter formation workbooks is a good way to reinforce making individual letters. A way to make doing this even more fun is to use colored pieces of acetate. Cut sheets, found in an art store, to the size of your workbook pages. Use dry erase markers and let your child trace and erase each letter. Another tool, a small tablet like a dry erase board can help your child focus on the space and help create a boundary for writing. (I use a 7” x 4 ½” board.)

How your child grasps her pencil is important to mastering letter formation. Try golf pencils, short sticks of chalk or short dry erase markers to encourage your child to practice the three-finger pincer grasp. Your older child will enjoy having many choices of pencil grippers as she masters the three-finger pincer grasp. These are just a few tools and ideas to help your child enjoy and master letter formation. For a link to ideas that will help your young child start strengthening their pincer grip, check out: therapystreetforkids.comgrippersWhat are some tools you use with your child to help with making letters?

For more, see my blog: Reading and Writing Go Hand In Hand!

  1.  Touch each word as you read to your child to emphasize that each is separate and unique. Emphasize that you are reading from left to right to teach directionality.
  2. Put objects that all begin with the same letter sound in a bag or box. Have your child pull them out. Say each object’s name emphasizing its beginning sound.  For example, cat begins with the |c| sound just like cow.  Then let them pull out more objects that make the same sound.
  3. Frequent the library. Help your child pick out books that they are interested in and age appropriate.  This shows them how much you value reading.  Let them see you reading your favorite books too.
  4. Play rhyming games.  This can be great fun on road trips or walking outings together.  For example, you might say, “I saw a cat on a mat with a _____. ” Let them fill in the blank.  There are no wrong answers in this game, except the sillier the better including nonsense words!
  5. When you teach letter names, use letters that are lowercase because this is what they will see in books.  Save capital letters until after they’ve mastered the lowercase.  You can find a set of lowercase letters at a teacher’s supply store.

Use these 5 ideas to start having fun cultivating an early reader!

What are some ideas you’ve used with your child to promote early reading?

Bella and Julie

First published October 3, 2013.

One of my favorite things to do is create learning games. This one was inspired in the aisle of the Target dollar aisle. Inspiration lies in every bin for teaching materials and learning games. Especially, when I have specific skills I know I need to work on with certain students.

bag of blocksMy walk down the aisle last week inspired a game that I call Word Family Mystery Box Grab. (Please don’t trademark this.) My inspiration came in the form of primary colored counting blocks – 18 per bag – the red blocks for vowels – all the other colors for the consonants letters. When I teach vowels, I always differentiate them from consonants by making them the color red.

To make the game, first identify the word family you want to work on. The “at” family of words is a great place to start with your child. (Think about all of those great books for your child about cats and hats!) Start by making your child’s game by writing the letter “a” on the red block, on both sides, and the letter “t” on the other consonant blocks – any color other than red.

atThen make letter blocks that your child will choose as the first sound of an “at” word. These consonant letters will make real words when added to the start of your new “at” blocks. For example, you can add the letter “c” to “at” to create the word “cat”. It can be fun to throw in a letter or two that doesn’t make a real word is fun, like “g” added before “at”. It will help your child gain confidence reading any word, even if, as one of my five-year-old students told me, “It’s a nonsense word.”

box of blocksNext put all the initial consonant letters in a box with an opening in the top. The opening should be big enough for your child to use his or her little hand to pull each letter out one at a time. (You can use a bag, too.) Before you start the game, lay out the two blocks that represent “at” middle letter vowel sounds and final consonant letter sound. Put all of your blocks for letters that can go in front of “at” in your bag or box.

The game begins when you ask your child to pull a letter out, add it to the “at” part, and then read the word. Next, have your child hand you the first letter sound block, and then pick another letter sound block to start a new word again. Repeat until the box is empty.

Multiple children can take turns and tally how many words they spell and read, or your child can play with you. Except when you build your word, have your child read the word to you.

word familyI love this game because you can use any vowel-pattern, word family you want. I recommend starting with the short “a” word families and then try other vowel-pattern, word families. Some suggestions for when your child masters “at”: try “ad”, “ag”, “ap”, or “ack” word families. Organize your word families using Ziploc bags – to identify each word family and separate the specific letters that go with each family.

Here is one game inspired by the dollar aisle.

What are some simple reading games that you have created for your kids?


With the school year starting, has early reading made your child’s world a better place? Research shows that if your child is an early reader, he or she is likely to be better prepared for the Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 States, which expect kindergarteners to:

  1. take in information faster through listening comprehension and independent reading
  2. have more vocabulary and strong verbal skills
  3. have a strong reading foundation

These skills will prepare your child to demonstrate knowledge through standardized tests, public schools’ measure of student knowledge today.

slide 24Research supports that your child will benefit from early reading enrichment. The best research on the benefits of early enrichment comes from Dr. James Heckman – winner of the Noble Prize in economics in 2000 and professor of economics at University of Chicago. The world knows him best for his paper, “Schools, Skills and Synapses”, which concluded that early reading and other enrichment for preschoolers yield the greatest return.

Sadly, his research supports that children who are not reading on level by third grade generally do not even graduate high school. There is just too much “catch up” time. Once behind, these children cannot keep up with the academic rigors as they progress. What happens to these kids? Many go to prison, become pregnant as teenagers, or at best are unemployed.

My own experience supports the research. Over the years, I have volunteered regularly in public schools to help at-risk, early elementary students who were reading way below grade level. Even at third grade, most were motivated, but were very aware of how far behind they were in reading. By third grade, some had been suspended already for fighting and other acts of frustration. All of my at-risk, public school students would have performed better in school with reading enrichment experiences as preschoolers.

If your children are successful in school, they will go on to be successful in life! My experiences as an educator and parent – and data – support this conclusion. When we emphasize early reading, we can make our children’s world a better place – a place where they are successful and happy!

What skills have helped your children succeed in school?

Updated from an article first published on October 14, 2013.

APP: “Reading aloud to your child matters.”

I was so happy to read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ public announcement: “Reading aloud to your child starting at birth is important.”

Why is it important?

First, the first three years of life is one of the most important times for healthy brain development. Reading aloud has a significant effect on that development.

Bella and JulieSecond, reading aloud noticeably increases vocabulary development. It teaches other important communication skills like voice intonation and facial expression changes to demonstrate nonverbal communication cues.

Third, reading aloud increases pre-literacy skills, like listening comprehension, which will help your child succeed once formal school begins.

What are some of your favorite books to read aloud?

“This is the first time the AAP has called out literacy promotion as being an essential component of primary care pediatric practice. Fewer than half of children are being read to every day by their families, and that number hasn’t really changed since 2003. It’s a public health message to parents of all income groups, that this early shared reading is both fun and rewarding.”

Click for more about new AAP Policy.

Dr. Pamela High

I was reading aloud with one of my students the other day and thought, “I need to write about this.” Even my elementary age students and daughter have books that they love to hear read aloud. Here are my top-five picks that your elementary-age child will love to hear:

2014 07 01 Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryFirst, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl is a favorite for its imaginative nature and elements of surprise. Dahl’s characters are funny and of course what child does not want to imagine sampling tasty treats in a chocolate factory. Even if your kiddos have seen the movie, all of you will enjoy the innuendos missing from the movie when you read aloud the book.

2014 07 01 Charlottes WebMy kids love hearing Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White for many reasons. First, it is about animals – a relationship between a pig and a spider. But what intrigues them most is the friendship between these two unlikely creatures and how their friendship helps them to both grow on the inside and outside.

2014 07 01 Grimms Fairy TalesThe stories in Grimm’s Fairy Tales have a bit of a dark side to them but that is what the kids enjoy most. For example, “the ash maiden” – essentially what the modern day Cinderella story is based on- has a darker ending than Disney portrays. For example in this story, the birds poke out the eyes of the stepsisters for their cruel and evil ways. A great set of tales that teach moral lessons.

For more about reading fairy tales aloud, read Einstein on Fairy Tales and Education by Maria Popova.

2014 07 01 The Giving TreeThe Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is short but great to read aloud. The book is poetic. So when you read it aloud, you and your child will feel the words. In the story, a tree loves a boy and gives to him until there is nothing physically left to give. It is a story of how love grows and evolves over time.

2014 07 01 The Secret GardenFinally, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is appropriate for your older child (second grade and older) due to its length (331 pages). An orphaned girl is forced to live on her Uncle’s estate where she discovers a secret garden. It is a story of her emotional growth as she transforms the garden into a thing of beauty and discovers some deep hidden secrets along the way. Time will fly as your imagination takes you to the mysterious, magical garden.

These are my top five favorite books to read aloud to elementary-age kids.

What are some of your kid’s favorite books to have read aloud?