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How do you engage your baby, ages one to three, in reading? My answer, create a personalized wordbook of objects that interest your child.

2015 07 14 Personalized Workbook all.jpg

Bella’s Wordbook

Your child’s workbook should include words that you hear your child say or that you know are favorite objects, such as a favorite stuffed animal.

For example, your daughter might love saying spoon and bowl. (Mine did.) Glue photos of the actual objects that interest your baby to cardstock pages. Write below each photo the word to identify each object. You should include a personalized sentence. Underline the identifying word.  For my daughter I wrote, “This is Bella’s bowl” and underlined the word “bowl”.  To baby proof your baby’s book, slide each word page into a plastic sheet protector. Tape shut each sheet protector along the top and put the pages in a plastic binder.

Start with just 10 words!

Read the book to your baby several times a day. After a month, add ten more word pages with photos.

As your baby begins to read the words in her book, you can make a game of labeling with sticky notes the actual objects around your home, for example, high chair, toothbrush, and hairbrush. In our home, we labeled our dog. The key is to include words that interest your child.

As your child reads her book with you, she will begin to understand that written words have meaning. You can further emphasize this by touching each word individually as you read the sentence that goes with each word. This teaches your baby not only the directionality of reading from left to right, but also that each word has its own meaning and individual pronunciation.

Have fun making your child’s own personalized wordbook that she will want to read again and again. My daughter, who is nine, still looks at her wordbook from when she was a baby and enjoys knowing what she was interested in when she was so little.

How do you document your baby’s first words?

At this time of year, parents of my students starting kindergarten or first grade always ask me,

“What should my child practice over the summer?”

“Practice handwriting!” is my answer.

letter in the house detailKindergarten and first grade teachers emphasize handwriting. If your child grasps how to form letters, handwriting will come much easier. Schedule a set time each day to practice writing letters.

To help motivate your child, you might say something like, “We can go swimming after you trace and then write your letters for 15 minutes.” Then set a timer for the allotted time.

Given the teaching pace in kindergarten and first grade these days, your child will have a great advantage with a strong foundation for forming letters.

For strategies to help your child master handwriting, please click here to read my previous blog about handwriting. Link to Your Child: Letter Writing Master.

How do you motivate your child to practice academic skills over the summer? What strategies do you use to keep the practice going?

Finally, I have found a great use for my daughter’s old toddler-size Legos – a game that helps your child recognize words that are part of the same word family, like lap, cap and map. On each Lego block is a word. Your child “wins” by putting together the Lego blocks with words in the same family.

To make the game, write examples of each word family on individual blocks using a permanent marker like a Sharpie. I used three blocks and words per family. Bad, dad, and had are examples of the ad word family. Write one word per a block on both its front and back. I made blocks of word families to practice the short sounds of all vowels – a, e, i, o and u. For example, the short a word families includes three word blocks for each of the ad, at, ap and ag word families – a total of twelve words for the short vowel a.2015 02 24 Lego Word Blocks

Before starting the game with your child, begin by explaining how to play. Begin with one of the word families, for example at. Have your child break apart the family of three at-word blocks and ask, “What is the same about all of these blocks?” Help your child arrive at the answer, “All of the words have the same at ending.” With that understanding, your child is ready to play.

To start the game, mix the blocks for your child to sort into individual word family groups. To organize this, break apart all of your blocks. Keep out one base block for each word family word: ap, at, ad and ag. Put the remaining blocks in a bag for your child to pick one word block at a time. Have your child read and then match the block to the base, word-family block.

The game is a great way to find out if your child really understands word families. It helps them read the base word and then connect what they read to the next word – recognizing that the next word is like the last with a different first letter and sound. “Oh! If I change the first letter in cat to the letter h, the word says hat.”

My children love building and sorting word blocks. My younger kiddos start with one group of three short vowel word blocks. My older, more independent readers use a mix of short vowel groupings – for example short o and short e words. Regardless of skill level, both start with a base word block for each word family and put the remaining separated blocks in a bag or bin to pick, read, match and build.

Your child will love this game while learning to recognize word patterns that strengthen reading and spelling skills. Hope you enjoy!

What are ways you have used building materials like blocks to reinforce spelling or reading games?

Here are some excellent book choices for your child to read to herself or for you and your child to read aloud together.

Reading aloud together is a great approach to use with your emergent reader. She might not be able to read independently, but will be encouraged to do so through your example. Reading aloud is an excellent option to help your child build comprehension by asking, “Who, what, when, where, and why?” throughout the story.

These are my top five favorites that my nine-year-old daughter has tested recently:2015 02 03 Wings of Fire

1. Hugo – This beautifully illustrated story will spark your child’s imagination to the creativity in life’s experiences.

2. Nancy Drew series – My daughter’s great aunt sent us her old copy of this series. Forgot how good it is. Bella loves the action and adventure in these books.

3. The Wings of Fire series – Bella’s favorite books right now play on her love of dragons.

4. The Doll People series – Dolls come alive and have many interesting human-like interactions with each other.

5. The Warriors series – These will appeal to your cat lover, or in our case, our girl who loves both cats and dog!2015 02 03 Warriors

Additionally, the following article by Carrie Goldman provides a more comprehensive list of great chapter books:

Amazing Awesome List of Best Chapter Books for Kids

To confirm that these might appeal, use the Goodreads app on your smart phone, tablet or computer. Goodreads provides a great summary and reader reviews for specific titles.goodreads_logo

For those of you with sons, what are some of your favorite books that you or your child might recommend? Welcome recommendations to share with my students.

Last week, I shared my Read and Spell game for your older preschooler or elementary-age child to practice spelling words or word families.

This week’s game is for your younger child. My Letter Name and Sound game is perfect for your preschooler or older child who needs extra practice recalling the names and sounds of letters. It can help prepare your preschooler for kindergarten by creating a strong foundation of letter recognition and sound mastery.

Like last week’s Read and Spell game, make the game from a sheet of poster board. Draw a track on the board and separate it into boxes. Make the track shorter for your younger child – no more than 30 boxes to help sustain attention. Label each box with an L (for naming a letter) or an S (for saying the sound of the letter). Make the game more interesting by adding extra turn spaces to the board, or spaces that direct your child to “go back” or “go ahead”. Laminate the board for durability.2015 01 13 S and L Board

Make the board game as elaborate as your child wants. For example, if your child loves trains, make the path into railroad tracks. To increase the fun, let your child decorate her game board with stickers or drawings. Personalizing the game can be a fun indoor day activity that will allow your child to make it her own.

In addition, you will need a foam dice, up to five small toy figurines, a dry erase board, markers and an eraser. I use a large foam die to keep down the noise when my children are rolling on a table. The sides of the die should be numbered or marked with dots from 1 through 6.

You can play this game with up to five kids. Have each player pick a figurine and have one roll the die. If your child lands on an L, write a letter on your dry erase board and ask her to name it. If she lands on an S ask her to say the sound of the letter.board_game_board_1_dice board_game_board_1_playing_pieces

The kids I teach love playing this game. I love this game because I can modify it easily for each child’s individual level. Check out last week’s blog to learn about my Read and Spell game – a great way to help your older child practice spelling words or word families.

How do you use games to practice letter name and sound recall with your child?

Based on a blog originally published February 19, 2014.

Read and Spell Game

Julie Haden —  : Jan 6, 2015 — 3 Comments

Your child can practice reading and spelling words with my Read and Spell game. Your older preschooler or elementary-age child can practice spelling words or word families with this game.

board_game_board_1Make the game from a sheet of poster board. Draw a track on the board and separate the track into boxes. Label each box with an R (for reading) or an S (for spelling).  Make the game more interesting by adding extra turn spaces to the board, or spaces that direct your child to “go back” or “go ahead”. Laminate the board for durability over time.

Make the board game as elaborate as your child wants. For example, if your child loves fairies, make the finish line a beautiful fairy house. To increase the fun, let your child decorate her game board with stickers or drawings. Having your child personalize the game can be a fun snowy or rainy day activity. The real fun will begin when your child gives the game a go. The key is to allow your child to make it her own.


In addition, you will need a foam dice, up to five small toy figurines, a dry erase marker board, markers and an eraser. I use a large foam die to keep down the noise when my kiddos are rolling the die on a table. The sides of the die should be numbered or marked with dots from 1 through 6.

You can play this game with up to five kids. Have each player pick a figurine and have one roll the die. If your child, lands on an R ask her to read a word that you write on your dry erase board. If she lands on an S ask her to spell a word you say. Your child gets great practice spelling words or word families. Your child can use the dry erase marker board to write the words that she spells. If your child is just beginning to learn to write, have her focus on spelling by having her arrange letter tiles to spell the word. Letter tiles are available from a school supply store.


The kids I teach are ages three to eleven, and love playing this game. I love this game because I can modify it easily for each child’s individual level. Next week’s blog describes my Letter Name and Sound game – a great way to help our younger child practice recalling letter names and sounds.

How do you use games to practice reading and spelling words with your child?

Based on a blog originally published February 19, 2014.

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.