Short Vowel Sound Tips

short vowels aTeach letter “sounds” before their “names”: If you haven’t started teaching your child the alphabet, start with the letter “sounds” before you teach the letter “names.” After all, when we “sound out” words in reading, it is the “letter sounds” we use the majority of the time. Even in the case of vowels, in which words often include the “long sound” or “name” of the vowel, it is much wiser to start with the “short vowel sounds.” When children have learned the letter names first, they often try to sound out words by naming the letters–which rarely works.  Once a child knows the letter “sounds” well, you can go ahead and teach the names. You will notice that almost all “alphabet flash card” pictures use short vowel sound words. It is silly to teach the child that “[Long] A is in cat.” Or that “Zed is for zebra.” Avoid confusion! Teach in ways that make sense. :-)

Create simple sketches: If a child is having difficulty learning short vowel sounds, you can try using little sketches. For example, for “short a” words, introduce the word “hat” and draw a “hat” on top of the “a.” Then introduce other words in the same family (cat, mat, fat, bat, etc.), and draw the “hat” on the “a” until she gets the “short a” sound consistently. Next, use “short a” in other words not in the same family (man, ban, map, gap, ash, mash, etc.), again using the “hat on the a” until she no longer needs it. For “short e” you can start with “net” and draw a little net on top of the “e”… and so on. NOTE: Click on the sketch above to get some ideas! Feel free to print it, if you wish.

Point out words on signs and containers: Another way to introduce short vowel sounds is to watch for commonly seen words, such as “stop” or “exit.” Point out the words (which your child will very likely be able to “read” simply because she has seen the “sign” so many times). Emphasize the short vowel in the word. Then show other words with the same short vowel sound, and help her sound them out. You can also use common containers (“milk”), and can talk about everyday objects in her life (cup, sun, apple, pet, pot, etc.). Draw short vowel connections to things she is familiar with.

Help your child label his drawings: If your child enjoys drawing, talk with him about what he is drawing. For example, if he is drawing the family cat, ask what the “middle sound” is in the picture, and talk about how “the short ‘a’ in ‘cat’ is the letter ‘a'” — and encourage him to label the picture if he can. In fact, it is often best just to label with the short vowel sound first; then you can add the consonants letter to form the entire word, once he is confident with the short vowel sound. Later you can write the first and last letters, and the child can fill in the vowel. Finally, he can write the entire label himself.

Use alphabet cereal or soup: Another fun way to learn vowel sounds–and for that matter, consonants–is to use “alphabet cereal” or “alphabet soup.” Spell out simple words, say them, and then eat them! After eating each word, say the sound stretched out, as if enjoying the taste of the sound. “c-a-t- Cat — [eat] — c-aaaa-t!”

Find pictures of things with short vowel sounds: After your child feels confident with a certain short vowel sound, show pictures that use that short vowel sound–and others that use the same long vowel sound or a different short vowel sound. Have your child say the name of the picture, and identify the ones that have the short vowel sound that she has been studying.

After several or all short vowel sounds have been learned, you can show pictures of words with short vowel sounds, and write two or three choices for each picture (for example: a picture of a cat: write: cut / cat / cot). Have your child say the picture word, and choose the correct word. Or write the consonant letters under the pictures, and the child can write in the correct vowel. (Note: many workbooks have lots of exercises like these; you can purchase slightly used workbooks very inexpensively at many thrift stores, or even new ones at Dollar Stores).

What are your favourite tips for learning short vowel sounds? Be sure to share them with other readers, in the comments below.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beginning to learn letters and sounds


Over the next while, I will be posting a variety of ideas on how to help your child learn letters and sounds. Today’s first post in this series focuses on children who are just starting to learn their sounds and letters (and yes, helping children who have already been taught, but just don’t seem to “get it”).  There are so many ways to introduce these important concepts–you’ll be sure to find some tips that will help your child.

But what if my child is struggling with letters and sounds? If it seems your child is finding letters and sounds impossible to learn, my suggestion is to back off, and learn together in other ways: read to your child, do hands-on learning activities together, do lots of music and other fine arts, explore in nature, watch interesting documentaries, and so on.  Many children, especially young boys, simply are not ready (even up to ages 8 to 10) to learn letters and sounds. If you give them a sound foundation in learning through other approaches, you’ll almost certainly find that they will quickly learn to read and write when they are ready developmentally, and when they feel the need to read and write to accomplish some personal goal of their own, and are thus motivated to learn those literacy skills.

And now, here are a series of tips for beginning sounds and letters:

Relate letter sounds to personal experiences: If a child is having trouble with a particular sound, think of something that makes that sound. For example, the sound for “h” at the beginning of a word is like a puppy panting. Have the child pant like a puppy; ask them if they’ve ever heard/seen a puppy pant, and discuss their experiences/memories. Making these kinds of personal memory connections, and physical/sensory connections will help your child easily remembers letters, letter combinations, and even numbers. Once the child has “played” with the sound, write a list of words that use that sound. At first combine the “connection” with each word (pant: h-h-h-h-hat), then read normally.

A useful commercially-available method for introducing sounds and letters: You might want to check out the book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, by Seigfried Englemann. This method of teaching letters, sounds, and basic sight words has sold over 1/2 million copies, and is very reasonably priced. While it works well with even preschoolers, due to its emphasis on “sounds,” it is also useful for children who have had some reading training but do not seem to be “getting it.” While you might think that your child is “beyond” this apparently very beginning level method, it is a great way to solve some issues your child may be having.

For example, children often are taught their “ABC’s” with capital letters and the “letter name” sounds. But Englemann’s method wisely focuses on lowercase letters and short vowel sounds. With the prior method, children often end up sounding each letter separately and distinctly, using the letter name sounds. But this “100 Easy Lessons” method emphasizes stretching and blending sounds together, and using the “short vowel sounds” before introducing “long vowel sounds.” Also, this method uses some symbols, such as the short and long vowel symbols above those letters, and adds blends and digraphs as part of the alphabet with blended letters actually attached to each other.

It also integrates handwriting immediately, and uses kinesthetic-tactile methods from the start. Rhyming and sequencing skills are also integrated from the start. The overall effect is to focus on reading “skills” rights from the beginning. As reading is introduced, comprehension skills are also immediately introduced, even with the simplest sentences and stories. It is a very step-by-step method with lots of repetition, which is also helpful for many children. And for parents, you truly don’t have to “learn” anything. Everything you are to say and do with your child is laid out step by simple step. Even if your child has already been taught with another approach, if he or she is still struggling, why not “go back to the beginning” with this method; often, doing so quickly and clearly shows “gaps” in a child’s learning, fills them in, and provides the firm foundation the child needs to carry on.

Another commercially available reading method I have used which I find extremely useful for absolute beginning readers, but also for readers who have been having a lot of difficulty and really need a “re-start” is the Recipe for Reading method by Nina Traub and Frances Bloom. This is another method that has been around for a long time and has been proved successful. You need only to buy the book, and follow the step-by-step instructions, which include directing you on how to create your own homemade flash cards and other materials, making it a very inexpensive approach as well. The method starts with a limited number of consonants, and introduces one short vowel at a time. It teaches words using those letters and sounds only, with lots of use of “word families,” then adds other consonants and vowels a few at a time.

This encourages your child to feel she is learning a lot of new words, and therefore reading well, even as you are actually taking her back “to the beginning” to relearn, or fill gaps in reading, printing, and spelling. In the early lessons, your child is given an ending blend (e.g.: -at) and learns to read and write lots of new words by adding different initial consonants (bat, cat, mat, fat, etc.). A few common sight words are also introduced along the way, so that simple sentences can be created from the word family words (eg. The top of the pot is hot). Rhyming is another important part of this method, and there are also kinesthetic and graphic methods integrated into it.

What about computer software and tablet/smart phone apps? There are so many apps out there, and many of them are free. I highly suggest trying out the free ones first, before purchasing apps. If your child enjoys an app, and you can see learning taking place, you can upgrade to the full (paid) level, or purchase a similar, but more complex, app. Children love apps and computer games/software, and they are a good support tool–but I do strongly recommend also using traditional methods–face-to-face between child and parent/tutor, with hands-on use of pencil and paper, crayons, and other tactile methods. Even with apps and computer games, you need to be there and interact with your child’s learning!

Phonics booklets: Many companies have made sets of simple little books, each of which focus on a different sound (letter, blend, digraph, etc.). You can often get packages of these books very inexpensively at thrift stores or used book stores; or you can sometimes get them quite inexpensively through book fairs (such as Scholastic) at schools. Before you read each little book together, discuss the sound that it focuses on (usually this is found on the back cover, or inside at the back of the book).

Then, as you read the book together, have your child watch for words with that sound. Have your child list them on a paper or white board, and circle the letter(s) that make the sound in each word. Then he can practice reading aloud, writing, and spelling the words. You can also discuss together other words you know that have this sound. Write them for your child; some will follow the spelling sound rule you’re working on, and your child can add them to her list; others may not “follow the rule” and you can then discuss that, too. This searching for word sounds while reading will not only help your child with the particular sound, but will also teach your child the skill of looking for particular information in a document.

Ways to use flashcards, magnetic letters, alphabet jigsaws and more : If possible, get flashcards that have lowercase letters, or a combination of lowercase and uppercase. If you can only find cards with uppercase (capital) letters, write the lowercase (small) letters beside them. Of course you can easily make your own cards: often these are best, especially if you make them a larger size, such as 6×8 inches. Here are some tips on how to use them:

  • Place ABC/abc flashcards in a path on the floor, a sidewalk, or a lawn. Have your child step or hop from card to card, saying its “sound.” Do this until your child knows all the basic sounds. Then you can do the same, teaching the letter names. When the child knows both the letter sounds and names, you can introduce the ABC song. Once the child has memorized the alphabet in forward order, do this activity again in backward order (just not the singing part!).
  • You can also divide the cards into several parts–perhaps ABCDE, FGHIJ, KLMNO, PQRST, UVWXYZ. Do this exercise with the parts–forward, then backward. The reason for this is to help the child with alphabetization, so that she can more easily find words in a dictionary, think of what letter comes before or after, and so on. This is a very useful skill, and this is a fun way to develop it.
  • Using magnetic letters or alphabet letter cards that have uppercase and lowercase letter separately, match the capital and small letters. You can just spread the alphabet cards out and match them; later, try playing “Concentration” (aka “Memory”), or “Go Fish.”
  • Make the sound of a letter, have your child imitate the sound, and then have the child choose the correct letter from a choice of 3 or 4 alphabet cards. Finally, have her write the letter on paper or a whiteboard, making the sound as she writes it. Once she can identify and say the “sounds” easily, do the same activity, except this time using the names of the letters.
  • Trace a letter using two fingers together on your child’s back (or on his hand, while his eyes are closed); as you “write” it this way, say the letter sound. Then have the child do the same to you. When the child is doing well with the “sounds,” use this activity to teach the letter names.
  • Sing the ABC song (and say it), using a variety of different ABC cards, jigsaw puzzles, magnetic letters, alphabet sheets, and so on. Give your child experience with lots of different looking alphabets (size, colours, etc.).
  • Once your child is confident of both sounds and letter names, sing the alphabet song, first with sounds, then with names, and once more with sounds. If your child likes a challenge, try singing the alphabet song, alternating sound/letter/sound/letter, etc. It’s good for a laugh, and at the same time good practice!
  • Get a set of alphabet cards and a set of animal picture cards (or a book of animal pictures). Have your child name the animal, say the beginning sound, and then choose the letter card with the initial sound. After the child can do initial sounds easily, have her stretch out the animal name and find the other letter-sounds for the word and put them in order, then “read” the word. In the beginning, the child may use mostly consonants; congratulate your child for finding the right sounds, then gently introduce missing vowels, and correct consonants if necessary (for example, a child may use a “c” for “kangaroo”). Of course some words are spelled in odd ways (“oddballs”); don’t spend too much time at this early stage trying to “correct” words like that, but for simple words (cat, dog, etc.) do put some gentle emphasis on correct spelling.
  • If your child is feeling restless when you are trying to teach letters and sounds, make a game out of it. Toss a foam ball back and forth, and say alphabet sounds/letters, or hop up and down stairs, or play hopscotch, etc., while you say the sounds/letters. You can also do the same for numbers, skip counting, etc.
  • Lay out 3 or 4 animal picture cards (or other picture sets–you can also use picture books or even toys or other objects for this). Ask your child which one begins with a certain sound. Then have him find the alphabet card that has that sound; or have him find the sound on an alphabet (ABCs) strip.
  • Look around the room, or go outside, or look out the window as you drive, and play “I spy” using initial letter sounds (and later, letter names). When the child becomes good at this, try using final letter sounds, and then middle sounds. If a child is having trouble with beginning sounds, give both the beginning sound and the ending sound. If you are not driving, you can also help the child pick out the sounds from a set of alphabet cards.
  • Set out magnetic letters or alphabet cards, in order, but with every 2nd or 3rd one set aside. Have your child use the extra letters to fill in the gaps.
  • Start with a simple word spelled with alphabet cards. Then delete, add, or substitute letters or syllables. Sound out each of the new words. If they are real words, have your child write them and say them as he writes them. Manipulating sounds is a great way to broaden a child’s understanding and use of letters and sounds, and quickly build reading skills.
  • Play the “Pick Two” game. Orally name 3 words; your child picks two that start (or end, or have the same middle sound) with the same sound/letter. Also do this game with pictures. Another alternative, once your child is beginning to write words, is to draw a blank line for the beginning (or middle, or end) sound, and print the other letters of the word. Then your child can also write the sound after saying it. Another alternative is to have four words that start with the same sound, but three rhyme and one doesn’t. You can do this orally, with pictures, and later with written words. If using written words, start with words in which the rhyming part is spelled the same; once a child is very competent with that, you can add other words that are spelled differently but still rhyme. (Of course, if you’re just using pictures, the actual spelling doesn’t matter; it’s the rhyming sound you are working on).
  • Instead of using cards or magnetic letters, go to the thrift store, and pick up a few games that have letter tiles or letter dice, such as Scrabble or Boggle. You can use just the tiles/dice at first for many of the activities above; then as your child’s skills improve, try playing the games themselves.

What are your favourite tips for beginning to learn letters and sounds? Please share them in the comments below! Thank you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Children’s book creating and journaling

matt story page 1Books about Family, Friends and Pets

For children who are reluctant to read, sometimes it works to create a book about themselves and their family, pets, or other things/people that are important to them. Use as simple language as possible, and use no more than 2 or 3 sentences per page. Illustrate each page. You can take photographs, or sketch illustrations. Children do not mind “stick people”–in fact, they often admire your simple “stick people” illustrations more than they would a photo or an “artistic” picture. Another advantage of “stick people” pictures is that the child can colour the picture easily. While you can “cut and paste” pictures from the internet or from magazines, it is usually better for these reluctant readers if you use actual photos of the very people, or you draw simple sketches that the child can colour in to make the people and items in the picture as “real” to him or her as possible. Children like to read about themselves and their own lives!

After you have made a couple of these simple booklets, you can engage your child in dictating their own personal family stories, and helping create the illustrations. While this is similar to journaling (in which the child draws a picture and writes about it with his own “creative spelling”), the point here is to create material which is spelled and punctuated neatly and correctly, so the child can easily read it, and learn correct spelling and grammar.

An Example of a Simple Family and Pets Book for a Child

Please feel free to download  Matt’s Story, an example of a book I made for a child named Matt. Note how simple the words are; except for the word “is,” the only vowels are “short a” and “short o” and only a half dozen consonants are used. At this point, “perfect language” is less important than providing language the child can easily read, and readily relate to. The child is delighted to read a “whole book” about himself and his life! If you like, you can download this book and read it with your child; then together you can create a similar book about your child’s life.


Of course journaling can also be done–and is to be encouraged–as it gives children the satisfaction of “I did it myself,” and gives them an opportunity to explore and try out what they’ve been learning about spelling and writing. Journaling should not be “marked,” but you can make simple responses (“I remember when you did that!” “I bet you had fun!” “What happened next?”).  In your responses, you can repeat the child’s words, using correct spelling. For example, if you child writes, “I wnt 2 th prck with dade,” you could respond, “I am sure you and Daddy had fun when you went to the park.”

Computer software:

You can also try out some computer software to help your child create her own books/stories.  While some come with a price, others are free, or at least offer a free basic package. Some examples:  Clicker 6 ,  Junior Writer  , and Storybird .

Suggestions for Helping Your Children Create Their Own Stories/Books:

Some children are intimidated by the thought of trying to write and illustrate a whole story–never mind a book!–by themselves. Here’s a way to help your child write and illustrate a story with success, and thereby build self-confidence and motivation for further efforts. First, read a story together (it may even be a story which the child loves, and has heard/read many times–in fact, for children who are especially lacking confidence in writing, this may be the best option). Then have your child draw and color the story. If your child feels he cannot draw well enough, you can draw simple picture outlines (as in children’s coloring books) for him to fill in, or he can use tracing paper to draw outlines of pictures from the book you read, and then fill in and colour the picture without looking at the original pictures.

Once he has completed the pictures, have him tell you the story, following his pictures. As he tells the story, write it down. Then dictate it back slowly, and have him write the words. If he finds that too difficult, you can allow him to trace or copy your writing.

In later efforts at creating stories, your child can bit by bit take on more and more independent parts of the task. Remember, it is a learning process, and each effort builds a foundation for later efforts. It is better to start very simply, and build strong foundations that build strong skills and self-confidence, than to push a child to do work that is too difficult or too intimidating at that point, and have the child end up missing key basic skills, and feel that he is hopeless.

Start With Your Child’s Love of Oral Storytelling:

If your child loves to make up stories, and/or tell stories from her own experiences, that is a great place to start from in teaching writing skills–especially so for reluctant writers. Start by encouraging your child’s love of oral story-telling. Over a period of several days, go through the following steps:

  • Record or video-tape her stories and type them out, or type them as she tells the stories.
  • Then have your child copy the stories. For a child who is really having difficulty with writing, you can cut the story up into sentences, and have the child put the sentences together in correct order (as you dictate it, or without dictation if your child can do so).
  • Later, cut each sentence into words and have the child arrange the words back into the original sentence as you dictate it (do this word-by-word organization AFTER sentence organization as it is a more complex task. It is also at this point that you can point out capitalization and punctuation examples, and discuss the “rules”).
  • When the child can put the typed story together in these ways, you can have your child write the story by copying it.
  • Then dictate the story to the child.
  • By the time the child has told the story, organized it by sentences, organized words into sentences with punctuation and capitalization, handwritten it by copying, and then handwritten it from dictation, she will be very familiar with it.
  • The final task will be to write the story “from memory”–it does not have to be exactly like the original; in fact, you may even suggest to your child to make changes if he or she wishes.  What you will find is that your child will most likely be able to create a well-written piece–and now have the confidence to try another story. Again, with each new story, encourage more and more independence.

Encourage Vivid Words and Interesting Details:

If your child’s story-writing seems to be stuck with simple, boring words, you can work together to replace plain nouns and pronouns with more precise ones; plain verbs with more precise, active ones; and of course add interesting describing words and extra details. One way you can encourage extra details is by putting “question words” or “suggestion words” at various points in the child’s story, where more detail would help. For example: The boy [who?] went [how?] to the store [which one? where?]. He got food [what was it? how did it taste?] to eat. When it was time to eat at home [which meal? what time?] he told her [who?] that he did not want to eat [why?]. She got mad [how did she act?]. [Then what happened?]

When your child is orally telling you things, in everyday conversation, you can do the same thing–ask questions that elicit more detail. Even simple questions like “What colour was it?” or “How old is he?” and so on show that you are listening and are interested in what he has to say–and this in turn will encourage him to develop his story-telling skills, both orally, and then, by extension, in writing. It will be good for your relationship, too!

What other ideas can you share with our readers? Please add them in the comments below. Thank you!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Learn With Songs and Poetry

If your child enjoys music (and what child doesn’t?), sing children’s songs that employ lots of rhyme and repetition to develop reading and writing skills. Also use songs with actions and finger plays. It is amazing how much “physical action” and “singing” contribute to learning to read. Old-timey Sunday School songs, or songs learned in pre-school and kindergarten, or on children’s TV programs are often excellent for this, as they use lots of simple words, rhymes, and actions. Many nursery rhymes have also been put to music. Children all have favorite movies or TV series or story books with theme songs they have memorized.

Use books that have large, clear print, or type or write lyrics out in large print so children can easily read them. Teach many new words by having your children follow the lyrics as they sing their favorite tunes. Point out the words in the song, and as you sing, run your finger along the words as you sing together.  Then encourage your child to run his finger under the words while singing. Or you can find many of these kinds of songs on YouTube videos, with the words running through the video, often with a dot bouncing from word to word during the singing. For many children, it really helps to “connect” their phonics words to real context; when they see and say/sing their reading lesson words in a song they know, the word learning becomes real and fun. And of course poetry and music are excellent aids to memorizing words.

You can read the song together (point at each word as you read it slowly; or better yet, have your child point at each word as it will help her focus and not be distracted), and then sing it together, slowly the first time, pointing at each word, and then faster the next time or two. If she wants to sing a song 3 or 4 or 5 times in a row, encourage it! Just make sure she’s actually following along with the words.

In the same way, read, and memorize–and act out, or put to music–nursery rhymes and other fun rhyming poems. Also encourage “copying” of poems and song lyrics, as well as favorite passages from stories and so on. Some people think “copying” is old-fashioned, but it is still one of the most effective ways for children to “learn by doing” as they copy correct handwriting (or cursive), correct spelling, punctuation, and sentence or poetry form.

Clap, stamp feet, wave arms, sway bodies, etc., while singing or do chants. Rhyme, rhythm, pacing, elongating sounds (especially vowels) are all great ways to develop a child’s listening, reading, and writing abilities. Use as many senses and physical actions as possible, especially with children who love movement; do the same with art, music, or whatever your child especially enjoys.

Children also love to make up poems and songs of their own. They’ll happily create rhyming couplets, limericks, and so on. Just as with stories they have written, children like to read their own writing, and it is a great way for them to practice. You can have the child dictate a story or poem, and you write it down with correct spelling and grammar–then have them copy it, illustrate it, and read it to whoever will listen! By having the child dictate, and you copy, the child will likely use vocabulary they are not yet able to read, but because they created the poem or story themselves, they will already know what is in it, and will be able to read what they could not otherwise read. You can, of course, also use a computer program for the “printing” and illustrating.

Children can “gift” their works to visitors such as grandparents and friends, reading it aloud to the recipient, and then sending it along with them. If the person lives at a distance, you can have the child tape themselves reading it, or you can send the work to the recipient, and then have the child read it to them by phone or Skype. Or of course you can also videotape the reading, and email it or post it on YouTube, etc. Kids love technology, so don’t be afraid to use it as part of their learning. Just remember to keep it “interactive!”


How do you use songs and poetry with your children as they learn reading and writing skills? Please be sure to share your experiences in the comments below. Thank you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Use Word Families for Reading and Spelling

word familiesMake lots of use of “word families” as you teach your child spelling and reading–and writing, too.

As well as being a great way to learn to recognize various sound combinations, and to learn about rhyming, word families also are a great way to think up and then write creative sentences, stories, or poems, and to practice spelling of similar words. And word families are not just for beginning level reading and writing; as you’ll discover, they can even be used for more complex words of several syllables.

Use word families for creative writing:

Children often love to make up funny sentences, or even a short story. For example: “A fat rat with a hat sat on a cat, who poked him with a bat.” Illustrating the sentence adds to the memory. Some children also enjoy reading a short poem that uses rhyming words from a particular word family, and then creating a new stanza of their own for the poem.

Extend simple word families to more complex words:

Once a child has learned the basic sound/letter combination for a particular word family using simple rhyming words, you can extend it to more complex words. For example: bar, car, far, jar, mar, par, tar … then: Bart, cart, dark, farm, hard, lard, mark, part, apart, star, start, spar, tart, tartan … and even toss in some “hard” words like “variety.”

Use Nursery Rhymes to practice word families:

A good way to practice word families is to take simple poetry books (such as nursery rhymes) and put your finger over one of the rhyming words, have the child read the previous line(s), and guess the covered-up word, then spell it out.(“Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candle ____” [stick].

Word family flowers:

One way to help your child with a particular “word family” is to draw a circle in the middle of a sheet of paper, and put the “family chunk” in the circle (for example “at”). Then around the circle draw petals (like a daisy). Each petal will have an initial sound or two, with blanks for the “family chunk” (for example: p_ _; fl _ _). Your child can fill in the blanks, read the words aloud–and draw little sketches to illustrate each word, if she likes.

Make and match words and pictures:

Another way to practice word families is to write a list of words from a “family” down one half of a piece of paper, and draw little sketches scattered here and there on the other half of the paper–then your child can draw lines to match the words and pictures. You don’t have to draw sketches for all the words–in fact, it is a bit more of a challenge if some words don’t have pictures! Make sure that your child reads all the words aloud, including the ones which don’t have a picture hint. They can use the picture hint ones to “get” the family sound; then sound out the remaining ones. Your child may also enjoy drawing pictures for those words.

Word families, decoding units, and syllables:

One author, Dr. Jerome Rosner, has taken the “word family” concept to another level by using “decoding units” (such as “ag” or “ill”) to help children build word recognition skills. Each set of word lists include four levels of increasing difficulty. The first level is single syllable words, usually just consonant-vowel-consonant. The second level is also single syllable, but adds blends to the start of each word. The third level is two-syllable words. And the fourth level is words of three or more syllables. Thus, not only does the child learn to immediately recognize certain letter combinations (as in word families), but this is also a great way to develop skills in reading multi-syllabic words. When you present the words, you can draw a slash between each syllable to help the child practice syllabication skills. The author also gives detailed suggestions on how to use these lists, and I have found this method very useful indeed for children who are struggling with learning to read. It is also a great way to increase vocabulary and build spelling skills, and children also enjoy picking out “compound words” from levels 3 and 4. This is also a good way to “build words” and improve their blending skills and chunking skills. And of course the lists also include quite a number of rhyming words, and can be used to create poems or rhyming sentences.

Example: For the unit/word family “an”:

  • Level one: ban, can, Dan, fan, Jan, man, Nana, pan, ran, tan, van.
  • Level two: ranch, scan, bland, ant, hand, chant, stand, span, strand, land, brand, plant.
  • Level three: began, manner, demand, cannot, handle, candle, banner, spaniel, Spanish, standard, dandy, landing, lantern, mantle, vanish, vandal, scandal.
  • Level four: Santa Claus, fantasy, fantastic, understand, Canada, outlandish, ancestor, animal, anniversary, grandstand, antelope, bandanna, advantage, manufacture, manager, chimpanzee, reprimand.

You can find Dr. Rosner’s word unit lists in his book Helping Children Overcome Learning Difficulties (3rd ed.)(New York: Walker and Co., 2009). This is such a useful, practical book for working with children who have learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning challenges. I’ve found it particularly useful for helping children with perceptual difficulties, pronunciation difficulties, and more. The book gives clear instructions and detailed exercises, for using geoboards, auditory exercises, the word lists mentioned above, and more. This book is packed full of really practical ways to help your child develop literacy skills, whether he or she has learning challenges or not.

How do YOU use word families to help your child read, write, and spell? Share your ideas in the comments below.  Thank you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What about workbooks and worksheets

Are worksheets and workbooks useful for home learning? Sure–they are a good source for skills training and practice. Just don’t totally depend on them. Use them as one of your tools; but remember that “real books” and “real activities” are better “real learning experiences” than workbooks and worksheets.

Also, keep in mind that while some children can make good use of worksheets and workbooks quite independently, other children really do need your assistance (to help them understand and put into practice the concepts and skills) and your companionship, too (for some children, workbooks are dreadfully boring and lonely items if they have to work on them alone).

Of course there are many commercially-made workbooks available. I would recommend that you check out thrift stores and used-book stores for inexpensive copies that may have just a few pages filled in (or may even be in “new” condition). Many workbooks that cost up to $15 or $20 new, are available for as little as 50 cents or $1.00. Or you can ask friends if they have ones that still have some pages not completed that they don’t want anymore.

If you are Canadian, watch especially for workbooks that have Canadian content–they are more likely to use Canadian spellings and topics (likewise, if you are from another country, look for workbooks that feature your region). Also, try to use ones with larger print and lack of clutter on the page. Small print and clutter can make it difficult for children to read the material. Also, it is not necessary to have a lot of colour–in fact, children enjoy colouring plain black-and-white workbooks after they’ve done the work.

You can flip through the workbooks to find concepts and topics you want to work on with your child–there is no need to do the pages “in order.” If you find your child really enjoys a certain exercise, you can easily make up similar questions and activities on a sheet of paper to provide more practice. If you find a particular workbook that works very well for your child, you may want to check out other workbooks in the same series, and/or by the same publisher or author, at your local bookstore.

There are also many worksheets available for free or for very low cost on the internet. You can “search” almost any topic or concept, and come up with some great lesson plans, worksheets, crafts, and activities. Just be careful–some sites have “Download” buttons that are NOT things you want to download! And some sites say “free,” but after you download half a dozen things, you have to start paying. However, if you are careful, you can get many excellent learning items online.

A site I highly recommend is which has a great variety of learning materials; some are free, and others are at very reasonable prices. The items have been created by experienced teachers, and most of them are very useful. People who purchase the items rate them out of 5 stars, so you can check the ratings, and nearly every item shows several pages so you can get a good idea of what they are like. I like this site to much that I have put some of my Easy to Learn booklets and other items on there too–you can check my “store” out at — Norma-J-Hill . I have also recently discovered, which I also recommend. Another great source of ideas is “Facebook” groups, especially homeschool groups, where you can ask questions of other parents and get lots of great ideas for workbooks–and lots of other great learning materials–on all kinds of educational topics.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Learning Games

You can make learning a lot more fun for your children with learning games of all kinds–store-bought ones certainly, but lots that you can create yourself.  Here are some great ideas:

Learn and PlayLearning Games that use “reading” or “writing”

There are many simple card games and other games available commercially, including ones at Dollar Stores or Thrift Stores for very little cost. Even common “table games” that for example, have cards that need to be read, work well. Flashcards and workbooks are also available inexpensively, but instead of insisting your child work through every page of a workbook, use pages that apply to a particular learning need, or let the child choose pages that they are interested in. You can also create learning games (like “I Spy something that starts with “c” … OR travel games like “Who can write down the most sign words?”), or just make up your own worksheets related to a book the child is reading, or a particular sound difficulty your child is having. “Real reading” and “real writing” are far better than “worksheets” when you can do so–for writing grocery lists, notes to grandparents, etc.; for reading, how-tos, recipes, etc.

Games as learning motivation:

If your child is unhappy about doing “school work” (worksheets, assigned reading), offer to play a game with her afterwards. Keep a selection of games handy (you can get many great used games at thrift stores, or as hand-me-downs from friends whose children have outgrown them), and choose one which in some way relates to the concept the child has been working on. You can also “add to” the game with extras (like word cards) that relate to the learning concept. Thus the child is “rewarded” for doing her work, but at the same time is putting it into practice. Just don’t talk about the game as a learning experience–make it a fun time in which learning “slips in.”

Hands-on Learning Games:

For children who are “hands-on” learners, magnetic or foam or sandpaper letters are great for “writing” words or even sentences/short stories. As the child “feels” the shape of the letters, it will help him to learn even better. Leaving magnetic letters on the fridge is a great way to encourage a child to play with words, or even leave messages (“I love you, mom!” “I want cookies”). Also, hang a good-sized white board or black board at an easy level for the child, put up a sheet with the alphabet letters on it, and let the child write and draw freely whenever they wish. You could also start a grocery list on the board, and let the child add to it.

Letter Tile Learning Games:

You can also often get games with letter tiles at thrift stores–for example, old Scrabble or similar games. Even if some letters are missing, children like to just use the tiles to make up words. You may well find that your child can spell words with tiles that he struggles with when writing. This is because when writing, the child is having to do two complex things at once: think of how the word is spelled and sound it out, while at the same time trying to correctly form the letters. Some games like “Jr. Scrabble” or “Boggle Jr.” have the words printed out on the game board or on cards, and your child can find the correct tiles (or letter dice) and place them on the words. Or you can give your child magazines or newspapers (or books) with large-letter headlines, and the child can place the correct tiles on top of the headlines, and then you can read them together. Often, a child, sounding out each letter as he places it on the written word, is able to “sound it out” more easily than trying to sound out the fully written word. Also, pictures with the articles/headlines may give your child a “hint” about the word.

Learning Game Uses for Sight Word Cards:

A simple set of “sight word cards” can be used in many ways other than just as flash cards. -One way to use them is to divide them into groups of words that start with (or contain) the same vowel sound, or beginning consonant, or blend or digraph (st, ch), etc. By dividing them into groups with a common element, the child can relate them to each other and learn that particular sound or spelling rule more easily.
-Another method is to divide the cards into groups of verbs (action words), nouns (people, places, things, qualities), adjectives (words that describe nouns), adverbs (words that describe verbs), conjunctions (joining words), articles (the, a, an), pronouns (you, he, she, they, etc.) and of course all those little prepositions (relationship words: at, by, from, into, in, with, on, after, for, to, etc.). Then the child can (with help, to start with–later, on his own) pick a card from each pile and put them together into a sentence. You may start with just three or four piles (For example: noun, verb, article, adjective–from which simple sentences can be constructed, such as: The brown cat ran). Then more piles can be provided for more complex sentences. After the child has laid out a sentence, he can copy it, hand-written, on paper or or on a blackboard or a sentence strip.
-Use sight word cards along with other games. For example, for “Snakes and Ladders,” after the child has rolled the dice, she must read a sight word card correctly in order to move forward.
-Use two matching sets of sight word cards to play card games like “Go Fish” or “Memory.” When the child gets a matching set, he must read the word in order to keep the cards, or else they go back into the game.

Common Noun Labels for Everyday Learning:

Here’s a fun game to learn to read common nouns–such as names of objects around the house. Make matching cards with the names of things found around your house. Tape one set to the different objects, furniture, appliances, and so on. Then give your child the other set, and have her go around the house and find the matching card for each word, and “read” the word. If you do this game for several days, your child will quickly learn a lot of words by “sight.” To make it more fun, make a graph to show your child’s progress. On one axis of the graph, put the days; on the other axis of the graph, put the number of minutes it takes the child to find each item and read its name. The graph will start with a high number of minutes, and then get shorter and shorter. You can also do this with items in your car while on road trips; or on road trips or bus trips you can have your children write down words they see on signs. These kinds of games help children feel they can easily read “hard words” even while they are still struggling to learn to read using phonics.

Memory Scrapbook or Blog Learning Activity:

If your family is going on a holiday, encourage your child to make a memory scrapbook. For a child who is just beginning to read and write, provide scissors, and tape and glue, and simply have the child collect and place postcards, tickets, brochures, and any other “memorabilia” in the scrapbook. At the end of each day, go over that day’s scrapbooking with your child, and read the materials together. Later, after you’ve returned home, you can review the entire trip at any time, and because of the child’s memories which have been enhanced by creating the scrapbook, and reviewing it at the end of each day, you may be very surprised at how many words the child will now recognize. For children with more developed reading and writing ability, have them add their own written comments, captions, and even stories to the memorabilia each day. Again, read together both the memorabilia and of course the child’s own writing.

Another alternative to the above activity, especially for children with more advanced writing skills, is to have the child create an online daily blog–with photos the child has taken–online. Again, do a daily reading, and then a full reading when back home.

Imaginative Words Learning Game:

Give your child a vowel card (a, e, i, o, or u), and half a dozen or so different consonant cards (don’t provide too many choices, and at first avoid unusual letters like q, v, y, z). Have your child choose two consonants, one to put on each side of the vowel. Have her “sound” the “word” (with the short vowel sound). Have the child “sound it” in a stretched-out way. Discuss: Is this a real word or is it an imaginary (“nonsense”) word? If it is a real word, have the child write it, then sound it again “stretched out”, and then say it normally.

Animal Sounds Learning Game:

An activity many younger children enjoy is reading animal sounds. Write words like “moo, oink, meow, cluck, quack, arf” and so on. Even though these might seem like difficult words for a beginner, if you tell the child they are animal sounds, and have the child “sound out” the word by stretching out the letters, there is a good chance the child will be able to figure it out. Once he has figured it out, have him try to make the animal sound in the most realistic way possible, while looking at the word. Children often find this a lot of fun, and it is good “sounding out” practice. If the child is struggling, you might have an animal book or animal cards handy, and point out a picture of the animal, then point at the word again–and chances are, your child will be able to figure it out.

“Key Word” Learning Game:

I like to play the “key word” game with children who are reading non-fiction pieces. You can also use fiction stories, but being able to identify “key words” is a very useful skill for non-fiction reading and research, so I prefer to use non-fiction pieces. Also, students who read slowly, and feel under pressure to finish an “assignment” or an “exam” in a limited amount of time, tend to read the piece once, then answer the questions they are sure of. But for the questions they aren’t sure of, they will more likely just “guess” the answers–or even not do them, rather than go back and re-read, because if time is limited, they simply don’t have the time–and children who are slow readers also usually don’t have the skills to “skim” for the answer. This is where the “key word” game is useful.

Before your child does an assignment in which she is required to read, and then answer questions, photocopy both the article and the questions. Then read each of the questions together. For each question, have your child highlight the “key word” or “key phrase” for that question (use a different highlighter color for each question–or you can mark them in other ways: single underline, double underline, squiggly underline, circle, box, etc.). Also talk about possible synonyms for each key word, as sometimes the questions will use different words than the ones used in the article. When you have gone through all the questions, review the list of key words. Then you read article together, slowly. Each time your child reads/hears one of the key words, or a synonym, she highlights (or otherwise marks) it in the appropriate colour (or mark). When finished reading, go through the questions again. Read each question, note the key word/phrase, and find highlighted instances of the word/phrase (or synonym) in the story. Re-read the sentence in which that word or phrase is used. Usually, the child will be able to give the correct answer; if not, read the sentence before and the sentence after, for context.

Once a child is adept at this “game,” you can allow her, after the “key word” search, to first answer the “easy” questions, and just use the “key word” method for the “hard” questions. Also, another way to approach this exercise is to read the piece aloud to the child first. Then ask the child what she thinks are the “key words” and “key ideas” (before looking at the questions) and discuss those words and ideas. The child can then attempt the questions–looking in them for the key words and ideas already discussed. And if she still has difficulties with a couple questions, she can go back, “skim” the piece for the words/phrases and highlight them–then read their sentences for the answers.

Most children like this “skimming for key words” and enjoy it as a game, just glancing through a piece and marking as many instances of it as they can. You can even just present the child with a list of key words; it doesn’t necessarily have to be done to answer questions–the skimming skill will be useful when answers to questions are required later on. To make it more “game-like,” you can use a timer to limit the time, or have two or more children compete. Keep a record of how many words the child finds while “skimming”–and over time, as the game is replayed, the child will be happy to see how much more quickly she can find the “key words.”

Categorization Learning Games:

Children like to play “categorization” games, a number of which are available commercially, or are found as exercises in workbooks–but of course you can easily create your own. Categorizing is an important skill that will be used frequently in reading, writing, arithmetic, and many everyday life situations and work situations. An example of creating your own “category game” is on road trips, during which you can have your children call out, or write down, things that belong in different categories (plants, animals, stores, signs, licence plates, etc.).

While most children find categorizing pretty easily, some children do have certain problems, which you can watch out for, and provide extra practice with. For example, some children have difficulty in categorizing more “narrow” groupings. A child might do fine with “food” but have difficulty with “sub-categories” such as “fruits” or “desserts”–and even more defined categories such as “berries” and “cakes.” You could help a child with this by looking together at cookbooks, or reading menus, or going to the grocery store to see how they set up foods in categories and sub-categories.

Another “categorization” some children have difficulty with is “emotion” words. A child might not be able to separate positive emotions (cheerful, happy, pleased) from negative emotions (mad, sad, fussy, angry). You can help your child “see” these emotions by using “emoticons” and/or “smiley faces” to illustrate different emotion words (An excellent selection is found here. You may find that having the child draw his own emoticons/faces will help him really sort out emotions into categories–and is also a good exercise for children who have difficulty with expressing their own emotions/feelings. For children who are graphically-oriented, or very hands-on, these “non-commercially-produced” category games/activities are often far more useful than worksheets or even card/table games.

Do you have other learning game ideas? Please add them below in the comments! Thank you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment