A “Buggy” Learning Theme – Part 2

Doing lots of activities, reading, writing, research, etc. on topics children are very interested in, is a great way to encourage them in learning their literacy skills! Even children who really struggle with their literacy skills become very motivated if the lessons focus on a high-interest topic.

As an example, one of my students loved bugs and other “buggy” critters! We spent a dozen lessons or so on bug-related activities, and her skills improved dramatically. Below are examples of some of the things we did for this “bug theme.”

This is part two and covers: Math; Science; Social Studies; Research; Arts and Crafts; Music; and Reading and Movies/Videos. Part 1 covers: Reading; Phonics, Sight Words, Spelling; Reading Comprehension; Poetry; Listening and Following Directions; and Handwriting.


I gave J a set of bug-shaped cards with the “5s” numbers to 100. First, we laid them out in order and practised saying them. Then I mixed up the 5s to 50 and J put them in order; then the rest to 100. Next, I took out the 5s and had her practice the “10s.” A good way to practice skip counting (you can make cards with whatever numbers you want to work on).

For “bug math,” we worked on two “bug addition” worksheets in which J added double-digit numbers of bugs. For each question, there were pictures of bugs (such as 23 + 14) and I first had her count and add (I reminded her it is best, when adding this way, to start with the larger number). Of course, counting 30 or 40 bugs takes quite a while. Then we practised adding the numbers (which were given under the pictures), and she quickly saw that learning to add the numbers, first the ones, and then the tens, was a lot easier and faster than counting each bug. Next, we read together the Winnie The Pooh story with the “bee song.” We followed that with a subtraction sheet, called “Pooh’s Predicament.” This featured bees and the questions were simple subtraction, such as 10-6. Again, we did pictures first (count the total bees, cross off the “take away bees,” and then count the bees that were left). Then we talked about how much easier it is to learn simple subtraction facts and be able to quickly do the problems, rather than counting backwards.

Insect patterns: Cut out lots of pictures of different kinds of bugs from old magazines. Then have your child design “insect patterns.”

Insect addition cards: I made a set of cards with different bugs and different numbers (to 9) on them. The cards were placed face-down, and J picked up two, turned them over, wrote them as an addition equation, and used the abacus to figure out the answer. I reminded her, when using the abacus, to start with the big number, and then just count the extra small numbers (eg. 9+5: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14) instead of starting from 1.

As mentioned, there are dozens of free “bug-themed” worksheets available free or very cheaply online and in workbooks. Here are some examples of the kind of bug-themed math worksheets you can find:
– “Wormy Apples” worksheet: counting and graphing (to 6); then “read” the graph and answer questions based on it
– “The Inch Worm” worksheet: measuring the length of different worm sketches, in inches
– “Measurement” worksheet: a cm graph paper sheet with bugs shown at various locations; draw “routes” from one bug to the next and record the distance in cm
– “Those worms”: fractions: circle the total number of worms in the fraction (bottom) and then colour the fraction of the worms (top).


Children love working with charts. You can make charts of your own; there are also many available online or in workbooks. I had J work on a chart called “Insects or Not.” She had to glue a bunch of little squares with pictures of various insects, birds, and animals in the correct columns.

I gave J an “entomologist worksheet” and a magnifying glass. She had to go outside and find a bug to examine. On the sheet, under the magnifying glass picture, she drew the bug. Then, in the jar picture she drew the bug’s “habitat” (leaves, grass, twigs, pebble). At the bottom of the page she wrote two observations about the bug (for a child who struggles with writing, she could draw her observations and “sound out”/write keywords. Finally, J gave the bug a name, and at the top of the page wrote her own name under the word, “entomologist.” (Of course, you can easily design worksheets like this, yourself.)

Butterfly life cycle: J put in order and glued pictures and words of eggs, larva, pupa, and butterfly on a life cycle chart. Note: If you can’t find a pre-made worksheet like this, it is fun (and probably more colourful and more likely to create a lasting memory) to do some basic research together, and then look through old magazines (or download pictures from the internet, or have your children draw their own sketches) to make their own chart of this kind.

There are lots of free/low-cost bug-theme science worksheets available. For example, “Ant City” has a cut-away map of an ant colony; J coloured the different parts of the colony according to the directions given.

Social Studies

There are lots of books, videos and documentaries to do with bugs from all over the world. Get out an atlas and, while you read or view about bugs, find their locations and habitats in the atlas. Check out maps of precipitation, vegetation, topography, etc.

In some parts of the world, bugs are an important food source. This is a fun Social Studies activity to research (you might even try out some bug recipes if you have access to suitable bugs!). You can also find out about how different places deal with bugs, what bugs are useful in the garden, what kinds of clothes (and netting, etc.) people use to protect themselves from bugs, what kinds of bugs are dangerous to humans, and so on.


I gave J a worksheet called “What Do You Know About Insects?” She read the sentences (she needed a bit of help, but that’s fine!) and filled in the correct word for each one from the word bank. At the bottom of the sheet were sketches of 6 different kinds of insects; she had to name each insect from her own memory, and then she looked it up in a “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!” book and wrote the correct spelling on the worksheet beside each picture.

Arts and Crafts

The magazine, “Chirp” (April 2013) features an article, “Monarch Butterflies” (pages 20-21). It also has many other interesting stories, poems, and activities, which we looked through. Besides reading the butterfly article, J chose to make a wind chime with natural items and odds and ends from around the house.

I had J create her own “bug.” She looked at bugs around her yard, and then used her imagination to draw and label a “new kind of bug”–including its habitat, what it eats, what eats it, how it survives/protects itself, etc. Then on a second sheet, she created an imaginary story about her bug. I suggested maybe an adventure it goes on, or a story about its family, or whatever she liked. She dictated the story to mom, then copied it, and finally read it to her younger siblings. A child who does not like to draw could make a plasticine model or something similar. The child could also create a “habitat” for the bug with twigs, grasses, etc.

Have your child create her own “bug booklet.” Have her cut out pictures from old magazines or download pictures online, or draw her own pictures. Have her make a title page/cover with her name as author. J’s booklet included: ladybug, fly, butterfly, bee, ant, beetle, and mosquito. She coloured and labelled it at home and read it to her siblings. J was very excited to have her own little book with her name on the front!

There are lots of “How to Draw” books for children–and lots of them have “bug” instructions. Children really enjoy learning how to draw butterflies and other colourful bugs, which they can use to illustrate their other work–or make into a mobile or a garden collage, etc.


We learned the “I’m a Bug Watcher” song, to the tune of “Frere Jacques.” (“I’m a bug watcher, I’m a bug watcher, Don’t you know, Don’t you know, When I’m finished watching, When I’m finished watching, I let them go, I let them go.”) Music can be a great way to help children with literacy skills. Songs often have lots of repetition, and its a great way to practice reading new words, as well as developing rhythm, understanding rhyme, and even learning word families.

We read together a book, “Insects at Your Fingertips.” I did most of the reading, but J did her share–and she really enjoyed the pictures and the information. It has a lot of surprising information about different kinds of insects, like a “Goliath Beetle” that weighs 1/4 pound. She didn’t know what “Goliath” meant, so I sang her the Sunday-School song “Only a boy named David” and did the actions, too. Then she sang it with me and did the actions, which she enjoyed very much. (“Only a boy named David/ Only a little sling/ Only a boy named David/ but he could pray and sing/ Only a boy named David/ only a rippling brook/ only a boy named David/ but 5 little stones he took/ And one little stone went in the sling and the sling went round and round (repeat)/ and round and round and round and round and round and round and round/ One little prayer went up to heaven and the giant came tumbling down”). I told her that Goliath was the giant’s name, and that lots of times when people want to say someone or something is really big, they say it is a “Goliath.” After learning that song, I’m sure she’ll never forget the “Goliath” reference. Our language/culture is full of references to ancient stories and events, and it is amazing how many songs, ballads, and instrumental pieces there are related to such references. If you can’t find a song, a good both of myths and legends or a children’s history book can provide interesting background.

“Insect Parts Song”: a song, to the tune of “Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” that teaches the parts of insects: “Head and thorax, abdomen … and eyes, wings, s-iiiiix legs!” Kids love to make up their own words to this song, for different kinds of insects, and it’s such a great way to memorize those words/facts.

Reading and Movies/Videos

J and I read a “bug book” from Disney Pixar: one of the “A Bug’s Life” series. She had seen this story before on video. It was definitely a “challenge” reading level for her, but as she had seen the movie, and we read the book together (partly “choral” reading, partly “I read/you repeat”), she was able to read-and-tell (read the parts she could; “tell” the remainder) the story to her younger siblings.

Now it’s Your Turn!

What other kinds of “buggy” learning activities can you think of? If you can’t come up with any, just ask your child–I’m sure he or she will have some great ideas. And of course, if “bugs” isn’t your child’s “thing,” find out what is instead and explore that!

Posted in adventures & explorations, family learning, home learning, learning tips, math games and activities, songs and poetry | Leave a comment

A “Buggy” Learning Theme – Part 1

Doing lots of activities, reading, writing, research, etc. on topics children are very interested in, is a great way to encourage them in learning their literacy skills! Even children who really struggle with their literacy skills become very motivated if the lessons focus on a high-interest topic.

As an example, one of my students loved bugs and other “buggy” critters! We spent a dozen lessons or so on bug-related activities, and her skills improved dramatically. Below are examples of some of the things we did for this “bug theme.”

This is part one, and covers: Reading; Phonics, Sight Words, Spelling; Reading Comprehension; Poetry; Listening and Following Directions; and Handwriting. Part two covers: Math; Science; Social Studies; Research; Arts and Crafts; Music; and Reading and Movies/Videos.


I gave J 3 blank bookmarks and bug stickers for her to decorate the bookmarks and use in the bug books she borrows. Your child could also draw his own bugs or you could find bug outline pictures online or in colouring books for your child to colour and glue to the bookmarks.

We read the book, “Bug in a Rug.” I had her take it home prior to the lesson to read it at home with mom; mom read the main part of each sentence, and J read the “ug” words. That’s a great way to introduce a book like this. At the lesson, I slowly read each page (1 or 2 short sentences) aloud to J, encouraging her to read aloud the words she knows. Then we re-read the page together with J trying all the words.

We did the same with the book, “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!” J really like this book with its beautiful illustrations! At the end of the book is a “Bug O Meter” chart which lists a variety of bugs, and indicates if they sting, where they live, etc. J really enjoyed exploring the chart together, and then by herself again at home.

I loaned J a copy of Highlights High Five (Jan 2012) that has an article/activity called “W” Worm School. The goal is to find all the hidden “W”s in the picture (and any words that start with w). I made her a photocopy so she could actually colour all the Ws she finds. We also looked through the rest of the magazine at the many poems, stories, activities, recipes, crafts and so on. Children’s magazines like this are a great way to encourage reluctant readers/writers to practice their skills and have fun doing it at the same time.

Does your child enjoy riddles and jokes? There are lots of riddle and joke books that contain, among other things, bug-related jokes and riddles. Why not go to the library, pick up a few books, and search them (your child can search alone, or you can search together) for jokes and riddles your child really likes. Have him copy his favourites and illustrate them to make his own bug joke and riddle book. If he can come up with some jokes and riddles of his own, all the better!

Phonics, Sight Words, Spelling

Squish Sight Word game: a set of cards with different bugs and sight words. Cards are face down in a pile; take turns picking a card and reading the sight word; if you get it right you can keep it, but if you get it wrong you have to give it to the other player. If you get a “squish” card (place 3 or 4 in the deck), you have to give one of your cards to the other player, too. The winner is the one with most cards at the end.

You can easily make up all kinds of card games like this for phonics, sight words, math, etc. If you don’t want to draw sketches of bugs (or cut the cards into bug shapes), you can pick up a “sticker book” of bug stickers from the dollar store, and your child will love making her own cards. Have her put a sticker on one side of a card, and write a sight word or spelling word (does not have to be a bug word) on the other side.

I had J do some verb “be” exercises, in which she had to fill in the blanks in different sentences with the correct form of the verb “to be” (are, am, is, was, were). She had no trouble with this. I simply made up some sentences on a piece of paper, with “bug” themes, and had her complete the “to be” verb blanks. Then she had the option to draw (or use stickers or cut out pictures) to illustrate/decorate the sentences.

There are lots of free or low-cost worksheets available online or in old workbooks. An example is “Together We Stand”: Amusing sketches of different insects, based on the words that make up their compound names (for example, honey+b=honeybee, dragon with fly wings=dragonfly, a house with wings=housefly, etc.). J really enjoyed figuring out what bug each sketch represents, and writing the names of the bugs (all of which are compound words). A child could also invent her own riddles like this!

Reading Comprehension

I gave J a worksheet called “Main Idea: Spiders and Insects.” I read the short article aloud to her, and she followed along with the reading. Then we read the questions underneath and she dictated answers, based on the article. I wrote the answers, and for homework she traced them, reading the answers aloud after tracing them. It seems that “bugs” is a very popular topic in workbooks and online worksheets. Be sure to check out thrift stores for partly used workbooks at very low cost; often the “used” pages are done in pencil and can be erased to use again for your child. The internet is also loaded with free worksheets. Just google “bug worksheets” and you’ll find dozens of them, covering practically every literacy skill imaginable! The same is true for many other popular topics such as dinosaurs, etc.

I read aloud a book, “Ready to Read: Bugs,” to J. At the end of the book there was a quiz, and J got all the answers right. I encouraged J to read the book to her siblings (with parent help as needed) and then ask them the questions at the end. “Teaching” younger siblings what a child has just learned is a great way to instill the new skills, and also provides self-confidence.


“Bee’s World” poem and worksheet: we read the poem. Then J answered a series of questions based on the poem. The questions required J to imagine herself as the bee and think about how she would see the flowers and garden (for example: Is a flower like a tower? Why?). Then she had to create some possible new lines for the poem, create some similes (for example: To a bee, every bush is as tall as a … building; tree; mountain). Finally, she had to pretend she’s a giant, and answer questions like “Would a tree be like a little flower? Why?” Children are very imaginative, and enjoy these kinds of exercises! While in this case I used a worksheet, children’s poetry books have lots of poems about “bugs” and you can read them together and do these kinds of activities. In fact, once a child has done this under your direction for a couple poems, she’ll like to make up exercises for you to do … and help you out when you get stuck!

Listening and Following Directions

I gave J a picture of some bugs, flowers, sun, grass, etc., and then orally gave her a series of directions (colour things certain colours, draw certain shapes around things, count things and write the number, etc.). She did very well, and liked this activity a lot! Old calendars often have great landscape pictures (including bugs) for this kind of activity.


The “Insect Express Activity Book” is full of fun erasable-marker activities like dot-to-dots, spot the differences, what bugs eat, insect match up, bug patterns, bug words manuscript writing practice, counting bugs, drawing bugs, writing a story, and searching for bugs out in your garden and then listing the ones she finds. For children who are having difficulty with fine motor coordination, this is a fun way to improve those kinds of skills. Other erasable books with buggy exercises are also available.

Now it’s Your Turn!

What other kinds of “buggy” learning activities can you think of? If you can’t come up with any, just ask your child–I’m sure he or she will have some great ideas. And of course, if “bugs” isn’t your child’s “thing,” find out what is and explore that!

Posted in adventures & explorations, art and learning, family learning, home learning, learning resources, learning themes, math, passions and interests, Phonics, printing and handwriting, reading, songs and poetry, worksheets | Leave a comment

Practical and Fun Ways to Use Songs and Poems in Learning LA and Math

Are you experiencing the “winter blahs” right now in mid-January? Maybe it’s the cold, grey weather … but maybe it’s because you need some great ideas to liven up your Math and Language Arts learning. Sure, there are lots of worksheets and textbooks and workbooks and commercial “learning games” out there–but maybe some practical, fun use of songs and poems would bring some summer warmth and inspiration into your family learning!

As you explore the posts in this blog, you’ll find lots of practical learning tips–but in case you’re wondering right now what I’m talking about, here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Songs and poems can be great sources for “word family” examples. Look for ones that use the word family you’re studying at the moment, and sing and/or say them. Clap along to help your child get the rhythm–or use a piano, guitar or other instruments. Make a photocopy and have your child use a highlighter to find all the words with that sound.
  • Go to the library together and look for books that have nursery rhymes or other children’s poems that have been set to music. Many of these books have the sheet music included, and may even have a CD to sing along to. Collections of Sunday School songs or children’s songs such as those commonly sung at Girl Guide or Boy Scout gatherings, or books with songs by well-known children’s entertainers are also good sources.
  • Singing is a great group activity, and you’re likely to find that once you start using singing to help one child, others will want to join in–parents and grandparents and friends and relatives will, too. There’s nothing like learning together.
  • Seasonal songs–related to holidays or special events happening at the moment–are also enthusiastically enjoyed by children and are an excellent way to motivate reading! Yes, read the words with your children. They’ll often have heard these songs on the radio or TV or even in stores; perhaps you’ve sung them around your home, too. They will, therefore, “know” the words already–and be able to recognize and “read” (and learn) words that are at a challenging level. This is a great way to encourage reluctant readers.
  • Some how-to tips: Point out the words in the song/poem as you first read it to your child; then as you sing/say the piece together, run your finger along the words, having her follow your finger. Then have her run her finger along the words. For many children, it really helps to “connect” phonics learning to songs or poems they already know; and of course, the rhythm and rhyme of poetry and music are excellent aids to memorizing words.
  • Music is a great aid to memorizing math facts, too. There are many commercial products (such as CDs or book-and-CD combinations) that have catchy tunes and words for memorizing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts, as well as counting or skip-counting forwards and backwards. Or you can make up your own, using well-known tunes or making up your own tunes or chants.  Adding actions (clapping, stamping feet, jumping on a trampoline, tossing a ball, etc.) while you’re at it, makes it even more effective. And if your children help make up these rhymes/songs, they’re bound to memorize quickly and easily.
  • You can also add extra verses to poems or songs the children already know. Many youngsters have trouble, for example, sorting out the spelling of the “question words” (who, what, when, where, why, how). I sat down one day and added verses to the children’s song, “Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone…” — using a different question word for each verse. I have found it very effective for children struggling to sort out those words–they learn the spellings and have fun while they’re at it. Here’s a copy: Oh Where oh Where – The Question Words Song –feel free to share it, too, but please make sure my name is attached. Thanks!

How Do You Use Songs and Poetry to Help Your Children Learn Language Arts and Math Skills?

We’d love to hear your tips! Please feel free to share them in the comments. Thanks!

Posted in art and learning, math games and activities, nursery rhymes, rhymes, songs and poetry | Leave a comment

Practical and Fun Ways to Use Art in Math and LA

Are you experiencing the “winter blahs” right now in mid-January? Maybe it’s the cold, grey weather … but maybe it’s because you need some great ideas of how to use art to liven up your Math and Language Arts learning. Sure, there are lots of worksheets and textbooks and workbooks and commercial “learning games” out there–but maybe some practical, fun learning would bring some summer warmth and inspiration into your family learning!

As you explore the posts in this blog, you’ll find lots of practical learning tips–but in case you’re wondering right now what I’m talking about, here are a few examples of some art tips for Math and LA to get you started.

Kids love reading that leads to fun, practical experiences, and this might be very motivating for your child who enjoys arts and crafts. Why not introduce your child to simple arts and crafts instruction books in which she can “follow the directions” — getting great reading practice while encouraging her creativity.

When studying sight words, spelling rules, math facts and equations, and other potentially “boring” lists and concepts, make these important “basics” more fun (and learning them more effective at the same time) by encouraging your child to use art. In addition to practising math facts, reading words repeatedly, and writing spelling words over and over, your child can also illustrate them, which is fun and also is a mnemonic device (helps with memorization). Introduce different fonts (on a computer or by hand with calligraphy)–an artistic child will love practising with fancy writing styles. Another idea is to have him look for “list words” in newspapers and magazines, on cereal boxes and other packaging, and in flyers or catalogues from the mail–with a variety of colours, sizes, fonts and illustrations–and cut them out and glue them onto colourful paper. Alternatively, the cut-out words can be used to create sentences, stories and poems using the list words. The same thing can be done with numbers for math facts and equations.

Children’s magazines are a great way to integrate art into Math and Language Arts learning. For example, with one particular child who was a very reluctant leader but loved arts and crafts, I loaned her a copy of Highlights High Five magazine (Jan 2012) that has an article/activity called “W” Worm School. The goal is to find all the hidden “W”s in the picture (and any words that start with w). I made her a photocopy so she could colour all the Ws and w words she finds. We also looked through the rest of the magazine at the many poems, stories, activities, recipes, crafts and so on. She was intrigued and was excited to try out the activities–and of course, she got loads of reading practice–and writing and math practice–at the same time.

Combine real-life Science and Social Studies explorations with Math, Reading, and Writing. As an example, I gave a child a magnifying glass and sent her to find a bug to examine. I also gave her a sheet of plain paper, a clipboard, and a pack of pencil crayons. She was soon putting her art and entomology skills into practice together, drawing the bugs she found and their environments/habitats. Under her colourful drawings, she wrote observations about each bug. Then she enthusiastically used books and internet research to find out the common names and scientific names of the bugs–and she even gave even one a special name she came up with. She made a booklet with her work, and signed it “By Entomologist (her name).”

Read aloud–using art–is also a great way to encourage children who are reluctant readers and writers–and even mathematicians. When you read to your child, make it a really interactive experience. Ask questions (especially ones that start with “who, what, where, when, why, how” because those lead to conversational answers that go beyond “yes” or “no” or other one-word responses). Stop and respond to her chatter about the story, even if it seems to you that it’s interrupting the storyline or taking too long. Encourage her to retell the story in her own words, and even add to it or make changes–and be sure to write down what she says, then have her read it aloud, and even copy or trace it. And of course, have her illustrate it with colourful drawings. If she doesn’t like to draw, she can make plasticine models, get friends together and make it into a play to perform and/or videotape, take photographs for it, cut out appropriate illustrations from magazines or comics, find suitable recipes and make the foods–use your and her creative imaginations! Have fun together! You can also encourage math this way by integrating math concepts into the storyline–using clocks, money, calendars, weights and other practical math in the story–and then applying the concepts in real life.

Does your child find her math or sight word flash cards boring? Have him draw (or cut-and-paste) illustrations on the back of each card. Then he can “test” himself by reading the word side–and flip it over to see if he was “correct.” Children will actually learn the words or facts much better this way than with commercially produced illustrated cards. In fact, have your child make his own cards (using index cards–possibly in different colours for different types of words or math facts) from scratch–or, if the child enjoys doing computer art, make the cards on the computer. You can purchase blank “business card” printer sheets and have your child type the words on one side (with an interesting font of his choice) and copy-and-paste or self-illustrate the other side. Another idea is to have the child also write a sentence under the picture.

Is your child having a hard time with math facts and equations? Along with “finger counting,” manipulatives, number lines, workbook sheets, etc., encouraging your child to illustrate equations or facts with sketches of objects she enjoys doodling (hearts, circles, stick people, flowers, cars, etc.) often can be very helpful.

Does your child struggle with memorizing spelling words? Encourage him to draw pictures to go with them. It doesn’t really matter if the picture actually illustrates the word. In fact, it often turns out that “silly” illustrations create a better “mind match” than sensible illustrations. (The same goes with writing sentences with the words in them–silly works well, especially if there is rhyming in them). The key is to match a word’s spelling and shape to a picture; then, if the child can’t remember how to spell the word, he can sketch the illustration (or even just “imagine it” in his head), and that connection will often bring the correct spelling to mind.  Of course, as already mentioned, if the child doesn’t like drawing, he can always “cut-and-paste” pictures from old magazines, comic books, etc.

And speaking of funny sentences with rhyming words… Here is a fun activity to do together with a child who is struggling with basic reading and handwriting: pick simple rhyming/family words, and make up funny sentences together. Encourage your child to help think of the sentences. If they are “silly” that’s often even better because it’s more memorable and fun. Write the sentence out, and have her trace and/or copy the “family” words, then encourage her to draw a funny picture to illustrate it. As her writing skills improve, have her trace (and later copy) all the words, not just the family words. Experiment with different widths of lined paper to see which she is most comfortable with. An alternative thing to do is to get a book of simple rhymes (many nursery rhymes work well with this, for example, Little Boy Blue, or Little Tommy Tucker), read them to her, and have her identify the “family words.” Then have her make up her own rhyme with those words, or write the family words from the poem and then illustrate the poem.

Is your child hesitant when it comes to handwriting? Does he know his letters, but is hesitant, and seems to worry about doing them “right”? You can do a variety of art-related activities to help build his confidence. For example, finger tracing and handling plastic/sandpaper/magnetic/foam letters, writing in whip cream or finger paints, finger-writing letters in his palm or on your back (and making you guess the word), drawing the words in “fog” on a window, writing with chalk on a sidewalk, writing in mud or sand… what ideas can your child come up with that seem fun and adventuresome?

What about those words that follow the rule: “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking and the second one is silent”? I’ve found that drawing little sketches of the two vowels walking (putting “stick person” body, arms and legs below the vowels), with an open mouth on the first “vowel face” and a closed mouth on the second “vowel face” (inside the vowel) can be very effective. Do it 3 or 4 times to give the child the idea–and then encourage him to draw his own, for words he has difficulty with.

If your child is already drawing things, ask what the “middle sound” is of things in the picture, and talk about, for example, how “the short a in cat is the letter a” — and encourage her to label them if she can. You could write the beginning and end sounds and she could fill in the vowel. Start with short vowel words; later add long vowel sounds later, and then “blends and digraphs.” To make it even more fun, she can illustrate the letters–for example, draw ears and whiskers on the “a.”

Likewise, encourage her to create her own “picture letters.” I suggest printing the letter with black marker or black crayon, then having her create a picture around and within it. You can together come up with a list of words (nouns! people, places, things) that start with that letter/sound, and then she can choose which one(s) she wants to use to make the letter picture(s).

Posted in art and learning, home learning, learning tips, math games and activities, memory, printing and handwriting, sight words, spelling, vowel sounds, word families | Leave a comment

Practical and Fun Math Learning Tips

Are you experiencing the “winter blahs” right now in mid-January? Maybe it’s the cold, grey weather … but maybe it’s because you need some great ideas to liven up your Math learning. Sure, there are lots of worksheets and textbooks and workbooks and commercial “learning games” out there–but maybe some practical, fun learning would bring some summer warmth and inspiration into your family learning!

As you explore the posts in this blog, you’ll find lots of practical learning tips–but in case you’re wondering right now what I’m talking about, here are a few examples of Math tips to get you started.

Look around the house and yard, and have your child make up number sentences about things he sees. For example, you might have two piles of jigsaw puzzles sitting on a table, one with 4 puzzles and one with 2 puzzles, so he could make up 4 + 2 = 6. Then you could ask him, “What sentence would you make if I took away two of the puzzles?” If he’s a bit confused, ask him how many there are to start, move two puzzles away, and then he’ll get it: 6 – 2 = 4. Get some magnetic numbers and math signs and he could put the equations on the fridge (or use foam or cardboard ones). Then have him read them out loud. By doing this he is doing hands-on math (feeling and arranging the numbers and signs), speaking (saying the number sentence out loud), responding to questions, and very important, relating the numbers to real things he can see and touch. You can also have him write the equations on a white- or blackboard. Children often do addition in a math book, but often it is really a “theoretical exercise” without really understanding what the equation really means–so this should help to connect the theory with real life around her. Outside, your child can do similar activities, such as adding trees in different yards, subtracting flowers when she picks them for a bouquet, and so on. Children often learn much better with concrete, hands-on, viewable and touchable examples than with “theoretical” pencil-and-paper or textbook/workbook methods. And “talking through” math aloud is also very helpful. If the child can then turn around and “teach” a younger sibling or friend, or even a stuffie or a pet, all the better!

Lego blocks are handy math manipulatives. Use a group of 10 stuck together for “10s” and then smaller groups for each of the single digit numbers–put them together to create the “teens” numbers. To help your child make connection with numerals, put the lego groups with number cards (you can easily make these on bits of paper–and if you have your child make them, all the better!). Have the child count them aloud. Talk about how the “1” in a teen number says “teen” (which sounds like “ten”); and explain that for the teens, we say the single digit number first (fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen)–but some sound a bit different (fifteen [the “fif” sounds like “five”] and thirteen [the “thir” sounds like “three”]). For “twelve” say “two-elve” if she needs a reminder. For “eleven” just say “what comes after ten?”

Singing is a wonderful way to memorize math numbers and facts. You can practice number order by singing this song (and of course you can substitute the child’s favourite animal or object):

One little, two little three little penguins,
Four little, five little six, little penguins,
Seven little, eight little, nine little penguins,
Ten little penguins in a row.
Eleven little, twelve little, thirteen little penguins,
Fourteen little, fifteen little, sixteen little penguins,
Seventeen little, eighteen little, nineteen little penguins,
Twenty penguins in a row.
Twenty little, nineteen little, eighteen little penguins,
Seventeen little, sixteen little, fifteen little penguins,
Fourteen little, thirteen little, twelve little penguins,
Eleven penguins in a row.
Ten little, nine little, eight little penguins,
Seven little, six little five little penguins,
Four little three little, two little penguins,
One little penguin alone.

To help your child learn the “decades” numbers (ten, twenty, thirty, etc.), use dimes and pennies (hopefully, if you’re Canadian, you will still have some pennies kicking around the house, or you can get pretend ones cheaply at the dollar store). Set out pennies in single digit groups in rows, in order from 1 to 9, and have your child count and name each group–and for “10” just use a dime. Then put a dime in front of each of the penny groups, and help your child count/name each group. Then put two dimes in front of a group of pennies and ask what that number would be. Then three dimes in front of a number, and so on.

Use coins to skip-count: Use nickles to skip-count by 5s, dimes to skip-count by 10s, quarters to skip-count by 25s, and loonies ($1 coins) to skip-count by 100s.  Children especially enjoy using coins from their own piggy-bank if they have one; if you child gets coins for birthday gifts, chores, etc., they can save them up in a piggy bank and skip-count them to see how much they have.

While children can learn to tell time (analog) with worksheets or flash cards, there is nothing like telling real time with real clocks. Take every opportunity you can to point out clocks around the house and wherever you go, and have your child figure out the time. Children enjoy “setting clocks”–get an inexpensive clock from a thrift store or dollar store, and allow your child to play with it to set different times, and to set the alarm clock at bedtime or nap time.

On a road trip, use a real map, and figure out the distance for the whole trip, as well as the distance between towns. If the distance for the whole trip is, say, 350 km, and you pass a sign that says there is 125 km to that destination, have your child figure out how far the family has already gone. Road trips are actually a wonderful time to do lots of math–count numbers of big trucks, or red cars, or licence plates from different provinces/states; record mileage and amount of gas bought, and figure out the gas mileage; watch for signs with dates, times, temperatures; and so on. Have the children keep an eye on road speed signs, and an eye on the driver’s speed–kids love to “catch out” the driving speeding–or going too slow!

These are just a few ideas on how to do “real-life math” with your child. Now it’s up to you to think of lots of other ways to make math real and clearly understandable for your child. What are your favourite “real-life math” methods? Why not share them in the comments? Thanks!

Posted in adventures & explorations, family learning, home learning, learning games, math, math games and activities, math manipulatives | Leave a comment

Practical and Fun Language Arts Learning Tips

Are you experiencing the “winter blahs” right now in mid-January? Maybe it’s the cold, grey weather … but maybe it’s because you need some great ideas to liven up your Language Arts learning. Sure, there are lots of worksheets and textbooks and workbooks and commercial “learning games” out there–but maybe some practical, fun learning would bring some summer warmth and inspiration into your family learning!

As you explore the posts in this blog, you’ll find lots of practical learning tips–but in case you’re wondering right now what I’m talking about, here are a few examples of Language Arts tips to get you started.

Is your child having trouble with letters– such as a letter that she often leaves off a word, or letters he often mixes up (m/n; p/d/b; p/q)? A good idea is to point out words on anything–signs, newspaper headlines, cereal boxes, etc.–that have any of these letters, to give your child practice with these letters in a wide variety of “real” uses. Real-life learning is almost always superior to worksheets and such, and its a lot more fun.

Does your child have a hard time thinking of antonyms (opposites)? Instead of drilling lists of antonyms, watch for “real life” opportunities in general conversation to point out opposites, and ideally, have her put them into action. Examples: “The door is SHUT; please OPEN it” or “Put this book on the TOP shelf, and this other book on the BOTTOM shelf” or “Please pick up the ball that’s UNDER the tree and throw it OVER the bush to me.” Using practical, “real” examples like this in daily life will help her develop an understanding of opposites.

Homonyms are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Many children (and adults!) find it a challenge for her to “sort out the spelling” of homonyms. But using “tricks” (mnemonics) are lots of fun! For example, “meet” has “me” in it so think “meet me”–while “meat” has “eat” in it, so think “I eat meat.” Also, “too” means “also” or “more” so you can say that’s why it has the extra “o” instead of “to.” A “deer” (unlike “dear”) has 2 eyes, which are the two “e”s in the middle. “Piece” (unlike “peace”) has “pie” in it, so think “I’d like a piece of pie.” And so on

Does your child have difficulty with “Mr., Mrs., Ms, Dr., etc.”? Obviously, you can’t easily sound them out. But if you connect these titles/abbreviations with people in your family (or close friends), they take on a strong personal connection and that makes them so much more relevant and easy to remember. Let your child label photos, draw stick people sketches and label them, make name tags and stick them to people (kids love doing this!). With these picture connections and family connections, your child will easily remember these words!

Encourage “practical reading” at home by having your child read recipes when you are cooking, and have him do some of the parts of the recipe that he has read about; when you make a grocery list, make sure you print it clearly, and have him read it to you as you shop together–or give him the list and have him search the shelves and find the products with the matching words; and so on.

Is your child having difficulty reading a newly assigned book or story? Work through it in stages. First, look at any pictures and discuss the title. What do you think the book might be about? Then read it to your child slowly, finger-tracking the words. Then read it again, still tracking the words, and have your child do his best to read along with you (don’t correct or wait, just read smoothly and with appropriate emphasis). Then try reading half of a sentence and have him finish it; then read alternate sentences; then move to alternate paragraphs. Your child will soon be familiar with the content–and be able to not only read the words but read them fluently, with good emphasis. Other useful strategies include choral reading (reading aloud together), taking turns (sentence by sentence or page by page), fading (start by reading chorally, then slowly “fade out” so she is reading by herself–and “fade back in” if she needs help).

Ideally, allow your child to choose his own reading material quite often–that will also provide interest and motivation! Libraries and bookstores and thrift store bookshelves are wonderful places. Spend lots of time together in them, because doing lots of activities, reading, writing, research, etc. on a topic a child is very interested in is a great way to encourage him in developing his literacy skills–even if you aren’t as interested in spiders and other creepy crawlers as he is, and it freaks you out to discover them in his pockets when you’re doing laundry!

Encourage your child to read to her siblings, her pets, her stuffies–and to anything or anyone else who won’t critique or help, but rather will admire her ability–and encourage her to ask them the questions at the end. Children love to be “the teacher” and it’s true: teaching someone what you’ve just learned is one of the best ways to plant that knowledge and skill into long-term memory.

Tongue twisters are a wonderful way to practice sounds. There are fun tongue twister books available (try this one I put together, for example)–but then be sure to make up tongue twisters with your child. It’s so much fun–and they don’t even have to make much sense. Children love “silliness”!

Make up “silly sentences” with rhyming words (and word families)–or make up little rhyming poems. They can be lots of fun to create–together! Children are so creative–get your child involved! Also, search through colourful nursery rhyme books and other poetry books for simple rhymes, limericks, nonsense rhymes–your child will love repeating them after you, even if she can’t read them yet. Finger-track under the words, and she’ll soon start connecting sounds and letters–and soon start spelling, as well.

Here are some things to look for in library books–make it an adventure, encouraging the child himself to get involved in the search: different levels of difficulty on the same topic (of the child’s interest!) but in different picture books, fiction books, non-fiction books, magazines, videos, etc.); entertaining books that have repetition of sight words or other words you want the child to learn (have the child look for books that have words from a list you’re working on–think of book topics that might have those words, or even try using the library subject catalogue);  books with humour or funny twists (kids love books with jokes and riddles in the story–like Joanna Cole’s Clown Arounds series); colourful illustrations which give “hints” as to the “new words”; and books that encourage expressive reading through fun and entertaining dialogue or story line.

And while it’s fun to get a stack of new books from the library every week, if she “loves” a book and wants to read it over and over, encourage her to do so, as it will build fluency–even consider suggesting favourite titles as a birthday or other gift that grandparents and others can give your child. Perhaps a birthday party could have a “theme” related to a favourite book series, and guests could bring books, videos and other items related to that series.

Help your child help make her own “card games.” When a child helps make a product and feels “ownership,” she is more likely to learn and to want to play with it. For example, to learn to put words in correct order, print simple sentence words on little cards (capitalize the first word), and have her move them around until the sentence makes sense. If she puts them together in an unexpected order, have fun with that–even let her make up more “silly sentences” with the cards, and have a good laugh together–and then chat about why it’s important to put words in a sensible order. Includes cards with a period, a question mark, and an exclamation mark for her to choose appropriate punctuation.

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 “knows” the “sign” in its context), and emphasize the letter sounds in the word. You can also use containers (“milk”), and can talk about everyday objects in her life (cup, sun, apple, pet, pot, etc.). Another fun way to learn vowel sounds (or consonants) is to use “alphabet cereal” and write 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] –aaaa!!”

What fun, practical Language Arts ideas do you have to make these grey, chilly winter days an exciting learning time for your children? Be sure to share your ideas in the comments and help out other families, too!


Posted in adventures & explorations, family learning, home learning, homeschooling, learning games, libraries, rhymes | Leave a comment

Distractable–Or Imaginative and Creative?

Today’s post is from a “tutoring lesson report” on a child whose parents had been told was very “distractable.” As the lesson went along, I began to think maybe the child wasn’t really so “distractable” after all. What do you think?



Today I had M read two short books, Counting Bugs and The Pie that Jack Made. She was able to quite easily sound out a number of fairly hard words–several for which there were no picture hints. Such words included “wiggle, flutter, creep, ground, flower, pumpkin.” I notice that she tries to sound the words out silently in her head, and has difficulty that way, but when she sounds them aloud, she does much better. So try to make sure she sounds aloud! It will help her to focus.

We also worked on skip-counting (without looking at numbers). We said the 10s together once, then M said them herself, and got them all right. Then I explained that the 5s simply go in between the 10s, and that “five” is part of each one (except FIFteen). After once together, and twice more with me fading out more and more, she was able to do 5 to 100 in 5s, without help (and without looking at numbers). Keep practising these at home. I suggest doing it once together, once with you helping quietly when needed, and once by herself. If you do this a couple times a day, she’ll soon have the 5s down pat, and then we can work on the 2s (evens, then odds). You don’t need to make it feel like part of “school work”–it’s something that can be done at odd times, like when driving places in the car, going for walks, even together as a family at the dinner table–and the other kids will then learn theirs, too. Make it a fun family activity. M is very talkative and sociable, and approaching memorization of facts in these ways will be far more effective than writing them out repeatedly ore reading them over and over or filling in worksheets.

Today’s Alphabet story was “A Hot Rod in A Rut.” This story didn’t have any pictures, so I thought it might be a bit challenging for her as I’ve noticed she tends to rely on pictures–not surprising, as she is so artistic. Also, there were a few words in the story she didn’t know the meaning of, so I had to explain those. But the interesting thing I noticed is that when she seemed to be “distracted” (looking off into the distance, smiling to herself, tapping her fingers, etc.) I told her, “Tell me what you’re thinking.” Here is kind of how it went:

Rich had a hot rod. (What’s a hot rod? — It’s a racing car — Oh, well, why is it hot? …–so we discussed that–) It had a lot of mud on it. (Like our car. It’s really, really dirty. You should see it!) Rich got in. Rich got Rob, his chum. (What’s a chum? … so we discussed that, too). Rich and Rob bat the rug. (What does that mean? –I explained– Oh. They’d need to be careful so they don’t get hurt, right?). They mop the top. (Why did they do that? — To clean it — Oh, that would be funny to see them mopping the top of the car!)  Oops, a bug. (A bug? I wonder what kind of a bug it was …) Rich and Rob are in a jam (I explain to her what “in a jam” means — Oh! Wouldn’t it be funny if they were really in a big jar of jam. It would be so sticky. It would be so funny to see that…). It is a job for Bim-Bam. Bim-Bam did it. Rob and Rich are out of the rut. (Is Bim-Bam their friend? Maybe he’s their pet? Do they know him? I guess they must know him if they know his name, right?)

By getting M to speak aloud what she was “thinking” in her “distracted” moments, what it appears to me is that she is less “distracted” and more creative and curious and imaginative. Perhaps when you are working with her, if she seems distracted, ask her to tell you out loud what she is thinking. If it is related to the work at hand, it can’t hurt to discuss it–and you could even encourage her “writing/storytelling” skills by writing down or tape-recording her thoughts. Then rewrite or type the story, but add the ideas she expressed. Finally, have her read it with her ideas included. By having her thoughts added in, she may indeed be more motivated to read it in a more focused manner, and more willing to try “hard words” (since she suggested them!). She might even become motivated to write her own versions of the story or create original stories.

(I also noticed that when M seems to be distracted, she tends to tap her fingers or swing her legs or otherwise move her body. I told her that when she is reading, she is welcome to use body movements to “act out” parts of the story. For example, she could act out batting the mat or mopping the roof of the car. M thought this was great fun–and it really kept her focused on her reading!)

Here’s an example of how you could rewrite the story above, using M’s ideas: Rich had a hot rod racing car. The engine got hot when he drove it fast. It had a lot of mud on, just like our car is really muddy and dirty. Rich got in. Rich got Rob, his chum–his friend, pal, buddy. Rich and Rob batted the rug from the floor of the car. Rich held it and Rob hit it with a stick so the dirt and mud fell off it. They had to be careful so they did not get hurt. They mopped the top of the car. That is a funny way to clean a car, using a mop. Oops, a bug! It was a great big black fly, and it flew straight at the window, so Rich swerved the steering wheel, and the car slid into a rut in the mud at the side of the road. Rich and Rob were in a jam. They were stuck in a muddy rut, and the car was sticking like jam in a big jar of jam. It is a job for Bim-Bam. Bim-Bam is a ram. He is a big man sheep with big curly horns. They know Bim-Bam because he belongs to their neighbour, the farmer. Bim-Bam is their friend.

As you can see, this version introduces lots of new words, while including the words and sounds that are being focused on by the author/publisher. So not only does M continue to work on the “focused” words, but she adds lots of other words that come from her, and it becomes HER story, which will motivate her in many ways.

So maybe M’s problem isn’t so much “distractability” caused by outside factors, but simply strong personal imagination, curiosity, creativity–all things we need to encourage, though of course she also needs to learn to focus.

Note: M’s mom and I have also discussed some other possibilities/solutions related to “distractability” such as rewards for focused work, and withholding of rewards/privileges until required work is completed; providing a less distracting environment, such as making sure the TV is off, curtains are drawn, other children are not in the learning area; alternating short periods of “focused” work with other work that engages her creative, artistic, graphical skills; using “unit studies”–such as her interest in bugs–in which math, science, reading, writing, social studies, art, physical education, etc. are all included, but not presented as “subjects”; and so on.

After having M do all that focused reading, I provided her a break/reward by having her do a couple of “2D” and “3D” geometry worksheets which included drawing shapes and colouring. She enjoyed that.

Then I had her do some subtraction practice. First, she did subtraction using a number line. Then I had her use crayons (as counting manipulatives). She is slowly getting more understanding of the concept of subtraction but does need lots of “hands-on” practice, the more the better for a child who is as active as she is. Use as many different methods as you can think of–the more ways she “sees/experiences” a concept, the better.

M enjoys “game” approaches to learning, as well as graphical approaches, so I’ve given her a couple different things to try:

  • A sequencing worksheet which involves a game. The worksheet gives instructions on how to play the game (which she can play with her siblings; all she needs is a muffin tin and some kind of item to toss–pennies, pebbles, paper clips, something like that). The game is for fun. The “sequencing” is to read the instructions at the top, then play the game, and then put the mixed-up instructions at the bottom in sequence/order.
  • A reading/drawing worksheet. M can read the sentences, and then draw a picture for each one.
  • A “Tic Tac Toe” sentences worksheet/game. Each square in the game has a sentence to read. I have given M two colours of sticky-notes, which can be used to play the game (and reused repeatedly, playing the game over and over until she can read the sentences easily). You can also make up your own “Tic Tac Toe” sentences games for her, just choosing whatever sentences you like.

We went on to read another story, Monkey Business. She inserted her own comments and even did some more “body language” as she read. I jotted down her comments, and then rewrote the story, putting the original author’s name and M’s name as co-authors. M was so excited, as writing stories up to this point has been a big “chore” for her.


Want to learn what monkeys like?
They like swinging on branches and eating bananas and sitting and dancing.
Monkeys like to live in groups.
They like hugging and sleeping while they are hugging.
Monkeys like to swing in trees.
Monkeys like to sleep in trees.
They are all sleeping in the trees.
They are snoring. Z-Z-Z-Z
Monkeys like to eat bananas.
This one is eating wide. Yum.
And this one is saying “Yummy.”
Monkeys like to say “Eee-eee!”
Ee-ee-a-a-ah! Eee-ee-ah!
Each one is saying, “Eee! Eee!”
They have wonderful teeth. They are all dancing. This one is doing a ballet dance. He is patting his tummy and rubbing his head.
But monkeys do not like itchy fleas!
This one is scratching him, and this one is scratching him.
This one is scratching his butt!
I am going to scratch them too. [and she started scratching them on the picture]
Oh no! A flea landed on me!
Now I am itchy, too!

M was very excited to be able to read the story with her words–and said she is going to draw a picture of it at home and read the whole story to her sister. Even though it includes some “hard-for-M” words, she was able to figure out most of them herself, since she had created the story.

We read another Alphabet Story, A Fin in the Fog. M was very interested about what the fin might belong to–a shark? fish? porpoise? She asked why the writer didn’t say, and I told her it is so she can use her imagination. She was pleased and suggested it must be a porpoise. She also did not know what a “hut” might be. I told her it was like a small house or a kind of shed. Then when she read more, she wanted to know what the light at the top would be, so I told her it must be a light-house. She was puzzled, wondering what a lighthouse is. I described it to her, but she asked if I had a picture. As a matter of fact, just a month or so ago, I wrote a short story based on a magazine picture of the Marshall Point Light House in Maine (the lighthouse in the movie, Forrest Gump), so I dug it out, showed her the picture, and read her the story. This led her to more discussion about the Fin in the Fog story as well. As I’ve said already, she may be a bit distractable … but it might well have more to do with curiosity and imagination. Try to allow time to follow her ideas–she’ll be learning so many new things, at the same time as her reading and writing are improving. Use those “teachable moments” to grab her attention; it will help to turn her “distractability” into amazing focus!


Is your child distractable? Try some of the methods discussed in this report and see if maybe that distractability is really something else–like creatively, curiosity, imagination–and a naturally active child!


Posted in adaptations, learning differences/disabilities, learning styles, reading, special needs | Leave a comment