Is My Child on Track? Literacy Milestones from Infancy Through Third Grade

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When you become a new parent, there is an overload of information. It seems there are a million markers, tests and charts to ensure your child is on track and the pediatrician is walking right alongside every week to check off your child’s progress. There is a marker for every little hiccup in early childhood, but then when our kids enter school, milestones can feel vague and confusing. It seems you must wait for the report card or progress report to know if your child is progressing.

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To provide a little help, I've created a short write-up of literacy milestones to look for and encourage in your child from birth through third grade. You might cringe when kids begin to recognize the C or M for Chick-fil-a and McDonalds because now you are going to need to stop for a snack, but this is actually a positive sign. They are learning to read logos and symbols, and this skill will help them when they learn to match a sound to a letter shape. To get the developmental chart click the link below and I’ll send it to your inbox. As always, let me know if you have any questions or ways that I can help!

Simple Steps to Teach Your Child to Read

When you recognize that your child is interested in learning to read and ready to begin sounding out words, you might feel that you need to introduce a phonics program or get out flashcards. Less is often more when learning at home. Your role as a caregiver is to reinforce skills they are learning and to do so in a particular order. You will notice that your child will start to examine words on signs and start sounding them out. Reading requires three different parts of the brain to work together to sound out words. So there's no need to force the process on a child before they are neurologically ready.

Quality over quantity

The type of strategies and words you are pointing out to your child will make more of a difference than the number of words your child is learning at one time. Maintaining the child's confidence and interest is the first and most important priority. Think of a time that you tried something new. Did you take up tennis or running, or learn a new software program for work? How did you learn the new skill? If you were given all of the information at one time, chances are that you didn't continue implementing it over time. You might have quit, felt overwhelmed or lost interest. If you had a great teacher or program that introduced one concept at a time and allowed you to master each, perhaps you stuck with it.

Where to start?

So where to begin? We will keep it simple. Once a child knows all of the letter names and their sounds, then they can start to decode three letter words. We call the first words that a child reads CVC words, which stands for consonant-vowel-consonant.

For a list of CVC words that you can practice, sign up for my mailing list using the button below, and it will be sent to you! Enjoy! Feel free to email me with questions if I can help.

Short Vowels

Focus on short vowels and pointing out only one short vowel at a time. Practice that same vowel for about a week or two. The only thing you need to do is to recognize the letter or word as you are traveling or reading, seeing signs, and just going through everyday life. For example, a sign says, "No Dogs." You might say, "Oh look, that word has the short vowel o in it for o/octupus. D-o-g. It says dog!" You are modeling how to sound out a short vowel word. If your child is frustrated by this then back off. Most likely they want more control and might start pointing the letters out on their own after they watch you do it first.

How to keep it simple and practice at home

To practice, you might also want to put letters in the tub or magnetic letters on the fridge and practice CVC words during down times like making dinner or bath time. Make spelling and reading a part of play, and it will feel more natural to your child. It's also the perfect time to have a few decodable books around the house. Start with the short vowel BOB books. You might want to leave them on the kitchen table or in a box in your family room. 

As always, please reach out to me and let me know how these suggestions work for you and your child! 

Five Easy Hacks to Prevent Reading Regression Over Winter Break

There's a reason the old song, "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," includes the line: "And Mom and Dad can't wait for school to start again." If you're exhausted, you aren't alone. Schools here aren't back in session for another week!

For Christmas, I received Jenny Rosenstach's lovely and sentimental book, "How to Celebrate Everything." In it she discusses rituals and routines within families saying, "It was rarely a straight line from one dot to the next, and it rarely resulted in a pretty picture, but the dots were our guides, our goals. Without them, without the routine, there was nothing preventing us from descending into a state of chaos." 

As a disclaimer to my list of "hacks," I'm a huge fan of less is more and I'm also trying to be kinder to myself in 2017. If you are looking for ways to help your child become the next Steve Jobs then I might not be able to provide the help you need. If you enjoy patting yourself on the back for things that you already do and finding ways to recognize how these tie into your children's learning then please proceed. With one week remaining, try the below ideas to get back into the groove of reading without making the kids feel they are in "school."

1.   Keep writing - Many parents complain that their children just don't enjoy writing. If you think about it, writing is one of the most difficult things a child can do because there are so many various steps.  First, they must come up with the idea, then think of the sentence, then recall how to spell the first word. At this point many children have forgotten their idea all together. Save a folder on your phone of only three or four photos of recent events. Let them pick one and write about that particular experience. If handwriting is difficult, write the story for them and let them feel accomplished by seeing their ideas on paper. Another funny way to write a story is to take turns creating a new line in the story. It usually creates a funny tale.

2. Dive deep into a new subject or topic - During the holiday downtime you might learn what your child is really into lately. Whatever they find super interesting, whether it be reindeer, snow, or something totally unseasonal like beetles, pilots, or castles stockpile lots of books on this single topic and let them browse. If you don't have time to search, the librarian will collect the titles for you and put them on hold.

3. Play with shaving cream, sand, and washi tape - I'm always a fan of less is more. On that note I'm a huge fan of eliminating homework for younger kids but I'll step off the soapbox (for now). Practicing sight words is my one exception to the rule. A fun way to do this is to use shaving cream, sand, washi tape or simply writing words on the tub with bubbles during bath time. 

4. Protect bedtime stories - Schedules get thrown to the wind with family and travels and rightfully so. Rather than trying to maintain all of your routines, simply focus on consistently reading a book or telling a story at bedtime. If your child is struggling to learn to read then make sure at the end of the day you are only reading to them, cuddling up, and not asking them to do any work. And if all else fails, take some advice from these kids. They have some interesting ideas on bedtime. 

5. Find the right books - If you are able to reach the teacher, ask him or her the exact sounds or reading concepts that your child is currently learning. Having the appropriate "on level," books is one of the most effective ways to create progress. If your child hasn't yet mastered short vowel sounds or rhyming then you will want to have lots of rhyming books around or several decodable books with short vowel sounds in your home. If your child is already reading proficiently ask the teacher their exact reading level. 

Hang in there and enjoy the days!

Must-Haves To Boost Reading Confidence

One of the things I love most about being a reading specialist is watching a child who is struggling in school start to feel proud and confident in their abilities. This change usually has little to do with me or my teaching and a lot to do with providing the correct materials. Rather than utilize flashcards and reading drills, it's more fun and usually more beneficial to start by helping children see themselves as readers. Adding "reader" to their self-image will spark enthusiasm, much like buying workout clothes before working out. Let them feel a sense of ownership by picking out a library tote or helping to create a reading nook in your home. To make your life easier, below are a few essentials to help you get started.

If you want the short list for your Amazon order, pile these items in your cart: Short Vowel Decodable Books, Golf pencils or crayons,  phonics blocks or CVC letter cubes or Bananagrams, a personal notebook or fill-in journal and sand for practicing sight words. If you are curious about the reasoning behind each item and a few choices, please keep reading. 

Bananagrams - Before there was instagram, there were Bananagrams! I recently picked up My First Bananagrams set for my own four-year-old and while she is not reading yet, we love playing with them. My favorite part of the "My First" set is that the vowels are all on yellow tiles. So you can easily help kids start creating and spelling on their own by teaching them about three letter consonant, vowel, consonant words. 

Decodable Short Vowel Books - Giving a beginning reader a book that is too difficult for them is like walking into the advanced Zumba class when it's your first time to the gym. You would leave feeling defeated and overly exhausted. So providing the correct types of books for beginner readers is pretty important. Decodable books are designed for students to learn a single concept at a time. Choose readers that are labeled, "Beginner, set one or short vowels." Once your child has mastered short vowels then they can move on to sight words and long vowels. The most popular series are BOB books or decodables that incorporate popular characters, such as Pinkalicious and Lego Super Heroes.

 

CVC word rod - These toys help children build three-letter words containing a short vowel. As they learn to decode, your children will have a lot of fun manipulating words. These rods and blocks will help them practice one vowel at a time and change words like mat to hat or top to mop. When your child is ready to build words independently, try these phonics cubes

 

A personal notebook - Any journal or simple notepad will do. Encouraging a child to write however they wish, to make lists or draw pictures, will spark creativity and deepen their understanding of the purpose of writing. This fun fill-in the blank journal provides some structure and fun writing prompts.

 

Small pencils and crayons - Did you know that when a child is learning how to write they benefit from using small golf-sized pencils? It goes against the popular belief that a child needs a large pencil. Actually, the larger pencils and crayons are designed for infants and babies who grasp with the palm of their hand. When a child is learning to read and write, the formation of the letters and motor skills can have an affect on his or her reading ability as well. By providing small pencils kids more easily practice proper pencil grip. 

 

Sand or tactile materials - High frequency words make up approximately 65% of all written text, so we want to help children memorize these words to make reading easier. As a child begins learning letter formation and sight words, it's helpful for them to practice spelling through a multi-sensory experience. Plainly said, they need to incorporate their entire body and senses to transfer the information into their long-term memory. The sand box linked above is helpful because the colored bottom makes the letters and formation stand out and it also comes with a lid to keep the sand from spreading throughout your house. 

 

Reading and Speaking Phone – This simple tool allows kids to read or speak into it to hear their own voice. Similar to when an adult records a presentation or an upcoming speech, this phone allows a child to practice reading and receive immediate feedback by listening to their own voice while reading. It improves mispronunciations and comprehension and also can help a child improve fluency.

Highlighting Strips – These fun strips act as a bookmark, highlighting the line a line of text so the child can more easily gain fluency and accuracy. 

Starting with these items will help you create excitement around reading. It also will help you, as a parent, feel more informed and confident in assisting your child. Consider wrapping the items in a fun package or gifting them for a special event. As always, feel free to email me with questions or thoughts on ways to help your little reader at writtenandbound@gmail.com. 

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12 ABC Books That Won't Make You Lose Your Mind

I’ll never forget watching my daughters learn how to walk. In classic form, they each took their own very different approaches to the task. One practiced diligently, holding our hands without letting go until she was certain that she could complete the job, and then off she went on a mission. The other took longer to try, but when she did try, she fell often until she got it right and refused to hold our hands. One of the most magical parts of parenthood is watching our children learn how to do something new. We cry tears of joy when we watch our children walk and laugh for the first time. 

The same sort of magic can be a part of reading if we forgo our anxiety about when a child should begin and look at reading as a skill that we are always perfecting throughout the years. I’m not suggesting that you ignore something concerning about your child’s learning, because we know that early intervention is the highly effective. Yet, it’s a gross understatement to say that schools’ and parents’ desires have taken a life of their own, and to expect all children to be reading at age five simply isn’t developmentally appropriate.  

So, where to start? Well, suggesting ABC books is pretty obvious. But if you are like me and want to lose your mind reading the same flip ABC book a million times over while constantly singing the LeapFrog “Every letter makes a sound” song that’s been stuck in your head for months, then it’s time to cut yourself some slack and find books that you will actually enjoy reading to your children. 

Here are a few that I know you will appreciate. 

Work: An Occupational ABC by Kellen Hatanaka.

This creative book takes kids through the alphabet by introducing a fun career for each letter. “N is for naval architect, O is for oceanographer, and P is for postal worker.” It will have adults dreaming of a midlife career move and little ones thinking of the many possibilities, like flying a plane or climbing a mountain. Not to mention every image looks like a print that could be hung in your living room.

 

ABCs on Wheels by Ramon OliveraOk, I know I said that ABC flip books get old, but this one provides a fresh perspective. For all transportation lovers out there (meaning basically all children), this book identifies the parts of moving objects or unusual vehicles. A is for Axle and D is for Double-decker.

ABC3D by Marion Bataille

I purchased this book when I started my very first Reading Specialist job, as a celebratory buy of sorts. That year it became particularly special to one Kindergarten student who was overly exhausted by the idea of learning letters and sounds. At the end of each session, we would look at this book as his special treat to help him get excited about learning together. It always worked. 

LMNO Peas by Keith Baker. Told from the perspective of several little peas, this very cute rhyming book explores the many hobbies and careers in life. 

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate SchatzWhile not necessarily tailored for beginning readers, this book is an incredibly interesting read for adults! It can be read aloud to kids by reading the names as, “A is for Angela Davis, B is for Billie Jean King and C is for Carol Burnett…”

An Excessive Alphabet: Avalanches of As to Zillions of Zs by Judi BarrettFrom the author of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," this book has lots of teaching points. Beyond the letters of the alphabet, it works as a fun "Where’s Waldo" search and acts as a great tool for vocabulary words. (Sidenote: My own four-year-old thought it was absolutely hilarious.)

 

Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum by Skira RizzoliIllustrated by the fascinating artist, Maira Kalman (I dare you not to fall down a rabbit hole while looking through her work), this book features objects from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. It also makes a great gift for both children and adults. 

What Pete Ate From A to Z by Maira Kalman

Pete is hungry. He’ll eat anything in sight including the "...bouncing ball that belongs to Uncle Bennie’s dog Buster." A cleverly written and humorous take on the alphabet. 

Alphablock by Harry N. Abrams

This book’s pages are cut into the shape of each letter. The colors and the thickness of the book appeal to a wide range of ages from babies to preschoolers and even elementary aged children. 

AB See by Elizabeth Doyle

Each page contains a large letter of the alphabet and inside it several small, hidden illustrations. C contains objects like camel, crown and clarinet. It also help kids think deeper with objects like cube and clover which they might first identify as square or shamrock. 

A is for Andy by MudpuppyThis wordless book is great for art lovers. Each page contains an Andy Warhol piece and interestingly, Warhol’s mother, Julia Warhola, illustrated the letters on each page. 

ThinkTouchLearn: ABC by Xavier Deneux

I'm typically a fan of all Chronicle Books and this one naturally does not disappoint. The colors are vibrant and the letters and shapes are die-cuts so that children can interact with them and trace them with their finger. 

f you are looking for something local, B is for Brooklyn, Texas Alphabet, S is for Salmon and San Francisco ABCs are just a few hometown favorites.

Now that we all agree there is nothing wrong with dreading the thought of reading the same ABC book time and time again, let’s look for more ways to take the pressure off of parents. Do you have any ABC suggestions or any board books you love?