How to Teach Your Child Sight Words Effectively Without Overdoing It

One of my funniest teaching moments was when a kindergarten student who struggled to learn letters and sounds asked me where the letters came from. "Did you make this up?" she asked. "Make what up?" I replied. "Letters?" she said. "No, people did when they wanted another form of communication," I explained. She looked at me puzzled and before I could correct my mistake of using the general and inclusive term people she screamed, "Oh no! Not me! I sure did not do make this stuff up." Her frustration was troubling but also endearing and we had a good laugh. I explained that I wasn't trying to make things more difficult but hoping to help her feel more confident in her classroom. 

Genetics, personality, home and learning environments all come into play when a child learns to read. Most children arrive as readers when their brains are ready to begin reading. Despite our best efforts to mold our children, we must also take into account his or her unique learning style. 

If you've read anything on my blog, you probably know that I'm a fan of less is more when teaching at home. My goal is to first preserve confidence and empathize with each kid. Secondly, I provide developmentally appropriate material which allows the student to master a skill. In other words, I try to meet them where they are. However, there is one component of literacy in which all children, despite their skill level, can benefit from more practice and that is sight words. These words make up almost 65% of all text.  When a child is able to automatically recognize sight words, reading instantly becomes more enjoyable and fluent. Below are three simple things you can do to help your child practice sight words without losing the fun or magic of reading at home.

(This post is the first of a three part series on sight words.)

1. Explain that there are two types of high-frequency words

Some sight words follow phonetic rules and some do not. Many schools teach all high-frequency words under the same umbrella of sight words. This is understandable, because the goal of learning the words is to recognize them automatically by sight. However, if we explain to children that some of these words follow the rules and some do not, it eliminates unnecessary confusion. Try calling the words that do not adhere to phonetics red words and the ones that do sight words. (A list of each is coming soon. Sign up for my newsletter and you won't miss it!)

2. Utilize the senses

When a word is taught using a multisensory approach, not only is it more fun for kids, but it also has a greater chance of transferring into the child's long-term memory. Practice the word using sand, washi tape, sandpaper, paint or shaving cream. If you use an iPad try applying this tactile overlay on the screen

3. Only teach two words at a time

Instead of drilling with flashcards, spend quality time on two words, one red word and one high-frequency word, per week. Then try to point out those two words in your child's reading and writing. Keep track of the words that your child has learned by recording them in a notebook. This will allow your child to feel accomplished and successful when they look back at all they have learned. 

I hope this helps you get started with sight words at home! Please email me with questions or leave comments here.