Help Children Become Readers With A Print-Rich Environment At Home

The Importance Of Words On Walls

“William – hurry up! It’s time for breakfast.”

I swept into my 5-year-old’s room and found him standing in his underpants.

“You’re not dressed!” I said with exasperation.

“I can read my skeleton poster,” he said.

I paused mid-tirade. He was excited. About reading!

“Skull, eye socket, upper jaw, lower jaw, neck.” He turned to me and smiled proudly.

My mouth opened and closed a couple of times, like a goldfish.

“Wow!” I finally managed to utter forgetting all about the cereal downstairs. I gave my son a big hug.

My son reads to me each night, but we usually read the boring, patterned, phonemic books sent home from school, reminiscent of, “See Jane Run” from my childhood. Now he was reading scientific labels like ‘eye socket’ – voluntarily!

Then, I felt bad. I had tried to convince my son to get rid of the skeleton poster. After I painstakingly decorated his tiny bedroom with a cool Lego Batman duvet cover and an even cooler, large, framed Dark Knight poster, my son had insisted on sticking up the offending poster with Blu-Tack. Before the poster went up everything matched and the walls were clean and clutter-free. Now pictures and posters filled my son’s walls: the skeleton poster, a free Japanese calendar my husband brought home from work, and several ‘keep out’ signs stuck to the door (just like his big brother). So much for clutter-free walls…

Now, as I looked at the skeleton poster I had a realization. It was good for my son to have words all over his room. If they were there, he would read them, or at least try. If I wanted to help my son become a reader, I’d have to create a print-rich environment at home.

How A Print-rich Environment Helps Children Become Readers

What kind of mother was I? I know how important creating a print-rich environment is from my eleven years of teaching elementary school.

“A print-rich environment helps foster skills needed for reading. Kids begin to discover cues that help them figure out words they see which lays the foundation for reading…If kids are in an environment that has labels, signs and charts, they will be exposed to letters, words and numbers early and make connections between the letters and the functions they serve.”

Magaly Lavadenz, Ph.D., language and literary specialist

When I taught, I had labels all over my classroom. I even encouraged the children to write their own labels. Yes, the handwriting was messy, but the labels not only encouraged them to read, but also got them writing. Other teachers had neat, color-coded, laminated labels on everything. But I knew that the one doing the work was the one learning (the teachers in this case). So, I encouraged my students to write the labels themselves.

A print-rich classroom supports beginning reading acquisition. Children benefit from having text to read in their environment if they are going to become readers (Neuman, 2004). This means that teachers should display text throughout the classroom…”

Susan Neuman

Why was I now suddenly worried about the appearance of my house? Wasn’t my real priority encouraging my children to learn? I needed to ensure our home environment was full of words.

After my skeleton poster epiphany, I decided to make sure my home was full of words on walls. Here are some ways you can create a print-rich environment at home to help your children become readers.

  1. Hang posters, even if you have to use Blu-Tack. There are many options depending on the interests of your child. Here are some fun themes to consider: dinosaurs, Minecraft characters, the human body, world populations, maps, charts, and even homemade signs.
  2. Hang a calendar in the room of your older child and teach him/her how to use it. For more on this, read How To Hand Over More Responsibility To Your Children.
  3. Label toy boxes and containers – Remember, it doesn’t have to look perfect. I put this off because I wanted to type up neat, matching labels. After my print-rich epiphany, I gave my sharpies to my sons and let them create their own labels. I let go of my perfectionism.
  4. Hide words around the house and let your children find and read them. Here is another post with several ways to do Phonics with Active Kids.
  5. Leave your cereal boxes on the table during breakfast. As a child, I spent many mornings reading the cereal boxes on our breakfast table. More than once I’ve lamented the fact that today’s cereal boxes don’t contain secret decoder rings hidden among the Cheerios with secret messages on the back of the box to decode. I’m leaving the cereal boxes on the table anyway.
  6. Strategically place boxes of books all over the house: in the living room, bedrooms, even in the car. When my children get bored in the car, they often look at books. Just make sure you’re not driving on winding roads when they read.
  7. Have fun creating a print-rich environment together. Children love opportunities to create their own posters and signs, especially if they know you’re going to hang them up!

Phonics for Active Kids

Phonics for Active Kids

Pointer Reading

When I was teaching elementary school I had a mantra: The person doing the work is the one doing the learning.

This idea came from Harry & Rosemary T. Wong’s classic book for new teachers,  The First Days of School.

I can’t tell you how many hours I wasted coloring, cutting, gluing and laminating really cute learning centers only to have children complete the activities in 5 minutes flat. Who was really doing the learning? Not the children.

Fast-forward several years. I’m now a busy mom of two active boys. I often have to remind myself to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and let them do the work.

When I wanted to help my eldest with reading at home, I did a Google search for ideas. I discovered pages and pages of adorable activities on Pinterest. When I visited the pages and took a closer look, I realized just how much parental preparation was involved.

I know better now. These great ideas involve a lot of work by parents with very little learning as a result. So, I have compiled a list of my top phonics activities for busy parents and active kids. The beauty of these activities is that you can reuse them for all kinds of learning from spelling practice and vocabulary development to memorizing math facts…the applications are endless.

Keep in mind the importance of novelty for active children as well. When they start getting bored, switch it up and try something new.

1.  Word Hunt    

Hiding Word

It’s a Monday after school. As soon as I unlock the front door my son dashes into the living room to find his phonics words. Why is he so eager to do phonics?

He’s excited because his task is to find the words of the week I have hidden around the living room. It’s like a game of hide-and-seek except he finds eight words instead of a person.

These eight words usually follow a phonics pattern I introduce every week or two (depending on how organized I am). Last week we worked on words in the -an word family (can, Dan, fan, Jan, man, pan, ran, tan….).

As my son seeks the hidden words I tell him if he is freezing, cold, warm, hot, hotter, or red hot chili pepper hot…Ay! Yay! Yay! He loves it.

When he finds a word, he reads it to me. Once he has located all of the words we stick them onto a large piece of construction paper and hang it on the refrigerator.

Preparation: 5 minutes                                                                                                                       

First, fold a piece of paper in half vertically. Then fold it in half horizontally two times so you have eight rectangles. Write 8 words on the paper and quickly cut them up. Hide them around a room in the house.

This is your chance to use all the scrap paper you save to be more environmentally-friendly only to have your children pull out a brand new sheet of paper for every project.

How This Activity Fits Into a Phonics Scheme?

 How does this activity fit into a phonics scheme for young children? A Word Hunt is good to do once a child knows his/her letter sounds. For more on introducing letters and sounds see this blog post:  Teaching Letters and Sounds To Young Children

My son has just started decoding (reading) short vowel words so I am focusing on word families first. By learning just one pattern your child can learn many words at the same time. I have included a chart of common word families at the bottom of this post.

If your child’s teacher assigns words each week, just hide these around the house.

2.  Finger Spell the words of the week.

Only use this for words that can be decoded (read) using sounds. This is a great activity for beginning readers and kinesthetic learners.

I start with c.v.c. words (consonant vowel consonant – e.g. cat). First, I say “cat”, then I make each sound and hold up one finger per sound (like I am counting to three).

Once I have all three fingers up and I have made each sound c-a-t, I then bring my fingers back together as I say the entire word again.

There are many variations of this. You can tap each finger with your other hand as you make the sounds or tap them on the table. Here is a good video of finger spelling in practice.

3.  Read a word, shoot a basket.

This is pretty self-explanatory. For an easy indoor activity (when it is wet or cold outside) you can use a crumpled up piece of paper and try to shoot it into a wastebasket.

Have your child read the word and then shoot a basket. You can make each basket worth 10 points. Keep score. Encourage your child to beat his/her score the next time you play. You can even take a step backward each time your child scores to make the activity more challenging. Play outside if you have a basketball net or just use a large trashcan and a real ball.

4.  Read a word, score a goal

 This is the same idea with a soccer ball and a goal. Do it at a park or at home and make your own goal with cones or even backpacks strategically placed on the lawn. You can set this up indoors and use a soft ball, too. If you are at a restaurant have your child read a word. If he reads it correctly he gets to flick a crumpled up napkin ball or candy wrapper ball through your finger goalposts.

5.  Write the words on a whiteboard

Once you kids are writing, have them write on different surfaces. Let them use dry erase pens to write on a whiteboard, or use sticks to write words in the sand. Go outside with the sidewalk chalk or even make the letters against a wall with a flashlight (torch) in a dark room. Have your child “write” a word on your back with his/her finger and you try to guess what it is.

6.  Use a pointer to “teach” the words to other family members.

 Have your child use a pointer to “point” at each word as he reads it to an audience (a play sword works well if you don’t have a pointer). My son uses his pointer to read the words hanging on the refrigerator after breakfast. These are the same words from the word hunt activity above so I don’t have to do any extra preparation.

7.  Read a Phonics Book to a family member or pet.

 I have printed up a few word family and cvc books from The Measured Mom website and my son reads these to me before bed. Or, we read his book from school.

If my son complains about reading I tell him I will read the book to him. When I read his book I proceed to get the words all muddled up. This makes him laugh and he usually ends up supplying the correct words after I read the wrong ones. This makes the reading experience more fun for him. I exaggerate the wrong words and come up with ever more ridiculous words that rhyme with the originals.

Another strategy to use for reluctant readers is to alternate reading the pages with them so they don’t feel like they have to read the entire book.

8.  Matching

 If you have the items at home, have your child find them and match them with the words on the kitchen table. You can read “bag” and then have your child find one somewhere in the house to put with the word. (Other examples include: ham: a piece of ham, yam: pull out your yam so your child can see what it looks like, etc.).

This is a great activity for vocabulary development and can be especially good for English Language Learners. We used to call this using realia (real objects for vocabulary development).

9. Phonics Hopscotch

 Use your sidewalk chalk to write a word in a column on the sidewalk. Put a large square around each letter with the entire word together at the end. Have you child hop on one foot making each letter sound when they land on it. When they reach the end, they can hop with both feet on the whole word as they read it. If you have children of different ages you can make a more complex gameboard with longer words for older children.

10. Ping-Pong Phonics

Use a sharpie to write some letters or words on ping-pong balls.

Float them in a water table (or bathtub). Children can then fish for words by pulling them out and reading them or pulling out some letters and trying to make words with them. This can be a fun way to liven up bathtime. Once they make a word have them try to toss the ping-pong balls in a floating bowl.

11.  Magnetic Letters

Magnetic Letters

Put some magnetic letters up on your refrigerator. Start by encouraging your child to make his/her name. You can then have them put together the words of the week with the magnets.

Sometimes, I leave a little message for my son on the refrigerator. This is a good way to get him wanting to read.

Beware if you have older children! You might start to find words like “poo” and “fart” on the refrigerator as well.

Ideas:  Let me know if any of these ideas worked for you or if you have any great ideas to add to this list.

*Here are some words families you may want to introduce to your children. Depending on how quickly they pick up reading you may only use some of these…

– am – it – et – ot -ut
– at – in – ed – og – un
– an – ig -em – ock – ub
– ag – ip – el – ud
– ad – ing – ep – uck
– ack – ick – eg – ump
– amp – ell – unk
– est

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Halloween Crafts for Young Children

Best Halloween Crafts for Young Children

It’s my favourite time of year. The leaves are changing colours, the weather is getting cooler (now that I am in the U.K. and no longer living in California ;-), and pumpkin treats have made their appearance in all my favourite coffee shops. It’s almost Halloween!

There are so many cute Halloween crafts to do with young children.  I discovered several when I manned the craft table at our local toddler group.  Here is a list of my all-time favourites including links:

Masking Tape Mummy

Masking Tape Mummy

 

 

 

 

 

This is a cute and relatively mess-free craft:

https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2013/10/mummy-halloween-craft-kids.html

Apple Print Pumpkins

Apple-printed Pumpkins

Just slice some apples in half.  Push a craft stick into the back of the apple to create a handle for your little one to hold. Then dip the apple stamp into orange paint to make pumpkin shapes on your paper.  When the pumpkin shapes dry, draw faces on them with a black sharpie.  https://www.firstpalette.com/Craft_themes/Nature/appleprintpumpkins/appleprintpumpkins.html

Handprint Frankenstein

Paint your child’s palm green and four fingers black.  Then press your child’s hand onto a white piece of paper.  Add googly eyes and draw on some black plugs either side of the head.  This a cute keepsake to pull out every Halloween.

 

https://www.momdot.com/frankenstein-handprints-craft-easy-halloween/

Q-Tip Skeleton

 This is a great craft for  older children and a good way to learn the names of the bones.  Sing “Dem Bones” as you do this craft with your kids.

For complete instructions of this crafts click on the following link:  https://www.thriftyfun.com/Halloween-Q-Tip-Skeleton.html

Handprint Spider and Other Halloween Handprint Crafts

Here is another fun handprint craft for young children.  Paint their hands black, press them onto some construction paper and add googly eyes and a web when they dry.

Handprint Spider

 

 

Halloween Handprint Crafts

Here is a link for a more complete instructions for the Handprint Spider: https://ipinnedit.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/handprint-spider-halloween-craft/

Footprint Ghosts

This is one of my favourite Halloween crafts.  I first did it with my eldest son when he was 18 months old.  I love looking at his little footprints every Halloween when I get out our old crafts to decorate the house.  Make sure you have some wet wipes handy to wipe the white paint off of little feet.  Trace your child’s hand and arm (up to the elbow) onto brown paper to make the tree.

Footprint Ghosts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Where The Wild Things Are” Monster

Get a green paper bag or paint a brown bag green. Next, add some egg carton eyes, pasta piece nose, sharp fangs, horns, claws, and spots to create your own Halloween monster.

Make Your Own Monster

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spooky Cereal Boxes

Decorate cereal boxes to make some spooky touchy, feely containers for your next Halloween party.

Spooky Cereal Boxes

Frankenstein Boxes

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy these Halloween crafts.  Let me know if you have others to recommend.

Happy Halloween!  

The Read Aloud

The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Read Aloud

 I am convinced that the single best practice I ever adopted in the classroom was the after lunch read aloud. At the time I mainly did it to have a few minutes of peace after lunch. After all, afternoons were my least favorite time to teach because my energy levels were at their lowest and I felt more like curling up and taking a nap than engaging a room full of 20 to 30 children.

Although my aim was merely survival and a few minutes of quiet I now realize that sharing my love of reading good quality, highly engaging books probably benefitted my pupils more than all the hours of closely following the curriculum and prepping for tests ever did. Not only was I helping them develop vocabulary and critical thinking skills as we discussed the books I read, but I was also empowering them. When children are able to read with ease and enjoyment the world is their oyster. Anything they wish to learn is now accessible. They can teach themselves how to develop apps, how to cook, how to play an instrument, etc. All this knowledge is available online.

I can still recall all of the books my fourth grade teacher read to us after lunch. From Island of the Blue Dolphins to The Secret Garden she introduced me to new worlds. I loved when my own students hung on every word of Roald Dahl’s Witches or laughed aloud when Ramona finally pulled one of Susan’s boing-boing curls during a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose”. I was amazed to see my English Language Learners blossom and take an interest in reading as we worked through some of my favorite stories. Soon, my second graders were borrowing my Ramona books and comparing how many Magic Tree House books they had read. I don’t think I would have witnessed this enthusiasm for reading had it not been for the after lunch read aloud.

Now that I am a parent I continue this practice with my own children. Although my eldest is old enough to read for himself I still carve out time each night to read him a chapter from a book slightly above his independent reading level. After the craziness of the day, the quarreling, the timeouts, etc. our read aloud time allows us to reconnect and share a nice moment together before bed.

When my son was younger I managed to squeeze in many of my favorite read alouds. I knew as a boy he wouldn’t appreciate some of them when he was older so I fit them in before he developed strong opinions. Here is a list of the books I have read my son so far. I am also looking for great suggestions of books to read with my sons as they grow older because I know they won’t be interested in Nancy Drew or Sweet Valley High.

Favorite Read Aloud List:

  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (also The Trumpet of the Swan)
  • Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
  • The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by Betty MacDonald
  • Witches, The B.F.G., Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Great Glass Elevator, James and the Giant Peach, The Twits all by Roald Dahl.
  • Mr. Stink by David Walliams
  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • The Inheritance Cycle (Eragon) series by Christopher Paolini
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

We are in the middle of the Eragon series right now. My son chose this out of the bookcase. I didn’t know if it would be too hard for him to understand or not, but he seems to be enjoying it and is even able to make inferences about the past of some of the characters so we will continue. We are going to look into Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and The Gods of Asgard series next and hopefully I will be able to interest my son in The Hardy Boys, too.