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!

Teaching Long Vowel Words with a Magic ‘e’

Introducing the Magic ‘e’

Yesterday, my son drew a picture for me and wrote: “I love you mummy and I wish you had a grayt lighf, Mummy.”

Pleased he is writing, I try not to fuss about his spelling too much. Notice he wrote ‘grayt’ instead of great and ‘lighf’ instead of ‘life’. And yes, his ‘f’ is backwards, too.

My son’s school is teaching phonics with Ruth Mishkin’s program Read, Write, Inc.

Having taught in two countries at 5 different schools, I have seen a lot of phonics programs.

There are a few things I like about this program. First, I like the way it teaches children to write letters with catchy phrases that help the child visualize the shape of the letter. For example, children say, “All around the apple” as they write a lower case ‘a’.

I also like how Read, Write, Inc. teaches the ‘special friends’ (a.k.a. vowel teams, digraphs) with catchy phrases like ‘ow – blow the snow’ and ‘ay – may I play?’

Since my son learned ‘the special friends’ first, he is now writing ‘lighk’ instead of ‘like’ and ‘playt’ instead of ‘plate’.

I decided it was time to teach the long vowel/silent e words before he gets too attached to spelling common words with his ‘special friend’ spellings.

My personal favorite way to do this is to use the ‘Magic e’.

If you would like to read more about teaching literacy or your child is not yet ready for long vowel words, you may be interested in the following blog posts:

Teaching Letters and Sounds to Young Children

Phonics for Active Kids

How to Motivate Children Who Are Resistant to Learning At Home

If not, here is how to use the magic ‘e’ to make learning long vowels fun.

How to Use Magic ‘e’ to Teach Words With Long Vowels

First, make your sparkly Magic ‘e’ wand.

Materials:

  • popsicle stick
  • construction paper
  • glitter glue
  1. Get a popsicle stick (lolly stick) and a piece of colored construction paper.
  2. Fold the paper in half and cut it into a square shape. Open it up so you have a fold and two symmetrical squares on either side of the fold.
  3. Tape the popsicle stick onto the square on the right.
  4. Fold the square on the left over the top of the popsicle stick and glue the two squares together with the popsicle stick inside.
  5. Write a lower case ‘e’ on the front of the wand in glitter glue.
  6. Voila! You have a magic ‘e’ wand.

Popsicle stick taped to paper

William glues the two squares together

The Magic ‘e’ Wand

 

How To Introduce the Magic of Magic ‘e’

Prepare several notecards with the short vowel word on one side and long vowel word with the ‘silent e’ on the other.

Have your child read the short vowel word e.g. mad.

Next, tap the word with the Magic ‘e’ wand and say your magical phrase: Abracadabra! Alakazam!

Flip the word over and show the word with the magic ‘e’ on the end of it. Explain that the wand changed the vowel sound. With the silent ‘e’ at the end of the word the vowel says its name. Now the word reads ‘made’ instead of ‘mad’.

Go through each word with the magic wand and practice reading the long ‘a’ words. Here is an example of how to do this (pardon my eldest son’s finger in the footage – he did the recording):

 

 

When you’re finished with the long ‘a’ words, you may wish to introduce some long ‘i’, long ‘o’, and long ‘u’ words.

Have fun! You may want to use some of the ideas from Phonics for Active Kids to practice long vowel reading.

Here is a Magic ‘E’ Vocabulary Powerpoint I created years ago to help with vocabulary development and long vowel/silent ‘e’ reading practice.

Other Resources

Here is a Silent ‘e’ Spelling game on Education.com.

And an Electric Company Silent ‘e’ video on YouTube:

 

How To Motivate Children Who Are Resistant to Learning At Home

How To Motivate Children Who Are Resistant to Learning

You Want to Keep This One in Your Parenting Bag of Tricks

“No! I don’t want to…” wailed my five-year-old as I pulled out the word list his teacher had sent home for him to practice.

“Why don’t we play beat the clock?” I suggested in a chirpy voice. “It’s really fun!”

“No! I don’t want to do it!”

I sighed, resigned to the fact that nothing I could possibly say would convince my son to read the word list. He had totally and completely set himself against it.

Playing the Boob

Then I remembered a trick from Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful and Cooperative One- to Four-year-old. Granted, my son was no longer four, but I had a feeling this parenting trick was going to work.

Dr. Karp calls it “playing the boob.” On his website he says:

We all pretend to be klutzes sometimes when we are playing with our kids. It makes them laugh, feel clever and strong (by comparison to their inept parent) and makes them want to be more cooperative. Sound odd? Embarrassing? Unnatural? Well, actually it’s a silly idea that’s super smart…

It’s genius!

Beat the Clock

I pulled up the stopwatch on my phone and handed it over to my son. Sitting down at the kitchen table with his reading list in front of me, I asked him to push the green start button and then I started to read.

“D”… “ay”, “d”… “ay”. I sounded out the first word dragging the sounds out as long as I possibly could. Finally, I put them together. “Day” I said with a big grin. My son laughed.

Slowly and painfully I read my way through the word list finally finishing 46 seconds later. I told my son to press ‘stop’ and then I bragged about how good my time was. 46 seconds! Isn’t Mommy a fast reader?

By that time, my son couldn’t wait to have a go. He knew he was going to beat me. Since he had already heard me read the words the task now seemed manageable.

When I timed him he finished in 20 seconds flat. Then he started dancing around the kitchen overjoyed that he had read faster than I did.

As the youngest he doesn’t often get to ‘win’ or feel bigger and better than the rest of us. “Playing the boob” (despite its ridiculous name) is a brilliant technique for encouraging cooperation and motivating children.

What young child doesn’t long for the opportunity to be better at something than his/her parents?

On the happiestbaby.com website, Dr. Karp lists several way to play the boob. He encourages parents to be babies, to be blind, to be klutzes, to be pompously incorrect, to be ridiculous, and to be weak pushovers.

I’m now devising ways of using this technique to get my children to do more housework. I wonder if they will take over the mopping if I slosh water all over the kitchen? Somehow I don’t think so.

Common Vowel Teams to Practice at Home

I use this technique to practice digraphs with my son (a.k.a. special friends, vowel teams, etc.)

Dr. Seuss’ classic, Hop On Pop, has several of these vowels teams and is a fun resource for children to see the words in context.

Here are some common vowel teams to practice with your early reader:

ay – play, say, may, stay, hay, spray, day, way, bay, ray

ee – see, three, tree, seen, green, sleep, jeep, beep, need, keep

igh – high, thigh, light, bright, knight, night, fright, might, sight, flight, tight

oo – too, poo, moo, zoo, food, pool, moon, spoon, brood

oo – look, book, took, hook, shook, foot, look, crook

ow – blow, show, low, snow, row, know, slow, flow, throw, bow, glow, mow, tow

oy – toy, boy, enjoy, Roy, deploy, royal, loyal

oi – foil, soil, oil, toil,

ou – out, mouth, round, sound, found, shout, loud,

ow – plow, sow, allow, wow, bow, cow, how, now, pow, row, vow

‘r’-controlled words (Bossy ‘r’)

ar – car, far, start, part, smart, star, sharp, tar, tarp, bar, hard, yard, card, spark, dark, park

or – or, for, sort, fork, horse, short, sport, snort, worn, torn, born, door, floor

ir – girl, dirt, whirl, bird, twirl, sir, fir, third, swirl, thirsty, squirm, squirt

ur – fur, blur, burp, spurn, turn, hurt, nurse, purse, church, lurch, burst

air – hair, fair, air, chair, lari, stair

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Letters and Sounds to Young Children

Early Phonics Instruction

Our local school uses a phonics program that links reading and writing. It’s a nice program and works well when children are ready to write, but I prefer to start phonics earlier in a fun, informal way.

Why Do I Start Teaching Phonics Early?

When children are developmentally ready it is easier for them to grasp letter sounds outside of a school setting.

I knew my three-year-old was ready, when he suddenly became interested in the first letter of his name and he started spotting the letter “W” everywhere we went. I decided it was time to teach the letters and sounds.

My favourite program is Zoo-phonics because each letter is associated with an animal, an action, and the sound. This is good for kinaesthetic learners and just plain active three-year-old boys (like my son).

There are many other similar programs available to suit younger children. You can even make up your own phonics program incorporating your child’s interests (e.g. vehicles). I would include the sound, letter character, and action if I were to create my own.

My rule of thumb is to spend no more than three minutes of instruction with a three-year-old (4 minutes with a four-year-old, etc). Children this young have a short attention span and it is critical to keep phonics instruction fun and informal.

When I introduce Allie Alligator for letter “a”  I chase my son around the lounge using my arms like snapping alligator jaws while I make the sound “a”, “a”, “a”. This is fun for him and he doesn’t even realise he is learning his letter sounds.

Let me know if you find an original way to introduce the letters and sounds. If you keep it fun and informal, your child will be more than ready to read when the time comes.