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!

How To Raise a Reader in a World of Digital Distractions

It’s the second week of spring break and my son actually asked if we could go to the library to get some more Beast Quest books. I never thought this day would come. He’s devoured 3 books in 3 days. Last year at this time my son would groan if I even mentioned an outing to the library. I consider this a huge parenting victory.

Raising a reader is not just the luck of the draw or the result of passing on book-loving genes. I deliberately set out to instill a love of reading in my sons and these techniques have finally paid off.

Digital distractions are everywhere. Apps and games that show videos of newer, more exciting games to download before you can level up, TV shows with amazing special effects that make my 80’s cartoons (Jem and the Holograms, anyone?) look really tired, and phones with beeps, bells, dings and all the other noisy sound effects that have become part of our modern world. So, why is raising a reader still important?

Why Raising A Reader Is Important

“Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures.

In fact, reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.”

So, how do you raise a reader in a world full of digital distractions all vying for our children’s limited attention?

The following techniques are strategies that I have adapted from my time as an elementary school teacher and through trial and error. While you do not have to start your reading routine at birth, the earlier you start, the better. Don’t worry if you are beginning with an older child. These strategies will still work, but they may be met with resistance at first. Stick to your guns and before you know it, you will have an enthusiastic reader in the house.

1. Set Up a Reading Routine With Your Baby/Toddler

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Make reading a routine part of your day. Do not skip it, even if you feel like your baby/toddler is getting nothing out of it. First of all, you are setting the stage for the future. Secondly, babies and toddlers absorb much more than we realize.

I used to read 2-3 books before naptime and then 2-3 more before bedtime. As my children grew, this routine never varied. Now that they have dropped their naps, we still read before bed. My children have never questioned this routine because it has always been a part of their lives.

There has never been a better time to read to babies or toddlers. A dizzying array of board books with sensory and tactile features fill the shelves of all the local libraries and superstores. These days pop-up books are amazingly-crafted paper masterpieces. You will enjoy them, too (or maybe not after reading That’s Not My Pirate for the 176th time).

2. Go to the Library

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

Make trips to the library a regular occurrence. We go every two weeks. Attend the singing/story time sessions. You’ll learn some great songs to sing at home and the librarians often choose really good stories for the age group.

I know how difficult it can be to go to the library, especially with an active toddler, but don’t give up. I almost lost my youngest once when an entire preschool class came into the children’s area at once. One moment, my son was at my side looking at books, and the next moment, he was gone. Panicked, I looked for him among all the other children. He wasn’t there. So, I ran for the front door. Sure enough, my 18-month-old was already out the door and headed for the street. I scooped him up just before he stepped into traffic. After that, I went to the library in our neighboring city that had its children section at the very back.

If you make library attendance a priority, one day the library will be a magical place for your child. Keep your eye on the prize. I still remember how excited I was to go to the library to get the next book in the Nancy Drew series. When your children experience this excitement you can pat yourself on the back. They now have access to books that will help them escape exam stress, teach empathy, develop a moral code, and even allow them to experience battling a scary monster or two along the way.

3. Tips for Encouraging Early Readers

When your children transition into reading, make it less of a chore by taking turns reading the pages. I especially love the Usborne My First Reading Library for young children. These books have a child’s part and an adult’s part. The adult reads the small print and the child reads the large print. The stories are more interesting than most early readers because the adults are able to provide additional backstory and the children enjoy the novelty of reading with a parent.

If your child is a reluctant reader, read the story to him/her first. This takes the pressure off. Sometimes, I pretend to really struggle with sounding out a word. I make each sound slowly and then try to blend it a few times. Finally, my son can’t stand it anymore and he tells me the word. I thank him and have him ‘help’ me read more words on the page. This practice gives him confidence and helps break down his resistance to reading.

If your child is learning a certain phonics pattern at school, go on a ‘book hunt’ for words with the same pattern. A book hunt is just opening the book and searching for certain words on the page. Teach your children how to skim the page for these words. Skimming is a really important skill. Good readers do this instinctively while reluctant readers often remain fixated on reading text word for word. Reassure them that they don’t always have to do this. Sometimes we just skim to locate information.

For early readers, make sure the reading session is not too long. Young children have short attention spans. If they stop focusing, end the reading session early. You can complete the book for them and tell them you are sure they will be able to read a few more pages the next evening. Go with your instincts. You don’t want to make the before bed routine painful and frustrating.

Finally, continue to read aloud to your child. After they have read their early reader, go on to read 2 to 3 more books for fun. This ends the reading routine on a positive note and allows your child to just enjoy good stories.

When my husband is away both of my sons climb into my big bed for a joint reading session. They look forward to this and there is usually a lot of laughter. When my husband is home, we split up and read with each child separately because they are at different reading levels and my eldest enjoys stories that are way over my youngest’s head.

4. Comprehension Checks for more Proficient Readers

Reading comprehension is important for understanding the content that is actually being read; otherwise, readers can’t make sense of what they read and will have problems succeeding in academics, notes Penn State. Having strong reading comprehension skills is also necessary for passing academic achievement tests and for being able to read effectively for one’s career.

You must check your proficient reader’s understanding to ensure that he/she comprehends the story’s content. If the story content is too difficult, your child won’t enjoy the book.

When my son became a more proficient reader he was invited to participate in a reading scheme at school. While he was able to decode well, I found him racing through the reading scheme books to try to move up to the next level. Often, he didn’t understand what he was reading. I put my foot down and made him read me the first two pages of the story to make sure it was at an appropriate reading level. Sometimes, it wasn’t so I sent the book back to school. For more help on selecting ‘just right’ books, see this post.

Once my son read me the two pages, I let him finish the chapter on his own. Afterward, I asked questions to make sure he wasn’t just rushing through the book. Since he knew I was going to ask him comprehension questions, he had to read carefully.

Continue to read aloud to your proficient reader! Don’t stop once your child can read.

Each night I read a chapter of a book above my son’s reading level. We both look forward to the story. We are reading the Percy Jackson series now and I often have to make myself stop after a chapter because I want to keep reading. Reading above your child’s reading level will help his/her vocabulary development and allow you to have more sophisticated discussions about the characters and their motivations. My son loves to predict what will happen in the story. Sometimes, I throw out wild predictions myself and my son is able to refute them by using evidence from the story. I know his high school English teachers will appreciate this skill one day.

5. Use Psychology To Motivate Independent Readers

These days my son reads me a couple of pages from his school book so I can check in with his reading. Then, I read a chapter from our shared read aloud. When I finish, I grudgingly allow my son to stay up an extra 15 minutes to read on his own. Because he thinks I am letting him stay up extra late to read, he is really enthusiastic about it. What 8-yearo-old doesn’t want to stay up past his/her bedtime? In reality, I stop our read-aloud 15 minutes before I want him to go to bed, so he just thinks he is staying up extra late.

During this time, I let my son read any book he wants (even if it is not my first choice). Last year, my son loved the Captain Underpants series. So, he read these over and over again each night. This year he has moved onto Beast Quest. Some nights, he just wants to read his Pokemon handbook and that is okay, too. I am just happy I have raised a reader.

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.

The Five-Finger Rule: How To Choose A ‘Just Right’ Book

How To Choose a ‘Just Right’ Book

How to select a ‘just right’ book

The Five-Finger rule – How To Choose A Just Right Book

Last week, my son came home from school with a reading book that was far too difficult for him.

“But…but… my teacher said I could read books from the European section of the library. My friend Sarah is reading it and says it’s really good.”

As I listened to him struggle over the first couple of pages, I knew he was going to get too frustrated to finish the book. It was time to teach him how to choose a ‘just right’ book for independent reading.

We need to teach our children how to select appropriate independent reading books. These are books that will increase their reading fluency and, at the same time, help them develop their reading comprehension skills.

How To Choose A ‘Just Right’ Book

  1. In order to choose a ‘just right’ book encourage the child to pick up a story that looks interesting by glancing at the front cover and reading the title.
  2. Next, the child should do a ‘book walk’ by flipping through the pages, looking at the illustrations, and reading the captions and/or chapter titles.
  3. Finally, they should choose a page in the middle of the book to read. As they come to difficult words they should hold up a finger. If they have 5 or more fingers up by the end of the page, the book is most likely too difficult for them to read independently. Of course, we must apply this rule with common sense. If the children are missing names of people or places we may decide not to count these. My son loves reading tales of Greek heroes and gods. These names are difficult even for me, so I don’t count them when we use the 5-finger rule.

Here is a link to a thorough explanation of this rule that I found helpful.

Now that I am a parent I believe that this is one of the most important concepts a teacher can share with parents and children. The Five-Finger rule empowers children to choose the books that will really move them forward.

When To Revisit Easy Books

Of course, there are times when it is beneficial to revisit ‘easy’ books. I often encourage my son to read picture books to his little brother. He loves to do this and it really helps his reading fluency and ability to read aloud with expression.

When To Use Challenging Books

I also expose my son to challenging books above his independent reading level when I read him a story each evening. I purposely choose this book because I know he will enjoy the story. I choose this book with the purpose of promoting vocabulary development and providing ample opportunities for discussions that will enhance comprehension.