SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Graphing for Reading and Math Fun

Graphing is a great way for a young child to visually see math and understand the concepts of more or less and addition and subtraction in mathematics. Graphs can also be used in reading to help a child compare and contrast elements of a story. There are simple bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts, and even Venn diagrams to help children understand new concepts in both reading and math.

Here are three ways to make graphing fun:

• Use an old shower curtain or blanket as a large graph mat. Place it flat on the floor. Let your child organize objects to graph, such as stuffed animals, toy cars, or favorite books. If she decides to graph her stuffed animals she can organize by size, color, type of animal, etc. She might start at the bottom of the blanket and put all her yellow cats in a column, then her black cats in the next column, her orange cats next, and so on. Or she might choose to graph the cats by size. Ask “How many cats are yellow?” “Is that more or less than your black cats?” She is sorting and comparing results with this activity, as well as visually reading a graph.
• Use same size, different-colored Legos or blocks to make a standing bar graph. Let your child ask family and friends their favorite kind of cookie, for example. Help him write responses. Let him assign a different colored Lego for different cookies—for example, red for chocolate chip, blue for peanut butter, etc. Stack up the Legos according to choices recorded. Help him make sure that each column is evenly spaced. Step back and help him analyze the cookie most favored and the least favorite one. Ask “How many more people liked chocolate chip than peanut butter cookies?”  “What was the second most favorite kind?” “How do you know?”
• Create a large Venn diagram by overlapping two Hula hoops. Or you can use string to create and overlap two large circles. Together read a favorite book, such as The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister and J. Alison James. After reading the book, talk about ways the Rainbow Fish is like a real fish. For example, both live in water. Help her write that on a small note or index card and place it in the space where the circles overlap to show characteristics that the story fish and a real fish might share. Try to find three examples of how they are alike. On the other spaces of the diagram, where there is no overlap, help her write characteristics of the Rainbow Fish that are not real, and place them to the left of the intersection. To the right, place a few characteristics of real fish that are not shared by the Rainbow Fish. When finished, help her compare and contrast how the fictitious fish and a real fish are alike and how they are different.

Graphs are an important learning tool because they demonstrate information visually. They help a child organize data to increase greater comprehension of reading and math facts.

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Reading Comprehension Strategies for Older Students

Once students leave elementary school, they are expected to be able to read well. But there is little help beyond the elementary school level when a student struggles to understand his textbooks. The reading level of middle and upper school textbooks varies, and certain books can be too hard for some kids to grasp. These students can learn strategies that might help.

Most textbooks used in school have questions to answer at the end of each section. A good strategy is to coach your child to read and think about those questions before beginning to read. The thinking time is to make sure he understands what each question is asking. This provides a framework for him as he begins to read. He can be looking for answers to those questions as he reads. This does more than just provide answers to the questions; it keeps him actively thinking.

Another strategy is to stop reading when confused. Your child should ask herself which part she understands and which she does not. She should annotate the hard part using sticky notes (“I don’t get this.”). She should ask, “Is this a vocabulary problem? Does this rely on earlier learning that I did not understand? Should I reread this part to see if I get it the second time through?” Regardless of her decision, she will know she needs to ask her teacher for help if she takes the time to make note of the problem areas.

It is possible that Rewordify might help your child. It is a free website where you can enter text and have it change it into words that are easier to understand. Unless his textbook is in digital form, though, he will have to type in the passage he is struggling with. Even so, it might be especially useful if the problem is that the textbook has too many difficult words in a passage.

There are many reading comprehension strategies. For more ideas, read Seven Strategies To Teach Students Text Comprehension. The secret is to realize that reading hard school books takes more time than reading for pleasure. Your child should set aside plenty of time when homework involves a reading assignment. Check the questions at the end of each section before beginning to read, stop and think when confused, and try Rewordify. To really understand, your brain has to be actively engaged and you need to take your time.

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Seven Steps to Developing Literacy

Parents are their child’s first teacher. There are many simple things you can do to ensure his reading and writing success.

• Read to your young child every day. Include a variety of texts (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.).
• Don’t simplify words. Use those “SAT” words early on and often! Research supports that hearing higher level language, even though a child might not know its meaning at the time, is an indicator of advanced reading and comprehension.
• Make sure your child sees you reading, as that subtly reinforces its importance.
• Encourage her to use words she already knows to decode new words. Have her look for the “little words inside the big ones.” For example, if she encounters the word "animals," help her break it into small parts and decode an-i-mals. Use your finger or a small index card to hide parts of the word. Then, help her blend the little words into one big one.
• When reading, stop and ask questions. When he correctly answers the question, go deeper. Ask him to go back to the text and find evidence to support his thoughts.
• Encourage her to keep a “reader response” notebook. After reading a story together, have her draw or write answers to questions, such as "who is your favorite character in the story?" "Why?" :What is the setting of that story (city, farm, desert, ocean, etc.)?"
• Help him make “self-to-text” connections to reading and writing. For example, after reading a story about animals at the zoo, talk about a time you visited the zoo. Discuss what personal experience was similar to the story, and what was different. Draw or write about a favorite zoo animal.

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Help Very Young Readers Learn Left-to-Right Progression

There are many simple things you can do to help your child quickly learn the basic elements of reading. When starting the reading process, a very young child may look at a group of words in a sentence or a paragraph, and see just that, a group of words! Children need to understand that in trying to determine what these words mean (when reading English and most languages), they must always start at the left. If there are several sentences to read, they must always start at the top left.

• If your child has difficulty with the concept of “left,” here is an exercise that can help. Have her hold up and fully open her left hand with her palm facing outward, towards you. She will see the back of her hand.  Ask her to make a letter “l” with her hand, and tell her this “l” stands for “left.” Children love this learning aid because they always have it with them!
• A good way to reinforce this “start on the left” concept is to always move your index finger in a left-to-right sweep when you are reading to your young child.  This will help her in recognizing words and in understanding the importance of left-to-right progression.
• Once your child is older and starting to read on his own, have him hold a small index card below the sentence line he is reading to you. This will focus his eyes and his attention on the sentence he is reading, not the one above or below.

When reading together, ask her questions about the words. For example, ask her to point to the word in the first sentence that says “dog.” You will probably be pleasantly surprised at how fast she can identify common words found in many early childhood books. As she learns more words, she will see how they make perfect sense when read in left-to-right progression.
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Phonemic Awareness: An Important Step to Early Literacy

It has been a hectic yet rewarding experience completing the first week of my new assignment as a literacy coach for my school district. This new job involves traveling to five elementary schools and supporting teachers as they implement our district’s new literacy initiatives.  One of the core educational concepts for young children that I will be stressing in kindergarten and 1st grade is something I call the “triangle base.”  Preschool and early elementary students need to develop certain skill sets before they can master reading. Experience has taught me that there are three important skills that when combined together comprise the “triangle base.” The skills are:

One-to-one correspondence. In reading, it means that the child is verbally saying what he is seeing in print.

Patterns. This means recognizing and understanding both visual and auditory patterns. (An example of a visual pattern would be a picket fence. An example of an auditory pattern can be found in the famous B-I-N-G-O song that children love.)

Rhyming. This promotes phonemic awareness, which is a crucial prereading skill.

These three important core skills form a solid base upon which most other educational skills can be built and sharpened. Today I want to expand on why phonemic awareness is so important. The simplest definition of the term is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language. However, it is more complicated and sequential. There are five basic steps in this skill:

• Beginning sounds (first letter)
• Ending sounds (last letter)
• Medial sounds (in the middle vowels)
• Blends (pl in plant, sw in swing) and digraphs (sh, ch, th, wh, ph, as in the words "shop" or "bath")
• Substitutions and deletions (for example, a child knowing that if you take away the c from the work "cake" and put a t in its place, the new word is "take." Or, if she knows the word "plate" and you delete the p, the remaining word is "late").

These skills are cumulative. A child cannot do step 5 if she is not proficient in the other four steps before it.

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It is well-known that good readers make personal connections to stories. These self-to-text connections help children deepen their understanding of what is being read.  Below are four concepts to help your child to relate to stories that he is listening to, or reading.

Prior knowledge:

Life experiences can help build your child’s prior knowledge for reading comprehension. For example, when you take your child to the beach, lake, zoo, park, or local farm, you increase her understanding of different settings in life. In education we call this building schema. Simply defined, schema is the database of life experiences.

Family connections:
Encourage reading connected to family life. For example, if you have a family pet, read books together about dogs, cats, fish, etc. She’ll understand how owners take care of pets, and how pets add to family life.

Foster interests:
If he loves dinosaurs, generate opportunities to delve deeply into that fascinating subject. Get different dinosaur books from your local library. If possible, visit a museum with dinosaur displays. Get some small toy dinosaurs, and help him learn about the different types of dinosaurs and their characteristics.

Compare and contrast:
When children compare and contrast, they are simply thinking about how things are alike, and how they are different. Together you might read a fiction book, such as Clifford the Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell, and compare and contrast the story to a nonfiction book about a real dog. One non-fiction example I’ve read with my class is The Bravest Dog Ever, The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford.  How are Clifford and the Balto alike? How are they different? Encourage your child to list at least three examples for each.

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What Pet Should I Get? Is Finally Here!

As a parent and a 1st grade teacher, I’m a huge fan of Dr. Seuss. I could not wait for the release of his new book, What Pet Should I Get? And I am delighted to say it was worth the wait!

From the front cover of The New York Times Book Review to a review by a Dartmouth College English professor, Dr. Seuss’ new book is being hailed as “an instant classic” and “will remind us, delightfully, that Dr. Seuss, over half a century ago, made learning to read an adventure.”

This long-anticipated book, released by Random House on July 28, 2015, follows the same two siblings that first appeared in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. This brother-and-sister team is on a quest to find a single pet. He likes a dog, she likes a cat. The first decision they face seems easy; a dog or a cat? Then Kay says, “Now what should we do? Dad said to pick one, we cannot take home two.”

As the children find more attractive animals, their decision becomes more complicated...a bird that sings, a rabbit, a fish. Their process is compounded by a deadline, “We have to pick one pet, and pick it out soon. You know mother told us to be back by noon.” A very unsubtle two-page headline adds to their quandary and pressure to make a decision: “Make up Your Mind.”

Common sense wins out after the children consider buying one of each kind of pet. “Dad would be mad.” Yet, then the pressure is on, “If we do not choose, we will end up with none.” Their final choice of a pet will probably puzzle young readers (and some parents, too). However, their final selection takes a back seat to Dr. Seuss’ lessons on the decisionmaking process, the ability to find compromise, and being able to develop a positive resolution while the clock is still ticking.

This is a book that can inspire long periods of discussion between young readers and parents. It should prompt many questions that can be asked by children to adults, and vice versa. Like all other Dr. Seuss books before it, What Pet Should I Get? is a true childhood adventure.

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5 Ways To Enhance Summer Fun With Reading

Summer is a great time to link purposeful reading to what you are doing as a family. Here are five simple ways to make summer reading goals easy and fun:

• If you are going to the park, take some favorite books along, for both you and your child. After she plays on the swings, slide, or monkey bars, together take a 5-minute reading break, on a special bench or in the shade under a tree. Depending on how long you are at the park, take two, three, or more reading breaks in between play. When you join in the break, you are subtly reinforcing the importance and enjoyment of reading.
• Tie activities to corresponding books. For example, if you are going to a baseball game, get a book or two out of the library to read about baseball beforehand. Three examples are Ballpark by Eileen R. Meyer, The Everything Kids Baseball Book by Greg Jacobs, and Curious George at the Baseball Game by Margaret Rey and H.A. Rey
• On a nice night, set up a small tent or make one using a sheet or blanket in the backyard. Grab a flashlight and your child’s favorite bedtime story (or stories) and read them in the tent before going back into the house to bed.
• At the pool or beach, stretch out on a towel or blanket for a “read and dry” break. Challenge her to use her finger or a stick to print a new word (that she has just learned) in the sand.
• Have a “Book Club Play Date Break.” When your child has a friend over for a play date, have the children take a short read-and-snack break. Let them take turns reading a page of the book to each other. After reading, while they’re having a snack, encourage them to talk about the story. Ask simple questions like “What was your favorite part?” “Where did this story take place?” “Who was the main character?” etc.

By being creative and making reading part of everyday activities, reading becomes a memorable aspect of summertime fun!

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Build True Reading Comprehension Skills This Summer

The faster a child can decode a word, the stronger a reader he will become. Recognizing words, using clues from the pictures and reading with fluency can make him a successful, comprehensive reader.

Here are ways to help develop these skills this summer.

Reinforce “starter” words: Below are 12 words that are considered the most commonly used in the English language. Instantly recognizing these words will give your child a head start in reading:

the            in          of           is           it       I
and           you         to           a           that     are

Print these words on small index cards, using lowercase letters. Practice all summer, two at a time, until she can easily recognize and say these correctly and randomly.

Teach him to reference the picture: Remind him to look at the picture before reading. In my reading groups, we always do a “picture walk” through the story before reading. If he stumbles when reading, have him reference the picture for a clue to get back on track.

Practice reading fluency: Reading fluency means smoothness, flow, and clarity of oral reading. The more fluent a child reads, the greater she comprehends. Like many things in life, this comes with practice!

Try reading with a timer. Set the timer for one minute. Have her start reading a page out loud. Be sure to start the timer when she says the first word. Have her stop reading when the timer rings, and put her finger on the last word she said. Help her count the total number of words she read in one minute. Set the timer again for one minute. Challenge her to read it one more time clearly and quickly, trying to increase the number of words before the timer rings. My students practice this as a partner game, and really enjoy it!

Fun activities such as these, combined with lots of practice this summer, can help your child become an avid, confident, and lifelong reader!

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The Ability To Compare and Contrast Increases Reading Comprehension

The ability to compare and contrast between fiction and nonfiction, or elements of a story, significantly increases your child’s reading comprehension.

When comparing, students are thinking about how things are alike. When contrasting, they are noting how things are different. An example might be “How are animals and people alike? How are they different?”

By helping a child compare and contrast, you are building her background knowledge and helping her subtly analyze and categorize. This connection enhances a child’s ability to remember key details in a story.

Here are two easy ways to practice this skill:

• Let your child choose a story of interest. Use a simple “T” chart to compare and contrast two characters in the story. On a plain piece of paper make a large capital “T” with the descending part of the letter in the middle, dividing the paper into equal left and right columns. On the top of the left column print the word same. On the right top, print the word different. Help him find at least five traits that the characters share, such as “they live in the same city.” Then find five that make them different: one was a girl, one was a boy, etc.
• If your child likes ocean animals, together read a simple nonfiction story about whales and another one about fish. Your local librarian can help you choose appropriate, easy books. When done reading both books, draw a simple Venn diagram on plain white paper. (A Venn diagram is two similar size circles that overlap and intersect in the middle.) Label the middle part that intersects “same.” On the top of the left side of the intersection, write “whales.” On the top of the right side, write “fish.” Then help your child write at least three details in each section. For example in the whales section she could write “comes up for air, babies are born alive, tail goes up and down.” On the fish side she could write “breathes under water, tail moves side-to-side, babies hatch from eggs.” In the share intersection she could write “both live in water, both swim, both move with their tails.”

This kind of practice helps a young reader structure events, characters, and information from what they read. This structure then becomes a good foundation to promote greater reading comprehension.

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Understanding Directional and Positional Words

Does your young child have trouble understanding directions? An easy way to help remedy this problem is to practice directional and positional words each day.

Around the house, in the car, and in the yard, there are always good opportunities for helping a child build concepts that describe location.

Here is a basic list of simple directional and positional words. Understanding the meaning of these words helps your young child better follow directions, comprehend reading and math skills and navigate social interactions.

above, below                         top, bottom                             before, after
on, off                                     over, under                              left, right
up, down                                in, out                                       near, far
inside, outside                      front, back                               start, finish

Also, simple ordinal words such as first, second, third, etc.

Some examples are:
“Please put the spoons on the table.” “Don't forget to make sure that socks get put in the hamper.” “Let's hang that nice picture you drew on the wall, over your bed.”
First we are going to the paint store, second we'll stop and get the cake, and third we'll stop at the park to play.”

When you are outside together, look for occasions to reference directional words. “Do you see that beautiful blue bird up in the tree?” “Be careful to jump over that big stick in the yard.” “Let's look under the porch for the lost rake.” “How fast can you hop around that pile of leaves?”

Another fun way to practice is to play an “I Spy” game, using directional and positional words as clues. “I spy something red in the sky above the house. What is it?” (A red kite.) “I spy something little and blue below the bush. What is it?” (A blue bird.) Then let her give you clues, using directional words, to identify something she “spies”!

Recognizing and understanding directional and positional words is part of Common Core State Standards and helps a young child improve academic and social skills.

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Coming Soon: A New Dr. Seuss Book!

March 2 is always a special day in early childhood education. This year it was the 111th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss is the beloved author of such childhood classic books as Hop on Pop, The Cat in the Hat, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

Many schools honor Dr. Seuss with in a variety of ways, from participating in Read Across America Day to serving green eggs and ham to cutting out paper apples to make a Ten Apples Up On Top picture.

This year, Dr. Seuss has sent us a birthday present! It has been announced that a newly discovered children’s book, authored by Dr. Seuss himself, will be published by Random House. It will be available in bookstores and libraries in July 2015. The book is called What Pet Should I Get? We can thank Dr. Seuss’ widow, Audrey Geisel, for rediscovering some of her husband’s old manuscripts in 2013. The manuscripts contained full text and illustrations. This will be the first Dr. Seuss book published in 25 years, since Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Here are five fun ways to use Dr. Seuss reading ideas:

• Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language, and a key element for reading success. Dr. Seuss’ use of rhymes, including nonsense rhymes, supports and encourages phonemic awareness. Dr. Seuss’ books help pre- and beginning readers connect the sounds with their corresponding letters.
• The books are very good for teaching life lessons in a fun and easy-to-understand way for young children. Horton Hears a Who teaches about equality. The Lorax is about protecting the Earth and how we are all responsible.
• One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish is a great book to practice math. Use small fish-shaped crackers to act out the story or make a fish graph. Another example is Ten Apples Up on Top.
• My Book About Me creates a personal nonfiction story by encouraging a child to explore and record things unique to her own self and life.
• Oh, the Thinks You Can Think and The Cat in the Hat are great tools to help a young child explore the endless possibilities and wonders of imagination.

Dr. Seuss books educate while entertaining young students. They spark a curiosity about books that engage even reluctant readers. As a parent, grandparent, and 1st grade teacher, I am a big fan of Dr. Seuss and eagerly await the release of What Pet Should I Get?

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The start of the new year is a great time to reinvigorate your efforts to help in your child’s reading development. From January through the end of the school year, diligently practice the simple tips found below at home. These efforts will help your young student become a reading superstar.

• Make up silly rhymes when you are alone with your child. For example, “Since we don’t have a car, we can’t go very far. But your face has a glow, from playing in the snow.” Rhyming books can also be borrowed from local libraries for various grade levels. Rhyming prepares your child for learning letter sounds and for decoding words. The more your child can hear and understand the nature of rhymes, the easier she will find reading.
• Help him with his reading homework by showing enthusiastic interest in every assignment. Ask him questions about his homework and praise him when can discuss why his class was given this assignment. Ask if there are any “new words” that are causing him concern. Explain the definition of the new words, and if necessary, look them up in a paper or internet dictionary.
• Read to your child every night. Read her books on subjects she has a genuine interest in. Ask her to read parts of these book to you. Ask leading questions such as, “What do you think is going to happen next?” Or, “How do you like this book so far?” “Why do you feel that way?”
• Start a “Word Collection Journal” of difficult words and their (brief) definitions from both homework assignments and nighttime reading. Review these words on a regular basis, until your child is very familiar with them.

A midyear meeting with your child’s teacher will let you know your child’s current reading level. If your child is falling behind her classmates, the teacher will offer specific suggestions for additional reading help. If she is ahead of her classmates, the teacher can suggest some exciting and age-appropriate books to challenge her.

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Teachers know that much time and energy is focused on making sure a student reaches and stays at grade level for his academic benchmarks. Yet all good teachers know that supporting and challenging an above-level child is equally as important!

Here are ways that parents can help support a child who has already achieved or surpassed grade level requirements:

• Enhance this skill by helping him identify areas of interest. Then collect books, children’s magazines, etc., that are at his appropriate reading level. You can borrow these from your public library, school library, or from friends with older children.
• Encourage him to read both fiction and nonfiction stories about the same subject. For example, borrow books regarding the actual discovery of dinosaurs, then mix with some fictional dinosaur stories. With your help, encourage him to compare and contrast the similarities and differences.
• Combine reading with science, cooking, art, or other “hands-on” experiences. For example, if he loves snakes, let him read both fiction and nonfiction stories about them. Then, roll colored balls of clay into different types of snakes to make his own collection. Let him write simple labels, using index cards, to identify the types of snakes and two or three of their characteristics. Help him set up a place in his room to display his labeled collection.

• Help her expand her homework. For example, challenge her to write a word problem to explain how she arrived at the correct math answer.
• Help her practice estimation. Fill a clean, small jar with marbles, or any other small objects. Ask her to guess how many marbles are in the jar. Have her write down her guess. Then open the jar and count the marbles together. See how close her estimation came to the actual count. Do this often with different items,of different sizes, such as pennies, Lego pieces, Goldfish crackers, etc. This will also help her understand how different-sized objects can take up more or less space in the same size jar.
• Bring math into everyday life. If she would like to get a certain small toy, have her do two or three simple jobs around the house to earn some money. Count the coins together until she has enough to purchase the toy.

Simple creative strategies like these can keep an above-level student excited about learning!

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Asking questions when reading to your child is a great way to build your child’s reading comprehension. Helping her pay attention to key details, story settings and characters simplifies the complexities of reading for a young student.

Here are three easy ways to build reading comprehension:

• Help her make a self-to-text connection. For example, when reading Clifford’s Halloween together, ask “If you were Emily Elizabeth, what costume would you want Clifford to wear? How would you make that?” Making highly personal connections to stories helps young readers relate the story to experiences in their own lives, thereby making the story more meaningful.
• Encourage her to pay attention to details in the story. Details in a story help support understanding of the main idea. After reading Clifford’s Pals together, ask questions that require a specific answer from the story. Some examples might be “What were Clifford’s pals’ names?” “Where did his pals live?” or “Where did the pals go to play? Do you think that’s a good idea to play there? Why or why not?” If she’s not sure of an answer to any question, help her go back and find the answer in the text.
• Ask questions about story sequence. Using temporal words, such as first, next, then, and after, help children organize the flow of a story. For example, after reading Clifford and the Grouchy Neighbors ask, “What happened first in the story?” “What happened next?” “How does this story end?” Or “If you could write a different ending to this story what would it be?” Understanding story sequence helps a child organize events, information, story dilemmas, problem solving and outcomes.

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Turn Paper Clutter Into Learning Tools

Are old magazines, newspapers, flyers, and brochures causing clutter in your home? Turn them into new learning tools that develop academic and important motor skills for your young student!

For phonics practice:

• Use pictures to reinforce beginning sounds. Help your child print a capital and lowercase Bb, for example, on the bottom of a plain piece of paper. Then have her become a “Bb” detective. Leafing through the magazine, page by page, she can cut out as many pictures of things she can find that start with the letter B or b, then paste them on the paper. The cuts can be simple circles or squares around the picture, not precise cuts. Hang up her letter/picture creations. Once she’s mastered all her beginning consonant sounds, you can do a similar activity for ending sounds.
• Use the materials to help your child categorize. For example, have him cut out and paste things that move on wheels. Or, have him find and paste as many different animals as he can discover.

For math practice:

• Have your child use small pictures to make addition sentences. For example, she can paste pictures of three dogs in a row. Leave a small space, and then paste pictures of four cats in the same row. Underneath the pictures she can write, or you can help her write 3 + 4 = 7.
• Together look at a small article in the newspaper, brochure, or magazine. Have him estimate how many times he sees the letters “Tt,” for example, and print his estimated number on a small piece of paper. Then have him or help him go back with a highlight marker to find and highlight the Tt’s in the article. Count the highlighted Tt’s together and print that number next to the estimate to see how close his guess came to the actual number.

Simple activities like these help a young student practice visual, auditory, and motor skills simultaneously, while making good use of items that might have just ended up in the bin!

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Is Online Skimming Destroying Reading Comprehension?

Most students feel that as soon as they have answered all the questions on their homework assignment, they are finished with learning that material. They often rush through and only use the resources they absolutely must use to get the work done. Most often, they go to their textbook and don’t even return to the notes they took in class. Or even worse, they find the information on the internet. They skim and scan for what they need and really do not read for understanding. My biggest concern about this approach is that the type of reading students do in their textbook or online does not ensure that they comprehend what the section was about. They simply look for an answer, write it down, and stop reading further. If their assignment asked them to read a section and answer the questions at the end, students only read what they have to read to answer the questions.

Reading online is a very different task than seriously reading a printed text. Our eyes do not track from left to right and move down the page. We do not patiently read one page and then the next. Instead our eyes jump around the page looking for key words and something of high interest. We jump from link to link and often do not even return to where we started reading in the first place. Scientists are expressing concerns about our loss of ability to read slowly and thoroughly in order to truly grasp meaning.

The ability to read critically is important. Success in school, college, and in many careers depends on it. One thing your child should be doing now to improve his reading comprehension is to go back once he has completed his homework and slowly read through the text he was assigned to read. He should stop periodically to think about what he just read. He should ask himself, “What does that mean?” “Do I understand that?” If the answer is no, then he should write his questions down to ask in class the next day. He should also consider whether the answers he wrote earlier for homework are thorough enough.

In summary, it is fine to skim and scan through a text or online source to find answers for homework, but that is just the start of the work that should be done. Once the answers are written, the reading for comprehension should begin.

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Does your child like to collect things? If so, turn those seashells, rocks, action figures, comic books, toy dinosaurs, into useful objects that promote math and Language Arts skills.

Here are three ways to involve math with collectibles:

• Start by counting the objects different ways. He can count his collection by ones or skip-count by putting the objects into sets of two, five, or 10. Also, have him practice counting backwards, to zero, from the total number.
• Help your child classify her collection. For example, if she collects seashells, have her sort them by size, color, shape, or markings.
• When he wants to add to his collection, create a list of jobs he can do to earn and budget the money for new items.

To build Language Arts skills, try the following:

• Have your child choose an object from his collection and tell or write a short fiction story about it. For example, tell how one of his action figures got “lost” from the others. Together, brainstorm ideas to get started. Or, he could write a short nonfiction story, telling details about the action figure and how he received it.
• Increase her understanding of describing words by helping her list at least five (or more) different adjectives about an item in her collection. If she likes to collect stuffed animals, for example, some examples of words might be big, small, furry, soft, old, new, faded, cuddly, colorful, etc.
• Take two or three of his small toy dinosaurs to the library and help him find nonfiction books that match. Help him read why his favorite Stegosaurus has plates on his back and spikes on his tail.

Collections are a wonderful activity for children.  They can also be a great tool for organizing and reinforcing academic skills.

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Three ways to categorize young readers are emergent, beginning, and independent.

Emergent reading is defined as children’s interaction with reading and writing before they can actually read and write. Emergent readers can recognize some short words and know some letter sounds. Yet, an emergent reader often relies on memorization. This frequently is the child who wants to hear the same story over and over again.

Help an emergent reader choose books with:

• Colorful illustrations or photographs
• Large print with few words
• Pictures that exactly match the words. For example, if the words say “See the blue bird fly” the picture should clearly and simply show a blue bird flying.

A beginning reader usually knows some sight words and can use his knowledge of phonics to sound out simple words. She looks for clues in the pictures to help her decode unknown words. Help a beginning reader choose books with:

• Pictures and a few sentences or small paragraph on each page
• Pictures that can contain more detail
• Print that is smaller, but should contain simple, familiar, and easily decodable words

An independent reader can easily decode unknown words and read with fluency and expression. This is the reader who pays attention to periods, question marks and exclamation marks at the end of sentences.  They comprehend most of what they read. They use picture and word clues to figure out what they don’t understand.  Help an independent reader choose books with:

• Smaller print and longer sentences or two to three paragraphs per page
• More than one character
• Change of settings
• Plots that are more detailed and challenging

No matter what category of reader your young child is, still read aloud to him often. Read a variety of books at different levels to, or along with him.

With lots of reading practice, you’ll be amazed at how quickly an emergent reader can become an independent reader!

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Teach Temporal Words for Better Reading Comprehension

Knowing and understanding temporal words are key factors in helping young children sequence events in stories. Temporal words are words that relate to time. Twelve examples for young readers to know and practice are:

• once
• first
• next
• then
• before
• while
• after
• on
• by
• following
• last
• finally

Recognizing these important words helps a young reader begin to mentally “organize” events in the story. This organization can clarify story sequence, improving overall reading comprehension.

You can help your child become familiar with these words and practice them while reading together. Here are two simple ways to do this:

• Point out these words when reading together, and reinforce their importance. If you’re reading The Three Little Pigs together, for example, you can clearly help her understand first (house of straw), next (house of sticks), and last (house of bricks).
• Stop and ask simple questions after reading. If you’re reading the rhyme “Jack and Jill” together, ask your child “What’s the first thing Jack and Jill wanted to do?” (Run up the hill to get water.) “What happened next?” (Jack fell down.) “Then what happened?” (Jill came tumbling after.) “Finally, what do you think happened to the water?”

When reading together, always emphasize temporal words. Let this become a good reading habit. Before you know it, your child will be recognizing these important words on her own!

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