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Once children know letters, they can’t wait to use those letters to make words. When they know words they can then construct a sentence. Children learn that a sentence is a group of words that when combined, make a complete thought. Understanding sentences is a gateway to reading and reading comprehension.

Here are two fun ways to help your young child turn those words she recognizes into sentences:

  • Practice making sentences orally. Start simply, such as cat, the, sat.  She should be able to say “The cat sat.” Help her if she needs it. Once she can do simple ones, increase the difficulty. Give her four or five words she knows, out of order, and ask her to put them in a sentence—for example, "be, fish, in, swims, pond, a." She should be able to say “A fish swims in a pond.”
  • When reading a story together, have her pick two or three random words she knows. For example, when reading Clifford the Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell, she might pick the words "the, street, red." Then help her construct a sentence, unrelated to the story, using those words and adding more. An example could be “A big red bench is on the street.”

Once your child can easily build sentences orally, try this:

  • You will need some small index cards and a dark marker or crayon.
  • Have your child find a sentence from his favorite book.
  • Print the sentence by putting one word on each index card. Don’t forget to add the capital letter in the beginning.
  • Have him match the words on the cards to the words in the book.
  • Then mix up the cards and have him put the sentence in order.
  • When the sentence cards are in order, ask him to point to each word, left-to-right, as he says the sentence.
  • Do that often with some favorite sentences from books.
  • Consider affixing some magnetic tape and hanging the word cards on the fridge so he can create random sentences whenever he’s inspired.

Simple activities like these help young children recognize word order and sentence structure. Understanding sentences lets a child go to the next step—that sentences put together make a story!

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Websites are cluttered with multiple windows and articles as well as advertisements. The extra information on each page can make it difficult to read what you really want to read. This is especially true for students who are distractible or have attention deficits. “Readability” is a free app that makes reading so much easier. It removes the clutter from the screen, enlarges the font, and focuses on the one article you select to read. It is very easy to install and works through Google Chrome as an add-on or an app on your iPad, iPhone, or Android device.

To get Readability for Google Chrome, open Chrome and go to this download page. Select “Install Now,” wait a few seconds, and you are ready to go. An icon appears on the menu bar in the upper right corner that looks like a red sofa. When you find an article you want to read, click the icon and select from the menu—“Read Now,” “Read Later,” or “Send to Kindle.” If you select “Read Now,” the add-on will clean up the screen (this takes a few seconds) and open the article all by itself. There is nothing to distract the reader

To get the Readability app, follow the appropriate links found on Readability’s frequently asked questions page. To use it, open the app, click the add icon (a plus sign), and copy and paste the URL where the article you want to read is found. You then have the option to “Read Now,” or “Read Later.”

When I evaluate reading material or textbooks for my students, I always pay attention to the amount of clutter on each page. Reading comprehension can be affected by a poorly designed page. Websites can be very difficult for many students because there is so much that they need to ignore. The Readability add-on can help these students in school to be able to focus on what is important. Check it out. It’s free and easy to use!


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Listening to children’s music is a fun way to help your young student make connections needed for reading. These connections include:

  • listening
  • memory/recall
  • rhyming
  • language skills
  • focus

It can also be a great enrichment for children who need English language acquisition help. When you combine music with movement, you help a young child develop:

  • rhythm and beat
  • left-to-right progression (needed for successful reading and writing)
  • spatial sense
  • gross-motor skills
  • self-control

Practicing these skills can help a child understand patterns, time, and shapes, as well as adding and subtracting. Conceptualizing these readiness skills can help a young child increase her ability to make connections and problem-solve in reading, writing, and math. Music can also be helpful in boosting social skills, such as:

  • kindness
  • sharing
  • cooperating
  • responsibility
  • friendship

Some favorite children’s CDs, which I use in my classroom, are by the artists Hap Palmer (Parade of Colors), Laurie Berkner (Clean It Up), Bill Harley (Down in the Backpack), and Steve Roslonek (Kindness).

Music and movement are fantastic ways to incorporate fun while learning and reinforcing important skills necessary for school success!


> Simple Rhyming Songs Can Enhance Early Learning

> Art & Music Worksheets

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“Phonemic awareness” is a term often used when children are beginning to read. You might hear this term at a parent conference or PTO night. Simply put, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language.

Yet it’s more complex than that simple definition. There are five steps to acquiring phonemic awareness, and they go in sequence. In other words, a child cannot do step five without knowing steps one through four. Understanding this sequence will allow you to help your young child practice these important steps, when he or she is learning to read.

•    Step 1: Beginning sounds Help him practice consonant sounds so that when he sees the word “hat,” for example, he’ll recognize that it begins with the “h” sound.
•    Step 2: Ending sounds
Help her identify sounds of letters at the end of words. She should be able to recognize that the word “bed” ends with the sound of letter “d.”

•    Step 3: Medial/middle sounds
This is where knowledge of short and long vowel sounds can aid a child in “sounding out” words. For example, he needs to know that “cat” has the short “a” sound in the middle, while “rake” has the long “a” sound.
•    Step 4: Blends and digraphs
Blends are formed when two letters are put together and keep their own sounds, like the “pl” in the beginning of the word “plant.” Digraphs are formed when the two letters put together form a new and different sound, like the “ch” in the word “cheese.” Common digraphs are “th,” “ch,” “sh,” “wh” and “ph.” These can be found at the beginning (shell), middle (together), or end of words (bath).
•    Step 5: Substitutions and deletions
Substitutions mean that when he reads the word “can,” for example, you say, “If you take away the ‘c’ and change it to ‘m,’ what’s the new word?” He should know that it’s “man.” Deletions mean that if she knows the word “stake” and you erase the “s,” she’ll know the word left is “take.”

Understanding and practicing this sequence and placement of sounds can help your child improve decoding, fluency, and reading comprehension skills.


> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

> 3 Strategies To Build Strong Reading Skills

End-of-the-year progress reports usually come home on the last day of school. This often leaves parents with unanswered questions about what the report really means. Parents may wonder just how well prepared their young child is for the next grade level. Before the end of school, parents should ask the teacher some important questions about their child’s yearlong progress.

Here is a list of 10 questions that should give parents some insight into what the progress report means, as well as preparation for the next grade:

  • Is my child’s reading on grade level, based on Common Core State Standards?
  • If yes, how can I continue to support their reading all summer?
  • If not, what can I do to help him improve skills?
  • Would you give me a list of recommended reading books to support her level?
  • Would you share some strategies to help increase his decoding, comprehension, or fluency skills? (Identify targets that might need improvement.)
  • Are her math skills on grade level, based on Common Core State Standards?
  • What are some strategies to keep math skills strong?
  • Would you recommend some math games to practice needed skills?
  • How can I help my child continue writing skills?
  • How does my child measure up socially and emotionally with classmates?


Answers to these questions will give you a clearer understanding of what needs to be done over summer vacation to keep skills sharp.

Make a commitment to keep learning strong and prevent “summer slide.” This will give your child an excellent base for a positive start in September!

I’ve written a number of blogs with simple reading and math games, including:

> Improving Reading Fluency With Nonsense Words
> Hands-On Math Games
> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills

As well, check the SchoolFamily.com collection of math printables for board games and other activities.

This month’s words for your child’s word bank involve consonant blends and consonant digraphs. Simply put, consonant blends consist of two or three consonants used together in words, where each letter sound is distinct, such as the “p” and “l” in the word “play” or “str” in the word “street.” Consonant digraphs consist of two consonants in words that when used together form a new sound. The most common digraphs are “th,” “sh,” “ch,” “wh,” and “ph.” Here are some consonant blend words frequently used in classrooms:






Following are words where the consonant digraph can be at the beginning or end of the word:






Next month, I’ll post additional words for the word bank that can pique your child’s interest in words during summer vacation!


> Start a "Word a Day" Bank in Your Family

> New Words To Add to Your Child's Word Bank

Celebrate Spring With Stories and Common Core Activities

Warm weather is coming, and seasonal books, with fun and easy connecting activities, are a great way to celebrate with your young child. A variety of springtime books are readily available at your local library or on an e-reader. Here are two of my favorites, plus simple activities that extend the learning and promote Common Core skills.

Book and Activity 1:

  • Together read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
  • When reading is done, go outside to see whether you can find any caterpillars. Let your child be a scientist. Look closely at the caterpillar. Use a magnifying glass, if available. Note size, body segments, and legs.
  • When back inside, cut the bottom part of a cardboard egg carton in half lengthwise. Turn it over to make a caterpillar’s body. Paint or color it. Add cut pipe cleaner or toothpicks as legs and antennae.

Book and Activity 2:

  • Together read It Looked Like Spilt Milk, by Charles G. Shaw
  • Talk about the different cloud shapes your child might see, referencing the book.
  • On a sunny day, take her outside to look at the puffy clouds and let her find any shapes that are the same as or different from the ones in the book.
  • When back inside (or outside if weather permits), have her rip white construction paper into different “cloud” shapes of her own design. Paste them onto a blue piece of construction paper for her own “spilt milk” clouds.

Relating stories to children’s real-life experiences helps them make a Common Core “self-to-text” connection, greatly increasing their understanding of details and settings in the stories.

Looking for a reason to make this coming weekend memorable for your child? Celebrate Dr. Seuss! March 2 is Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Random House and the National Education Association (NEA) are urging adults to take time to participate in Read Across America on March 1 (the day is marked on the school day closest to March 2) and read to a child. In addition, many elementary schools across the United States celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday each year because of his unique appeal to young children.

Those who have read my blogs on literacy for early learners are well aware of my affection for Dr. Seuss books! His emphasis on rhyme is a great exercise in phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness, simply put, is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language. It gets more complex when you understand that there is a sequence to hearing different sounds. However, starting with rhyme is a key element in learning to read, and Dr. Seuss is all about rhyme!

Here are six of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, and an explanation for why you should read any of these to a kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade student. Or if your child is already a good reader, he should read aloud to you!

  • Ten Apples Up on Top has great rhyme, while teaching a child all about counting and the combinations of ten.
  • Hop on Pop features rhyme for beginning readers using simple sentences.
  • There’s a Wocket in my Pocket uses rhyme to teach about habitats and living in harmony.
  • I Wish That I Had Duck Feet explores self-esteem and accepting differences.
  • The Lorax is a lesson on the importance of saving our environment.
  • Green Eggs and Ham teaches children about trying something before deciding if they like it or not.

So celebrate this beloved author’s birthday this coming weekend. Add a fun activity. For example, after reading Green Eggs and Ham surprise your child with a green eggs and ham breakfast—mix some ground up parsley with a bit of water into eggs before scrambling.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!


> Great Kids' Books for Read Across America Day

> Reading worksheets for home

So your young elementary student is down with the flu, or a really bad cold.

SchoolFamily.com has an excellent article, Make School Sick Days Less Stressful, that offers wise advice in dealing with childhood sick days.

I thought I would chip in with a list of wonderful age-appropriate books that would help your child make some great Common Core “Self-to-Text” connections while recovering. A Self-to-Text connection happens when a child makes a personal connection between reading material and their own life experiences, deepening comprehension.

The following books should be available at your library, local book store, from Amazon, or from an e-reader. If possible, snuggle and read along with your child…and add your own childhood connections.

Here are five suggestions for each grade level: 

For kindergarten students:

  • Bear Feels Sick by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
  • Don’t You Feel Well, Sam? by Amy Hest
  • Felix Feels Better by Rosemary Wells
  • I Hate To Be Sick by Aamir Lee Bermiss
  • Miss Bindergarten Stays Home From Kindergarten by Joseph Slate

For 1st graders:

  • A Sick Day for Amos McGhee by Phillip C. Stead
  • Llama, Llama Home with Mama by Anna Dewdney
  • Jordan’s Silly Sick Day by Justine Fontes
  • Germs Make Me Sick by Melvin Berger
  • The Berenstain Bears: Sick Days by Jan Berenstain and Mike Berenstain

For 2nd graders:

  • My Cold Went On Vacation by Molly Rausch
  • Germs! Germs! Germs! by Bobbi Katz
  • Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie: A Book About Germs by Joanna Cole
  • The Sick Day by Patricia Maclachlan
  • Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius, Sick Day by Steven Banks

Good books can turn a nasty childhood illness into a memorable, educational, and maybe even somewhat pleasant experience!

> Fun Crafts Projects To Match Early Elementary Books

> Feeling Sick? When To Stay Home

Looking for some creative educational activities to occupy young children on stormy days? To have some genuine parent/child fun together, simply look to books. The following are favorites of kindergarten and 1st grade students everywhere!

Start with The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle or The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. These books are readily available at your local library.

Together read The Very Busy Spider. Then have fun with this activity.

You will need:

  • Glue
  • An 8”x 11” piece of black construction paper
  • A piece of chalk, or white crayon
  • Dry spaghetti or straws
  • Yarn or string
  • Small pieces of red and green construction paper (2”x 2”) plus extra small scraps of black construction paper



  1. Draw a spider’s web outline, in chalk or white crayon, on the black paper for your child.
  2. Have him glue spaghetti or straws to fit on the white lines radiating from the center of the web.
  3. Then have him glue circles of yarn or string over the radial lines to complete the web.
  4. Make the spider by gluing a small green circle to an oval red shape and add eight legs from the construction paper scraps, four on each side. It should look like the spider on the cover of the book. Glue the spider to a spot on the web.

Together read The Rainbow Fish. For a Rainbow Fish craft activity, you will need:

  • 8” x 11” blue construction paper and a small scrap of yellow construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Foil
  • Different colored tissue paper
  • Black marker



  1. Draw one large fish shape on the blue construction paper for your child.  Have her cut out the fish.
  2. Cut some foil and tissue paper circles for her, a little bit larger than a quarter.
  3. Have her layer and glue the foil and colored tissue onto the blue fish shape, overlapping like scales.
  4. With the marker, have her draw an eye. Cut the yellow construction paper to shape the fish’s mouth, just like the picture on the cover of the book.

Hang these finished drawings in your child’s room, to be proudly displayed. Reading the books gives the craft a purpose, and creating the craft provides a tactile aid in helping a child remember details from the story. 

Who else seriously needs a break…from summer break?!

We’ve had a “goodncrazy” summer, filled with road trips, air trips, summer camps, camping-camps, and very little home time.

Parents always worry about the education “brain drain” during summer vacation. And, like us, when you aren’t home to keep up on reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, how do you keep more than a few facts from slipping out of your kids’ brains?!

That said, the Rogers family departs once again, heading out for our last vacation before summer ends. This time it’s to NJ for a beach visit to the Garden State, where we used to live. School for the goodncrazy kids starts in a few short weeks so there literally won’t be time to stuff their brains with educational catch-up once we return.

Not a problem, however.

We plan to create educational experiences and plug the brain drain without them even knowing it!


5 Ways to Sneak in Education While on Vacation!  (Shall we call it Edu-Vacationing?)

  • Before you leave, include the kids in some research. Map out the destinations, learn about different transportation options available in a large city (like subways and bus systems), help kids make any flight reservations, and include them in last minute changes to itineraries. These are all great geography lessons. Not to mention life lessons!


  • Plan to visit educational sites while on vacation. Museums, historic monuments and even family birthplaces can all be very educational! We are super excited about visiting the National Park Service's Thomas Edison Park in West Orange, NJ. We lived right next door for 3 years and never saw it. Now we’re flying 2,000 miles and we are NOT going to miss it! My little boy is a science freak so it’s a no brainer to look for science-related museums and outings while on vacation. (Surprise bonus: There’s a fabulous kid’s science play area in the San Francisco airport!)


  • Don’t tell the kids it’s good for them. I’m talking about electronic educational apps masquerading as games! It’s simple: In Google Play or in iTunes search for educational games. There are hundreds (maybe thousands?), so start with the free versions and when you like one upgrade to the paid version for more benefits. (Tip: Famigo is a family-friendly review site, so start there!) A few of our favorites include: Chocolate Fix by  ThinkFun; SuperWhy, a new app by PBS Kids; and YabberMag by Big Red Publications. Education and entertainment, all in one!


  • Learn a language together! We found out that our high school has access to Rosetta Stone (a language learning company), and for a small fee we were able to have access the Spanish software, giving our teen a bit of a head start on her language class. Since we take our laptops with us on most trips (the software doesn’t work on iPads), she can use the Internet interface during downtime. Not to leave out the younger kids we found a really great language app called MindSnacks. The first two levels are free, and the full version is $5 for 20 levels (Dad already speaks the language so we test ourselves on him!)


  • Follow up after landing back home. Help your kids write a silly version of “What I Did on Summer Vacation,” including drawings they make about the places you visited. Ask the older kids to pen a fun poem with rhyming words—Dr. Suess style—about each day of vacation. And pull out all your receipts and have the kids help tally up the cost of the trip. See if they can spot ways to cut costs for the next family-travel event!


Summer is winding down fast for us. And yet many of my friends across the country are already in school!

What did YOU and your family do for summer vacation?

Editor's note: Check these SchoolFamily.com articles about other ways to prevent summertime "brain drain"and keeping kids fit and active during the summer.

If your child is entering 1st grade, there are certain skills that should have been mastered in kindergarten. To keep those skills sharp, and be first-grade “Common Core Ready” for reading, here are 3 ways to practice during the remaining weeks of summer. These activities are perfect when reading a fiction or non-fiction story together, at bedtime or anytime:


• Ask your child questions about the story and make sure he answers using key details. For example, if reading Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne, you might try asking, “What are the children’s names and how are they related?” (Jack and Annie are brother and sister.) Or, “How does Jack escape from the T-Rex?” (He gets a ride on the back of a Pteranodon.)

• If reading a non-fiction text, such as From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman focus on setting and events.  Ask, “Where does this story take place?” (Children in the story observe the changes in a classroom) “How does the caterpillar become a butterfly?”  (Egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly…metamorphosis!) 

• Ask your child to answer questions that determine or clarify word meanings in a sentence. When reading Whales by Gail Gibbons, for example, ask, “How do you know a whale is a mammal?” (Breathes air, babies born alive, not hatched, etc.) “What are the two different groups of whales?” (Toothed and baleen.)

 Teaching your child to pay attention to details, setting, events, and new vocabulary in stories will insure that she becomes a proficient and comprehensive 1st grade reader!

Editor’s note: Is your child entering kindergarten? Read Connie’s blog posts on preparing your child to be “Common Core Ready” for kindergarten math.

Motivating your young child to read during the summer can be a challenge. Here are 3 easy ideas to keep your child reading all summer, while subtly reinforcing the Common Core reading standards.

  • Connect reading to projects or crafts: Encourage your child to read Two Blue Jays by Anne Rockwell and Megan Halsey.  This is an engaging story about students observing blue jays building a nest outside their classroom window. Then, help her make a simple birdhouse to hang in a tree in your backyard.  Or, have him read Maisy Makes Lemonade by Lucy Cousins, and help him set up a lemonade stand.


  •  Connect reading to family travel or other family interests: Together read Punky Goes Fishing by Sally G. Ward, before going on a fishing trip. Or, read The Little Airplane by Lois Leski before going on an airplane trip.


  • Set a Summer Reading Goal: Challenge your child to read 5 books a week.  Keep a reading sticker chart, and for each book read, add a sticker. When there are 15 stickers on the chart have a special reward for your good reader, such as an ice cream sundae or new beach toy.


 Other Fun Ways to Focus on Common Core Reading Standard:

• Have her tell you key details in the story.

• Have him retell the story to demonstrate understanding of its main idea.

• Talk about characters, setting, and events in the story.

• Compare and contrast adventures and experiences of the characters in the story.

Make meaningful reading part of your family’s summertime fun!


Editor's note: Another fun way to read with your child—while combining a fun activity—is to read the recipe for these Lemonade Cookies, which are easy to make, or choose other recipes to make with children from our Recipe Share.

Here is an easy activity to promote phonics, spelling, and word recognition, important ingredients when learning to read! 

You will need old catalogs, magazines, flyers, or greeting cards; plain paper; and glue or tape.

  • Help your child write some simple words they know on the front and back of some plain pieces of paper. Put only one word on top of each page (for example, ant, ran, hen, pig, hot, etc.)
  • Then have him find pictures for each letter in the word. For the word “ant,” he might find a picture of an (a)pple, a (n)ut and a (t)ree.
  • Have him glue the pictures on the paper, in that order, and write each beginning letter underneath, to spell out the word “ant.”
  • Staple the pages together to form his own phonics picture book. Add to the book every rainy day, all summer long.

An activity like this helps young children remember what they learn by combining vision, hearing, and touch. This is a fun way to help him increase his “sight” word vocabulary, as well as, reinforce letter/sound connections. Knowing sight words and understanding letter/sound connections are important skills for decoding new words when reading.

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is used by doctors who diagnose learning differences like dyslexia, a developmental reading disorder. In the spring of 2013, the 5th edition of the DSM will be published. Those of us who work with dyslexic children are concerned about proposed changes in this new edition. While it is not definite, the proposal is to omit the term “dyslexia” from the list of learning disorders.

Historically, the learning disorders listed in the DSM are used by educators to decide what services a student should receive. If a child is diagnosed as dyslexic by a doctor according to the DSM, then a school system can use that diagnosis to create an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that addresses the specific needs of the student. Additionally, the DSM can be used to determine what learning disorders warrant further research. Without the research we won’t be able to learn exactly what causes a specific problem and how best to treat it.

Omitting the term dyslexia does not align with current laws. IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and federal special education regulations explicitly name dyslexia as a learning disability that is eligible to receive services. The impact of omitting it from the DSM is that a child with dyslexia may not be diagnosed with it!

For a more thorough discussion of the possible effects of omitting dyslexia from the DSM-5, see Dyslexia and the DSM-5 at LDOnline.org.

Personally, I hope they do not leave out the term dyslexia. It may mean that children who are dyslexic might not be able to receive the appropriate services to remediate their reading difficulties. We should keep our eyes open to find out what the final decision is regarding DSM-5, which is due out in May 2013.





Reading is like playing an instrument: Without practice, you’ll get rusty.

Each summer, when my husband was a young boy in elementary school, my mother-in-law, Mimi, would find age appropriate books that would interest him. She would sit him down and read the first chapter aloud. Mimi would then hand him the book and say “I think you are really going to like how this ends.” He was hooked!

Here are 3 fun and simple activities to encourage your young child to read all summer long, and keep his reading skills sharp while getting him “hooked” on books.

1. Have a reading day at the beach or pool. For every half hour in the water, take a 10 minute “reading break” in the shade of an umbrella or a tree. 

2. Start a neighborhood “Parent/Child Book Club.” Keep it small. Start with two or three of your child’s friends and one of their parents. Take turns hosting. The host family chooses the book for the meeting.  Your child can read the book by himself, or you can read it to him. The host family should also list 5 questions to get the book discussion started. For example: “What did you like best about the story?” Or, “Where did this story take place?” Group book discussions are a great way to help your child see different points of view, while having fun with her friends.

3. Enroll your child in a summer reading program at your local public library. Most libraries have summer programs that help your child earn rewards for reading during the summer. Some libraries even offer discounts to local attractions that the whole family can enjoy.

Relaxed summer reading is the perfect way to get your child “hooked on books!”

Editor's note: Check out these these related articles on summer reading:





Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?