Category Archives: ABC’s

Is my child on schedule to read?

The US Department of Education has put together a list of accomplishments* relating to talking and reading for children from birth to six years old.  This list shows the growth of typical children developing normally, but variations exist.  By seven years old, most children are reading.

From birth to age 3, most babies and toddlers become able to

  • Make sounds that imitate the tones and rhythms that adults use when talking.
  • Respond to gestures and facial expressions.
  • Begin to associate words they hear frequently with what the words mean.
  • Make cooing, babbling sounds in the crib, which gives way to enjoying rhyming and nonsense word games with a parent or caregiver.
  • Play along in games such as “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake.”
  • Handle objects such as board books and alphabet blocks in their play.
  • Recognize certain books by their covers.
  • Pretend to read books.
  • Understand how books should be handled.
  • Share books with an adult as a routine part of life.
  • Name some objects in a book.
  • Talk about characters in books.
  • Look at pictures in books and realize they are symbols of real things.
  • Listen to stories.
  • Ask or demand that adults read or write with them.
  • Begin to pay attention to specific print such as the first letters of their names.
  • Scribble with a purpose (trying to write or draw something).
  • Produce some letter-like forms and scribbles that resemble, in some way, writing.

From ages 3-4, most preschoolers become able to

  • Enjoy listening to and talking about storybooks.
  • Understand that print carries a message.
  • Make attempts to read and write.
  • Identify familiar signs and labels.
  • Participate in rhyming games.
  • Identify some letters and make some letter-sound matches.
  • Use known letters (or their best attempt to write the letters) to represent written language especially for meaningful words like their names or phrases such as “I love you.”

At age 5, most kindergartners become able to

mother works with child reading story book

  • Sound as if they are reading when they pretend to read.
  • Enjoy being read to.
  • Retell simple stories.
  • Use descriptive language to explain or to ask questions.
  • Recognize letters and letter-sound matches.
  • Show familiarity with rhyming and beginning sounds.
  • Understand that print is read left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
  • Begin to match spoken words with written ones.
  • Begin to write letters of the alphabet and some words they use and hear often.
  • Begin to write stories with some readable parts.

At age 6, most first-graders can

Young child writing C-A-T.

  • Read and retell familiar stories.
  • Use a variety of ways to help with reading a story such as rereading, predicting what will happen, asking questions, or using visual cues or pictures.
  • Decide on their own to use reading and writing for different purposes;
  • Read some things aloud with ease.
  • Identify new words by using letter-sound matches, parts of words and their understanding of the rest of a story or printed item.
  • Identify an increasing number of words by sight.
  • Sound out and represent major sounds in a word when trying to spell.
  • Write about topics that mean a lot to them.
  • Try to use some punctuation marks and capitalization.

*Based on information from Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, a report of the National Research Council, by the Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, 1998; and from the Joint Position Statement of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), 1998.

Why are upper case letters and lower case letters called upper case and lower case?

Upper case letters mean capital letters, sometimes called majuscules.  Upper case letters all have the same height.

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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Lower case letters mean small letters, sometimes called minuscules (from which comes the word “minus”).  The height of lower case letters varies.  Some are half as high as upper case letters, such as a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x and z.  Some have ascenders (parts which stick up) such as b, d, f, h, k, l and t.  Some have descenders (parts which hang down) such as g, j, p, q and y.

Years ago, when type was set by hand instead of by machine, a typesetter would take individual metal letters from a drawer or letter case.  Capital letters were stored in one case and small letters were stored in another case along with punctuation  and spacing markers.  Capital letters were stored above small letters, leading capital letters to be called upper case letters and small letters to be called lower case letters.

Sometimes both capital and small letters were stored in a single case which could be set upright.  When the case was organized, the capital letters were placed at the back of the case so that when it was set upright, capitals would be on top—hence, upper case.

The metal letters typesetters would see in the cases were reflections of the letters printed on the page.  That means the metal letters faced the opposite direction from the printed letters.  In a case, a “b” would look like a “d.” Words and sentences would be set in a way which to us looks backwards, but the printed version would appear as we see type today.

Capital letters go farther back in history than smaller letters which were introduced in about the ninth century.  Smaller letters began as rounded, smaller versions of capitals.  They were easier for scribes to write at a time when all writing was done by hand.

Today most English writing is done in lower case letters with capitals reserved for the beginnings of sentences and for proper nouns.  Even so, capitals are often taught first to young children, perhaps because they are easier to distinguish.  Capital B and capital D are easier to figure out than “b” and “d.”

How to test for kindergarten readiness

Checking that a child can touch his ear with the opposite hand is one test for kindergarten readiness.  But if you are looking for specific proof that your child is ready, here are some of the abilities which Kentucky looks for in each child:

young child attempting to touch his ear with opposite hand

  • Stating his or her name, age, birthday and phone number
  • Naming body parts as they are pointed to
  • Standing on one leg with eyes open and then closed
  • Identifying shapes such as triangles and squares
  • Printing his or her name
  • Saying (not singing) the ABC’s
  • Naming letters pointed to
  • Counting into the twenties
  • Sorting items by shape
  • Separating a certain number of blocks from a group of blocks
  • Identifying the front and back of a book
  • Identifying in what order words are read

The test used by Kentucky looks at five broad areas:  academic / cognitive; language development; physical development; self-help; and social-emotional.

Not all states test incoming kindergarteners, yet all are looking for  kindergarten-ready skills in children.  You can use this information to prepare your child for a great start to school.

 

 

My grandson is scheduled to start kindergarten this fall, but I think he might not be ready. Is there any way to know for sure?

The old rule of thumb is that if a child can put his hand across the top of his head and touch his opposite ear, he is the right age to start school. If he can’t reach his ear yet, he is too young.

young child attempting to touch his ear with opposite hand

But such a test doesn’t begin to take into account all the criteria which could be used to judge the readiness of a child for school.

If your child has been to preschool, his pre-K teacher should be consulted. She has a good idea which students are ready to move on. And if you do send your child to kindergarten, and the kindergarten teacher contacts you in the early weeks of the school year saying your child is not ready, believe her. Not every child who is the right age is ready for kindergarten.

What criteria should you use to assess your child? According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, these criteria should be assessed:

  • Can your child communicate his wants and needs? Can he say, for example, that he needs to urinate or that another student is bothering him?
  • Can your child get along with peers by sharing and taking turns?
  •  Can your child count to 20?
  • Does your child recognize letters and numbers? Kindergartener are not expected to know how to read—although many can. But your child should recognize many letters and numbers and have an inkling of what they are used for.
  • Can your child follow directions? Sit or stand, line up, voices off, criss cross apple sauce—these are common directions that your child will be expected to follow.
  • Can your child sit still for ten, fifteen or twenty minutes, and pay attention to a teacher during that time? Kindergarteners have short attention spans, but they should be able to sit still long enough to listen to a teacher read a story or to watch a film about a baby whale. Not every five-year-old can do that.
  • Is your child able to hold a pencil or paint brush? Is he able to cut with a scissors? Most kindergarteners need more work on these skills as well as on gross motor skills, but they should show rudimentary skill.
child cutting with a scissors

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Kindergarten teachers who responded to the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) Kindergarten Teacher Survey on Student Readiness said being able to communicate needs and wants and being curious and enthusiastic about trying new activities are the two most important skills kindergarteners need to start school with.

Some other things to look for include:

  • Can your child handle emotions? It’s normal for a five year old to break down in tears when she’s upset. But, it’s important that she has coping strategies.
  • Can your child use the toilet unassisted? And can he or she be trusted to behave in a restroom without adult supervision?
  • Is your child obviously meek and likely to be picked on? If so, he might need some coping skills to keep bullies at bay.

Although the first two or three years might be hard for young kindergarteners, research shows that they show no academic difference from their classmates by third grade.

If your child is in sports, another consideration is the cut-off birthday. Baseball in my state has a cut-off date of July 31, meaning any child born on August 1 or later cannot participate on the same teams as children born in July. For August-born children sent to kindergarten on schedule, this means they will play on teams with kids a year behind them in school. Their teammates might be strangers rather than classmates.

Still another consideration is driving. If a student is one of the youngest children in his class, his classmates will get their driving permits up to a year before he does. Your child might feel left out, or he might pressure you to let him drive as a passenger with his older friends. Will you be comfortable with that?

And will you be comfortable with your 17-year-old heading off for college with classmates who are already 18 and 19?

Good luck on your decision. There’s so much to consider.

How should spelling be taught?

What does research show is the best way to learn how to spell?
a. memorize spelling words
b. learn rules (i before e except after c)
c. write with a purpose in mind
d. a combination of all of these

The answer is d. Memorizing words and learning rules have their place in learning to spell, but far more important is that little children have many reasons to write throughout the day, unconcerned with getting the spelling right.

How does the teaching of spelling progress?

  • For the child learning to assign a sound to a letter, spelling might begin with a single letter representing a word. Or the child might write more than one letter, leaving out the vowels. The name John might be spelled “JN.”Young child writing C-A-T.
  • Some parents might want to intervene immediately to teach the right way to spell, but that would be a mistake. Let the child use invented spelling at first.
  • Meanwhile the parent or teacher could be supporting this learning with teaching about the alphabet, the correspondence of all 42 sounds in English to letters or pairs of letters, understanding what words are, and understanding how words are written in English—left to right and top to bottom.
  • As the child gains confidence (not correctness), she can be asked to write useful items such as grocery lists, a daily schedule, a sign welcoming Dad home, or an email to Grandma. As she writes, she thinks about sounds and letters and makes decisions in an experimental way.
  • Aware of the child’s increasing sophistication in writing sounds and words, the parent or teacher can continue to teach basic writing ideas such as word families (rhyming words).
  • As the writer matures, the teacher can introduce simple spelling patterns. But it is better if the child discovers the patterns herself with the parent’s guidance. “Do you notice anything that is the same about ‘bake’ and ‘rake’ and ‘make’?” Let the child talk about her findings. Congratulate her on her discoveries. Then when the silent e rule is taught, it will have more meaning.
  • Practice makes perfect with spelling too. If the child has many reasons to write, she will encounter success in getting her meaning on paper, but she will also encounter problems to solve. This is important since the parent can offer ways to solve these spelling problems, such as
  • Try writing the word two or three ways. Does any way look like a word you already know how to spell? Does any way look wrong? Look right?
  • Try using a dictionary. Little children will need help, but the adult can show the child how useful a dictionary is for figuring out spelling. ABC order can be introduced to show how the dictionary is organized. (I keep a spelling dictionary for first toMother shows child spelling of her name Kelly fourth graders. It’s much easier to use than a real dictionary because the meanings of words are not given, just the spelling. And because it’s easy to use, children use it.)
  • Try finding the word in a familiar book.
  • Try asking the parent. Sometimes it’s good for the parent to tell the child the spelling of a word so the child can keep writing. But for the child to become an independent speller, this cannot be the default solution for spelling words correctly.
  • Try using an online spell checker if the child is composing online. This, too, can become a crutch once kids become aware of it.
  • Try creating an individualized speller. A child can label each page with a letter of the alphabet. Then the child can fill the book with words she can spell, or reserve it for words that cause her problems or which she is trying to learn.
  • When the child has turned the corner from invented spelling to standard spelling, the child should be introduced to roots, prefixes and suffixes, and how the spelling of those affixes alters (or not) the root word.

If the parent or teacher recognizes that each child learns at a different speed, and if the teacher relates spelling to reading and writing, good spellers usually emerge. But not always. Some children require more explicit spelling instruction.
More on that in a later blog.

How to know ahead of time if a child will do well in reading, part 2

In our past blog, we discussed one of the two best predictors of later reading achievement, an awareness of letter sounds, based on the research of Dr. Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University.

Today we will look at the second predictor, an ability to rapidly name objects.

Do you remember the story of Helen Keller, the blind and deaf child, who with the help of a gifted teacher, Annie Sullivan, learned to read and speak? Her progress began when one day she recognized that water has a name. From that “Eureka!” moment, Helen realized that everything has a name.

A toddler goes through the same process of learning that everything has a name. This happens at about 18 months when various parts of the child’s brain work in sync to integrate concepts. First, the child names concrete things (what we call nouns), such as Mom, Dad, cat, and dog. Every day the child adds new words, many of which come from the books read to him.

A little later, a child begins to name letters. This activity is sophisticated. The child realizes that those abstract shapes we call letters mean something. One time my friend offered a two-year-old a small stuffed animal which she had received at a fast food restaurant. The toddler looked at the tag on the toy and said, “Chick-fil-A.” Of course he couldn’t read, but he recognized the familiar shape of the letters on the red background.

Learning to recognize letters and numbers and to give them names is the beginning of reading. Here is how you can help a child learn to name things.

  • Play “Simon Says” so that the child learns her body parts.

Simon says Put your left arm up

  • Play “I see something. . .blue” so that the child needs to name objects in the room, in the car or in the grocery store.
  • Teach your child the ABC song, making sure she eventually learns that “elemeno” is actually four separate letters.
    child making the letter T
  • Point to familiar letters in unfamiliar places, such as the first letter of the child’s name in a sign or on a cereal box.
  • Read to your child. For the youngest children, let them absorb the pictures and name objects in the pictures. For three-year-olds and up, read the words, using your finger to point to the words as you read.

For a well-prepared child, reading doesn’t begin in school. It begins years before.

Is there any way to know ahead of time if my child will do well in reading?

Yes. According to Prof. Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, the two best predictors of later reading achievement are

  • an awareness of separate sounds (42 in English) and
  • the ability to rapidly name objects.

Today we’ll discuss sound awareness.

When I was a high school student studying French, I used to lie in bed listening to a Montreal radio station. I would try to figure out where one word ended and the next word began.  This same skill is what babies do when they listen to adults talk to them although they don’t realize it. Luckily for most babies, their mothers or caretakers speak slowly and distinctly and repeat words over and over.

With time toddlers begin to hear parts of words and realize that some words have one part (for example, Mom) while other words have more than one part (for example, Grandma).

Still later, usually around age four, children learn their ABC’s, not understanding what they are all about. But with instruction, they learn that each sound in English corresponds to a letter or a pair of letters in the ABC’s.

How can you enhance your child’s success in reading?

Make your child aware of words, syllables and individual sounds.

  • Encourage prereaders to write using invented spelling, advises Dr. Wolf. When the child writes, he sounds out a word and uses the letter symbols which seem appropriate. The “words” might not conform to proper spelling, but that is not the point. The child is working to figure out sounds, a skill he will need in order to read.Girl reading "inventive" writing of younger sister.
  • Encourage the child to listen to someone reading nursery rhymes. Then encourage the child to say the rhymes herself, advises Dr. Wolf.  Take “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” for example.

The itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the waterspout.

Down came the rain
And washed the spider out.

Out came the sun
And dried up all the rain.

So the itsy-bitsy spider
Climbed up the spout again!

  • Notice how “itsy bitsy,” “waterspout” and “out,” and “rain” and “again” rhyme. Notice the repetition of the word “rain” and the emphasis on the words “down” and “out.” Other nursery rhymes show alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds). When children listen to these sounds they learn to discriminate among similar sounds, figuring out what sounds the same and what sounds different.
  • Research shows that exposure to rhymes and alliteration helps children to figure out sounds and later, to read.

In our next blog we will discuss the other predictor of reading achievement, the ability to name.