Category Archives: early childhood education

Teaching sounds, not letters, is where reading begins

The basic “code” of written English is sounds represented by letters.  Learning this code begins with learning to recognize the sounds of English.  Combining these sounds into two- or three-sound words is where forming words begins.  And this can be taught to children before they ever see a letter.

Because learning the code of written English is so important, learning to recognize its sounds should not be rushed.  A lifetime of reading, a career, the ability to support a family—so much depends on being able to read.

Kids need plenty of time and various kinds of interactions with sounds to learn to recognize sounds.  The younger the children, the shorter their attention spans and the more need for game-like ways to learn.

But the learning doesn’t begin with letters.  It begins with sounds.

I recommend you use several strategies to help your children identify sounds, working with your child one-on-one using manipulatives.  Why?

Your child wants nothing more than to interact with you. Putting down your cell phone and sitting by her side shows your child you treasure her.  And working with her on reading skills shows her how important you consider that knowledge to be.

Research shows that the more senses we use, the more likely we are to remember. If a child can touch manipulatives, hear you say sounds, say them herself, see objects when she says sounds and feel your warm hug when she learns, the learning will stick. Plus she will be relaxed and happy, in an emotional state which is open to learning.

Some of the strategies I recommend to teach tiny children how sounds form words are these.

  • Work on a few sounds at a time with objects around the house. If your son’s name is Bill, for example, start with the “b” sound. Put a ball in your son’s hand and say “b” (the sound, not the letter) as in ball.  Put a banana in his hands and say “b” as in banana.  Do the same for other consonant sounds and for all the vowel sounds, even sounds we represent by two letters.  You can say “oi” (the sound) as in oink, or “ch” (the sound) as in child.  You can start this activity when a child is two or three without ever showing the child a letter.

 

  • Find objects in picture books which begin with basic English language sounds. ABC books are good for this, but the goal should not be to say “A is for apple.”  Rather it is to focus on the sounds in words.  At first start with words which begin with a sound, but then move on to small words which include that sound in the middle of CVC words like “cat” and “bag.”

 

  • When the child recognizes a handful of consonant sounds and a vowel sound such as “a,” say the “a” sound and a consonant sound slowly, one after the other. Make sounds which form a word like “a” and “t” or “a” and “x.”  Repeat the sounds a little faster each time until the child can hear the sounds come together.  Usually the child will say the word, but if not, help her to hear how the sounds come together to form a word.

 

All these activities can be done prior to ever showing your child a letter.  And they can be done with all 42 sounds in English.  Identifying sounds and understanding how they come together to form words is the basis of reading.  Save the ABCs for a later time.

 

Colleges offer remedial reading and writing courses, but too late for most students

Many community colleges and four-year colleges in the US offer remedial reading and writing classes to incoming freshmen to raise lagging students to the base level expected for beginning freshmen.  These remedial courses offer no credit, so by the end of freshman year, students who pass these classes will not have accumulated the 30 or so credit hours expected for the first year of college education.  These students’ chances of graduating in two years from community colleges and four years from traditional colleges and universities are almost impossible.  And this means that many poor readers and writers drop out and never earn a college degree.

Colleges and universities are rethinking their remedial English courses for many reasons.

  • These remedial courses, in both English and math, cost about $7 billion each year.

 

  • Few freshmen who require remedial courses ever earn a degree.

 

  • 96% of two- and four-year colleges and universities enroll students in remedial courses.

 

  • In one state, California, more than 70% of community college students qualify for remedial English courses, and of those, only 60% pass the remedial courses and start credit courses, according to a 2016 study by the Public Policy Institute of California. Of those 60% who do pass, most never finish a college level English course with a C grade or better.  California is pretty typical of the rest of the country.

 

  • Starting in the fall of 2018, all such remedial courses will be eliminated at California State University, the largest public university system in the US. The stated purpose is to enable more students to graduate in four years.

 

What does this mean if you are teaching a young child to read?

Reading and writing are two of the most make-it or break-it life skills.  If a little kid is having trouble, now is the time to intervene.  The longer a student flounders, the more he falls behind and the less likely he is to catch up, even with help.  By the time a student reaches college, high school, or even middle school, it’s usually too late.  The time to learn to read and write is when a child is four, five, six and seven years old.

If you want your children to succeed, do whatever is necessary to ensure that they can read by the time they start third grade.

My child can’t read CVC words after finishing kindergarten. Should I hold him back?

“It depends” is not the answer you want, but that’s the best I can do.  Let’s look at some of the factors you should consider.

Young child writing C-A-T.

  • Is your child doing poorly in reading only? Is he struggling to read but doing fine in math, for example? This kind of disconnect could signal a particular learning problem with reading.  He might need a reading specialist or a tutor to work with him in first grade so that he can catch up to his classmates.
  • Is he performing at a mediocre level in reading, math and most kindergarten skills? If so, he might not be intellectually ready to move on to first grade.  Kids’ brains develop at different rates just like their bones do.  An extra year to grow can make a great difference in a child’s ability to learn.
  • Is your son one of the youngest children in the class? Younger children in a kindergarten or first grade class sometimes are immature compared to their classmates.  Their attention span is less.  They have more difficulty sitting still.  They are more impulsive.  If your son was barely old enough for kindergarten, chances are that he is barely old enough for first grade too.
  • Is he showing signs of stress? Is he more babyish than his classmates, more apt to cry or sulk when things go wrong?  Our emotions grow at various rates too.  A student with good self-esteem will be better able to weather poor grades in reading and not blame himself compared to an insecure student.
  • Did your son miss school often because of sickness, moving, or problems at home? Is he depressed?  How motivated is he to learn?
  • What are the expectations of the kindergarten curriculum at the end of the year? (You can go online to find out your state’s curriculum requirements.)  Has he met them?  Kindergarten reading skills provide a base for first grade reading skills.  Will CVC phonics be taught in first grade or will it be reviewed quickly with the expectation that students already know that?
  • Does your son’s school have a strong intervention plan and well trained teachers for outliers like your son? If so, how will it be determined if your son meets the criteria for this special learning?  And when will the intervention begin—in September or in January?
  • Does your state have mandatory third grade retention laws, so that if your son is still doing poorly at the end of third grade, he would be forced to repeat that grade?
  • Do you have the time or the ability to work with your son to catch him up? If so, can you commit to this teaching, knowing your son will fight you?  If not, do you have the money for a tutor to catch him up while he moves into first grade?
  • Is there a younger sibling? Will both children be in the same grade if the older child repeats?   If the older child continues to do poorly, will his family status be threatened?  Will his younger sibling become a star in comparison?
  • Are grandparents pressuring you one way or the other? If so, how knowledgeable are they about your son’s skills?  Is their status threatened if your son repeats a grade?
  • Can you talk to teachers who know your child well or who have taught kindergarten or first grade, educators who can give you first hand advice?

When you weigh all these factors, one is most important:  What is best for my child?

How to Raise a Reader, according to The New York Times

The New York Times published  an excellent article last month entitled, “How to Raise a Reader.”  You might find the article at your library in the Book Review section.  It is worth the effort.  Here are some highlights from “How to Raise a Reader.”

Become a reader yourself.  If you have let your reading habit slip, reacquaint yourself with the print world.

Read aloud to your infant.  Your reading material might be a medical journal or Dr. Seuss.  The content doesn’t matter to an infant.  What does matter is that you make eye contact with your child, use voice inflection, and read in the normal rhythms of your language.  If the baby responds with baby sounds, respond in kind.

Read aloud to your toddler.  Encourage your child to link the sound of your voice reading to him with strong, positive emotions.  Read at bedtime and during daytime too.  Offer your child variety in picture books, but respect his or her preferences, even if that means reading “Go, Dog, Go” night after night.  When the child interrupts, that shows he is engaged.  Stop and respond.  Finishing a book isn’t all that important at this age nor is reading every word.

Continue to read aloud to your emerging reader.  Once your child shows interest in letters and words, keep reading to him or her.  Encourage her to join in, but don’t pull back now.  She shouldn’t think of reading as work.  She should think of it as fun.  Allow your child to develop reading skills at her own pace, but if you suspect problems, follow through with her teacher.

Continue to read aloud to your early reader.  Take him or her to the library or book store.  Expand his selections from fiction to nonfiction.  Ask him and his friends what they are reading and discuss their preferences.  Let your child stay up a bit later if she reads in bed.  If your child prefers comic books or graphic novels, or if he wants to read about his favorite video game, be thrilled.  He’s reading.

Stash reading materials throughout the house. On the coffee table, in the bathroom, or in the bedroom, show off books, magazines and other reading materials to encourage reading.

Help your child build a personal library.  Make a bookcase part of the child’s bedroom or a children’s section of books part of your home library.  Give books as gifts and rewards.  Bring home armloads of books from the library.  Celebrate your child’s first library card with family stories of other first library cards.

This wonderful New York Times article goes on to describe the kinds of books children are ready for at different times in their lives.  Enjoy.

 

My son’s kindergarten reading teacher says he won’t talk. He talks at home, but he is really shy. What’s going on?

It helps to know the reason for the speechlessness so that your son’s teacher will know how to modify her teaching style to make the student and teacher comfortable.  Since he has normal speech at home, perhaps he is selectively mute.

EPSON MFP image

Selectively mute children might be speechless all the time or only in social situations which make them afraid.  They might show anxiety, excessive shyness, fear of social embarrassment and withdrawal.  Symptoms* include

  • “consistent failure to speak in specific social situations (in which there is an expectation for speaking, such as at school) continues despite speaking in other situations.
  • “not speaking interferes with school or work, or with social communication.
  • “not speaking lasts at least one month (not limited to the first month of school).
  • “failure to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge of, or comfort, with the spoken language required in the social situation
  • “not speaking is not due to a communication disorder (e.g., stuttering).”

Ask that your son be evaluated by a speech pathologist.  But also have his hearing tested.  Sometimes persistent middle ear infections can make hearing hard.

After you have pinpointed the problem as much as possible, then you can plan how to make your son verbal in school.  This may take several professionals working together—the school psychologist, the speech pathologist, his teacher, you and possibly his pediatrician.

In the meantime, inform his reading teacher that you are following up on her observation.  Ask her to accept that this behavior is normal for him right now.  Ask her to find nonverbal ways for him to respond and participate in group activities until an intervention plan gets underway.

*According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler who can’t read yet?

Yes.  Check this list of indicators developed by Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey.  But keep in mind that a child exhibiting one or two of the indicators isn’t necessarily dyslexic.  For example, almost all children learning their letters mix up b and d.  But a child EPSON MFP imageshowing several of the indicators might foreshadow problems learning to read or spell.  That child should be tested.

Dyslexia is defined as a neurological learning disability.  Children having difficulty with word recognition, fluency, poor spelling or decoding might be dyslexic.  The sooner it can be identified in a child, and the earlier intervention can begin, the better the chances that the child will learn to read.

A key indicator is family history.  If a parent or a sibling has had trouble learning to read, there is a greater chance that another member of the family will have trouble.

According to Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey, Language indicators could include:

  • delayed speech
  • trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, and days of the week
  • difficulty rapidly naming people and objects
  • lack of interest in stories and books
  • mispronouncing words
  • difficulty using new vocabulary words correctly
  • trouble distinguishing words from other words that sound similar
  • struggling to identify or produce words that rhyme

Reading indicators could include:

  • difficulty naming and recognizing the letters of the alphabet
  • problems matching letters to their correct sounds
  • scoring below expected reading level for his/her age
  • trouble understanding the difference between sounds in words
  • difficulty blending letter sounds within words
  • trouble recognizing and remembering sight words
  • confusing letters and words that look similar
  • losing his/her place—and skipping over words—while reading
  • avoiding reading tasks

Writing indicators could include:

  • problems copying and writing at an age-appropriate level
  • confusing the order or direction of letters, numbers and symbols
  • spelling words incorrectly and inconsistently most of the time
  • a tendency to spell phonetically
  • poor ability to proofread and correct written work
  • handwriting which shows poor letter formation and placement

Social / emotional indicators could include:

  • Lack of motivation about school or learning
  • lack of confidence in learning
  • negative self-image compared to grade-level peers
  • expressing dislike for reading and other academic tasks
  • exhibiting anxiety or frustration

Other indicators could include:

  • poor sense of direction/spatial concepts, such as left and right
  • performing inconsistently on daily tasks
  • appearing distracted and unfocused

If your child shows some of these characteristics, don’t be discouraged.  Most children show some of them.  And if your child is dyslexic, there is so much you, as a parent, can do to prepare your preschooler to read fluently.  In the next blog we’ll identify some of those activities.

 

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.

 

 

Should my kindergarten son read aloud to me? How about my third grade daughter?

Reading aloud to a parent or teacher has two purposes:  to show that the child can decode words properly and to show that the child can read with fluency.  If the child is learning English as a second language, showing proper pronunciation is also a purpose.

child with adult helping to read

First decoding.  Probably your kindergarten son is at the decoding stage, that is, learning how to link language sounds with letters to form words.  If he is at this stage, then yes, he should read aloud.  That way you can tell what he knows, what he needs more practice on, and what he needs instruction on.

If you know from previous reading aloud that your third grader has mastered decoding, then your daughter needn’t read aloud for that purpose.  You might sit next to her as she reads.  If she has questions about pronouncing an unfamiliar word or if she asks about the meaning of a new word, you can help.  Occasionally you might ask her to tell you what she has read to be sure she has understood.

If your older child comes to English from a second language, she might be able to pronounce words perfectly yet have no idea what they mean.  If so, ask her to underline words she doesn’t know so you can talk about them.  If there are context clues, you might help her identify them.  With such a child, you should work on vocabulary development.

As for fluency (reading at a normal speed with voice inflection, pauses for punctuation and emotion in the voice) the kindergartener and ESL child should read aloud.  Some readers who are at the decoding stage spend so much energy on decoding that they miss the meaning.  By listening to how you say a line and then mimicking the way you say it, the child can pull together decoding and fluency.

Your third grader should be able to read fluently within her head.  However, if you notice that your child has trouble with comprehension even though she can decode well, then her reading aloud could help you to figure out why.  Is she ignoring punctuation and lumping parts of one sentence with another?  Is she sliding over longer words without decoding them because she is lazy or in a hurry?  Does she have short term memory problems, allowing her to forget the beginning of a sentence or paragraph before she gets to the end?  Is her emotional voice flat?  Is she missing inferences?  Some of this you can tell by listening to her read aloud, and some by asking her about what she has read.

In general, newer readers should read aloud with instruction and monitoring while experienced readers should read silently.

What kind of books do you read to your kids?

When my kids were little, I selected their reading materials from the picture book section of my library and book store.  In retrospect, I was limiting my children’s literature to fairy tales, Dr. Seuss and fiction of all kinds.

Yet children need exposure to nonfiction as well:  how to books, how things work books, information about animals and the natural world we live in, biographies, history, books with maps and tables, books about dinosaurs, even current events news.

Take a quick survey of the books you have read to your preschooler in the past week.  Were any of them nonfiction?

Expand your child’s horizons starting today.  Find the nonfiction section of the children’s section of your library and see what’s there that might interest your child.

  • Does he like dinosaurs? Lots of books explore the lives of these amazing creatures.  Or does he have a pet?  Books on dogs, cats, birds and almost every other animal abound.
  • Is your daughter into fashion? Find books about how clothes have changed over the centuries.  Find a biography of Coco Channel.  Look for a magazine with Downton Abbey or Academy Award dresses.
  • Is your child into building? You can find books and magazines on how to build a soap box, a tree house or a house of cards.  Or you can learn how a spider builds a web, how a bird builds a nest or how a beaver dams a stream to build a house with an underwater doorway.
  • Do you travel with your child? Magazines highlight fascinating places around the world.  Even if your child can’t read, together you can compare your home with the ones pictured.  Or together you can wonder what it would be like to take a gondola ride or to walk on the Great Wall of China.  Maybe you could plan a vacation.
  • Did Grandpa serve in the Army? Let Grandpa read to your child about the locations where he served or about the military uniforms he wore.  Did Grandpa fly a jet?  Find books about military aircraft.
  • Cooking books are great how-to books. With your child, find a picture of something you would like to eat and cook it together.
  • How about the handbook for your car? Or you phone?  Your child and you can look over the pictures and identify parts and what they do, picking up vocabulary.
  • Look for books with maps, charts, tables, pictographs, photos and other non-textual ways of presenting information.  Help your child to understand what those graphics mean.

Reading nonfiction is harder than reading fiction, yet students must be adept at both kinds of literature under the Common Core State Standards.  Start now preparing your child for his future by exploring nonfiction together.

Numbers, numbers

2-3      Between 2 and 3 years old, toddlers learn a new word every day.

3rd      Third grade is long past the time to intervene for a struggling reader.

3-4      3 to 4 letters/spaces to the left and 14-15 letters/spaces to the right of where we fix our eyes is where we pick up meaning from what we read .

4          There are 4 ways to pronounce the letter A using standard American English.

4-5      Children should be speaking in complete sentences by 4 or 5 years old.

6-12    Between 6 and 12 months old, infants should start babbling.

10-15   A typical student needs to interact with a word 10 to 15 times in order to learn it.

12-18   Children usually say their first words between 12 to 18 months, but not always.

18-24   Children usually say their first tiny sentences between 18 and 24 months.

20        If a child can count to 20, that is a sign he might be ready for kindergarten.

20-30 Kindergarten children should read or be read to 20 to 30 minutes daily.

24th    US students scored 24th out of 65 countries taking the latest Program for International Assessment tests.

30       First graders should read or be read to 30 minutes daily.

42-44 The number of letter sounds in standard American English is 42 to 44, depending where you live.

220     There are 220 Dolch words, better known as sight words.

300    Children from professional families hear 300 more spoken English words in an hour than children of parents on welfare.

1,000 Parents should read to their children 1,000 books before kindergarten, according to the 1,000 Books Foundation.

2,000 A student learns about 2,000 new words a year.

88,500 An incoming high school freshman should know 88,500 word families.

2,250,000 A student reading an hour a day will read 2.25 million words in a year.

32,000,000 Children from professional families hear about 32 million more words—including repeated words—than children from poorly educated families.