Category Archives: mixing up letters

How can I teach my child vowel sounds?

I have followed a low tech system somewhat similar to teaching consonant sounds, but a system that is a little different too.  This phonetic approach works well with ESL students, young native English speakers getting ready to read and even adults because it makes learning fun.

Looking "over the shoulder" of a young girl sorting pictures of things that have a short A sound when spoken.

To enlarge, click on the picture.

  • I make a set of a dozen or more picture cards for ă:  apple, astronaut, alligator and ax (which begin with ă sound), and other CVC words using ă such as hat, man, dad and bag.
  • I also make one card with ă written on it.
  • At the same time, I make picture (flash) cards with pictures for the other short vowels, and I take some of those cards and temporarily add them to the ă deck.
  • Knowing that discerning vowel sounds is hard, I put the apple card next to the ă card and say the word apple many times, focusing on the vowel sound.  Slowly I help the child say the words in the deck of cards and place the cards near the ă card or in a discard area.
  • When the ă sound is learned (usually this takes several sessions), I take ĕ, ĭ, ŏ and ŭ words, and one short vowel at a time, go through the process with each sound.  Because ĕ and ĭ are hard to distinguish, I do them after ă, ŏ and ŭ, and spend more time on them.
  • Then I start mixing up two of the sounds, such as ă and ŏ.  I put both the ă and ŏ cards on the table, and take the picture cards for only those two sounds, shuffle them, and go through them with the child.  Once the child can distinguish those sounds, I gradually add ŭ to the mix and have the child sort ă, ŏ and ŭ.
  • I leave ĕ and ĭ to last and do those two letters together before I include them with the other short vowel sounds.  It takes many weeks of practice to distinguish ĕ and ĭ sounds.  When the child has mastered them, I add the other three vowels to the deck and the child sorts all five short vowel sounds.
  • When the child has mastered all five short vowel sounds, I go through the same process with ā, ē, ī, ō and ū.  The process for the long vowels goes quicker than for the short vowels.
  • As I move on teaching the child other sounds, I review the vowel sounds if I notice the child is forgetting some of the sounds or mixing up any of them.  This happens with every child I have taught.

Preschoolers and primary school children like this method of learning because they are learning through a game.  They like the control they have—holding the cards and placing them.  They like working one on one with an adult tutor who is paying special attention to them.  Sometimes I do one card and the child does one card to emphasize the fun of learning.  No worksheets, no writing—just fun.  Yet children learn their letter sounds.

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler?

By definition, dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty reading.  There are secondary characteristics—difficulty spelling, and illegible handwriting, for example—but until a child has attempted to read, it’s probably too early to identify dyslexia.

Even so, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has listed several warning signs for dyslexia, shown in the chart below, and some of them apply to preschoolers.

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting about five percent of American children.  Its cause is unknown, although scientists think it probably has more than one cause.  About a quarter of the children who have dyslexia also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, though most children with dyslexia don’t exhibit ADHD.  If an older child in the family or a parent has dyslexia, then the younger child has an increased chance of having it too.

Children diagnosed with dyslexia have normal intelligence and vision, yet they cannot figure out how to read by first grade.  Eventually they do, but they often require intervention from the school system, a tutor or a dedicated parent.

Dyslexia affects information processing in the part of the brain controlling language.  Usually children without dyslexia begin to realize that sounds combine to form words or parts of words, and that those sounds can be represented by letters.  Children with dyslexia have difficulty making these connections.

Children with dyslexia do learn to read, but it takes longer.  Teachers need to repeat the phonemes or basic sounds of English (about 44) and help children recognize these sounds in words and in syllables.  “Go” for example, has two phonemes, g and long o.  Then teachers need to connect these phonemes to letters, and the letters to tiny words which follow the rules of pronunciation.

If you are concerned about dyslexia, the National Center for Learning Disabilities website offers a 40-page toolkit about dyslexia, including several pages about characteristics of children pre-K to second grade and strategies to help them learn.  Your right to have your child tested by the public schools, the type of testing done and a video from an educator who has dyslexia are included in the toolkit.

How can I help my child not to mix up b and d?

When children are learning the lower case alphabet, they frequently mix up certain pairs of letters:  p and q, g and q, l and I, and especially b and d.   This is normal.  As they get experience, they recognize differences in these letter pairs.  But mix-ups with b and d might linger well into elementary school.

b sees dOne solution is to tell the child that b and d look at each other.  Draw the letters with the b loop facing the d loop, and put dark irises in the loops.  Tell the child that b comes before d in the alphabet, so when looking at b d, b is the first letter and d is the second letter.

two hands making letter b, d with a bed spelled out between the thumbs.Another way to handle the b d problem is to have the child make fists with both hands while holding up the thumbs.  When the child looks at his left hand, it looks like the letter b with the thumb the stem and the fist the loop of the letter.  When the child looks at his right hand, it looks like the letter d.  Now tell the child to bring her fists together until they touch and to look at the shape.  Her hands should look like a bed with the thumbs the bedposts and the fists the mattress.  If the child knows the word “bed,” the child can easily figure out b and d.