Learning letter names and sounds

Whether you are homeschooling or have a young child at school, most of us will at some stage be helping our children learn their letter names and sounds. There are many different ways to do this, from rote learning with flash cards to games and hands on workjob style activities.

I use quite a few different methods depending on the child, their rate of learning and preferred learning style and the time I have available to teach them. One of the more hands-on approaches I have employed is an alphabet chart. Again, this is something I made way back in my Uni teacher training days that has been useful through 7 years of teaching and now has made it’s way to the third child in our family.

I do not introduce the letters for the first time using the chart – there are too many all at once and it is too overwhelming. We go through the alphabet one letter at a time, adding more as the child is ready. (I’ll post about this another time.) Once the child knows quite a few letter names and most sounds I introduce the pocket chart. It can be used in many different ways. Here are just a couple:

  • Matching lowercase letters to uppercase letters.
  • lucky dipping letter cards from a pillowslip, naming them, saying their sound and then sliding them into the correct pocket.
  • sorting small objects by their initial sound (first sound you hear when you say the word) into the correct pocket.
  • setting up a word bank system with picture and word cards that begin with each letter “filed” in each pocket for children to use during creative writing.
  • find the hidden toy games where the child checks the pockets for a hidden items and must name the letter and sound to be able to keep the item. (Just for the duration of the game though, although you could include a little treat surprise every now and then.)

These objects are one set I use for initial sound sorting.

A second set of objects for initial sound sorting.

To begin with, all alphabet chart work is done one-on-one with me, however once the child begins to grasp the concept of initial sounds, I give them a bag or box of objects to sort into the correct pocket as an independent activity. It is self-checking because there is never more than one object for each pocket so if they find one already there, they know they have made an error and can self correct.

If you are not able to sew a chart, you could make one using cardboard and add Velcro spots to attach the letter cards or large sturdy envelopes to act as pockets for the items. If you plan to use it for any length of time or with more than one sibling it would be worth taking the time to sew one up. It might be a nice project for Grandma perhaps??

Teaching Children To Read: Readers

It is very important to expose children to a wide variety of excellent quality literature from an early age. Way before a child can read, they will be able to appreciate a wonderful story and surprise you with their ability to concentrate and enjoy listening to a chapter or so at a time from quality chapter books that would otherwise be way above their reading level.

Those who are familiar with the Charlotte Mason style of education through living books will already be acquainted with the idea that children should be reading “twaddle free” literature that has not been “dumbed down” for children, but rather includes all the richness and fullness of the English language at it’s best.

Today I am listing the beginning readers that my children have enjoyed learning to read from because I do believe that there is a place for the more traditional first reading books or vocabulary controlled readers for beginning readers. Some parents are reluctant to use these because they do not fit into the “quality literature” category, however you need to be clear why you are using them. If they are your child’s only exposure to books then yes, they will not be getting the rich language experiences they need. However, if you are reading aloud or playing audio recordings of classic books and using readers in a structured fashion to teach word decoding and first reading skills, then they have a valuable purpose.

When children are learning to read they will often find it hard work and be easily discouraged with texts that are too difficult. With carefully levelled and graded readers, they will be able to see ongoing progression and experience success and that wonderful feeling of being able to say “I read it myself!” Once a good bank of sight words has been learnt, we go on from levelled readers to plowing through the many picture books in our collection. By the time we have exhausted them, the children are usually ready for easier chapter books and move gradually on to more general chapter books.

There are some beginning readers that are definitely better than others and the following are some of the best that we have used.

Bob Books First!Bob Books Set 3: Word FamiliesBob Books Set 2: Advancing Beginners

Bob Books Set 3: Word FamiliesBob Books Set 5: Long Vowels

Bob Books level 1 2 3 4 and 5  are a relatively cheap way to get a good set of beginning reading books. They have very plain line drawings with stories that have simple appeal. The difficulty increases in very small steps, unlike some early reading sets that jump very quickly from 3 letter words through to sight words, leaving some struggling readers behind. Each level is a boxed set of 12 reading books.

Little BearLittle Bear's VisitA Kiss for Little BearLittle Bear's FriendFather Bear Comes Home

Little Bear books have lots of basic sight words in simple stories that children actually want to read. Very appealing and most are presented in chapter book format to ease through the transition from picture books to chapter books. Level 1 in the “I Can Read” series is a good follow-on from the Bob Books.

Frog and Toad Are FriendsFrog and Toad TogetherFrog and Toad All YearDays with Frog and Toad

The Frog and Toad Series is another set of simple sight word books that have enough in the plot to keep children interested. Frog and Toad’s adventures together are engaging with a touch of humour. Level 2 in the I Can Read series is the next step up from the Little Bear books.

Amelia Bedelia

Amelia Bedelia and the rest of the series tell the story of a cheerful young lady who always seems to get things mixed up in a silly and humorous way. Level 2 in the I Can Read series. (I haven’t read all of these but we liked Amelia Bedelia.)

The Josefina Story Quilt

The Josefina story quilt tells the heartwarming tale of Josephina hen as she heads off with a family in a covered wagon. Level 3 in the I Can Read series.

Step into Reading Bravest Dog Ever

Balto tells the story of a sled dog who saves the day with his heroic trip through icy conditions bringing medicine to sick children and villagers. Level 3 in the I Can Read series.

Tornado

Tornado is a good beginner chapter book. More text but simple enough for children to move on with. It is the story of a dog who literally falls out of the sky during a tornado and becomes firm friends with a young boy. One slightly sad section that turns out happily in the end – I always warn my children about these sections as they tend to be quite sensitive to sad events in stories.

Courage of Sarah Noble

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh is a Newbury honour book. An eight-year-old girl finds courage to go alone with her father to build a new home in the Connecticut wilderness and to stay with the Indians when her father goes back to bring the rest of the family.

The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams is the story of a little boy’s stuffed rabbit and how he became real. Considered to be one of the classics by many and is stepping into longer chapter book reading.

Circle Time Planning

Circle time is next on the planning agenda. I’ve missed starting the day off together each morning and am looking forward to beginning our day with circle time again once we start our homeschooling programme.

We’ve used a lot of wonderful resources already. Here is our list of materials we have already worked through, plus the ones we will continue on with or start fresh this year. I have been very happy with those we have used so far and expect the new ones to be just as good as they are all based on the highest recommendations of homeschooling friends with similar philosophies to mine.

Click on these titles to see my reviews from previous posts and where to get them.

Our resources for 2011:
  • Building On The Rock Series by Joel Beeke (These 5 books of short stories contain a very strong gospel and biblical message. Stories of great faith, conversions, answers to prayer and miraculous happenings will help you to explain the great truths of the Christian faith, challenge you and your children in their own Christian walk and inspire you to serve God with renewed vigour.)

  • Go To The Ant Check-list (Another great chart to work through with children and then put on display as a reference. In the publisher’s words: “Use the Go To The Ant Chart to help your children examine themselves and replace laziness with habits of godly diligence.”
  • The Answers Book For Kids Volume 1 to 4 by Ken Ham (Answering tricky questions about God and this world in a way that children can understand, yet without oversimplification.)

titus2.com: Food for thought

Products

I came across the titus2.com website a few years ago after friends recommended several of the books available from the Maxwells who are the authors of the site. I have since read and then purchased almost all of their books and have found them to be Godly, inspiring and practical resources.

Teri and Steve Maxwell’s Mum’s and Dad’s corners are a regular email that comes out about once a month on a variety of parenting, family and faith based topics. I enjoy reading them and find them food for thought. Often my initial reaction is something along the lines of “too extreme,” however I have found that when I have had time to think the topics through from a biblical perspective, I agree with them and realise that they are not “extreme” at all, just biblically based. The sad reality is that often our lives (even as Christians) have become so worldly and our attitudes so affected by our culture that a biblical way of life seems extreme rather than the other way around.

The latest Mum’s and Dad’s Corner has some great ideas about Christmas traditions and celebrating Christmas as a Christian family. Check it out here.