Category Archives: Reading Lessons

Three Simple Tips to Get Your Non-Reader Reading

My seven-year-old is not an enthusiastic reader or writer. His teachers last year said that he gets easily frustrated when he can’t read words he doesn’t recognize and therefore, he gives up. His teacher suggested our at-home reading practice each day should be with books he would enjoy reading.  Short, consistent doses of a good book is the recipe for reading success.
So we got busy. It wasn’t always easy but after doing some research and getting tips from his teachers, we were able to get our non-reader to enjoy reading. Here’s what worked for us.
  1. Let Your Child Pick the Book. My son fell in love with a new book this summer, The Beginner’s Guide To Running Away From Home. The pictures in the book are really fun and the story is just great. It took us almost a week to get through it the first time but because my son picked it, he was really determined to get through it. We read it a few times this summer until he was comfortable with it. Then we moved on to other books he picked.
  2. Repetition is Key. We read the same book a few times which gave us a chance to master some new words and get comfortable with it.  We also read consistently, after breakfast to start the day. Since it became part of our daily routine, he complained less and embraced the process.
  3. Reward for Reading; don’t punish.   We created a daily chart for him to fill out. For every 15 minutes he read, we’d fill in a square.  If we finished the chart we got a treat each week. Something simple, ice cream, frozen yogurt or homemade cookies.  (Can you tell he has a sweet tooth?). TV and video game time was also an incentive for us.  If the kids wanted some extra TV or screen time, then they had to do some extra reading.

What are your tips for getting your non-reader excited about books?

Easter Egg Phonics Game


It brings me so much joy to sit with my daughter and listen to her sound out words. I just get so excited as she builds her phonics knowledge and exercises those skills!  As Easter draws closer, I created a game that uses the plastic eggs we have so many of around the house.

Lizzie loved this game! It took up the majority of our afternoon because she kept asking me to play it again and again.  Since it made her excited to read, I didn’t mind it one bit!


  1. Write letter combinations and vowels on a piece of paper.
  2. Allow the child to cut out each combination/vowel. (This helps with fine motor skills)
  3. Place one letter combination/vowel in each egg.
  4. Hide the eggs.
  5. Allow the child to find each egg.
  6. Grab two or three eggs from the bag and open them up together.
  7. Take the slips of paper and place them together.
  8. Sound out the word.

This is where it became so funny! We could barely read the words, we were laughing so much.  Lizzie might find pieces of paper like “st-a-pl” and try to read it. Laughing, she announced, “that is not a word!”  Then she would grab for some more eggs and try to find letters that spelled actual words.

You can even be more creative if you want! Tape your made up words to a piece of paper and create a story using the silly words.

It might sound something like this:
“One day, the sab little bear walked in the stip. What he really wanted to do was crom some fruit. When he tried to find fruit, he found a shud! He was so excited!”

This becomes sort of like mad-libs, and the hilarity and laughter is priceless!

The value in wordless books

My mom and I ventured to the library at least once a week. It was a tiny, two story building with the children’s books and story hour hidden upstairs. These were the days before people set up workstations at small libraries. Little research was done at this one. It was, simply, a lending library.

I recall the moms shushing their children. I’d like to think that I was as difficult to settle into quietness at this tiny library as my kids are at our much larger one.

When I think back to my time at the library, I remember only one book. A book I borrowed repeatedly. A book with pictures so splendid and engaging. A book so tiny it fit in my little hand and I could proudly carry it. I knew every word.

The book, mind you, was wordless. It’s likely now out of print, but oh! The story. It was about two little mice. I believe they were having a tea party, all dressed up. Or, perhaps they were on an adventure.

A wordless book? you wonder. What’s the point? How will children ever learn the value in reading if they’re holding and cherishing a book without words?

I was reminded of this a few days ago, when my 3-year-old picked up my first grader’s copy of Captain Underwear–a story told in comics. She couldn’t read a word on the page, but she sat for at least 15 minutes reading the story aloud. Her eyes followed the panels from left to right. She turned pages correctly. She added drama, vocabulary and meaning to each image. She created a story very different from the one my son reads the words to, but loved the story just as much. Maybe more.

Wordless picture books offer opportunity to help children learn through context. They learn to look closely at the images, deciphering the illustrator’s meaning. They learn tracking cues (where the eyes search and follow through a story). They learn about character development, plot, suspense. They become summarizers. Even better, they become storytellers.

Each year when I was teaching I’d hand my students a large packet. The top of each page was images of Tomie dePaola’s Pancakes for Breakfast. The bottom half of the page was blank lines. I asked the children to put their pencils away, find a comfortable spot in the room, and read the story. Many of the kids questioned me. How could they read? Why? But after 15 minutes, they were excited about the story they read.

Next, each child brainstormed the plot, the beginning, middle and end. They created a character description. They thought of alternative endings.

Finally, they wrote their stories. Only after everyone was finished did they share with each other.

Oh, how amazed they were at the differences! They had the same pictures, but such different ideas on each page!

Through wordless books, children learn the art of storytelling and unique thoughts.

7 great wordless picture books for your home library

Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola

Tuesday by David Wiesner

The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

Chalk by Bill Thomson

Home by Jeannie Baker

Sector 7 by David Weisner

The Chicken Thief (Stories Without Words) by Beatrice Rodriguez

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Teaching Young Children About Dr. King

January 21, 2013 marks Martin Luther King, Jr. day.  As the holiday approaches, now is a good time for all parents to consider ways to share the legacy of Dr. King with their children and the impact that he had in shaping not just African-American history but American history.

We do something each year to celebrate and learn about Dr. King.  One of the most effective lessons has been by reading a children’s book about Dr. King and then following up with doing some additional research on-line.  There is a wealth of educational information available on YouTube. Below I share one of our favorite lessons.

Teaching Children About Dr. Martin Luther King With Children 

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is an excellent book to teach young children about Dr. King. The book does an excellent job in portraying the philosophy and teachings of Dr. King in a way suitable for young children. Before you go into the book, consider the following:

  • First, get an idea about what your children already know about Dr. King. Since my children range from 5th to 1st grade, this was important. Also, I knew they learned about him in school, so this was a good way for me to emphasize or expand upon what they may have already learned.
  • Next, ask some specific questions.  I asked everyone to share what they thought Dr. King did for Americans and what he taught us. My six-year-old shared that, “Dr. King, taught us to love people!” My seven-year-old remarked that “he taught us to do unto others as you want done unto you.” And my oldest responded with a text book answer, “ Dr. King died for rights of African-Americans.”
  • Read Martin’s Big Words, or any children’s book about Dr. King, with the kids. As you read the book and review the pictures, discuss what your children think life was like for African-American’s during the 60s.
  • Discuss what happened when schools and churches were segregated and the role that Rosa Parks had in the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. King. Explain things that are easy and simple enough for your kids to understand and give examples of what segregation is, such as not letting boys play with girls.
  • Following the book, show a short video about Dr. King’s life.  There is a seven minute video from The Corporation for the National Day of Service about Dr. King. The video discusses the life of Dr. King and how MLK day is a day of service to recognize how Dr. King served our country.
  • Listen to Dr. King’s speech in his own words.  You can easily find audio clips of Dr. King on the internet.  The entire speech may not be easily understood by young kids but the idea is to put a voice to the historical speech that many children read and learn about.  During the speech, you may notice that the light bulbs start to really turn on for the children as they begin to really understand what Dr. King did for our country.
  • You can wrap with everyone saying why they are thankful for Dr. King.  Why is life in America better for everyone?  Share your idea first and allow the children to follow.

How do you celebrate Dr. King with your children?

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Creative Punctuation Characters Printables


September 24th was National Punctuation Day. What a great reminder to teach your preschooler(s) the meaning and use of the different punctuation marks!

Instead of worksheets and time-intensive crafts, I have created punctuation characters.  The personalities of each punctuation mark will help teach your young one how to properly use them as they write.

You can click the thumbnail and print them, then let your child color the characters. Then use the printout to tell stories or play make-believe!  Another option is to ask your student to draw the punctuation mark themselves, with their own creative additions.

Creative Punctuation Characters

Quinn the Question Mark always asks questions. He is always asking, “why?” about as often as a little child. Other questions he likes to ask are: “How does that work?” and “May I please have a snack?”

Ellie the Hyper Exclamation Point! She is always screaming! Loudly! She is a very happy person, always excited to see her friends and squeals with joy when they enter the room! She also cares deeply about her brother – Peter Period – and if he is in danger she yells STOP!

Peter the Period. He is stubborn. And boring. Wherever he is, the party (or sentence) is over. You could be telling a very happy story, and almost to finish when, boom. There it is. Peter Period. Ending the sentence.

Cally, the comma, is a slow poke.  Whenever you see her, you take a breath. She slows everyone down, especially Ellie. Cally is a stickler for organization.  She doesn’t like her peas touching her spaghetti and she inserts herself into sentences when there is more than one thing in a group. Look at this sentence: “The millionaire gave his money to his daughter, son, gorilla, and pilot.”  She kept all those people separated!

Cally is a high-maintenance punctuation mark. There are so many ways to use her!

The Quotation mark twins are shy. The only thing they ever want out of life is to give all the glory and attention to the person that is talking. They are like spotlights. They are so happy when they can let the world know that someone is talking!

Of course as they get older you can teach them elipses, dash, semicolon and parenthesis. But this list is a really fun and easy place to start.

How did you teach your preschooler about punctuation?

It’s Apple Season

green apples, apple season

September is apple season and we have already made our way to the local orchard to gather our half bushel of Honey Crisps. There’s something about apples that gives off a hint of fall even though the temperatures are still saying it’s summer. Apple season came early this year due to a warm spring so make sure you don’t miss the fantastic crops out there and try something new.

Here’s a collection of apple themed books and snack ideas to enjoy while reading.

Ten Apples Up On Top! by Theo LeSieg
In true Dr. Seuss fashion, the rhymes about how three friends trying to outdo each other balancing apples on their head will bring giggles to all kids.

The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree by Gail Gibbonsapple lovers cookbook
This story tells of the life of a very special apple tree and the little boy that loves it.

The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso
Think beyond applesauce and try some of these simple and easy recipes that will start traditions and become family classics.

Apples A to Z by Margaret McNamara
An ABC book featuring different kinds of apples.

Apples but Elaine Landau
A true book about the growing and history of apples. A nonfiction work that could be used for research.

Apple Snack Ideas

Use your favorite apple variety for these simple snack ideas. Encourage independence by letting children be involved in preparing their own treats. Allow your child to help spreading, sprinkling and dipping. Invest in a kid friendly knife to show them how to safely cut an apple and other produce. Giving a child tools of their own can positively impact healthy eating habits.  Here are some delicious ways to eat apples:

• Apple wedges spread with peanut butter and covered with crushed granola
• Apple slices lightly coated with honey and chopped peanuts
• Top butter cracker with thin sliced apple and sliced cheddar
• Mix creamy vanilla yogurt with a sprinkle of cinnamon and dip apple slices
• Stuff chopped apples, cinnamon and brown sugar into prepared personal size pie crusts.

Expanding our learning with the Olympic Games


In addition to stressing healthy living, friendly competition and peace, the Olympics offer an excellent opportunity for learning as a family. Last Friday night, our family gathered together around the TV and discussed the things we knew about Great Britain and London and tried to learn a bit more from the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

But it was during the Parade of Nations that the learning began that will continue for the next 2 weeks. While we fought to stay awake, our family learned new countries we were unfamiliar with. Countries like Togo and Mauritania were nations our family hadn’t heard of, which offered an opportunity to quickly pull out the laptop and do a quick Google Earth search. Before we knew it, we were flying from continent to continent, chasing nations.

If you listened carefully during the Parade of Nations, you’d hear a tiny bit about the culture, traditions and heroes of each country. But we found the parade moved so quickly this year that we tried something new. Each person selected a country he’d never heard of to learn about and make his “adopted” country for these Olympics.

Of course we’re all cheering for the USA and our favorite athletes. But this year, our family became fans of 5 new countries with 5 “smaller” athletes who are likely big hits in their countries. In doing so, we’re building our knowledge of culture, acceptance and interest around the world. So in addition to routing on Gabby Douglas in Women’s Gymnastics and Ricky Berens on the US Swim Team, we’ll also cheer for Anolyn Lulu who will play table tennis for the Republic of Vanuatu – a nation of small islands in the south Pacific.

Throughout the Olympic Games, we’ll also continue to learn about new nations and new stars. TV coverage often includes stories of athletes who have achieved great feats in their personal lives–these stories can often be used as encouragement for others. (And, of course, bring tears of love from moms.) When we view a flag being raised, our family takes advantage of this as an opportunity to learn more about a winning nation. Tell me, I’ll say, what do you know about Argentina? With the help of Google Earth, Google and Wikipedia, our family is strengthening their researching skills, practicing reading and learning a bit about the world outside our bubble.