Summer – Scraboggle

Scraboggle 1

The complete set up for Scraboggle

My kids got out of school on Friday and were adamant yesterday morning that we have “school” at the usual time. Complete with recess. I’m not one to say no to a desire to learn, so I pulled some tasks out of my always-stocked box of activities. We started the day with Bingo (nothing like reinforcing number recognition with the younger one), then pulled out some rocks we had gotten at a museum. I had both kids draw several of the rocks in their summer journals, and then we took turns looking them up. Littlest one ended up reading about the deepest desert in the world (happens to be in Ethiopia, where he was born). My older kid wrote and my younger kid dictated descriptions of the rocks, and some fast facts about them after we identified what type of rock/mineral they were. Huge success, with some reading, writing, art, and science thrown in the mix.

This morning, my son came running out of his room telling me it was time for Moveable Alphabet. For those not versed in the bizarre methods of Montessori, Moveable Alphabet involves using letter tiles to spell words, focusing on phonetics and phonemes. Ever the mother of invention, yours truly went to the game cabinet and pulled out two games we have accumulated from yard sales: Scrabble and Boggle Jr. I set up the Boggle cards so the picture was showing and the word was hidden. I then had my son use the Scrabble tiles to spell the words. He was fabulous. You can see in the picture that there were a few missteps. I copied them into his summer journal, with notes about phonemes he had missed. Behold, the new game of Scraboggle.

For example, “aw” was spelled o-w. I asked him to read what he had spelled, and he immediately realized it was sow, not saw. His hand kept flying to his face to make the “aw” sound and to try to recall what vowel came before the w.

Another interesting one, to me, was can (as in tin can). My son would say it to himself and listen to me, but he kept hearing a “d” at the end of the word. I let him misspell it, and when he pulled the card out to check we talked about why it was can instead of canned (that is, why there was no “d”).

Finally, he tried to spell bus as “bhs.” I tried having him read it back to me and he slowly read “b-huh-s.” I asked him what the H says, and he said “huh.” “Please watch my mouth,” I said, and mostly exhaled to say hhhhhh. That said, he corrected bhs to bus.

I hope this inspires you to use existing games and resources you have at home to keep your kids engaged and learning this summer. I’d love to hear about what you come up with. Happy reading!

Cards and Tiles for Scraboggle

Completed word list for Scraboggle, with sounds to work on


Word Lists and Games


I notice a lot of you looking at the link I posted for sight words, and also looking at the letter sounds pages.  So, I thought I’d take a moment and pull a couple more resources together for you.  Before I do, please know that I will be updating this site soon to have a better breakdown on sounds lessons – that is, which sounds to teach prior to reading the early reader series I used.  I’ve started this by identifying what to teach prior to series one of the BOB Books, and what to teach before series two, but I am in the process of improving and expanding this breakdown of lessons.

Anyway, here are some additional resources that may be useful.  If you have others, please let me know in the comments section (free resources only, please).

Sight words

Sound families / diphthongs

Word family worksheets (there are tons of these worksheets on the web, but this seems like a pretty good, free assortment)

Sound worksheets (again, this is one site of many)

Printable phonics word games

Diversity in Books, Diversity in Life


There was an interesting piece on Tell Me More yesterday (a radio program on NPR), describing some of the challenges of getting kids to read and also of finding books that represent the world and not just one corner/version of it.  The show looks specifically at books that have Latino characters or settings, but isn’t exclusively focused on that (e.g., one recommendation is for Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.)  I particularly liked the show because they came up with suggestions for all different aged readers. There is both an audio and a transcript version, so don’t feel you need to listen if you would prefer to read it.

Why does diversity in books matter?  I’d say the same reason that it matters in life.  We live in a diverse world and we can only begin to understand and relate to it if we are exposed to it.  I’m reminded of dogs (I have a habit recently of comparing people and dogs, which got me in hot water in a recent conversation, but anyway…), and how puppies need to be exposed to people of different ages, ethnicities, and races in order to help them not be afraid as adult dogs.  The more the exposure, and the younger it happens, the better we can remember that we are all people – a person’s a person, no matter how small (or what color).  Reading books from different view points helps with this expansion of perspective.

Additionally, if your kids are minorities in any way, it can help them feel more comfortable with themselves. One of my kids is totally laid back about being black/brown, whereas the other struggles with it.  The aware one is absolutely attuned to representation of race in tv, movies, books, music, and life.  Hearing comments about “just like me” are heartwarming, whereas “is it ok for blacks to…” (fill in any activity currently on the radar) make me wish we lived in a more diverse area. Whatever you may think of him politically, President Obama helps fill the same role – reminding kids that they do not have to be a certain religion, sex, race, etc. to do or be something. Diverse books help in a similar way – showing kids they possible (or the imaginable).

I also had to chuckle, and wish I could have called in, because there was a section of the show where they were talking about getting kids to read more.  One of the parents said the Kindle helped with his son (as it did with my daughter), but they talked some about the need to choose something like the Paperwhite, which doesn’t have apps and games on it.  The goal is reading, not playing.  It reminded me of my recent post on ereaders.

Thanks, Michel, for another great show.

We will definitely be digging into the list this summer!  Happy reading!

First phonemes – aw ew ow


The combination of letters into new sounds greatly confused my two new readers.  The first ones we encountered were “aw,” “ew,” and “ow.”  Kids had a tough time remembering what they were supposed to say, so I created a couple of hand motions to help them remember.  You will see in the video that they over-exaggerate the sound when doing the movement.  This was ok for my two, and never impacted their ability to pull the sounds together into a word.  If it becomes a problem for yours, then have them pull back a bit so that “ew” would be pronounced like “yew” instead of the way my kids do in the video, which is “eeeeeew.”  Basic motions:

AW – hold hand to face, tip head, and look cute

EW – hold nose and pucker face

OW – slap thigh and look pained

When my kids read and mispronounce a word because of one of these, or get stumped on what to say, I only have to look at them and silently make the motion.  It jogs their memory without me saying a thing.  My son will still hold his nose occasionally as he reads along and encounters a word with “ew.”  As I said, he doesn’t over-pronounce the sound, but the motion clearly helps jog his memory.  I kept the motions to only a few sounds, so that they wouldn’t be dancing around the room as they read (although what a fun image!) and they would only rely on them for the more bizarre sounds.  What motions do you rely on?  Are my three motions helpful to your kids?

Happy reading (and watching)!

Keeping a child focused


KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) seems appropriate when teaching kids to read.  The skill of reading is so difficult and requires so much concentration, that children don’t need distractions.  I have even been known to cover up black and white BOB book illustrations when my kids were getting too distracted by them.  Generally, if I saw my child’s eyes drift from the words to the picture and then they stopped reading, I tried to redirect them to the text, I reminded them to finish the sentence and then we would talk about the picture, and if none of that worked, I took an index card and covered up the picture.*(see below)*  I only bring this up to show how very easily distracted children can be and to offer the advice to look at your child’s eyes if they seem to be struggling with a text.

Are they tracking the words or are their eyes wandering away?  If they are wandering, is it time for a short break?  Is there a phrase you can use to help bring the child back to the task?  I end up saying things like, “Let’s keep going, I want to know what happens!” and “You’re almost done.  Let’s finish strong and then we can play, but you are only one page from the end.”  (Why did my kids stop with one page left?  Self-defeatist tendencies?  Feeling like they got so close to the end that it’s really the same as finishing?  Child stubbornness?  Who knows.)  Does it help to ask the child about what is happening in the story?  To pause and talk about the picture before going back to the beginning of the sentence/paragraph/page so that comprehension doesn’t suffer?

It can seem silly, but these little redirects are helpful in reminding kids to finish what they start and that even if tired, they can finish the sentence (if not the book) and be proud of what they accomplished.  Which leads me to my last tip on this – if my child was lagging, I gently pushed until I sensed that they were done (as opposed to having a moment), then had them continue until the next logical break (sentence, paragraph, page, chapter), and then we stopped.  There’s always tomorrow.

** I want to be clear that sometimes, kids use the pictures to decode a word.  This is a GOOD use of a picture, and also why picture books are so important to early readers.  I only covered up the pictures when the next word was something I knew my child knew, and he or she was distracted as opposed to struggling with a word.  If you pay attention, you can see the difference, and base your reaction on your child’s need at that moment.

Trouble in Interactive Book Paradise


There has been a recent flurry of news about whether children learn as well from ereaders as they do from paper books. Many of the studies cited are comparing interactive books with paper books. Researchers have found that children have lower reading comprehension on some ereaders because they are getting too distracted by the interactive features. I feel this way with my kids on everything from TV character flashcards to the BOB Books ipad app.

But wait, hypocritical blogger, you may be saying, you recommend the LAZ Readers, which are on the ipad. Yes, I do. But if you look at one of the sample books, you will see how low-tech the readers are. There are no games, no animation, no background music. The only interactive features are the ability to turn pages with your finger (I’ve complained about how sensitive the app is) and the ability to look up a definition of a few words in each book. My kids liked them so much because it was a break from reading paper readers, and made them feel excited just to be doing anything with the ipad.

Long story short, the studies don’t surprise me. I’ve tried to take the simple approach to teaching my own children. I even find that I, a dedicated ereader, get troubled by the new format. It can be harder to go back to recheck something, because you can’t just flip back a few pages. There is a search feature, but the results tend to be overwhelming. Maybe I’m just not an expert at using the finer features of the machine, but I know I’m not alone. Ereaders are here to stay and are fabulous in many ways. But the interactive versions are not, it appears, a great way to get children to read.

All that said, it makes sense to me that if interactive books are what it takes to help increase your child’s interest in reading, go right ahead. Maybe it just means that you need to interact with your child more to ensure that they are really reading and understanding.

What has your experience been?

Letter Flashcards


I mentioned the memo cube I used to make letter flashcards for my kids, but thought it might be helpful to see them – they really aren’t high-tech and I think that’s part of why they worked.  photo 3I used two differently sized memo cubes as my paper sources, which was helpful in later sorting upper from lowercase.  My son started getting confused on some of the letters – upside down M looked like a W – so I added little lines underneath the letters to help clarify which way they were supposed to go.  I liked that the focus was on the letter, not colors and objects all over the card.  My son initially used some colorful TV character letter flash cards, but he was just too distracted by them.  These worked.  And that’s what it’s all about – find what works for your child, and if you can pull it together from things you have lying around the house, even better.  Dollar stores can also be good resources of cheap learning materials.  Have fun and get creative!