Eight Easy Tips to Help Little Ones Get Ready to Read

From Our House to Yours

My first easy tip to get little ones ready to read is simply to do Little Hands to Heaven with them!

During our summer break, I loved working with just my littlest one. I had more time, and I needed to be with my little one anyway. So, why not help him get ready to read? My first go-to way to get my little ones ready to read was always to simply do Heart of Dakota’s Little Hands to Heaven (LHTH) with them. Using LHTH, I taught my sons a sound and an action for every letter. I used the fingerplays, flashcards, and letter activities to help my sons commit their letters and sounds to memory. Everything was neatly tied to the Bible theme for the week too! I only spent 15-30 minutes a day doing HOD’s Little Hands to Heaven. Half-speed took 15 minutes. Full-speed took 25-30 minutes. Easy-peasy, productive, and an awesome way to help little ones get ready to read!

My second easy tip to get little ones ready to read is to have them watch the Leap Frog DVDs.

All of our sons enjoyed watching the Leap Frog DVDs. The first DVD is called Letter Factory, and it does a great job of teaching letters and their sounds! This was by far my favorite DVD for getting my little ones ready to read. The second DVD is called Talking Words Factory. This one is a little more grown up, as it moves on to words. I didn’t have my kiddos watch this until they had the Letter Factory down pat. There is a third DVD called Let’s Go to School. I didn’t have them watch that DVD; we were homeschooling. No need to hype up a classroom setting! However, I loved the first two DVDs! They were inexpensive, 30 minutes long, and available everywhere.

My third easy tip to get little ones ready to read is the ‘finger slide.’

Once children know their letters and sounds well, I like to teach them the ‘finger slide.’ I begin by always putting my finger under the sound being read, and I don’t slide it to the next sound until they read it read right. Then later, I put my finger under the word being read, and I don’t move it on until the word is read right. Then still later, I put my finger at the start of the line, and I don’t move it on to the next start of the line until the sentence is read right. This is an easy visual queuing system. I like how I can use this finger slide method in a progression, as my kiddos learn to read!

My fourth easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read utilizes a markerboard.

Once children have begun to read small words, I like to have a handheld markerboard nearby. When they are trying to sound out a word, I simply set the book aside. Then, I pull out my handheld markerboard. I begin to jot the word they are working to sound out in large letters in black marker in the middle of the markerboard. I jot the word they are struggling with one sound/chunk at a time, having them say them for me. For example, if the word was “glass”, I’d write…

gl (pause for him to say it) a (pause) ss (pause)

Then, I would slide my finger under the whole word to signify it’s time to blend it all together. They loved this! I remember one time I forgot the markerboard. My little one came to a word he was stuck on, and after a few tries, he said, “MOM – where’s the markerboard? I’m waiting.”  Toe-tapping, arms crossed on chest. Too cute! Anyway, it’s easy, it works, and they only need help like this occasionally.

My fifth easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read is to give them a chance to “practice” first, without me.

For some of our sons, having some time on their own to sound out each word without me next to them helped. It gave them a chance to “practice” without me watching, and it helped them not to feel so put-on-the-spot.  When I tutored, I would sometimes have little ones that were overwhelmed by books. If they were not sure about reading from a book, I would just write each word on a markerboard one at a time and do the lesson like that, with me referring to the manual just for my own information. One word on a markerboard is much less intimidating than a page. It also doesn’t seem like a page is being repeated, even if it is a repeat of what was done yesterday. After practicing on markerboard, they were then often ready to read the book and did so quite happily and successfully!

My sixth easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read uses a loud voice and/or a rubberband.

Once little ones are sounding out words, they often forget the first sound by the end of the word. For example, they might sound out c… a… t… quite slowly, and then quickly say the word is ‘tan.’ Or, they might sound out t… e… n… slowly, and then quickly say the word is ‘net.’ This happens because they have not learned to ‘hold’ the sounds in sequence in their mind. They remember the last sound the best, as they just said it. They might even vaguely remember the middle or first sounds. However, they jumble their order and pronounce their final word with the last sound first. This is very common and usually nothing to worry about!

An easy tip to help them with this is to simply say the first sound the loudest. I would model this, sometimes saying it louder while gently cupping my hands around their ear as I said it (i.e. C… a… t… – Cat! Though the first sound obviously isn’t always accented (i.e. in a two-syllable word), this tip works to help emphasize the ‘holding’ of the first sound first and foremost in their mind. One more idea that worked for my sons was to use a rubberband to stretch as we were saying each sound and then snap it back when we blended it.

My seventh easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read is simply to try the BOB books.

Have you heard of the BOB books? They are inexpensive, funny, and excellent for beginning readers. We went through these as we did our phonics, starting about in the middle of our phonics, when I knew my sons would be successful with them. The first set begins with CVC words in a pattern. These books are inexpensive and available online and at most book stores.

My eighth easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read is to give rewards. 

Giving rewards, just little ones, for small gains at first is motivating to little ones learning to read. For example, I might have a jar and every time my son reads a word properly for the day, he gets a mini marshmallow or chocolate chip or skittle or whatever. He may get 10 if he reads 10 words properly. Maybe every 10, he would get a sucker too. Or, if you don’t believe in this type of reward, you can give a sticker for each, and when he receives 10, let him do something special with or on his own (i.e. build a lego tower or watch a short video). Rewards really did make a difference early on in our sons’ reading progress. We found after awhile, we could just drop them, and then reading itself was the reward.

I hope some of these ideas help, but mamas of little ones, keep pressing on! It WILL click, and though it takes time, it is so worth the time and effort to get there!

In Christ,
Julie

Customize Your Children’s Reading with Heart of Dakota

From Our House to Yours

Customize Your Children’s Reading with Heart of Dakota

I have three sons I’ve taught to read using Heart of Dakota’s guides. Though they have all progressed through the guides in order, I’ve always loved I can customize their reading. This has been wonderful! I have been able to choose the reading and the pacing of that reading to fit each child best. So, while they each progressed through phonics, the Emerging Reader’s Set, and Drawn into the Heart of Reading, their reading was customized to fit them each the best.  Because reading instruction is not tied to a guide’s daily plans, unit themes, or months/seasons/holidays, it can easily be customized without getting your child off-track in your main Heart of Dakota guide!  Let’s see how!

Customize Your Children’s Phonics

With Heart of Dakota, phonics is not tied to any other subject area. The Reading Lesson (TRL), Reading Made Easy (RME), and Sound Bytes are all phonics programs Heart of Dakota recommends. However, any phonics can be used with Heart of Dakota. Phonics is recommended to be done during Little Hearts for His Glory (LHFHG) and/or Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory (Beyond). So, you can customize by choosing which phonics program to use, by choosing when to begin, as well as by choosing how many years to do phonics. You can even further customize your children’s phonics by choosing to use the download or not with TRL. Likewise, you can customize by choosing to use the workbooks or not with RME. So, lots of ways to customize your children’s phonics!

Customize Your Children’s Emerging Reader Set

The Emerging Reader’s Set (ERS) is the next step up in reading after phonics. The ERS provides a carefully planned out list of interesting, well-loved books that gradually increase in difficulty. A schedule for reading these books and engaging questions written specifically for each book is included in both Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory (Beyond) and Bigger Hearts for His Glory (BHFHG).  This 14-book set begins with one of two children’s Bibles. The Early Reader’s Bible is the easier reading level, and The Beginner’s Bible is the harder reading level. Supplement titles of books are also listed for each unit to match the ERS progression. So, customize your ERS by choosing to use it with Beyond or BHFHG, by choosing which level of Bible to use, and by choosing whether to use the supplemental titles or not!

Customize Your Children’s Independent Reading 

Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR) is the next step in reading after the ERS. DITHOR is a reading option in Beyond Little Hearts through Missions to Modern Marvels (MTMM). So, you can customize when your children begin DITHOR. There are three different DITHOR Student Book levels: 2/3, 4/5, and 6/7/8. So, you can customize your children’s level of instruction and amount of written work. There are multiple levels of book packs, including Levels 2, 3, 4/5, 5/6, 6/7, and 7/8. So, you can customize your children’s level of reading. There are also girl and boy interest book packs for levels 4/5, 5/6, and 7/8. So, you can further customize your children’s reading by interest.

There is also a Sample Book Ideas list. As any book can be used with DITHOR, this list gives a dozen or so choices per level per genre. You can customize the books your children read using this suggested list.  Or, you can choose ANY book, using what you have on hand or using your library! Just make sure the book you choose matches the genre you are teaching. If you choose your own books, you can also customize the reading pace. Choose either to read one, two, or three books to read over the 15 days of reading each genre. Now, that’s a LOT of awesome ways to customize your child’s reading!

In Christ,
Julie

“A Helping Hand” Between Phonics and the Emerging Reader’s Set

Dear Carrie

“A Helping Hand” Between Phonics and the Emerging Reader’s Set

My 6 year-old son is four pages from finishing The Reading Lesson! We are so excited! However, he still has struggles with reading. I’m not sure about having him move into the Emerging Reader’s Set (ERS). He gets frustrated REALLY easily when he has to sound out a word and gets it wrong. Then, he just starts randomly guessing words that might fit the picture. He tried reading the first story in the Early Reader’s Bible and missed about 5-6 words. Should I dive into the ERS – but take it slowly? Or run through another phonics program quickly? He already has BOB books and a few other books, but he definitely doesn’t have a love for reading just yet. It doesn’t help his little sister is reading almost everything in the house. He just needs a helping hand between TRL and ERS! What do you suggest?

Sincerely,
“Ms. Please Offer a Helping Hand Between Phonics and the ERS”

Dear “Ms. Please Offer a Helping Hand Between Phonics and the ERS,”

I’d be glad to offer a helping hand here! We had a similar situation with our fourth little guy after finishing HOD’s The Reading Lesson (TRL). This was a new situation for me. My other boys pretty much took off after phonics and were ready for the Emerging Reader’s Set (ERS). This was not the case for my fourth son!

Things That Probably Didn’t Offer a Helping Hand for My Son

Looking back, there were probably a few things that didn’t offer my son a helping hand. I had stopped over the summer with phonics instruction (two different summers) while using The Reading Lesson, simply because I was so busy writing. I know this took a toll on my last little guy’s readiness when he finished phonics. He also had tubes in his ears, which we had taken out in the summer (due to fluid in the tubes). So, I don’t think he was clearly hearing sounds either. With my years of teaching spent helping kiddos learn to read, I knew all kiddos were different as to how much “phonics” they truly need and how much time it would take them to grow into being able to read real books. So, all of these things were definitely playing a role too in my little guy’s readiness to read.

Placing ‘real’ books in a special shoebox and reading nightly from them was the best ‘helping hand’ for my son!

The thing that really helped get my little one excited about reading (which I somehow forgot along the way) was to place “real” books that are very easy and that he could read without struggle in a shoebox and have him read to me or his Dad nightly from the box. I also realized that we had not been reading aloud picture books to my last little one very often (like we did for our other boys). So, we read one book to him that was a hard picture book nightly, and he read one book to us. This helped his enthusiasm for the written word to grow too.

Though Bob books fit practice-level-wise, he was beyond them maturity-wise.

My little one had the Bob books and all of the other “little” readers in his room, but he wasn’t excited about them. He thought the stories didn’t make sense. Truly, he was beyond them maturity-wise, even if they were good reading practice level-wise. My other boys liked the Bob books. In fact,  my oldest son loved them! But, the older boys in our family read them when they were much younger. The Bob books were not the “helping hand” he needed. Once I took note of what my little guy could truly read without difficulty, I realized we had quite a ways to go in building fluency.

Backing up to easier readers for awhile was a ‘helping hand’ that built confidence!

He didn’t need another phonics program, he just needed a helping hand by having time with me (or dad) reading the really easy readers to build confidence. So, we backed up to the super easy readers for awhile. For example, we headed back to the “Shared My First Reading” “My First I Can Read Books” (which come before the Level 1 readers). These would be books like the easier “Biscuit” series and the “Mittens” series. We also used some Level 1 and above books, but they were the easier looking ones.

Little ones can be overwhelmed by too much text on a page, so simpler books give a ‘helping hand’ to fill that gap.

For example, some other books that worked for us were Mouse Soup, Wake Up Sun, Oscar Otter, Sir Small and the Dragonfly, Why Benny Barks, Grizzwold, Sammy the Seal, Danny and the Dinosaur, Pie Rats Ahoy, Hiccups for Elephant, My Dog Talks, Thomas and the School Trip, Clifford and the Big Leaf Pile, The Lion and the Mouse, the easier Little Critter books (like When I Get Bigger, Just Me and My Puppy, Merry Christmas Mom and Dad, All By Myself, The Trip, etc.). While these specific titles are in no way needed, I share them to get you thinking that often our little ones are overwhelmed by too much text on the page, and they are missing the thrill of reading a cohesive story with beautiful pictures. So, these books give a “helping hand” to fill that gap.

By placing easier books in a special box, we are setting apart books that will be enjoyable to read.

As they read the easy books, they gain confidence, the sounds are reinforced, and they begin to enjoy reading. By placing books they can read in a box or a cube, we are setting apart those that will be enjoyable for the child to read without so much work. My little one started taking his box in the car to read on the way as we went places. He started reading with his box next to him in his bed. Soon, he began to take his box downstairs to read when he had free time. Then, he asked for more Biscuit books and more Mittens books and read them all when they came. I was thrilled that he was enjoying reading and wanting to read. In a couple of months, he was was more prepared and ready for the ERS. I’m glad we took a couple of months to build skills to begin strong.

How to Give a “Helping Hand” When Sounding Out Harder Words

When he didn’t remember a sound, I tried to have him sound it out, or I restated the rule… remember “ou” says… When he read bigger words, I’d cover up part of the word with my finger(s) to show the word in manageable chunks. Then, I’d have him read each part and put it together to make the whole word. When he guessed, I’d repeat what he said, and ask, “Does that make sense?” I tried not to let him get frustrated and to make the reading fun!

This ‘helping hand’ strategy of placing books in special box could be applied to many different ages!

I think this ‘helping hand’ strategy of placing books kiddos can read into a box or a cube just for them is one that can be applied to many different ages. It sets apart books that really can be read by the child at whatever stage of reading he/she is at and keeps them from frustration with books that are way too difficult. I also try to remember that our Heart of Dakota school books push the kiddos into higher level material, so it is good to keep the free reading books easier. No one likes to be pushed to peak performance all of the time. Some things should be easier! Try these giving a ‘helping hand’ tips and see if it helps your little one!

Blessings,
Carrie

Learning letter sounds and shapes is exciting!

Teaching Tip:

Learning letter sounds and shapes is exciting!

Learning the letter sounds and shapes is an exciting time for a child. It is a time when the “code” of reading and writing is unlocked. It is also a stage when children begin to realize a whole new world is opening up to them.

Do you have a child who is learning the letter sounds/shapes for the first time?

If you have a child learning the letter sounds/shapes for the first time, it is a good idea to keep in mind the varying ways children learn. For many kiddos, phonics instruction needs to encompass auditory, visual, and bodily kinesthetic activities. This means instruction needs to involve more than just a child’s eyes and ears. It is often helpful for learning to involve the body as well.

Often we expect children to learn letter sounds and shapes from passive activities.

Often we expect kiddos to pick up and retain letter sounds/shapes from watching letter-based shows (which is a passive activity). Or, perhaps we expect our kiddos to learn letter sounds and shapes by playing letter-based computer games. Even though this is a less passive activity, it is still mainly eye and ear based. While there is nothing wrong with these types of activities, it is good to pair them with something less passive. Often there is improved retention of letter sounds and shapes if we actually involve a child’s whole body in the learning process.

How can learning the letter sounds and shapes be a bodily-kinesthetic activity?

Little Hands to Heaven uses kiddos’ large and small motor skills in conjunction with their eyes and ears to learn letter sounds and shapes. The guide incorporates a wide variety of bodily activities to get kiddos moving and learning at the same time. For example, kiddos trace large masking tape letters on the floor by tiptoeing on the outline of the letter. As they trace the letter, they say the letter sound. When they reach the end of the letter…they jump off! Kiddos also glue cereal pieces, raisins, or marshmallows on marker outlines of letters. Or, they may trace a letter outline on construction paper using an ice cube or paint. Through a corresponding finger play each week, kiddos learn hand motions to signify each letter sound. As a flashcard for the letter is shown, kiddos say the sound along with demonstrating the corresponding hand motion. These are just a few of the activities in Little Hands to Heaven that make learning a whole body experience.

What if your child already knows the letter sounds?

Even if your child already knows the letter sounds, he/she will still benefit from the activities in Little Hands to Heaven. This is because these activities are also designed to hone large and small motor skills. The exercises in the guide also strengthen eye tracking skills needed for reading. All of these skills are a great help as children begin to read and write!

No matter what type of learner you have, Little Hands to Heaven is designed to address their needs.

Since Little Hands to Heaven was written with all types of learners in mind, it encompasses all learning styles. This means that no matter what type of learner you have, Little Hands to Heaven was written for you! Taking only 30 minutes each day, Little Hands to Heaven is a Bible-based readiness program that takes no planning or preparation. Designed for ages 2-5, Little Hands to Heaven will help you create wonderful memories with your child using fun learning that seems like play! If you have little ones, consider Little Hands to Heaven today!

Blessings,

Carrie

Do you have a new reader who is just finishing phonics?

Teaching Tip:

Do you have a new reader who is just finishing phonics?

If so, it’s good to know kiddos often “finish” phonics with varying levels of confidence and skill as readers. Some kiddos finish phonics and are able to read almost anything. Other kiddos finish phonics struggling slowly through the texts provided in the phonics program. If you happen to have a struggler, today’s tip is for you!

Is your reader struggling after finishing phonics?

We had a struggler situation with our fourth little guy after finishing phonics. This was a new situation for me. Our other boys pretty much took off after phonics and were ready for the Emerging Reader’s Set right away. With our fourth little guy, I had stopped phonics instruction over the summer (two different summers), simply because I was so busy writing. This “stopping and starting” took a toll on his readiness to read when he finished phonics. Our son also had tubes in his ears during this time, which we finally had taken out due to fluid in the tubes. This meant he wasn’t clearly hearing the sounds when learning to read either. So, when we finished phonics, he was still struggling to read.

Struggling readers often lack confidence and are easily overwhelmed.

Struggling new readers often lack confidence. Even if they can sound out words, the sheer number of words on a busy page of text is overwhelming. Tiny print with few pictures makes struggling readers never want to open a book again! This means it is important to get a struggling reader excited about reading, so he feels like he can do it.

How can you help a new reader build confidence and fluency?

To build confidence in a struggling reader, choose “real” books that are very easy and that he CAN read without struggle. Make sure these books have less text and colorful pictures. Place these books in a shoebox. Then, have your child read a book from the box at least once daily to you or another adult.

What kind of easy readers could be put in the “box”?

To decide what books to put in the box, take note of what your child can read without difficulty. Often this can be an eye-opener. Don’t worry if you have to back way up to build fluency! We had to back up to the super easy readers with our son for awhile. For example, we headed back to the “Shared My First Reading” and “My First I Can Read Books.” These books come before the Level 1 readers. They are books like the easier “Biscuit” series and “Mittens” series. We also used some Level 1 and above books, but they were the easier looking ones. While these specific titles are in no way needed, I share them to get you thinking. Often our little ones are overwhelmed by too much text on the page. Yet, with books that are too simple, they are missing the thrill of reading a cohesive story with beautiful pictures. So, these books fill that gap.

What about using the “Bob books” or other controlled readers?

My son had the Bob books and many other controlled readers in his room, but he wasn’t excited about them. He thought the stories didn’t make sense. Truly, he was beyond them maturity-wise, even if they were the right reading level practice-wise. My other boys liked the Bob books. My oldest really loved them! However, my other boys read the Bob books when they were much younger. Age definitely plays a role as to when the Bob books or controlled readers will be a good fit.

Reading aloud picture books also helps restore the joy of reading.

In looking to restore excitement in reading, it also helps to read aloud beautiful picture books. With my fourth little guy, I realized we had not been reading aloud picture books very often like we did for our other boys. To remedy that, we began reading one beautiful picture book aloud to our son each night. Then, he read one of his easy “box” books to us. This helped his enthusiasm for the written word to grow more.

How does reading easy books help your child grow as a reader?

As your child reads easy books, he gains confidence, reinforces sounds, and begins to enjoy reading. By setting apart books your child can read easily, you are selecting those that will be enjoyable to read without much work. What was the result at our house? My little one started taking his box of books in the car to read on the way as we went places. He started reading with his box next to him in his bed. He took his box downstairs to read when he had free time. He asked for more Biscuit books and more Mittens books and read them all when they came. He enjoyed reading and wanted to read. He was even ready for the Emerging Reader’s Set in a couple of months.

What should you do when your child struggles with a word?

If my son didn’t remember a word, I tried to have him sound it out. If that didn’t work, I restated the rule, ” Remember ‘ou’ says…”. If he was reading bigger words, I’d cover up part of the word with my finger to show the word in manageable chunks. Then, I would have him read each part and put it together to make the whole word. If he guessed, I’d repeat what he said, and ask, “Does that make sense?” Ultimately, I had a goal not to let him get frustrated and to make reading fun! 😀

Having a box of books the child can read is a great strategy for readers who don’t struggle too.

Placing books kiddos can read into a box or a cube just for them is a strategy that can be applied to many different ages. It sets apart books that really can be read by the child no matter what his stage of reading. This keeps children from frustration with books that are way too difficult. Since our school books push kiddos into higher level material, it is good to keep free reading books at an easier level. No one likes to be pushed to peak performance all of the time. Some things should be easier!

Blessings,

Carrie