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Published on January 15, 2021

How to Teach Your Kid to Read at Home

How to Teach Your Kid to Read at Home

This year has forced you to do quite a bit at home—figuring out where your Peloton bike will go, discovering your hidden passion to make macarons (or, perhaps, eat them), among others. For parents of young children, you have a very unique challenge—to teach your kids how to read at home instead of fully at school.

In a previous article, I detailed how you may go about homeschooling your children. This post will be more succinct and highlight a particularly specific skill—the ability to read. Thankfully, the most important academic skill isn’t too scary if you know how to approach the process and what to look for as your young kiddo builds skill in this area.

Phonics, Phonemic Awareness, and Phonological Awareness

Before learning how to teach your kids to read, let me first discuss some quick terminology. Have you heard to terms phonics, phonemic awareness, and/or phonological awareness? Likely, you have not unless you’re an elementary school teacher like me. These terms are often difficult to decipher from one another yet are critical for your success at teaching reading at home.

Let’s start with tackling each of these terms individually.

  • Phonics is simply understanding that each letter has a corresponding sound. For example, you definitely know that “tee” sounds like the letter “T”, right? Yup, right. That’s phonics.
  • Phonemic awareness takes the understanding of phonics and ups the ante a bit. It explains how we can discern that the /c/ at the beginning of the word “cat” is different from the /at/ that follows that sound. (Fun fact! There are 43 individual phonemes in the English language. But fear not, you won’t be quizzing your kiddo).
  • Phonological awareness is similar to phonemic awareness but is, again, a bit loftier. In the previous example, we highlighted the understanding of /c/ in “cat” sounding like a “K”, right? Well, phonological awareness is one’s ability to manipulate the various sound units in a word. So, placing the sound /ack/ with /p/ as the beginning makes a different word sound than if you put /b/ before /ack/.

Tired yet? Fear not. Chances are, your young reader is going to need some support with one of these skills as they begin their reading journey.

So, let’s take a dive into how to know where your child is and what to do if they need phonics, phonemic, or phonological awareness support.

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Does Your Student Understand Basic Phonics?

Does your student look at a “D” and say “C” or start to pronounce the word “kart” and say “start”? If so, it’s likely they have an issue with the alphabetic principle or, simply, phonics. They may also not be able to produce the correct letter when you give them a sound or vise versa. (Say “K”, and they’ll write “F”, for example.).

What Can I Do to Help My Child Build Phonics?

I’m glad you asked! If you have a Scrabble set or a fancy tablet game with letters, get to building! Talk with your student about the sounds of letters as you construct new and exciting words. And don’t be afraid to create words, too!

Nonsense words are often used to help students understand the basic rules of phonics. For example, “frub” is not a word, but if a student can 1) say it and 2) clap the syllables, they are getting the hang of phonics!

The Nuance of Phonemic vs Phonological Awareness

There’s a lot of grace here, and unless you are both a parent and elementary school teacher, your student won’t be upset if you constantly confuse these two. I’ll actually offer support for both of them at once because the difference really doesn’t matter in the living room.

You may remember, as a student, (depending on how old you are or how good your memory is) clapping words aloud in class. This is called syllabication, and each clap occurs on a different syllable in a word, right? Well, get to clapping!

One of the earliest indicators that students need support with early literacy is their inability to decipher between syllables. So, if your child has a difficult time clapping out “potatoes,” they don’t really understand the sounds within the word. Those sounds, called phonemes, are what build up the English language.

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You might be thinking, “Well, okay, awesome—how the heck do I help my child with that, though?”

Great question! I’ll brief you on a couple of strategies below for when you are strictly teaching your kids to read or intervening (not during actual reading). But for now, let’s discuss a quick and helpful way to support a reader when they are actually attempting the skill of reading and get to a word they cannot sound out.

First, you’ll want to let them struggle. Don’t be too mean here. We aren’t talking 3 minutes of cliffhanging—more like 10 seconds. Encourage them, pause for them, and whatever you do, do not help them during this time. Why? If they aren’t with you and encounter a large or scary word they’ve never seen, they’ll simply look at the word, give up, look at the larger person (i.e., adult) in the room and wait for the life jacket. Nope, don’t do that!

Instead, point to the word, and ask them what part of the word they think they may already know. Let’s take a word for example’s sake here: memorize. Whoa, that’s a doozy! But wait, isn’t there a “me” in that word? And how about a “mo”? And doesn’t a word that ends in “e” makes the vowel before the final consonant (in this case, “i” before the “z”) say its name (so that i-z-e is EYE-z-eh—the EYE is what “i” sounds like, right)?

Well, it’s likely your kiddo may now know how to decipher memorize right off the bat, but with some support (after 10 seconds of struggle), they’ll be on their way!

So, again, for the terms, and briefly—phonemic equals simplest sounds of a language. Phonological equals manipulating the simplest sounds of a language. (See? Not a lot of difference, and you shouldn’t split hairs.)

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If your child is having issues with syllables, do the awesome activity mentioned above with all kinds of fun words around the house and in reading.

  • Segmenting and blending activities – Take time to break apart words (segmenting) and put words together (blending) from a sound perspective. This is fun, and your kids will love slicing and dicing words.
  • Take words, delete sounds – “Hey kiddo, what’s “fun” without /f/?” This helps build their recognition of specific sounds and how they fit within the context of larger units. (For those of you overachievers, that’s a phonological awareness skill).

A Few Notes on Sight Words

Unfortunately, the English language is very tricky. Some words, like “the”, fit no simple phonetic understanding. They simply need to be taught. Search for various sight word lists depending on your child’s age.

Here’s how you determine if your child is needing sight word support and exactly what sight words they need help with depending on their age:

  1. Remember that sight words are searchable by age or grade level. So, you’ll start by searching (or asking your child’s teacher, if that’s a possibility) online to find the list of sight words for their specific age.
  2. Quiz them at the top of the list. Don’t randomly choose words from the list. Start at the top, and go straight down.
  3. If your child masters their way through the list for their grade level, go above one grade level. For example, if your child is in second grade, start with a fourth-grade sight word list. Should they get all of those words correct, find a third-grade sight word list and continue.
  4. When your child misses two or three words on a sight word list, that’s the list they will need to practice and thus, the list you will need to actively teach.

Though frustrating (because they follow no real convention that is teachable), sight words are the key to unlocking complicated text. This is worth your time!

Beyond Phonics—Fun With Fluency (And Book Selections!)

Okay, whew. You’re now a literacy instructor! Well done. It may be difficult to teach your kids to read, but that’s normal.

So, here’s the deal: once your child has a solid grasp of the phonics world, begin having fun with text selection and check their fluency constantly! Fluency is simply how many words your child can correctly read in one minute (minus the errors made from the total words read). Fluency, in a sentence, also measures how animated your student reads (called prosody) and if they cruise gently around commas and stop hard at periods. Fluency helps with all of that.

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And finally—books! Ask them what they love, and find books that bring them closer to understanding more about those topics. And get them books from a wide variety of various topics, from various sources.

The steps to reading are exciting and profound. Take joy in the simple things, and delight in your child coming to you at night and saying “can I read to you tonight?”

Find the Small Joys in Reading

We’ve blabbered with phonics, phonemic awareness, and fluency—whew! Take it all in, and reference this post when and if necessary. But most importantly, take joy in the little steps your child takes when mastering the skill of reading.

Read with them often, not just before bed. Ask them questions about the book to see their comprehension really soar. Read often yourself, so you create a “more is caught than taught” type situation. You’ll be glad you took an active interest in, perhaps, the most critical skill a young person can learn.

More on How to Teach Your Kids to Read

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

More by this author

Charlie Moynahan

Educator in Sacramento, California

How to Teach Your Kid to Read at Home How To Homeschool Your Kids (The Parent’s Guide) How to Identify And Play to Your Child’s Strengths

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Published on February 11, 2021

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

I’m old enough to remember how the cane at school was used for punishment. My dad is old enough to think that banning corporal punishment in schools resulted in today’s poorly disciplined youth. With all of this as my early experiences, there was a time when I would have been better assigned to write about how to negatively discipline your child.

What changed? Thankfully, my wife showed me different approaches for discipline that were very positive. Plus, I was open to learning.

What has not changed is that kids are full of problems with impulses and emotions that flip from sad to happy, then angry in a moment. Though we’re not that different as adults with stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and stimulants such as sugar and caffeine in our diets.

Punishment as Discipline?

What this means is that we usually take the easy path when a child misbehaves and punish them. Punishment may solve an isolated problem, but it’s not really teaching the kids anything useful in the long term.

Probably it’s time for me to be clear about what I mean by punishment and discipline as these terms are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different.

Discipline VS. Punishment

Punishment is where we inflict pain or suffering on our child as a penalty. Discipline means to teach. They’re quite the opposite, but you’ll notice that teachers, parents, and coaches often confuse the two words.

So, as parents, we have to have clear goals to teach our kids. It’s a long-term plan—using strategies that will have the longest-lasting impact on our kids are the best use of our time and energy.

If you’re clear about what you want to achieve, then it becomes easier to find the best strategy. The better we are at responding when our kids misbehave or do not follow our guidance, the better the results are going to be.

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3 Positive Discipline Strategies for Your Child

Stay with me as I appreciate that a lot of people who read these blogs do not always have children with impulse control. We’ve had a lot of kids in our martial arts classes that were the complete opposite. They had concentration issues, hyperactive, and disruptive to the other children.

The easy solution is to punish their parents by removing the kids from the class or punish the child with penalties such as time outs and burpees. Yes, it was tempting to do all of this, but one of our club values is that we pull you up rather than push you down.

This means it’s a long-term gain to build trust and confidence, which is destroyed by constant punishments.

Here are the discipline strategies we used to build trust and confidence with these hyperactive kids.

1. Patience

The first positive discipline strategy is to simply be patient. The more patient you are, the more likely you are to get results. Remember I said that we need to build trust and connection. You’ll get further with this goal using patience.

As a coach, sometimes I was not the best person for this role, but we had other coaches in the club that could step in here. As a parent, you may not have this luxury, so it’s really important to recognize any improvements that you see and celebrate them.

2. Redirection

The second strategy we use is redirection. It’s important with a redirection to take “no” out of the equation. Choices are a great alternative.

Imagine a scenario where you’re in a restaurant and your kid is wailing. The hard part here is getting your child to stop screaming long enough for you to build a connection. Most parents have calming strategies and if you practice them with your child, they are more likely to be effective.

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In the first moment of calm, you can say “Your choice to scream and cry in public is not a good one. It would be best to say, Dad. What can I do to get ice-cream?” You can replace this with an appropriate option.

The challenge with being calm and redirecting is that we need to be clear-minded, focused, and really engaged at the moment. If you’re on your phone, talking with friends or family, thinking about work or the bills, you’ll miss this opportunity to discipline in a way that has long-term benefits.

3. Repair and Ground Rules

The third positive discipline strategy is to repair and use ground rules. Once you’ve given the better option and it has been taken, you have a chance to repair this behavior to lessen its occurrence to better yet, prevent it from happening again. And by setting appropriate ground rules, you can make this a long-term win by helping your child improve their behavior.

It’s these ground rules that help you correct the poor choices of your child and direct the behavior that you want to see.

Consequences Versus Ultimatums

When I was a child and being punished. My parents worked in a busy business for long hours, so their default was to go to ultimatums. “Do that again and you’re grounded for a week,” or “If I catch you doing X, you’ll go to bed without dinner”.

Looking back, this worked to a point. But the flip side is that I remembered more of the ultimatums than the happier times. I’ve learned through trial and error with my own kids that consequences are more effective while not breaking down trust.

What to Do When Ground Rules Get Broken?

It’s on the consequences that you use when the ground rules are broken.

In the martial arts class, when the hyperactive student breaks the ground rules. They would miss a turn in a game or go to the back of the line in a queue. We do not want to shame the child by isolating them. But on the flip side, there should be clear ground rules and proportionate consequences.

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Yes, there are times when we would like to exclude the student from the class, the club, and even the universe. Again, it’s here that patience is so important and probably impulse control too. With an attainable consequence, you can maintain trust and you’re more likely to get the long-term behavior that you’re looking to achieve.

Interestingly, we would occasionally hear a strategy from parents that little Kevin has been misbehaving at home with his sister or something similar. He likes martial arts training, so the parent would react by removing Kevin from the martial arts class as a punishment.

We would suggest that this would remove Kevin from an environment where he is behaving positively. Removing him from this is likely to be detrimental to the change you would like to see. He may even feel shame when he returns to the class and loses all the progress he’s made.

Alternatives to Punishment

Another option is to tell Kevin to write a letter to his sister, apologizing for his behavior, and explaining how he is going to behave in the future.

If your child is too young to write, give the apology face to face. For the apology to feel sincere, there is some value to pre-framing or practicing this between yourself and your child before they give it to the intended person.

Don’t expect them to know the ground rules or what you’re thinking! It will be clearer to your child and better received with some practice. You can practice along the lines of: “X is the behavior I did, Y is what I should have done, and Z is my promise to you for how I’m going to act in the future.” You can replace XYZ with the appropriate actions.

It does not need to be a letter or in person, it can even be a video. But there has to be an intention to repair the broken ground rule. If you try these strategies, that is become fully engaged with them and you’re still getting nowhere.

But what to do if these strategies do not work? Then there is plenty to gain by seeking the help of an expert. Chances are that something is interfering or limiting their development.

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This does not mean that your child has a neurological deficiency, although this may be the root cause. But it means that you can get an objective view and help on how to create the changes that you would like to see. Remember that using positive discipline strategies is better than mere punishment.

There are groups that you can chat with for help. Family Lives UK has the aim of ensuring that all parents have somewhere to turn before they reached a crisis point. The NSPCC also provides a useful guide to positive parenting that you can download.[1]

Bottom Line

So, there your go, the three takeaways on strategies you can use for positively disciplining your child. The first one is about you! Be patient, be present, and think about what is best for the long term. AKA, avoid ultimatums and punishment. The second is to use a redirect, then repair and repeat (ground rules) as your 3-step method of discipline.

Using these positive discipline strategies require you to be fully engaged with your child. Again, being impulsive breaks trust and you lose some of the gains you’ve both worked hard to achieve.

Lastly, consequences are better than punishment. Plus, avoid shaming, especially in public at all costs.

I hope this blog has been useful, and remember that you should be more focused on repairing bad behavior because being proactive and encouraging good behavior with rewards, fun, and positive emotions takes less effort than repairing the bad.

More Tips on How To Discipline Your Child

Featured photo credit: Leo Rivas via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NSPCC Learning: Positive parenting

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