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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 May 7, 2021

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

From coaching martial arts to children as young as four years old, I very quickly came to the understanding that if I wanted to help kids progress their skills, I needed to find a way to help them focus more consistently in my class.

There are two key ways I found when it came to improving my students’ level of focus:

  1. Make what we’re doing more interesting. Nothing is off the table here—from having ninja clowns on the rampage in a lesson to including popular games with a martial arts theme, tapping into the student’s love of fun to help them focus.
  2. Introduce brain breaks.

Brain breaks are small mental breaks that help the kids stay more focused. Think of the brain as a fuel gauge that shows the information you can consciously hold in your mind at any given moment. When the kids are focused and working hard on their tasks, the meter is usually full. They can easily concentrate and pass experiences into their long-term memory.

But when the needle starts to drop, you may observe that your kids are feeling anxious or looking restless. New information, experiences, and knowledge are not getting processed from the staging area or working memory into the long-term memory.[1]

It’s here that brain breaks make the most difference, as they allow us to “top-up the tank” or reset the gauge so that we can continue to learn and focus and at a higher level.

If you’ve been home tutoring, you’ll appreciate that brain breaks can help kids in many ways. They can reduce stress and frustration. Think of those times when you’re helping your kids solve a difficult problem. It’s taxing for you both and when compounded with the energy loss after a day at school or watching TV. The stress effect can be compounded, and it’s here that brain breaks can be a lifesaver.[2]

The following is a selection of brain break ideas for kids. You’ll see that some are physical activities while others are more relaxing. It’s always great to test them out to see which ones connect the best with your children.

It’s okay to repeat the same brain breaks. Having a clear name and mission to a break can help keep your child excited, knowing that they’ll have the opportunity to take part in a future round of the activity.

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Active Brain Breaks

Here are some active brain breaks for kids that you can try out.

1. Swapsies

Have the participants stand behind a chair. Call out a character trait, like “everyone with brown eyes.” You then swap places with someone else who has the same characteristic. If you have nothing that matches, you stay put!

Examples: “Everyone with trainers on.” “Everyone who is left-handed.” “Everyone who is wearing yellow.”

2. Dance Party

Put five or six different types of songs on Spotify, including a classic like “baby shark or the hamster dance.” Dim the lights if possible and have the kids dance to the tunes. Then, change the tunes and change the dance style. It’s silly and fun.

3. Freeze Dance

Similar to Dance Party except that when the music stops, students have to stay perfectly still until the music restarts. You can make this even more fun by trying to make the students smile. If they smile, they are out and have to sit down.

4. Keep It Up

Students must keep a balloon from touching the floor. You can add multiple balloons. You can make it more competitive by having different balloons of two different colors and split people into teams. Whoever keeps the balloons up the longest or the team with the most balloons in the air with a timer of 60 seconds wins.

5. Simon Says

This brain break for kids is an old favorite. You can also mix it up with martial arts moves, Fortnite dances, superhero moves, etc.

6. Animal Movement

Move like different animals. It’s fun for younger children. We use Flamingo where you stand on one leg, crawl like a bear, stand like a meerkat, run like a cheetah, and walk like a penguin.

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7. Find It Fast

“Find It Fast” is a scavenger hunt variation. Call an item out in the room and kids have to stand by it. For example, find a clock, find something with a face, find something smelly, find some money, find a phone, etc.

8. The Frog

Physical Challenges can be excellent fun. We have one in the martial arts class called “The Frog” where you squat like a frog, then lean forward so your head and feet are off the floor. These are all old yoga poses, so have a look through a booklet or website for some safe ideas. Other examples are grabbing your nose with your left hand and touching your knee with your right elbow.

9. Pizza Delivery Time

Give the students paper plates and tell them to hold the plates above their head on a flat hand. They then run around the room and try to keep the plate in their hand. You can make it more challenging by having other students try to knock others’ plates off. There’s usually a 3-star jump penalty if your plate touches the floor.

10. Limbo

We use martial arts belts and the students take turns going underneath the belts. Fun music creates an awesome atmosphere here.

11. Human Knot

Split the group of people and have everyone link hands under and over. That’s making knots between everyone in the group. Have the other students try to untangle them and return everyone back into a circle.

12. Feather Balance

This brain break for kids works well with gentle music, and you can use a balloon or a straw if you don’t have a feather handy.

13. Stack them high

The students should have plastic cups and paper squares. The goal is to make a tower as high as possible, or it could be to make a triangle or even a pyramid.

Relaxing Brain Breaks

We talked about brain breaks for kids that are being used to energize the students. But they can also be used to calm and relax them. We’re more familiar with the term mindfulness, but it’s the same idea. These are brain breaks for kids that reduce stress and anxiety.

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14. Meditation

Meditation

is a popular way to reduce anxiety. There are lots of great examples already pre-recorded on YouTube that you can follow along with. Below is a useful classroom meditation example.

15. Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes are fun ways to relax. They are mesmerizing and like a peaceful vortex that sucks you into them. Below is a great example of a visual online one you can use.

16. Reading/Listening to a Story

When I surveyed the members of our martial arts club about how their kids employ brain breaks at home, there was a clear winner among the families—listening to a story or reading a story. The feedback was that the process of daydreaming a little helps the kids to recharge. But it goes without saying that the story needs to be engaging.

17. Doodling

My personal favorite way to brain break as a kid was to doodle. Doodling gives your child a few minutes to draw anything they want. It can be calming for them, and it’s a lot more fun if you have different types of pens or crayons available to use. Add some soft music, and you have a simple way to take some time to relax.

18. Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets are another way to relax the mind. There’s lots of great coloring in pads available, but here are some links to public resources shared on the internet that are great examples.

19. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing

is an epic way to help your child slow down. It is a quick way to relieve anxiety so that they feel more ready for the next task ahead.

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Try this: put your hands on your tummy, breathe in through the nose, and feel your belly expand like a balloon. Hold it here, then slowly breathe out through the mouth while feeling your stomach get smaller. Repeat this 10 times. Use the following counts: breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds.

20. Going Outside

Go outside was the second most popular response from our parent’s survey about brain breaks for kids at home. Fresh air always feels nice. You can combine this with a treasure hunt, looking for different colored cars, types of birds, or even types of trees, if you’re familiar with these.

My personal favorite is using a mushroom spotting app on our phones and finding a mushroom or toadstool, then using the app to identify its name. This is surprisingly engaging for children. But a few safety rules about not touching them is important. It gives kids a change of scenery and helps revitalize the senses, providing a welcome break from their homework.

How Often Should You Introduce Brain Breaks?

The key to brain breaks is their timing. If you can introduce them before you notice that your kids are entering deep fatigue or their loss of focus has set in. You’ll find a great balance between breaks and effort.

I’ve observed from my martial arts coaching that younger students have a smaller amount of working memory than older kids. My formula is for five minutes of technical training, we provide five minutes of brain breaks for students under seven years old. Plus, we coach to 15 minutes of training to five minutes of brain breaks for children under 12 years.

Final Thoughts

Implementing calming brain breaks for kids is a really efficient way of introducing brain breaks. You have a quick way to allow your students to learn about regulating themselves. Balancing their mind and energy is a useful skill, and you can take this with you everywhere you go.

Our martial arts center revolutionized our approach to coaching by using brain breaks for kids. We found that although we were teaching less technical skills, there was now consistent progress from the students. Plus, everyone was less anxious, happier, and are having more fun. This is a win overall.

If you’ve been having challenges with your kids focusing at home, maybe try a mixture of the calming and active breaks to see which types work best for your kids.

Featured photo credit: Robert Collins via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] SimplyPsychology: Working Memory Model
[2] BrainFacts.org: Kids Need Brain Breaks — And So Do Adults

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