Helping your early reader at home

Recently I was able to attend the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) virtual reunion. This is a full day of workshops geared towards reading, writing and phonics instruction. I walked away from this day with a handful of practical ideas that can be used in the classroom and at home to support children’s literacy development.

Decodable Texts

One of the workshops I attended was on using decodable texts to help reading instruction. These are types of texts used in early reading instruction that provide many opportunities to practise specific phonics principles. They are largely made up of words that are easy to sound out with consistent letter sound relationships. They are one resource that can be used to help develop early literacy. When readers encounter major sound patterns in reading that they have learned during phonics instruction this can help to consolidate their learning and provide extra practice.

I love using FlyLeaf decodable texts to practise phonics skills with my early readers. They have many free books you can use at home, find them here.

High Frequency Words

High frequency words are common words that are often given to students to learn by memory. Usually these are sent home by teachers as lists of sight words. They are part of early reading instruction. As early readers can recognize a larger vocabulary of sight words, their reading can become more fluent.

In the workshop on high frequency words they suggested many fun ways to practice reading and recognizing these sight words.

  • Writing the word with your finger in shaving cream

  • Rainbow writing - have your kid write the word with each colour of the rainbow for repetition

  • Scavenger hunt - write the words out on cards and have your kid find them, once they are found they can read them

Phonological Awareness

Throughout the course of my day in the workshops I heard this concept repeatedly - Phonological awareness is everything you can do in the dark, whereas phonics is everything you can do in the light. This is to say that phonological awareness is the ability to work with letters and sounds in words that are not written down. When printing letters and recognizing letters comes into play, that is phonics. Skills that need strong phonological awareness include clapping out syllables in words, finding rhyming words, breaking words into parts, and blending sounds together to make a word. This is an important foundation for early readers to have as they learn to read and write.

My favourite way to build phonological awareness suggested in these workshops is through song. These are great ways to model these skills to your child by singing and answering. With time they will be able to answer back and even start their own verses.

The Sounds in the Word - sung to the tune of The Wheels on the Bus

This activity works on blending sounds together to make a word. One verse could go “The sounds in the word go /c/ /a/ /t/” saying each letter as it sounds in the word. At the end you ask what is the word and say the word cat.

Can You Hear the Sounds in the Word - sung to the tune of London Bridge

This activity works on segmenting words into smaller pieces. One verse could go “Can you hear the sounds in the word, sounds in the word, sounds in the word? Can you hear the sounds in the word, the word is cat.” At the end of the verse you can say each sound in the word cat, /c/ /a/ /t/.

Down by the Bay

This activity works on rhyming words. The verse goes as follows:

“Where the watermelons grow

Back to my home

I dare not go

For if I do

My mother will say”

Here is where you can model by singing a rhyme or your child can answer with their own rhyming words. You might say “Have you ever seen a cat sitting on a mat down by the bay.”

My Takeaways

I found this to be a very useful day or workshops and I hope you have found some resources and activities that can be useful to you too.

I did notice that phonics instruction was regarded as an important part of a balanced literacy program for early readers throughout the workshops. These workshops had literacy specialist Lucy Calkins as a featured speaker. Her programs are based on a theory of reading that depends on children’s ability to use cues to predict what words they are reading rather than sounding out words by matching sounds to letters. For example, using cues a student might read the word “rabbit” by looking at the picture on the page of a rabbit. This approach is a point of controversy as recent studies show the importance of sounding out words when learning to read. Lucy Calkins has responded to this by now including a phonics program.