How Important is it for Children to Have Time for Independent Play?

SnipBlog 90How many of us, as children, had hours of time to make things out of wood, toss a ball in the air and catch it over and over, pretend all sorts of adventures, climb trees, pick food out of a garden and eat it on the spot, or ride a little red wagon down what we thought was a really steep hill in the backyard? We learned to plan, to create, to enjoy small moments, what we were capable of doing, and what our limits were.  How many of our own children have lots of unstructured time to get to do these sorts of things? 

Schools are increasing the amount of testing and homework they require and they are reducing or elimination opportunities in art, music, woodshop, and some schools have even eliminated recess.  Many people have expressed concerns about the lack of physical exercise for children. The lack of mental stimulation for children in the form of free time for play and creative activities is also of concern. 

Peter Gray, a psychologist and research professor at Boston College wrote about how important it is for children to have time to play in his article, The Play Deficit.  It is a lengthy article, but well worth the time it takes to read it–and you just might decide to make some changes that will benefit your kids.

Read the article here:

The Brain – Processing Patterns and Learning to Read

SnipBlog77Our brains are programmed to perceive patterns.  Many people enjoy puzzles, whether they are jigsaw puzzles or manipulative puzzles or Sudoku puzzles. They all involve patterns. Art often uses patterns. Architecture and landscaping often follow patterns and they are more pleasing to the eye when certain patterns are followed to achieve visual balance.

Math follows patterns.  Many children who are poor readers do very well in math (except for reading the word problems) because math follows a pattern and if they understand the pattern, it makes sense. Algebra students soon find out that if they do not follow the correct pattern—the order of operations, they will not get the correct answer.

Reading involves patterns also, although many people who teach reading do not understand the patterns as well as we would like. Students who are very good in math enjoy the logic and sequence of math. What about the logic and sequencing of reading instruction? How does pattern perception in the brain affect learning to read?

The brain recognizes patterns.  When children understand the spelling patterns contained in words, it makes sense and they will remember what they learn. If we teach phonics, reading, and spelling together logically and sequentially, one piece of the pattern at a time, students will understand it and they will learn to read well.  But if we teach reading randomly by picking up a book and just pointing out words, many students will not learn to read well.  Reading does not make sense to many kids when presented randomly.  Just as we do not expect students to multiply before they know how to add, we should not expect students to learn to read without teaching it step-by-step, in a logical pattern.

How can reading be taught in a sequential pattern? First, teach some letters and the sounds they make, such as: a, t, s, c, f.  Build on that by making words with those letters such as: cat, fat sat. Then teach students to blend the sounds of the letters to pronounce the words.  Take it a step further, and teach a sight word like “A,” and make a sentence with your new words like this: “A fat cat sat.”

This kind of reading instruction is presented in a logical sequential pattern and it makes sense to students. It is easy to remember because all of the instruction is related.  Instead of teaching separate phonics lessons and handwriting practice with letters and words that are unrelated to the stories a child is reading, use the same letters and sounds students are learning in phonics lessons to sound out words, teach spelling, and to read stories. The same path in the brain is now being used for phonics, reading, and spelling so it will be a stronger pathway.

Each new lesson should add to and build on the previous lesson. This type of instruction makes learning to read easy and fun, just like putting a puzzle together. It makes sense. When we teach students to read by helping them build logical step-by-step patterns in their brains, they become strong successful readers.

This is Your Brain on Reading!


As one who teaches struggling readers how to read, I find it interesting to read about how the brain works.  Some researchers have hypothesized that children who cannot read well have brains that work differently than those of children who can read well.  Brain scans showed that the brains of good readers actually looked different than the brains of non-readers, when performing reading tasks.  But causes this? Is the brain of the poor reader deficit in some way that causes the child to have more difficulty with reading—or is the brain of the good reader enhanced or changed by learning how to read well?

Researchers now know that the brain changes when we teach a child how to read.  Often, children with reading difficulty are having difficulty with phonemic awareness (understanding how the sounds in language connect to make words) and with the alphabetic principle (how sounds are represented by written symbols). Children who come to kindergarten with strong phonemic awareness learn to read more easily.

What we do not specifically know is what happens in the homes of these children to help them acquire this knowledge. There may have been more exposure to adult spoken language, more reading aloud, and more interaction with, and teaching by the primary caregiver.

Researchers also found that when a struggling reader was given explicit phonetic instruction, the child learned to read.  Brain scans after intensive instruction shows that the brain actually changes.  Areas of the brain that were not activated before instruction were now being used.  After good instruction, the brains of former struggling readers look very much like the brains of good readers.  This suggests strongly that the causal factor in poor reading is with the instruction rather than a problem with the child’s brain.

This is very good news for parents of struggling readers.  Your child can learn to read—but you must use a strong phonetic reading program.  Struggling readers become discouraged when they are failing to learn to read—but it is not their fault. When I am working with students, I tell them they can learn to read—and they do!  Learning changes your brain. This is your brain on reading!


You Can Teach Your Struggling Child to Read – Now!

Is your child a struggling reader?  Have you tried to help your child learn to read and it just doesn’t seem to click?  Learning to read does not come easily for many children, so you are not alone.  Many people will tell you that some children just need to wait longer—but that is just not true!

Children struggle with reading because the method used to teach them is too difficult or it introduces too many new things at one time.  If your child is taught in a sequential step-by-step way that allows him/her to focus on only one new letter-sound a day and practice reading that new letter-sound in a story that does not include anything the child has not learned yet, you will see your child begin to experience success in reading and grow in confidence.

One of my children had difficulty with reading (the only one that I did not teach at home first) and I was told that my child might not be “ready” to learn to read until 3rd grade—but I knew that was not true.  So I taught my child every day after school. That child was at the top of the class in reading at the end of the year. If I had waited as recommended, it would have been very difficult to catch up later on.

Here’s what one parent wrote to me:

“I had spent week looking for the perfect reading instruction book. First of all let me start by saying what an awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome (and I can’t say it enough) book Sound Bytes Reading is. My daughter has dramatically improved in her reading plus she keeps saying reading is so easy. She went from being a struggling reader to the very best in her class in a few weeks!! Your book makes reading so much fun. Particularly, for me as an extremely busy working parent with a tight schedule, it was easy for me to follow and teach.  My kid never once got confused or overwhelmed. She continues to excel and exceed reading expectations for her grade level. Your book is so well sequenced; every child would no doubt feel like a winner reading from your book.  (Ida Joiner-Elliott, Technology Executive, Sugar Land, Texas)

Another parent wrote:

“I wanted to tell you what a wonderful book you have written. My daughter has always struggled to read and up until January she had never been reading at grade level. My husband and I read with her each night, talked with her teachers, and shopped for different “How to Learn to Read” books and tapes. From everything I read regarding early readers, if you weren’t at grade level by the end of first grade there was an 80% chance you would never read at grade level. This was a terrifying thought since [she] is very bright and excels in all other subjects.  “When Mom gave Sound Bytes to my daughter we could see the change take place over the course of the next six weeks. Prior to this time she would actually say that she just wasn’t going to be able to read. With this book she felt successful. Your way of zeroing in on a few sounds in each chapter was just the approach she needed. Also, she enjoyed reading the book. Some nights it was a struggle to get her to put the book down. Currently she is reading just above grade level. Thank you so much for this wonderful book. It has been a critical part of my daughter’s success in reading.”  (Stacy Smith, Parent)

A parent with a four-year-old beginning reader wrote this:

“My 4 year old son and I loved Sound Bytes Reading. The book is comprehensive and covers reading, spelling, writing, and testing. It goes step-by-step and has fun stories. It also covers more phonics and blends than other books I looked at. The program is so easy and takes about 15-30 minutes a day. (This is not one of those reading programs that make the process of reading so complicated that they intimidate you.) By the middle of the book my son was reading easy to read books from the library and sounding out new words without difficulty. Every day he asks to read to me. It’s one of his favorite activities.”  (Theresa Nelson, Author, English Teacher, and Parent)

If you love to read and you want your child to love reading also, it is difficult to see him/her struggle with reading.   Don’t wait to help your struggling reader. Parents, you can help your child learn to read in as little as 15 minutes a day whether he/she is a struggling reader or a beginning reader.  In just four months (with instruction given five days a week), your child can be reading at a beginning third grade level.  Try it and you’ll love the results!


You can read Cathy Duffy’s recent review of Sound Bytes Reading here:

Cathy Duffy is the author of 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

Diagnosing Children with Reading Problems

Many children have difficulty learning to read.  If your child is one of them you can become discouraged by all the suggestions that never seem to help your child’s situation. Recently I’ve been perusing Facebook Homeschool groups and I see questions by parents who really want to help their students who are behind in reading but don’t know where to begin.

This blog post will begin to address struggling readers and how parents can help their students.  Begin by diagnosing where your child’s reading problem begins. Here are the steps we will cover in the next few blog posts:

  1. Does your child know the consonant sounds?
  2. Does your child know the vowel sounds?
  3. Does your child decode words or sight read?
  4. Can your student read words with blends?
  5. Can your student read long vowel words?
  6. Does your child have difficulty reading digraphs?
  7. Does your child have difficulty with longer words or multi-syllable words?

Today we will discuss the first three reading checkpoints.

1.  Does your child know the consonant sounds?  Find out if your child knows the sounds of each of the consonants and vowels. Show your child each of the alphabet letters, one at a time, and ask him/her to tell you what the sound of each letter is.

Many struggling readers will know consonant sounds very well–but not vowel sounds. If your child does not know the sounds of the letters, teach this first. If your child knows consonant sounds but not vowel sounds, you must teach the vowel sounds.

2.  Does your child know the vowel sounds?  If your child knows all of the sounds for the letters of the alphabet well, then ask your child to read these words:

If your child cannot read all of these words quickly and accurately without any help, he does not know the vowel sounds well. You need to teach the sounds of the vowels.  Teach only one vowel sound at a time. Then have your student sound out simple words that use that one vowel. Make a word list like the one below and help your child practice reading the words.

3.  Does your child decode words or does he sight read?  If your child has no difficulty reading the simple short vowel words above, ask him to try reading these words:

This will tell you whether your child is decoding words letter-by-letter from left to right or sight reading. If your student is sight reading, he/she will usually have trouble reading these words as well as the words in the next list.

Many words look similar and many words are made up of the same letters but in a different order. Some words have only one or two letters in them that are different from another word. Students who are able to decode words rather than relying on sight reading have a huge advantage, especially when they begin to read bigger words.

What to do if this is a problem for your student? Try covering each word so that your student can only see the first letter of the word.  Move the paper over as you ask the student to sound the word out, from left to right, one letter at a time.  Practice sounding out some words that have four letters and only short vowel sounds.

Next week we will discuss step four in diagnosing reading difficulty.



Different Types of Phonics—What Are They?

What differences are there, if any, between different types of phonics?  Is one kind of phonics more effective than another?  How do they compare? The chart below will help you decide.

There are three main types of phonics: analytic, embedded and synthetic.  A fourth type, analogy phonics, is a subtype of analytic phonics.  Of these, analytic or embedded phonics are taught with the whole word method of teaching reading and synthetic phonics is taught within a phonics based reading program.  The most effective type of phonics program is systematic synthetic phonics which teaches children how to decode words step-by-step.  Good reading programs include this type of phonics instruction.