Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Growing Readers: Kindergarten Sight Word Sentences

After being introduced to the first 5 sight words your child can read a simple sentence.

These lessons will teach the following Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten:
Print Concepts1. Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print.
a. Follow words from left to right, top to bottom, and page by page.
b. Recognize that spoken words are represented in written languageby specific sequences of letters.
c. Understand that words are separated by spaces in print 
Phonics and Word Recognition3. Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words both in isolation and in text.
c. Read common high-frequency words by sight (e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does).

Practice reading Sight Word Sentences

Reading the sentence with give them the chance to practice 1 to 1 correspondence, directional movement, the sight words and using initial letter. Write or print out the sentence below, and include a picture of a cat. Leave big spaces between the words, double space if you type it. This helps your early reader to distinguish between separate words. Strips of card stock work well:

1 to 1 correspondence: This is learning that you say one word for each word on the page. As your child is learning this they can point to each word as they say it. Their finger should be right below the word, not covering it. Model for them how to read the sentence putting your finger under each word as they say it. If they need help you can point and say the words while holding their finger, or having them rest their hand on top of yours. Be clear and concise.

1 to 1 correspondence

Directional movement: You move from left to right across the page. When you get to the end of the line you move to the left of the line below and start over. You can teach and model this right along with the 1 to 1 correspondence.
Sight words: Ask your child to point to any sight words they see in the sentence. A simple "frame" made out of card stock or a 3 X 5 card with the center cut out makes a fun way to find and show a known word.

Show me a word you know
Using initial letter: This sentence has all sight words you are teaching your child except for the word "cat". Ask your child, "What letter would you expect to see at the beginning of the word, 'cat'?" Simply correct them if they are wrong and tell them, "Cat begins with the letter 'C'. Let's find the word 'cat'." Show them the word cat, and find the c at the beginning. Say the word cat together and hear the c at the beginning of the word.
This is something that is new to most parents, not decoding the entire word to begin with. Look at all of the things your child is paying attention to and learning: 1 to 1, left to right, and sight words. If you try to teach too much at once it all gets lost. Soon your child will move to decoding across the whole word. One step at a time!

Cut up sentence
Depending on how your child does reading the sentence you may just want to get it out and read it a few days in a row before moving on to the next step of cutting up the sentence.
Once your child can easily read the sentence you can cut the sentence apart and have your child put it back together. First mix up the words and have her read them individually, like flash cards.

Cut up sentence
Then she can put the sentence back together. Follow these steps:

  1. Ask her to tell you her sentence that she is going to make. "Here is a cat."
  2. "What is the first word in your sentence?" and have her find it for you.
  3. "What is the next word in your sentence?" Continue to the end of the sentence.
  4. "Show me the capital letter at the beginning of the sentence."
  5. "Show me the period at the end of your sentence."
  6. Finally ask her to read and "check" her sentence.
Using the words first, next, end, word, capital, period,  all help your child to learn the parts of a sentence and how words work.

She can write her story on a new piece of paper and illustrate it to practice writing. Another option is to paste the words into a blank book and have the child draw an illustration. Every time you do a sentence you can add it to the book and soon your child will have her own book that she can read.

As your child learns more words you can begin to write more sentences for your child to read. You can write the sentences on strips of card stock that can be handled and cut up.  You can make up your own sentences or copy the ones below.

Sentences for lists 1 through 2

Sentences for lists 1-3

Sentences for lists 1-4
Download these sentences and more for FREE!

or here

Print them on card stock and cut them into strips with one sentence on each strip. Once you have read the sentence together a few times you can cut the sentence apart and have your child put it back together.  Talk about the capital at the beginning of the sentence and the punctuation at the end.

From The Moffatt Girls You can download a great free resource: Read it, Trace it, Paste it! These worksheets reinforce all of the most common sight words from this 40 word list.

Have fun reading your sentences and watching your reader grow!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fun with social studies: The Vikings!

Social studies can be painfully dull if it involves reading a chapter from the textbook and answering questions on a worksheet. We do our best to have fun with learning around here. This is what happened when we studied The Vikings.

At the beginning of the year I purchased a download of Great Empires from Home School in the Woods. The Viking Empire is one of those covered in that activity guide.
Curly's description. 
The boys wrote descriptions of the Viking Longboats (this is an activity from the Great Empires unit).

Scootch's description (sorry the last line it cut off, and it does include the word pillaging!

 A trip to the library provided us with some books about Vikings.

We found several videos about Vikings and Viking Longships on Discovery Education (we have a subscription from our homeschool charter school).

Scootch decided to build a Viking Longship out of CitiBlocks.

 Even Little Miss wanted to get in on the action, "Take a picture of me and my blocks!"

The more we can do hands on projects to go with the lessons the more fun we have, and the more we learn! Now, on to medieval history, knights, castles, and feudalism!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Growing Readers: Early Alphabet Learning and the Name Game

Is your preschool aged child ready to start learning the letters of the alphabet? If so, where do you begin? What is the right order to teach the letters? Do you begin with the letter A and go in ABC order?   Should we do a letter of the week program?  My answer is to begin with what you know!

There is some research, shared on Reading Rockets, where they concluded that there is no perfect order for letter instruction: "It may be reasonable to begin with a "personally relevant" letter (first letter of the name)." Start with what you know,  your child's first name.

Learning to identify letters of the alphabet is a beginning step in teaching phonics and reading. However, before your child is ready to learn phonics she first needs to learn some phonemic awareness. Beginning with your child's first name, and the letters in it, you can introduce your child to not only letter identification but also phonemic awareness, phonics, letter formation (writing), and early reading skills while playing "The Name Game".

There are several levels of phonemic awareness:

  1. Rhythm and rhyme
  2. Parts of a word
  3. Sequence of sounds
  4. Separation of sounds
  5. Manipulation of sounds

The Name Game teaches:

  • letter versus word (early reading skills)
  • capital verses lower case letters (alphabet)
  • letter identification (alphabet)
  • letter/sound connection (phonics)
  • letter formation (writing)
  • first letter and last letter (early reading skills)
  • counting (math)
  • reading left to right (early reading skills)
  • syllables (phonemic awareness)
The name game is not accomplished in one sitting. It is a collection  of activities that you do with your child over days, weeks, even months. You will do the activities multiple times. Do one or two activities at a time, based on your child's interest and what they are ready to learn. Below is a list of ideas, you may come up with more! Once your child knows all of the letters in her own name you can do the name game activities with other names that are important to your child like brothers and sisters, cousins and friends. Kids like to know how to read and write each other's names.

Write or print your child's name clearly on a piece of card stock. If you are typing and printing it think about how you want the letters (particularly the letters a and g) to look. Comic Sans MS and Chalkboard are good fonts that look like "printing" and do not have a type set a and g. Here's my example:

Letter Identification:

Tell your child, "This is your name. Your name starts with the letter J". Point to the letter J. Jackson begins with the letter "J".  "J is for Jackson."
Point to each letter as you say them J-A-C-K-S-O-N, then sweep your finger under the whole word and say, "Jackson".
Do this in other places you see his name as well.
Look for the first letter of his name in other places. Soon he may begin to notice the letter J. "Look!" he may point out on a sign, "I see J is for Jackson!"
Look for and point out his first letter in books.
Continue for the rest of the letters in his name.

Capital versus lower case letters:

Point out that the first letter of his name is a capital or big letter, and the rest of the letters are lower case or little letters.

Syllables and phonemic awareness:

Practice clapping your child's name, with one clap for each syllable. "Let's clap your name: Jack/son. Your name has two claps."

Letter versus word; Reading left to right; Counting:

Write or type the name again on card stock but leave double spaces between letters. Show them the name. Tell them that their name is a word and it is made up of letters. Tell them,"I'm going to cut up the word into letters. Lets's say the letters as I cut them."
Cut apart the name while saying the letters one by one.
"Now it is not a word anymore, it is not a name any more, it is just a bunch of letters."
"Let's count the letters from your name" Together count the letters.
"We can put the letters back together in the right order to make your name."
Work together to put the letters in order to make the name, using the first name card as a model. 
"What letter comes FIRST in your name?"
"What letter comes NEXT in your name?"
Continue until you get to, "What is the LAST letter in your name?"
You are modeling that the oder of the letters matters in a word. That a word it put together from left to right.
When it is all finished, "Now it is a word again! Let's check it. Is it right?"Say the name slowly while running your finger underneath to check it. Have him check it the same way.
Now you are modeling reading left to right.

Keep this "name puzzle" that you have made in a baggie and he can practice putting his name together. Watch him and make sure he is always starting with the FIRST letter in his name and building from left to right. Correct him if he starts from the end or the middle, or starts building from right to left.

As he becomes more independent in putting it together continue to talk while he does this, talking about the FIRST letter, NEXT letter, LAST letter, pointing out letter names and capitals etc.  Talk about direction, how you have to start here and the next letter has to go here etc.  Now it is a word again.  Check it? Is it right?  Say it slowly while running finger underneath to check it.  Have Jackson check it the same way.

Letter/sound connection:

As you continue to work with his name and as he is getting to know the names of the letters talk about the different letters and the sounds that go with them.
"What sounds do you hear first in Jackson?"
Model the /j/ sound and have him make the /j/ sound.
"What letter makes the /j/ sound?"
"Jackson begins with the letter J."
Find other words that begin with the same letter. You can collect some pictures and glue them on a paper for a J collection.
Find the letter here on Starfall.com.
You can continue and do a letter of the week using each letter in his name. Some good letter downloads at:
No Time For Flash Cards

Don't miss the great ideas here! The A-Z of Learning Letters

Letter formation:

Model writing your child's name. See if they can tell you which letter to write FIRST, NEXT, and LAST.
Model correct letter formation. Correct letter formation is really important. It is much easier to teach correct letter formation in the beginning than to un-learn incorrect letter formation and re-teach correct formation.

I like the way they teach letter in the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. Download the letter formation charts from HWT and learn the correct letter formation for yourself (you may be forming some letters "wrong"). http://www.hwtears.com/hwt/parents/parent-extras
One thing to know is that HWT only introduces capital letters in their Pre-K material, so you will need to get K material to cover both capital and lower case letters. While my goal is to avoid workbooks as much as possible and provide more hands on learning, if you are going to use a workbook for hand writing and/or letter formation the HWT materials is what I would recommend.

If you have access to a chalkboard this is an excellent method. (Even if you don't, watch the video to see some good modeling of letter writing.) Watch the video on the HWT website that shows how to teach your child to write their name using the "wet-dry-try" method: Video Lessons: Writing Name Using Wet-Dry-Try


Help your child build their name using magnetic letters, or other letter manipulatives.
Form the letters of their name out of play dough.
Practice writing in a variety of mediums:

  • sidewalk chalk
  • chalk on black construction paper
  • paint letters with water
  • markers
  • crayons
  • dry erase

You can continue with similar activities with the names of friends and family, even pets! It is a great way to introduce sound/letter correspondence, letter formation and letter identification in a way that is meaningful to your child. It is much form meaningful to know that M is for Mommy than M is for Monkey.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Growing Readers: Kindergarten Sight Words and Early Reading Skills

You can teach your Kindergarten student to read without buying a lot of expensive books and curriculum, and without sitting down doing boring worksheet pages. This article will show you some easy, inexpensive, interactive ways to engage your child in reading using hands on activities. These activities will fit right into Workboxes if you use them!

The suggestions here are based on the Balanced Literacy approach to teaching reading and writing, described in more detail at Growing Readers: Sight Words or Phonics? How about a balanced approach.

Most Kindergarten aged children are what we call "emergent readers". Your child should be able to identify most of the letters of the alphabet, capital and lower case (they do not need to know them all, about 2/3 is fine). They should also know at least half of the letter sounds. Starfall.com is a great, free resource, for learning the letters and letter sounds. If they know those things and are of Kindergarten age then are ready to learn these emergent reader skills (Think your preschool aged child is ready? Read this first):
  • 1 to 1 correspondence
  • Directional movement
  • An introduction of sight words
  • Using initial letter
The information in this article outlines what your Kindergartener needs to learn by the end of the school year. This is not to be taught in a few weeks, but over the course of the year.

These lessons will teach the following Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten:


Print Concepts
1. Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print.
a. Follow words from left to right, top to bottom, and page by page.
b. Recognize that spoken words are represented in written languageby specific sequences of letters.
c. Understand that words are separated by spaces in print 
Phonics and Word Recognition
3. Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words both in isolation and in text.
c. Read common high-frequency words by sight (e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does).
Sight words are words that readers need to be able to read on “sight”.  These are the words seen most frequently when we read.  They are often called high frequency words, or frequency words. Your child needs to learn to read these words quickly, without stopping to sound them out.
This is a complete systematic introduction of 40 of the first high frequency or sight words for early readers:  

This sight word program consists of 8 lists with 5 words on each list.  Write or print the words on individual cards. Beginning with list number one, the child is expected to memorize to read and write the five words on the list.  You can use these lists for your Kindergarten spelling program. When they can do that successfully, then they move onto list number 2.  By the end of the program they will know 40 sight words.

The idea with this program is to teach your young child reading without sitting at a desk, or using a workbook. You want your child moving and engaged in hands on learning. You don't need to do every activity with every word or list. Find what works best for you and your child. Do a variety of activities to keep them interested. Here are some activities you can do with the sight words for practice:
My Pile Your Pile:  Mix up the cards and hold them in your hand so that your child can’t see them.  Take the cards out one at a time.  If your child can read the word quickly, then they get the card in their pile.  If they can’t read it quickly them you read the word and get to keep the card in your pile.  See who got the most cards in their pile!
Sorting Words:  Sort the flash cards in different ways.  For example, sort them by the number of letters in them, by alphabetical order or by different vowel sounds.
BOOM: Flash card practice can get really old after awhile, so we play the boom game.  I put four or five boom cards in our sight word stack.  When I show a card with BOOM on it, they yell BOOM!  It holds their attention much better because they are anticipating the BOOM!
Word Puzzles: Give your child the letters to make a word, mix them up and ask your child to make the word. You can write the word on card stock and cut  the letters apart. You can use magnetic letters on a magnet board, letter tiles, whatever you like. When your child builds the word make sure they build it from left to right. If they are building the word "the" they MUST put the "T" in place first, followed by the "H" and then the "E". This helps to reinforce moving left to right across a word.
Word puzzle for "the"

Start with the first letter.

Next find the next letter.

Now find the last letter.

Check your work. Read the word you made.

Stamp the Words: Using alphabet rubber stamps have your child stamp out each word.
Practice Sight words using the Read! Build! Write! mats.

Sight Word Parking Lot
Word Clothes Line: Your child can clip letter cards to a line to build sight words.
Purchase sight word manipulatives: There are lots of great sight word and sentence building activities available to purchase. Keep in mind that your child will be able to use these for a few years. As their skills grow they can do more complex sentences and stories with the magnets or tiles. Most are under $20.
Magnetic sentence builder

Word Tiles

Word Wall: Find a place on the wall where you can list words that your child can read and write. As your child learns a new word, add it to the list. Don't forget to add other words they know like their name. You can list them under an existing alphabet banner. You can purchase versions as well for around $10-$20 (or google word wall images and find something you want to re-create!)
Word Wall

Writing:  Have your child practice writing the words. Use a variety of mediums like pencil and paper, dry erase, chalk board, or sidewalk chalk. a cup of water and a wet paint brush works great outside. Use your imagination and get way from the desk. You can practice correct letter formation at the same time.

More Resources:

Reading the Alphabet is an amazing FREE program!

You Can Read!  From 1+1+1=1
A sight word program with lots of free printables available.

Word Play has links to lots of ideas  Visit 1+1+1=1 to see more word play ideas!
Word Play 125 Square

More multi-sensory ideas for teaching sight words at Make, Take, and Teach:

How do I start?
You can start by making your own word lists by copying them by hand  or typing them onto the computer. You can write them on blank 3 X 5 index cards. You can purchase sight word or high frequency word flash cards in many places. You can also download the classroom pack I created here: Kindergarten Sight Words Classroom Pack

An updated version is available here: 

Next you will be ready for Kindergarten Sight Word Sentences.

Growing Readers: Sight words or Phonics? How about a balanced approach.

You've decided to homeschool and are eager to teach your child to read. How do you choose what kind of an approach to take? I'm going to share my learning as former elementary school teacher, reading specialist and homeschooling mom. Here is some background information about a balanced literacy program which is both easy and inexpensive to do with your homeschooler.

What does the research say about how young children learn to read?
"Most young readers are not good at learning analytically, abstractly, or auditorily (Carbo, 1987). Therefore, for most young children it is harder to learn phonics through a part-to-whole teaching (phonics first) than through whole-to-part teaching (reading and writing first, and learning phonics from and along with words in familiar texts.)"
Read more at How Most Children Learn to Read.

I've seen first hand children who can "decode" because they learned phonics, but they can't "read". These children have little or no fluency or comprehension in their reading. Phonics alone is usually not enough.

One part of the balanced literacy program is the understanding that when we read we use multiple "cueing systems" to read. We use more information than just the words we see on the page to find meaning in what we read:

It is only when these three cueing system work together can we understand the author's message, and that is why we read, isn't it?

Good readers do more than just decode words. Good readers:

  • Have a purpose for reading
  • Think about what they already know
  • Make sure they understand what they read
  • Look at the picture when possible
  • Predict what will happen next
  • Form pictures in their minds
  • Draw conclusions about what they read
  • Try to figure out new words

Think about it the next time you read an article in the newspaper. What is your purpose? You want to hear the story, what happened. You use information you already know to help you understand. If it is a detailed article on quantum physics you may have a hard time reading and understanding the article unless you have a lot of background knowledge on that subject. If you read something and it doesn't make sense you go back and re-read it. You look at the picture that goes with the article. You predict what happens next. Reading about a criminal you may expect that at the end of the article he will be sent to prison. You may predict that many people were injured in an article about a bus crash where you see a picture of the mangled metal that used to be the bus. You picture what you are reading in your mind. Drawing conclusions about what you read may include thinking about how they should make buses safer, or that buses are safer than you expected. You may need to slow down and decode a new word you have never seen, like the strange name of that bus company.

Children need to be immersed in literature and meaning along with learning phonics. They also need a bank of known sight words. Sight words are words that readers need to be able to read on “sight”.  These are the words seen most frequently when we read and are often called high frequency words r frequency words.  Your child needs to learn to read these words quickly, without stopping to sound them out.
"Continue to use a balance of each reading approach in first-grade reading instruction and continue to develop reading strategies that will reach both the global holistic learner and the analytical learner (Dillon, 1997)."

A balanced literacy program, which was originally designed for use in a classroom, easily translates into the homeschooling situation. A balanced literacy program at home includes:

  • Reading Aloud: Parent reads selection aloud to the child
  • Shared Reading: Parent and child read text together
  • Guided Reading: Parent introduces a reading book at student's instructional level
  • Independent Reading: Child reads independently
  • Modeled Writing: Parent and child collaborate to write text; parent acts as scribe
  • Interactive Writing: Parent and child compose together using a "shared pen" technique in which the child does some of the writing
  • Independent Writing: Child writes independently

A balanced approach to reading  includes a balance of sight words and phonics. It also includes a balance of reading to your child, with your child and by your child. Reading to your child is what you already do, reading aloud to your child. Reading with your child, or "shared reading" is when you and your child read a story together and you actively engage your child in the reading process. Reading by your child is your child reading independently.

You are already familiar with reading aloud to your child, and what it means for a child to read on his or her own, so here's a little more information on what shared reading is (you may find you already do a lot of this with your child):
  • During shared reading the parent models and explicitly teaches the process, strategies, concepts, and mechanics of reading.
  • The child joins the parent in reading and re-reading a specific text.
  • Shared reading allows children to absorb what they need to know about reading without having to read independently.
You do similar things in writing by modeling writing, writing together "sharing the pen" and having your child write independently.

What exactly is a child supposed to learn in Kindergarten? Here are the  Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten. Below each standard is a link to the post about teaching that skill:


1. Print Concepts: Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print.

a. Follow words from left to right, top to bottom, and page by page.
Early Alphabet Learning and the Name Game
Kindergarten Sight Words and Early Reading Skills 
Kindergarten Sight Word Sentences 
Kindergarten Sight Words Reading Books     
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers 
Shared Literature 
b. Recognize that spoken words are represented in written language
Early Alphabet Learning and the Name Game
Kindergarten Sight Words and Early Reading Skills 
Kindergarten Sight Word Sentences  
Kindergarten Sight Words Reading Books     
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers 
Shared Literature  
c. Understand that words are separated by spaces in print.
Early Alphabet Learning and the Name Game
Kindergarten Sight Words and Early Reading Skills 
Kindergarten Sight Words Reading Books     
Kindergarten Sight Word Sentences  
d. Recognize and name all upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet. 
Early Alphabet Learning and the Name Game
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers 

2. Phonological Awareness: Demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes).

a. Recognize and produce rhyming words. 
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers
b. Count, pronounce, blend, and segment syllables in spoken words. 
Early Alphabet Learning and the Name Game
c. Blend and segment onsets and rimes of single-syllable spoken words.
Learn 37 Words and Know how to Read and Write Over 500 Words!
d. Blend two to three phonemes into recognizable words.
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers
e. Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in three-phoneme (consonant-vowel-consonant, or CVC) words.* (This does not include CVCs ending with /l/, /r/, or /x/.)
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers
f. Add or substitute individual sounds (phonemes) in simple, one- syllable words to make new words.
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers
Learn 37 Words and Know how to Read and Write Over 500 Words! 
3. Phonics and Word Recognition: Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words both in isolation and in text.

a. Demonstrate basic knowledge of one-to-one letter-sound correspondences by producing the primary or many of the most frequent sound for each consonant.
Early Alphabet Learning and the Name Game
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers 
b. Associate the long and short sounds with common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers
Learn 37 Words and Know how to Read and Write Over 500 Words! 
c. Read common high-frequency words by sight (e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does).
Kindergarten Sight Words and Early Reading Skills
Kindergarten Sight Word Sentences  
d. Distinguish between similarly spelled words by identifying the sounds of the letters that differ.
Beginning Phonics for Emergent Readers
Learn 37 Words and Know how to Read and Write Over 500 Words! 

4. Fluency: Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.
Kindergarten Sight Words Reading Books    
Also see The Guide to KindergartenReview general curricula for Kindergarten, what to expect for each subject and activities that can be done at home.

Systematic instruction in reading traditionally begins in Kindergarten and continues throughout the primary grades. Using a balanced approach is a great way to grow a reader!

Bears, Bears, Bears!

Little Miss turned three in June, so this Fall I decided to try to do a bit or "formal" school work with her every day. She's been asking for school work, so I guess it is time.

I decided to start with a theme: Bears (I first want to admit that I have a bit of a problem with collecting books and school related materials. I have an insane amount of manipulatives, flannel board pieces and other assorted necessities. In my own defense, a lot of this was collected during my days of classroom teaching.) So I pulled out everything "bear" that I could find and we proceeded to "play school".

Nomenclature cards 

I started with good old Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I downloaded a really cute Brown Bear, Brown Bear early learning pack from 1+1+1=1 I laminated the things that I knew we would work with multiple times.  On the right are some of the Nomenclature cards from the pack that go with the story. You can find more Nomenclature printables on the Montessori Printables page on 1+1+1=1.

Little Miss playing with the Brown Bear, Brown Bear Nomenclature cards.
Here she is enjoying some of the activities from the early learning pack.

Putting together some puzzle cards.
What would a bears unit be without a bunch of bear counters! There are so many things you can do with these little guys: counting, patterns, sorting, colors, matching. I think the bears were a good investment because I know we can use them for several years. Right now we can practice counting, colors, and sorting. Later we can do addition and subtraction, more complex patterns, even multiplication and division.

Colored Bear Counters and sorting bowls
I start by giving her lots of time to just play and explore with the materials. She had several chances to play with the bears and the bowls before I started to suggests activities with them. Sometimes I would suggest things, other times I would play along side her and model something I wanted her to try, like putting the bears into the bowls according to their color.

Patterns with bears.

One day I pulled out these pattern strips and started matching bears to the pattern, and saying my pattern out loud, "red-yellow-red-yellow..." She did not seem to be paying much attention to me and was placing her own bears on cards without matching the colors. Suddenly she looked down at her card and noticed that a green bear was on a yellow square. "That one doesn't go here!" she said. She took the green bear off and replaced it with a yellow one.

We also have a color bear bingo set hat you can use the bears with. It comes with these little paw markers. Little Miss really liked to match a bear to each colored paw.

Bear to paw color matching.

When we finished playing the bears were usually all over the room. Little Miss really likes to throw things. She is learning not to, but we are still working on it. While she is often a good helper at clean up time, when she is feeling reluctant going on a "bear rescue" will often get her into action.

 A bears unit is not complete without reading a few different versions of The Three Bears.
The Three Bears flannel board.
After reading the story we got out the Three Bears flannel board story. We had fun retelling the story (along with using all of the different voices for the different bears). She liked to match up the bears with their correct chairs. Sometimes she did not want me to tell the story and just wanted to play with the characters.

Another bear activity I got out was the dress up bear puzzle. She loves to make all of the different bears. Her favorite part is the faces, each with a different expression. She likes to talk about the sad bear, the happy bear, and the angry bear.

Finally, there was the workbook. Just kidding! No workbooks as I think in general they are far less educational than learning through exploration and play. Another problem is that there is usually only one right way to do a workbook page. I'd like to put that off as long as possible. At three years old we are building a foundation for future learning, and so far we are having fun doing it!

Tot Books & Packs

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Workboxes and Power Struggles

I've blogged in the past about how workboxes work for us, and have several posts about workboxes. I have found yet another way to use them. One of my favorite things about workboxes is how using them significantly decreases power struggles. The, "I don't want to do it" is all but gone.

Scootch has Aspergers/ADHD. He is so smart, and learns so quickly, but some things are really hard for him. Writing is at the top of the "hard" list. Right around the time we started homeschooling he was struggling with anxiety. He easily became frustrated to the point of a complete melt down. He'd rather cut off his right arm than do a worksheet. As a result, I really backed off on forcing him to do work that involved putting pencil to paper. That was fine for a few years. Now he is almost 11 and in the 6th grade. He has also made huge progress in regulating his emotions and behavior. I decided it was time to give him a bit of a push. I was starting to feel like some of the accommodations we had put in place to help were starting to enable and actually hold him back. I knew I was signing myself up for a power struggle with the veritable gold medal winner of power struggles. I realized  it would be faced with resistance and intense reactions, but I was ready.

I got the intense reactions alright! There were times when he would throw a fit over writing down a math problem (he would beg me to write it for him-let the power struggle begin). I usually work hard to avoid power struggles in the first place and now I had set things up so that it would happen. I told him that the fit was unacceptable, but he needed more inspiration than a few words from me to stop, and I knew he had it in him to stop. That is when a parent goes for the holy grail: What is important to him? What does he want?

There is one thing he wants: free computer time. We already had a system in place where the kids need to finish their school work (workboxes) and their chores (clean up room etc.) before they can have free computer time. This system takes away a lot of stress and nagging on my part. No power struggles. I don't need to tell them to clean their room, I hear one call to the other, "Let's go clean our room!". With workboxes they can take as long as they like to finish their school work. They can choose to peck away at it bit by bit, and take all day, or they can sit down and finish it all before lunch. No power struggles of me telling them to do an assignment, they get to choose when they do it. They just can't go on the computer until it is finished.

However, now we were dealing with those fits. How could I re-order the system to prevent the power struggles? At first I changed it to "finish school nicely" to get the computer time, but that was a bit vague. We needed to break it down into smaller chunks. What if he did great on all workboxes but one? That is when I decided to put a time token on each workbox. Instead of earning a flat 2 hours of computer time when work was finished, now he earned time for each workbox completed "nicely".

I don't always give the kids the same number of workboxes. They may get as few as 4 or as many as 8 on a given day. I made up a bunch of tokens (laminated them and put velcro dots on the back) with a variety of times on them, 15, 20, 30 minutes. I put them on the workboxes so that they total 2 hours each day. If he finishes the workbox with a good attitude, then he get the token. If he is not working appropriately, then I can take the token.

We spent a lot of time talking about appropriate and inappropriate behavior. A good attitude can include saying that you don't like something, or don't want to do it. I'm even willing to negotiate and will sometimes change an assignment if it is discussed in a calm manner. It is inappropriate, however, to throw the chair over, or crumple up the paper, or scream.

A sample of workboxes with time tokens

We also reviewed ways that he can calm himself down. He has a variety of things that he knows he can do when he is starting to feel stressed, and he knows he has permission to do those things whenever he needs to.

Holding his snake is very calming. We often do lessons with help from the snake.

I really hate using a token economy, it is not the style of parenting I would choose. I must say though that it is working beautifully. It was over a week before he lost a token. He was so upset by it that he has been working really hard to stay calm, and do what he needs to do.

I am now having fun watching him learn and grow! A month ago we could not get through a math lesson without multiple break downs. Now, he does his math, writes out all of his problems like it is no big deal. Success!

Another article: Why workboxes can work for your autistic homeschooler