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My 10 Favorite Resources for Teaching the ABCs Embracing Motherhood

10 Best Resources for Teaching the ABCs

Learning the ABCs (letter names AND letter sounds) is the bedrock for learning how to read. While you can certainly do a lot with just YouTube videos and some homemade supplies, these are the resources that have helped our four children learn their ABCs really really well in a way that revolves around play.

1. Leapfrog Fridge Letters

If you could only buy one thing to help your child learn his or her letters, it should be these Leapfrog Letters!  All of our children have enjoyed playing with these letters, learning about letter names and sounds, spelling words, and listening to the sounds and songs that are played.

Leapfrog Fridge Phonics

Leapfrog Fridge Phonics

Below is a video of my daughter Ophelia at 21 months playing with her Leapfrog Fridge Phonics set, and also some wooden magnet letters (that I’ll talk about next).

2. ABC Foam Magnet Letters

I love these foam letters because they are durable, fun to handle, and I love there are multiple copies of each letter including upper and lowercase.

foam-abc-magnet-letters

Foam ABC Magnet Letters

You can get also these cute Melissa and Doug wooden letters, but I have had some problems with them peeling apart (especially after they’ve been thrown into the water table or toilet a time or two). I also like using a muffin tin like this for teaching my children how to spell three letter words.

My ABC Magnet Station

My ABC Magnet Station

3. ABC Bath Letters

The bath can be kind of boring without a few toys, so why not make it fun and educational with some bath letters? If you’re taking a bath with your little one, this can be a great time to talk about letter name and letter sounds.

ABC Bath Letters

ABC Bath Letters

You also might like this really great storage caddy to keep them organized and within easy reach during the bath.

4. Leapfrog ABC Toys

Pretty much all Leapfrog ABC toys are great, and this Leapfrog ABC Tablet has been a real favorite.

abc-tablet

Leapfrog ABC Tablet

I like looking for Leapfrog learning toys at garage sales and thrift stores, but you can also buy some new like this ABC Dinosaur, ABC dog, and Alphabet Zoo.

Below is a video of Ophelia playing with our Leapfrog tablet.

5. VTech ABC Toys

This company makes really great educational toys for small children, and this ABC Apple is something that all of our kids fight over.

abc-apple

VTech ABC Apple

Some other great looking VTech toys are the ABC Bus, Spelling Station, and Write and Learn Creative Center.

6. Preschool Prep Videos

Meet the Letters and Meet the Phonics – Letter Sounds will cover everything your child needs to know about letter names and letter sounds in a very fun and engaging way.

preschool-prep-letter-names

Meet the Letters

preschool-prep-letter-sounds

Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds

You might also enjoy getting the entire boxed set which has everything your child will need to know about letter names, letter sounds, digraphs, blends, numbers, shapes, colors, and sight words.

7. ABC Puzzles

Puzzles are a great way for toddlers and young children to explore the alphabet in a tactile manner. I really like this Melissa and Doug ABC puzzle because the pegs make it really easy to handle each letter, and I like the pictures associated with each letter too.

Melissa and Doug ABC Puzzle

Melissa and Doug ABC Puzzle

This stand up wooden puzzle and this flat wooden puzzle with upper and lowercase letters are great ABC puzzles too. When your child is ready for a more complex puzzle, I love floor puzzles like this giant Eric Carle ABC Floor Puzzle. We also love using our matching pairs puzzle.

abc-matching-pairs-puzzle

ABC Matching Pairs Puzzle

8. ABC Rug

If you have the space for it (and the money), this rug has been one of my favorite purchases ever. The kids love running in circles around it saying the letters, and the solar system in the middle is another great teaching tool.

abc-rug

ABC Rug

At 5’4″ x 7’8″, this rectangular rug fits in our homeschool room perfectly, but you can also get a 7’8″ x 10’9″ rectangular rug, a 5’4″ x 7’8″ oval or 7’8″ x 10’9″ oval rug as well. This ABC rug looks really cute too.

9. ABC Posters

All of my kids have loved learning their sign language ABCs, and this ABC sign language poster is a great addition to any room. Check out this great sign language ABC video, and this one, and this one too.

abc-sign-language-poster

ABC Sign Language Poster

I like having handwriting posters up as well. Here’s the one I like for print, and here’s the one I like for cursive. This ABC “poster” (pictured below) is really cool because each letter is actually a sticker which allows you to get creative about where you put it.

ABC Bulletin Board

ABC Bulletin Board

For a more interactive poster, I love using my wall hanging pocket chart with these beginning sound cards. There are many other cards you can get from Smethport that are useful for teaching other skills as well.

10. Robot Letters

These ABC robot letters from Lakeshore Learning have been an absolute favorite with our son Elliot. He has always loved transformers and robots, and these were great for helping him to learn about his letters. We got these for him for his 3rd birthday, and at that time, we had to help him transform the robots. When he was about 4, he was able to transform them on his own.

alphabet-robots

ABC Robot Letters

Lakeshore Learning has so many amazing and wonderful things, like these alphabet tubs for learning letter sounds, this alphabet maze, these learning locks, and so, so much more!

alphabet-tubs

Letter Sound Alphabet Tubs

*Starfall

Okay, so this is really #11, but it is the most amazing resource I have ever come across. Now, you will need a computer, ipad or iphone to access the Starfall website or app, but it is an absolutely amazing resource for teaching children the ABCs and so much more.

Starfall abc

Starfall ABCs

People have asked me what I think of other programs such as ABC Mouse, Always Ice Cream, and Clever Dragons, and nothing I have seen or used holds a candle to what Starfall provides. You can play the ABC portion on the website for free, or you can get a home membership for $35/year. You can use your phone, ipad mini, or regular ipad to play the ABC app (for free) which is very easy for little ones to use with the touch screen. *Here’s a video of me using Starfall Math with our son Elliot.

*If you’re looking for more great apps for preschoolers, check out my blog here: Best Teaching Apps for Young Children (Ages 0-6).

In Conclusion

Teaching the ABCs is the foundation for learning how to read and these resources in addition to creating an environment conducive to learning have helped all of my children to learn how to read at a young age and have fun doing so! For more information and resources about teaching your child to read, check out my reading program.

A Word Coloring Pre-Reading Activity

Coloring Over Words Pre-Reading Activity

I love getting out large pieces of paper, writing words and pictures on them, and have my toddlers and preschoolers color over them. This is a great pre-reading activity that helps children to memorize words (which is a much bigger part of learning to read than most people think). Best of all, it’s so easy to set up and do!

I have done different versions of this activity with every one of my children, and it has been a HUGE part of what has helped them to all start reading at very young ages.

Materials Needed

  • Paper – You can use rolls of paper, large sheets, smaller sheets, or even just plain computer paper. You can also do this activity using a spiral notebook or composition notebook so that you can save all of your drawings to read later.
  • Markers – I love buying markers like these in bulk when it’s back to school season. You can also use crayons or colored pencils, but markers require less effort for little hands and produce a very satisfying line.
  • Stickers – I love getting the big Melissa and Doug sticker set like this and this. You get a lot of stickers for $5/book, and the kids love them.
  • *Write-On Wipe Off Books – I have tried many different write-on wipe-off books, and the ones by Priddy Books are by far the best. (Don’t forget some Expo markers.) Little ones don’t need to be ready to write their letters to enjoy coloring in these books. My toddlers and preschoolers love coloring over the letters, pictures, and words and this is another great way to get children familiar with their ABCs andto learn more vocabulary.

Directions

    1. Write a smattering of short and familiar words on the paper. I like to use words that reflect their interests, but start each child with many of the same basic words like: hi, clap, wave, cat, dog, sun, bus, car, etc. (You can always type “teaching three letter words” into Google to get more ideas for words to use and resources like this as well.)
    2. Draw little pictures next to some of the words. When a word is new, I like to draw a little picture next to it. Many times I’ll even choose words based on how easy the picture would be to draw! But then after they are familiar with the word, I don’t draw the picture every time so that they can memorize the word without the visual aid.
    3. Keep writing while they color. My little ones love coloring side by side with me. I don’t typically prepare these ahead of time (unless I’m holding a baby and trying to video record at the same time), but rather we do it together. Sometimes we’ll work on the same sheet and other times they’ll color one while I prepare another.
    4. Write down names of family members. Even though names are typically longer and have more complicated spelling patterns, these are among some of the first words my little ones are able to read. In addition to the names of family members, you could also include their ages, relation (brother, sister, cousin, etc.), favorite color, girl/boy, etc.
    5. Write down letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. Children who have a strong understanding of these basic concepts will have a very strong foundation in the basics needed to succeed in preschool and kindergarten. Some of my children like seeing the whole alphabet written out, others just like a smattering of letters and the same goes with the other categories as well.
    6. Use stickers for a treat. Every so often, I like to mix things up with stickers. After putting the sticker on the paper, I will label it.
    7. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I am a big believer in following a child’s lead, and so I like to do this activity whenever my child shows an interest. This might mean we’ll do it every day or only a couple of times a month. Right now, Julian(2) LOVES coloring and so we do this activity often. I use the same words over and over again until he has mastered them or loses interest, and then I’ll cycle in new words.

Here’s a video of Julian coloring some words that I have prepared.

In Conclusion

This activity seems so simple and so easy it’s like, why even write a blog about it? But I’m telling you, it is PROFOUND in helping children learning how to read.

Not only that, but it is a fun and special bonding time between you and your child where you’re working together, sitting side by side, having little conversations, learning about his or her specific interests, practicing the fine motor skills necessary to hold a writing utensil, and having fun!

We get so busy as parents, that doing an activity like this allows for a moment in a hectic day where you can teach, bond, and build memories together, and what could be better than that?

Coloring Station

Coloring Station

Coloring Stickers

Coloring Stickers

Coloring Write-On Wipe-Off Books

Coloring Write-On Wipe-Off Books

My Favorite Books for Babies

Best Books for Babies

These are the books we have loved reading with our four children when they were babies.

How to Engage Your Baby with Reading

How to Engage Your Baby with Reading

Reading is the single best activity you can use to engage your baby, stimulate your toddler, teach your child, engage your teen, and enjoy as an adult. The earlier you can establish a love of reading, the better and more long lasting it will be. A child who loves reading will be able to unlock an amazing world of wonder and discovery. Here are some tips and tricks that have helped us to raise four children who love reading.

1. In Utero

The bond between a mother and child is so special and so unique – two beings occupying one body, two heartbeats beating within the same space, and two bodies being nourished simultaneously. As soon as 24 weeks, a baby can hear his or her mother’s voice and becomes accustomed to it enough to respond to it over a stranger’s after birth. In the 1980s, psychology professor Anthony James DeCasper and colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro discovered that soon after birth, a newborn prefers a story (in this case, Cat in the Hat) that had been read repeatedly in the womb over a new story. (Read the article here.)

Pregnant with Elliot and Walking with Ophelia

Pregnant with Elliot and Walking with Ruby

There is a certain cadence and prosody to reading that a newborn can resonate with as you read to him or her in the womb. This may be a natural part of his or her development if you have other children, but if not, don’t feel silly about getting comfortable in the rocking chair and reading the same book over and over again to your belly. I always read, “Oh Baby, the Places You’ll Go,” when I was pregnant for my firstborn, Ruby, and it brought tears to my eyes every time. After that, the babies in my belly got read to as I read to my other children as they shared a lap with their new growing sibling.

2. Bonding  Time

Now, this may not seem like a part of the reading process, but it’s all connected. Reading is a very bonding experience, and your children’s bond with reading will be connected to their bond with you. For the first three months of life, your baby is figuring out life outside of the womb in a fourth trimester that is every bit as important as the other three trimesters of pregnancy.

Newborn Ruby

Newborn Ruby

They need you to figure them out, they need you to hold them, they need you to fall in love, they need you to help them adjust to this world of lights, voices, air, food, and you. I typically don’t introduce reading during this phase. Instead, I am just hyper focused on connecting with them in whatever ways come naturally. I am aware that new babies can only see about 8 to 10 inches in front of their faces and so I try to keep my face in that range so that we can get to know each other. Just smiling, cooing, talking softly, holding, cuddling, rocking, nursing, and sleeping are the most important activities during this time.

3. Introducing Books

As babies reach the end of their fourth trimester, usually when they are about three months old, they will be able to start following moving objects with their eyes. This is a good time to start introducing them to books.

Reading with 3 Month Old Julian

Reading with 3 Month Old Julian

I like to pick a couple of board or cloth books to keep in their toy bin and read them often. I love to use books during tummy time. To be honest, I don’t really know if I’ve ever introduced books at this young of an age with my other children, and I was kind of shocked to see Julian so enraptured by this little counting book.

4. Build a Library of Books

Check out my blog: Best Books for Babies for my recommended list of books that my babies have loved if you’d like a place to start. Basically, you want to find books that you will enjoy reading over and over and over again. If you love the books you are reading, chances are your baby will too!

19 Month Old Ophelia's Favorite Books

19 Month Old Ophelia’s Favorite Books

Next, you’ll start to discover books that for one reason or another, your baby really loves – when that happens, buy more just like them! While it’s fun to go to the library and check out a selection of new books, it’s important to have some books that you always keep at home. These are the best ones to read during bedtime routine and to keep at an accessible level so your baby can find them and explore them at his or her own leisure.

5. Reading Routines

There are certain times I always like to read to my babies. I usually love to just nurse my babies to sleep, but when this stops happening (at about 6-8 months with Ophelia and at about 18 months with Julian), I like to incorporate some books (usually three) into our bedtime routine. I also love reading before nap time and then again when my babies first wake up.

Bedtime Reading/Nursing Chair

Bedtime Reading/Nursing Chair

Before we begin reading, I make sure to “set the stage”. I have a nice comfy rocking chair next to a little table with a basket full of books that my baby loves, a soft lamp, and anything else we might need like milk or a pacifier. Then we get cuddled up with a nice soft silky and get to reading.

6. Repetitive Reading

Babies love things that are simple, repetitive, and familiar. But how do you make a new book familiar? Well, you have to start somewhere! Find a time when your baby has been fed, changed, and is in a happy and responsive mood, and then introduce the new book. If your baby doesn’t seem engaged, just try to get through it as quickly as possible. If you find something about the book that holds your child’s attention, spend some time talking about it. You don’t need to read the words from the book exactly. (“Do you like that kitty? That looks like our kitty, _______, doesn’t it? What does a kitty say? Meow! Do you want to pet the kitty? Pet her gently! Nice kitty.”)

After you’ve read through the book, put it aside and bring it out again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that until it becomes familiar. If after reading the book several times, your baby still does not seem interested, then abandon it and choose something new. When your baby is older, he is going to blow you away when he crawls over to the basket of books that you have read so many times and starts flipping through the ones you have read over and over together.

7. Expressive Reading

When reading with little babies, they will not understand the words that you are reading, but they will comprehend the cadence, prosody, tone, intonation, and expression. I like to read with exaggerated expression in whatever way will elicit a positive response. In doing so, I sometimes make up words that are not in the text that will be best suited for such a response. For example, when I’m reading with my little ones, I like to call special attention to emotions and really act them out.

8. Interactive Reading

Get your baby involved by letting her turn the page, lift the flaps, fill in the blanks, and answer questions. Pause at key words so she can give it a go. As my babies get familiar with the books we are reading, I like to pause at either the last word of the page or at a word that they have shown an interest in trying to say. Then, I give them a chance to say the word, and then I repeat it back. (As your child starts to form words, you’ll often just hear the beginning sound of the word. You might not even realize that’s what’s going on, but when you hear her make the same sound every time, you’ll know!) This also works really well with any book that has a flap. Give your baby a chance to say the word that’s under the flap either before they lift it or right afterwards. Giving a nice long pause is very important. If you always do it, they will learn that you will wait for them to say the word.

9. Enjoy Yourself

The most important thing is to have fun with it! If you are enjoying yourself, your baby can tell and will respond positively. But if you’re looking at the clock thinking, “How long do I have to do this for?” your baby will also be able to tell. If you’re having a hard time getting into it, think about what would make it fun for you. Bring a special snack of cookies and milk along to nibble on while you read, make sure you’ve got a comfortable spot for reading set up, get some books that you enjoyed when you were a kid, just do whatever it takes to make it a fun experience full of love that will build positive memories for the future.

10. Don’t Force It

With our four children, I definitely notice that some have more of a patient and quiet personality and love cuddling up for hours on end reading books, while others have a much shorter attention span and would rather be active and moving around. This might be due to personality differences or it could just be because of the time of day. The important thing is to not force it. If you get everything ready to read and they squirm to get down or start fussing, then abandon it for another time. If you keep being persistent in your efforts, you will find the right moments to read. With some children, it just might happen at a higher frequency than others, and that’s ok!

In Conclusion

By working to establish a love of reading with your babies, they will learn to love books before they can even grasp what that really means, and they will carry this love of reading into their toddler, child, teen, and adult years. In the meantime, you will create some amazing memories while you do what you do best and what they need most, which is hugging, snuggling, cuddling, and providing lots and lots of love.

*Reading with your baby is just one way to help build oral language. Check out my blog: Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think! for more ideas. You also might like my blog: Best Books for Babies.

embracing motherhood how to raise children who want to read by surrounding them with books and cuddles

How to Raise Children Who WANT to Read

Teachers, librarians, parents, politicians…we’re all guilty of saying it. Our intentions are noble and so we say, “Read, read, read!” Or, “The more you read the better you’ll get!” But it’s not about setting a timer to read for 15 minutes every day, it’s not about filling up a monthly reading calendar to get a prize, and it’s not about reading because someone told you to. It’s about igniting a passion within your children for reading so that they will be inspired to read because of their own intrinsic motivation. It’s about getting them to choose reading on their own because it is something they want to do.

In order to build a positive relationship with reading, we need to create memories of reading that evoke emotions of love, joy, and happiness. By following these steps, you can ensure that your child will build a positive relationship with reading.

1. Start Young

As soon as they are old enough to hold their heads up, stick a book under them! I started doing this with my not even three month old, and I was flabbergasted when he started to smile and look at the book. I use the same two or three books when he does tummy time, and he loves it!

3 month old baby looks at a book while doing tummy time

3 Month Old Julian Looks at a Book

Babies are definitely ready for some real reading routines by six months old. (Check out my blog :How Children Really Learn to Read to see how you can teach your baby to read.) We have always enjoyed incorporating story time before bed at around this age. This is also when we really start talking about letters, watching word videos, playing with ABC toys, and sitting them on our laps for story time. (Check out my blog Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think to learn about one of the biggest precursors to learning how to read and Tips, Tricks and Resources for Teaching the ABCs to learn about how to give your child the foundation of reading.)

2. Go to the Library

It is very interesting to me to watch other families at the library who don’t share the same love of reading as we do. They come into the library with a very specific agenda, they let their child check out two books, and then they are out of there as quick as can be. With us on the other hand, going to the library is a special event! We get comfortable and enjoy the library atmosphere by playing with the magnets, using the chalkboard, playing with blocks and puzzles, and snuggling up in the chairs to check out a few favorite books. (Our library is VERY small, but we still enjoy it to its fullest!) Meanwhile, I am combing through each aisle finding books that I know my children will love.

Ophelia Playing with Magnet Letters at Our Library

Ophelia Playing with Magnet Letters at Our Library

Elliot is Busy Searching for Books

Elliot is Busy Searching for Books

Ruby Reading at Our Library

Ruby Reading at Our Library

I like to find short books that will appeal to all the kids for bedtime reading, longer books to read while snuggled on the couch, and books for all levels and interests of the readers in our house. When my children are ready, I help guide them towards picking out their own books. I teach them how to look at the spine for the title, how to choose interesting books based on the cover, and how to flip through the pages to make sure it’s a “just right” book. When our bags are full of the maximum number of books (35, but sometimes they let us go over), we check out. Also, I’m not afraid of a few late fines or lost or damaged books; it’s a small price to pay for such a wonderful service.

3. Build a Library of Books

Going to the library is fun in order to get some new books to read, but even better than that is having an eclectic collection of books at home that you can read over and over again. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming to start a home library, but you have to start somewhere! My favorite place to get books is at thrift stores and garage sales (that way you don’t have to worry if they get ripped, damaged, or torn…which they will). I love it when I can find garage sales where the people are transitioning away from younger children and are getting rid of everything in one massive dump. Getting piles of quality books for 10 cents each is the best, and I totally stock up! The collections you’ll find at thrift stores are more hit or miss. It definitely helps to have an agenda and know what you are looking for here, but sometimes you just want to add a little “bulk” to your library and this is a great place for that.

bins of books for children

Building a Home Library Full of Quality Books

Once you know what kind of books really intrigue your children, you can start building Amazon wish lists for birthdays, Christmas, and anytime you have a few extra dollars. You can even buy used books on Amazon that are in pretty good shape. (Although I’d recommend staying away from the used books if they are the lift the flap kind, I haven’t had the best luck in this department.) For some book suggestions, check out my Amazon stores: Best Books for Babies, Best Books for Toddlers, and Best Books for Kids.

4. Make Books Accessible

Once you have books, you’ll want to make them easy to access! I love having books on bookshelves, but those are easier for storage and for adults to access. Kids like to see books displayed in a way that makes the books easy to see and easy to reach. My favorite method of storage is baskets. Here are the wicker baskets that I like to use. They are a nice way for me to keep the books organized with the covers facing out, and then I can strategically place them in places where the kids like to read. I love putting baskets next to little chairs and couches, near their little potty chairs, by their beds, and at little coffee table reading stations throughout the house. I’m pretty sure that every single room in our house has baskets and piles books!

toddler reading to herself from a bin of accessible books

Making Books Accessible

I have also screwed gutters (found at Lowes or Home Depot) onto the walls to store books. They looked really cool, but didn’t get used as much as I thought they would. Plus, the kids would sometimes pull or hang on them and they weren’t super sturdy, but if put a tacking strip behind it and found some studs, it would probably hold up really well!

Using Gutters as a Bookshelf

Using Gutters as a Bookshelf

gutters as a bookshelf

3 Year Old Elliot Loves His New Bookshelf

There are also some cool book storage racks that display the book covers all facing forward. I liked having things like this in my classroom when I was a teacher. You’ll have to find the perfect way to make your books accessible based on the needs of your children and the design of your home.

5. Make Reading Time Special

During the day, we love snuggling up on our big soft couch to read piles of books. I store new library books in our coffee table and I keep baskets of books nearby. But I will usually set up a little pile of their favorite books that I know they will want to read before I sit down. Then I track down their silkies, pacifiers, and anything else they like to snuggle up with. Sometimes I’ll grab some milk and cookies or some other tasty treats before we begin reading. Then, we all snuggle up close together and enjoy some fun cuddles and special reading time.

reading cuddled up with mommy and baby

Reading Time is Special

Before bed at night, we always read books in our oldest daughter’s room. We have a big full size mattress on the floor that is covered with blankets and stacked with pillows. There are baskets and piles of books strategically placed nearby and we all enjoy cuddling up at night while Daddy reads stories.

Bedtime Reading Routine

Bedtime Reading Routine

I have some old Christmas lights stapled near the ceiling that create a nice soft glow perfect for night time reading. After that, we read to our older children (or they read to us) while they are tucked into bed, and then we read to our littlest ones in rocking chairs before putting them to bed.

Reading Rocking Chair

Reading Rocking Chair

6. Carve Out Time for Reading

I am always ready to drop everything and read books when my children are ready, but I also like setting aside special reading time during the day. Either mid morning or after lunch are my favorite reading times. I like to read after my kids have eaten, had play time, and are changed, dressed, and ready for the day. We enjoy cuddling up for nice long reading time and it’s really fun. I know that our days can get busy, but I think that just like we make time for eating every day, we need to make time for reading every day too. If you always read books at bedtime, you’ll always have reading as at least the end part of your day. Reading before bed is one thing that we never ever skip. If we’re in a hurry, we have a basket of little mini books that we can read in a hurry, but we never skip reading time.

7. Pick Interesting Books

When you sit down to read with your children, start by reading the books you KNOW they will enjoy rather than introducing something new. After you’ve read a few favorite books and you’re in the rhythm of it, then you can introduce some new books.

Each of our children have been into different types of books at different ages and stages. Our babies have really liked Sandra Boynton, touch and feel, ABC, and lift the flap books. When both of our girls were younger, they REALLY liked Dora books, and our son has always enjoyed books about superheroes and anything funny or gross. Whenever we know that our children are really into a particular type of book, we look for it at thrift stores, garage sales, Amazon, and the library, and we keep those favorite books stocked nearby. These are the books they gravitate towards and start to read independently. The cutest thing is seeing our toddler picture read the books we have read over and over.

8. Have Fun With It

If you get books that you really enjoy and really truly have fun while you read, your little ones will be able to tell, and it will make it a fun experience for them too. When I was taking classes while in pursuit of my teaching degree, I had one class about teaching reading that really stuck with me. The teacher did something truly remarkable and seemingly unorthodox…she read to us! And she didn’t just read the words on the page, she made them come alive. It felt so strange to sit in a class with a bunch of young adults and have a children’s story read to us, but I felt myself getting lost in the story as she read using different voices for the different characters and read with lots of expression and passion. Ten years later, I still remember the first book she read to us. It was Buzzy the Bumblebee. I bought that book, a nice hard cover copy, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it to my class and then later to my children. Because I love it and read with lots of expression, they love it too.

9. Involve Your Children

Children love to be involved in reading. Before we start reading a book, I like to spend a minute looking at the cover. We read the title, look at the cover illustration, and make predictions about what we think the book will be about or what will happen in the book. As we are reading, I like to involve the children in little ways by having them help me turn the pages, lift any flaps, or point out simple things that they notice in the pictures. For more of a challenge, I ask the them open ended questions about what they think will happen next, why they think a certain event happened, how they think the character is feeling, or if the story reminds them of anything that has ever happened in their lives.

I also like to involve my children by getting them to read parts of the text whenever I can. One of my favorite ways to get them to do this is with books that we’ve read over and over. I pause at certain words I think that they’ll know or at the last word in the sentence (especially if there is a rhyming pattern) and let them fill in the blank. This is a gradual release to the time when they will be reading independently.

10. Be Silly

Most of the time, we read the books as they are written, but sometimes, it’s fun to make the book silly. We do this by making up words to make the story silly. Potty humor always gets a big laugh (Poophead!) and so does saying the opposite word that will give the meaning a silly twist. We also like making songs out of some of our favorite books and using silly funny voices. Our kids beg Daddy to read books the “funny way” especially when it’s bedtime; using humor is a great way to get through any tired fussy moments.

11. Don’t Force It

The worst thing you could do is treat reading like a mandatory time of the day that you must “get through” in order to reap the benefits of the results. If you’re not feeling it one day, skip the reading. If you’re skipping the reading every day, figure out what needs to change in order to make it a fun part of your routine. Are you feeling uncomfortable and unsure of your reading abilities? Don’t worry! Your children won’t judge you, and the more you do it, the more comfortable it will feel. Are you having a tough time getting your children to sit still long enough for story time? This happens with my rambunctious son from time to time, and so I have found that he LOVES it when I read books with interesting figures like these Basher Books and make them “come to life”. I kind of skim and scan the book and make the characters talk to him and he interacts with them. This even carries over into his imaginative play. Do whatever works for you!

In Conclusion

If you make reading a priority in your life, and if you make it fun, your children will grow up having a love of reading that will last a lifetime. I think it’s also really important for kids to see that you enjoy reading as well. My husband really enjoys fiction and he’s always introducing our kids to his favorite books. Right now he is listening to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe with our oldest daughter on their way to school every morning.

I personally like reading nonfiction and doing research for my blog, and I love sharing what I am learning with our kids. Reading is an amazing and wonderful skill, past time, and family event. If you help teach children how to read (Check out my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read) and show them how fun it can be, you will be amazed to see what they choose to do with their love of reading as they grow. One of my favorite things in the world is seeing our children choose to read on their own. When you see this happen, you know you have succeeded!

toddler reading to herself

Ophelia Loves Reading

3 year old reading to himself

Elliot Loves to Read

5 year old reading to herself in bed

Ruby Loves to Read

Check out my blog Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think to learn about one of the biggest precursors to learning how to read and Tips, Tricks and Resources for Teaching the ABCs to learn about how to give your child the foundation of reading.

Embracing Motherhood How to Make Popsicle Puppets for Oral Language Development, Reading Readiness, and Creative Play

Popsicle Puppets for Pre-Reading and Imaginative Play

I love making simple popsicle stick puppets for my young children because it is a great way to encourage imaginative play while also teaching basic reading skills. I love following their interests to make popsicle puppets of their favorite characters or genres and watch as their imaginations take off into a world of wonderment.

Pretend play is more than just fun for kids, it actually helps their cognitive development on several levels. Studies show that pretend play during early development allows for the enhancement of the child’s capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity. Taking on different roles during pretend play also allows children to represent problems and scenarios from a variety or perspectives and this precipitates empathy and self regulation. Studies also show that it positively influences  language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives. I love it because it get kids talking and any kind of talking is good for oral language development.

Materials

  • Jumbo Popsicle Sticks (Or you can just cut some strips of cardboard.)
  • Glue Stick (I like to buy my glue sticks in bulk here.)
  • Card Stock (You could also use regular computer paper.)
  • Scissors (I like these.)
  • Color Printer (Having a good economical printer is an absolute must! These ink cartridges, that go with the printer previously linked, are expensive, but they last a long time, like 1,200 color sheets.)
  • *Optional: laminatorlaminating sheets, and large cardboard boxes

Directions

  1. Print out some small characters. Elliot really wanted germs this time around, and we found tons of great images on our google image search. He has also liked superheroes, spiders, monsters, and Star Wars characters. When I’ve made these for Ruby, she wanted all of the My Little Pony characters. To get the images, I first do a google image search, then I click on the image I want, right click and copy it, open a Word or Publisher document, right click and paste it in, and then resize it to fit my paper. Sometimes I add boxes with the characters’ names and other times I just write the name on the popsicle stick. This kids love sitting on my lap as we do this part together.
    Embracing Motherhood Germ Printouts on Popsicle Sticks

    Germ Printouts on Popsicle Sticks

    my little ponies

    My Little Pony Sticks

    superhero popsicle sticks

    Superhero Sticks

  2. *Optional: Laminate your sheets before cutting them out. Here’s the laminator and laminating sheets that I use.
  3. Cut them out. Sometimes Ruby helps me with the cutting, but I usually just do this by myself.
  4. Use the glue stick to affix the cutouts to the top of the popsicle stick. *If you’ve laminated your characters, you might want to put some masking tape over the back of the stick to make sure it really holds.
  5. Give them names. Elliot LOVES coming up with funny names for his germs. He’ll make up names like “Mook” and “Funkoo” and it’s a great opportunity to teach him how to sound out and spell words. It then becomes a great reading activity as he reads his sticks. I like writing the names vertically on the stick. On the back of the stick, we write their nicknames.

    elliot with popsicle stick project

    Elliot (4) Naming his Germs

  6. *Optional: Make backgrounds. When I made Ruby’s My Little Pony sticks, I also did google image searches for the homes of each of the characters. I printed out one picture of the outside of their home and one picture of the inside and glued them onto a large unfolded cardboard box. Elliot wanted random backgrounds of haunted houses and cities. This is a great way for children to learn about setting (where a story takes place).
    Ruby's My Little Pony Boards

    Ruby’s My Little Pony Boards

    Elliot's Boards

    Elliot’s Background Boards

  7. Imagination Games: Now the children can use their popsicle characters in some imagination games. I love to play with them too and use funny voices for the different characters. Sometimes I like to introduce a problem scenario like one character is evil and trying to capture the others or one is sad and the others want to cheer him up, but they are usually pretty creative and independent with this part.
    ruby playing with her boards

    Ruby (5) Playing with her My Little Ponies

    ophelia playing with popsicle sticks

    Ophelia (2) Loves Playing with Them Too

  8. Storage: I like to keep these out and accessible as the children are interested and want to use them, but if they lose interest after awhile, I tuck them away in a more disclosed location. That way, they’re excited when they “find” them again. 🙂

Using Magnet Letters to Teach the ABCs

How to Teach the ABCs with Magnet Letters

Teaching letter names and letter sounds is a crucial component of reading. When children learn the alphabet at a young age, it lays a strong foundation for learning how to read. I have four children five and under, and I have been blown away by their capabilities and desire to learn. As a former elementary school teacher with a Master’s degree in Language Acquisition, I have always been fascinated with teaching and learning, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized the true potential of a child’s brain.

If I could recommend one thing for anyone with small children, it would be to focus on teaching the ABCs. In my blog, Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Teaching the ABCs, I have outlined everything that I have done that has worked for me and my children (who are all very different). My oldest daughter Ruby is five and in kindergarten; she reads fluently at a 3rd grade level. My son Elliot is four, knows all of his letter names and sounds, and is reading basic words, phrases, and repetitive text. My daughter Ophelia is 21 months old and knows all of her letter names and sounds, can read memorized words and phrases, and is starting to sound out words. For more details on how children really learn to read (hint: it’s not about starting with phonics), check out my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read.

Using Letter Magnets to Teach the ABCs

We have had these LeapFrog Letter Magnets on our fridge for just about as long as we have had children. The style has changed a bit since our original purchase, but the concept is the same. Basically, each capital letter fits into the player and when pushed with say a little chant with the letter name and letter sound(s). There is also a little music button that will either play, “The Wheels on the Bus” or “The Alphabet Song”. There is also a volume control for loud or quiet play and an off switch (for when you just need a little peace and quiet).

The other magnet letters that I really like are these Melissa and Doug Wooden Magnet Alphabet letters. The bold colors and simple design are fun for kids and easy to use as a teaching tool.

Here is a 3:28 video compilation of our 21 month old daughter Ophelia using letter magnets. Notice how I do very little direct teaching. I like to let my children explore and use these types of learning toys however they want, and then I find ways to gently guide them along the way.

LeapFrog Letter Magnets

There are many different ways to use these LeapFrog Letter Magnets. Sometimes I like to line all of the letters neatly up on the fridge in alphabetical order for my children to discover, but they never stay that way for long! My daughter Ophelia, who loves order and neatness, will play with each letter one at a time in a patient and intricate way. My son Elliot, on the other hand, who loves movement and chaos, will smush all of the letters together, build towers out of them, or personify them in some imaginative play.

Ophelia Plays Neatly with Magnet Letters

Ophelia Plays Neatly with Magnet Letters

Each method has merit and is a reflection of the inner workings of their minds. As their mother, I love being a quiet observer as I take note of their different methods of play and think about how I can support their different learning styles. Just having educational toys available and allowing children to play with them however they choose is a huge benefit. The next step is to reinforce their learning along the way by verbalizing what they are doing and repeating what they are saying. Then the real icing on the cake is figuring out how to challenge them to just go slightly above where they are with guidance. This is known in the educational world as working within their zone of proximal development and scaffolding them as they work towards the next level.

Elliot Smushes the Magnet Letters Around in Imaginative Play

Elliot Smushes the Magnet Letters Around in Imaginative Play

 Wooden Magnet Letters and Tins

One activity I love doing with the kids involves using the magnet letters and tins. This is a great way to stretch their knowledge of letter names and letter sounds to the next level. By turning these muffin tins upside down, they make great templates for sounding out CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant) or four letter words as with Elliot’s tin on the left.

Elliot and Ophelia Play with Magnet Letters and Tins

Elliot and Ophelia Play with Magnet Letters and Tins

What I do is pick a simple word like cat, sun, or dog, and then show them how to sound out each letter /c/ /a/ /t/ by touching each letter and saying the sound. Then I show how I say all of the sounds together quickly to make the word cat. They’re not ready to practice this skill independently yet, but it’s good to keep introducing things to kids that are just barely out of their reach so that they can get used to it through lots and lots and lots of repetition and as much time as they need.

Independent Learning Station

Once we have played with something like these wooden magnet letters and tins together, I like setting it up at an independent learning station. While here, the kids can practice what we’ve done together at their own pace.

Ophelia is Playing with Magnetic Letters at an Independent Learning Station

Ophelia is Playing with Magnetic Letters at an Independent Learning Station

Ophelia Loves to Have Little Stations to Play At

Ophelia Loves to Have Little Stations to Play At

There is No “Right” or “Wrong” Way to Play

I love it when the kids using these learning manipulatives as toys in a fun and creative way that works for them. I spend time setting up these learning stations and enjoy watching the kids use them however they like. When Ophelia takes the letters out of one box and says their names as she puts them in another box, this is an excellent way for her to practice her letter naming fluency.

Ophelia Puts Magnetic Letters in a Box

Ophelia Puts Magnetic Letters in a Box

Lakeshore Learning Alphabet Letters

Lakeshore Learning Magnetic Letters

Lakeshore Learning Magnetic Letters

If you really want to take things to the next level, these Lakeshore Learning Magnetic Letters are a wonderful teaching tool. If you have a child with a lot of patience, you can sit down side by side and build words together on magnetic white boards. This is something I used to love doing with my oldest daughter Ruby when she was younger.

Elliot and Ophelia Play with the Lakeshore Learning Magnetic Letters

Elliot and Ophelia Play with the Lakeshore Learning Magnetic Letters

In Conclusion

Magnetic letters can be a wonderful educational toy and teaching tool. By spending a little bit of time working on letters when your child is young, he or she will be much better prepared for preschool, kindergarten, reading, learning, and more. By making playtime fun and educational, children thrive as their brains are given permission to learn and grow at their own pace.

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