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Teach Your Child to Read by Age 3: A Free Reading Program

Teach Your Child to Read: A Free Reading Program

How DO children learn to read? Is anyone even asking that question anymore? Our government isn’t. The National Reading Panel submitted its findings about how children learn to read in 2000 and has not reconvened since, even though only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders are reading proficiently or above in the United States of America (according to 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress reports).

Well I am asking that question. I want to know how children learn to read. And you know what? I figured it out. I cracked the code. I learned…no, I discovered, that children can learn how to read EASILY by the age of 3. By applying what I learned while being a teacher for 7 years and getting my Master’s degree with an emphasis on Language Acquisition to teaching my own five children, I learned what they are truly capable of.

I created this reading program to give parents the tools to teach their children how to read by the age of 3. By starting this program when children are between 6-8 months of age, the learning can happen a little bit over a long period of time during a crucial time of brain development that will make learning how to read easy and fun. (Children can start this program at any age and still follow the same 8 steps, it may just require more repetition and time.)

This blog is a portal to a series of 8 blogs I have written that explain in full detail how to teach your child how to read. I have spent the last two years creating my own font, hand drawing and digitizing flashcards, creating videos, apps, and more because there is nothing out there that meets the needs of teaching children how to read from a young age. So, please, enjoy this free reading program and enjoy teaching your child how to read!

Teach Your Child to Read: A Free Reading Program

  1. How to Introduce Your Child to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3.  Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4.  Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6.  Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing
Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

My Journey of Discovery

When my daughter Ruby was 6 months old (She’s now 7 and the oldest of my 5 children.), I started watching word videos with her and teaching her the ABCs. There was a silent period as she was soaking everything in, but then at 15 months, she had a language EXPLOSION! Not only did she know her letter names and sounds, but she was able to read the words we had been working on. People would say,

“Yeah, but she just memorized those words”, and I would say, “Yes!!! Memorizing words is a part of reading!”

I continued to work with her and read with her, and by the time she was 3, she was reading books. I worked with my remaining four children in the same manner, and I have seen that this is not a fluke, but a pattern with every child. An interesting thing to note is that due to a big move and some life changes, we did not start these pre-reading activities with our second child, Elliot, when he was a baby. Instead, we followed the same steps as with our other children but at a later age, and he learned how to read when he was 5. I really started working on creating my reading program with our third child, Ophelia, and she was reading fluently by the time she was 2.5. I worked with our fourth child, Julian, in the same manner. He is 2 now, and not only reads many words but has an extensive vocabulary as well. Our fifth child, Jack, is 3 months old, and I’m just starting to read with him now!

Scott Reading with Ophelia

Scott Reading with Ophelia

Brain Development

But don’t just take my word for it, take a look at the fascinating way in which children’s brains develop. From 0-3 months of age, the 4th trimester if you will, there is not a lot of brain activity, then at 6 months of age, there is an EXPLOSION of synapses (where two neurons connect). This happens because of EXPERIENCES and INTERACTIONS.  (Check out this AMAZING visual here.)

Whatever babies experience and whatever they interact with lays the framework for ALL brain development. This explosion continues until the age of 2 when synaptic pruning occurs and the brain starts to take a “use it or lose it” approach. (Read more about how children’s brains are wired for learning here.) If you lay the foundation for reading WHILE there is a synaptic explosion and BEFORE synaptic pruning occurs, it will make learning to read so easy!

Neural_signaling-human_brain

How the Brain Transmits Signals – Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (2013) Gif created from Inside the Brain: Unraveling the Mystery of Alzheimer’s Disease

You Can Do It!!!

You don’t need to be a teacher, and you don’t need to know what you’re doing AT ALL in order to teach your child to read by the age of 3. If you go through my 8 steps and use the resources I’ve provided, you will be learning alongside your child in a fun and easy way. It makes me sad to know that only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders are proficient or above at reading in this great nation of ours, but it also makes me hopeful because I know that if as parents, we take on the task of teaching our children how to read from a young age, those numbers would turn around fast. But it’s not just about the numbers, I don’t teach my children how to read at a young age so they can be good at tests, I teach them so that they will have a LOVE of reading and use that to unlock the mysteries of the world for THEMSELVES.

1. Introduce Reading

When newborns arrive into the world, everything is new, and they need to be protected and sheltered as if they were in the womb. But then, starting at about 6-8 weeks when their brains have adjusted to this new outside world, they start to become responsive and crave human eye contact and interaction. This is where language begins. (See Jack and I having baby conversations here.) By the time babies are 3-4 months, they can hold their heads up, grab things, follow a moving object, and are more interested in shapes and patterns. This is the perfect time to start reading to your baby. Read my blog: How to Introduce Reading to Your Baby to see my tips for introducing reading to your baby as well as my favorite first books to read with babies.

How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

2. The Alphabet

Everyone knows that learning the ABCs is a crucial part of learning how to read, but did you know that children are totally capable of learning letter names and sounds by the time they are 15 months old? Why are we forcing children to wait until they are school aged when they WANT to learn earlier? The alphabet contains the building blocks of language, and when you teach babies starting at 6-8 months of age what this code means, their brains will weave this knowledge into its frameworks instead of trying to find a place to force it in later.

I have spent the last two years hand drawing my own font and creating flashcards, posters, a video, and an app (well, my husband made that) that will teach children the alphabet completely and thoroughly. Trust me, there is nothing else out in the market like this, and this is the reason why I was compelled to made it. So, check out my blog: Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading and you can have free access to all of my resources, plus tips on teaching the alphabet, and additional resources that will make it SO EASY to teach your baby (or child of any age) the ABCs.

Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

3. Memorizing Words

People are always blown away when my little ones can read words while they are learning how to speak them. Teaching children how to memorize words (starting at 6-8 months to be proficient by 12-15 months) as their oral language is developing is a perfect fit. This is a VERY important step in teaching children how to read and is missing from every existing reading program out there. Some programs teach children sight words, but I am not talking about sight words here. I am talking about teaching children that letters are used to form written words, that these written words have meaning, and that they can communicate with these written words.

I have carefully selected the words that I use in my flashcards, posters, video, and app to be meaningful to children. Check out my blog: Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do to learn more about the reasons why memorizing words is such a crucial part of learning how to read and to get teaching tips, all of my resources for free, and recommendations for additional resources that will help you to easily teach your child to memorize words.

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

4. Building Vocabulary

Children are naturally curious about the world around them. They want to explore, make a mess, figure out what everything is, see how things work, and learn what everything is called. As parents, we are their guides to this world, and the best way to teach them about it is to follow their lead and explain whatever they are holding and whatever they are interested in. In doing so, we are building their background knowledge which will aid tremendously in their reading comprehension abilities.

In these vocabulary resources, I have focused on creating materials that will help children learn colors, numbers, and shapes because these are as fundamental and foundational as learning the ABCs. Everything children learn is in layers, and if they can start at the bottom and work their way up in complexity, everything will stay in their zone of proximal development and be retained. Read my blog: Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes to get access to my flashcards, books, links to additional resources, and tips for helping children develop background knowledge.

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

5. Phonemic Awareness

Studies show that, “The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness“. But what is phonemic awareness?  Rooted in oral language, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds that the letters make. (There are 44 sounds in the English language; each sound is called a phoneme.) The first 26 sounds are fairly easy because they are directly correlated with the alphabet. (When first teaching the ABCs, I recommend starting with the short vowel sounds.) The next 18 are a bit tricky.

In my blog: Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success, I share resources that I have made to teach children (and adults) about the common spelling patterns used to make long vowels, other vowel sounds such as the long and short oo, r controlled vowels, and diphthongs, as well as digraphs.

Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

6. Phonics with Three Letter Words

Each letter has a name, each letter makes a sound, and when we put those sounds together we make words. This is phonics. After children are familiar with letter names, letter sounds, memorizing words, vocabulary, and phonemic awareness, they are ready to start building words. In most cases, children don’t start to learn about phonics until they are in school, and then they spend a LOT of time going over every possible way to spell words with a plethora of worksheets.

What I have found, is that by keeping the focus extremely basic (by just teaching three letter word families with short vowel sounds) that children will get the basic concept and be able to apply it to new words on their own. This is the Helen Keller water scene moment for children where they finally see how all of the pieces are connected and reading begins to occur “as if by magic”. Check out my blog: Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words to have access to all of my resources and recommendations for teaching phonics.

Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words (Part 6 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words (Part 6 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

7. Independent Readers

Reading is awesome. I love reading, and I love sharing my love of reading with my children. These days, I’m primarily into reading nonfiction research pertaining to blog topics that I want to write about. When my kids see me reading, I tell them what I’m reading and what I’m learning. My husband does the same thing. He’s very techy and is currently learning about programming. Not only does he share this knowledge with them, but he’s teaching them about programming as well. He also really loves fiction and reads his favorite Illustrated Classics with the older kids before bed every night.

I want our children to see our passions, to see how we learn, and to see our reasoning and thought processes for choosing what we do, not so that they can learn about the same things, but so they can follow their OWN passions. In my blog: Encouraging Children to Read Independently, I share my tips for creating a reading environment, tips on encouraging children to read independently, and my favorite reading resources for children of all ages.

Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

8. Enforcing Reading with Writing

When children are in kindergarten and preschool, they are taught to write letters WHILE they are learning how to read them. That is a LOT to do at once. Not only that, but the pace moves quickly and sequentially. If children learn letter names and letter sounds BEFORE they are introduced to writing, then they can just focus on writing and use it as a vehicle to reinforce what they learned about reading. Writing takes a lot of dexterity and fine motor control, and it’s not feasible to teach children how to write when they are babies like it is to teach them how to read.

That being said, there are things that you can do with children at a young age to prepare them for writing when they are ready. In my blog, Reinforcing Reading with Writing, I share my resources that will help prepare children for writing in addition to my favorite writing resources that will make learning how to write easy and fun.

Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

In Conclusion

There is a magic window to teach your child how to read between the ages of 6 months and 2 years of age. During this time, the brain is laying its foundation based on experiences and interactions. If we take advantage of this window and teach children the letter names and sounds, how to memorize words, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, how to sound out three letter words and do so through quality literature, then learning how to read will come easily and occur naturally “as if by magic”. When we start pre-reading activities with our children when they are very young, the lessons can be simple, sparse, and short. Spreading a little out over a long period of time is a much easier approach than waiting for a ridiculously long time and then cramming in a lot over a short period of time.

But even if you haven’t started with your child at a young age, it’s not too late. You may have to work a little harder to make these steps exciting and engaging for an older child, but rest assured that if you follow this process, your child will learn how to read. By presenting children with the gift of reading, not only will they have complete access to the world around them, but they will be able to follow their own passions, read about their own interests, and go farther than you could have ever possibly imagined.

How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

When should you start reading to your child? The answer is…right now! I mean really, you can start reading while your baby is still in the womb. Babies develop their sense of hearing at 18 weeks and can respond to noise at 25 weeks. The cadence (the flow of language) and prosody (tune and rhythm) of reading sounds are different than normal speech and children can become attuned to them in the womb. It’s easy for your baby to pick this up when you have other children that you’re reading to, but if you don’t, don’t be embarrassed to read to your belly! (This is the best book to read in utero.)

I like to start reading regularly with my babies when they are about 3-4 months old. At this point, they can hold their heads up, grab things, follow a moving object, and are more interested in shapes and patterns. The neural brain explosion occurs when babies are 6 months old, so you definitely want to make sure you’re reading by then.

What You’re Teaching

Here are some of the things babies are learning when you start reading with them.

  • What books are
  • How to hold a book
  • How to turn pages
  • Reading happens from left to right
  • Books have words and pictures
  • How to interact with books (get interactive books)
  • What a reading voice sounds like (the cadence and prosody of reading)
  • That reading is special and fun

How to Read with Your Baby

First of all, you need to make reading special. Get stacks of really good books that your baby will love, and put them near your rocking chair, the couch, and your arm chair. (I like keeping my books in baskets like this.) Make sure your baby is fed, rested, and happy, and then introduce a book. At first, babies will interact with a new book as they would any other toy, but after reading it over and over and over again, you will be completely blown away when your baby starts to recognize it. With some books, I also enjoy turning it into a song.

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

Usborne Books

I am an Usborne book consultant because I LOVE their books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading. If you purchase books through these links (which will lead you to my own Usborne website), I will make a commission, so I thank you kindly.

  • Home Library Starter – This is a great collection to start your library for a baby. It has a little bit of everything and will get your baby on the right track towards reading.
  • Baby’s Very First Black and White Library – The contrast of this black and white set makes these books perfect for newborns. Get the boxed set here.
  • Fold Out Books – These books are visually striking, and I like how they can create a scene that stands upright.
  • Baby’s Very First Stroller Books – These sturdy brightly colored books include an elastic attachment to affix the book to a stroller or baby gym.
  • Baby’s First Noisy Books – These engaging board books have a sound panel to the right that makes the book come to life.
  • Baby’s First Slide and See – These interactive books have a simple slide mechanism that adds an interesting motion to each book. They are very sturdy and can withstand inquisitive little fingers.
  • Baby’s First Playbook – These books have bright and interesting pictures with interactive elements like texture and lift the flap. They are very sturdy.
  • Baby’s First Bus Book – I love the thick cardboard wheels on this bus that actually turn and help the book stand up plus the bright and colorful illustrations.
  • Touchy Feely Board Books (That’s not my..) – These board books are very cute and simple with lots of interesting texture and repeated patterns. My older children even love them! This boxed set about zoo animals is a great collection.

My Favorite Cloth Books

Board books are great, but for babies 3-6 months of age, I really love cloth books…especially when they start chewing on everything! There are so many different cloth books out there, but these are the ones that have stood the test of time for all five children. (*Note: These are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

  • Discovery Farm – This cloth book has many moving parts and is very engaging. I bought this for Ruby and still have it for baby #5!
  • Peek-a-Boo Forest – Lamaze always has great toys and books. This cute little cloth book about an owl is wonderful.
  • Fuzzy Bee – This cloth book is another favorite that we have used with all five kids. I love the little animals and interactive parts and so do our babies!
  • Sunny Day Come and Play – This is another family favorite cloth book with great interactive pages. It’s made by Manhattan Toy, and I love pretty much everything they make.
  • Peekaboo, I Love You – This is another Lamaze cloth book that I LOVE. Peekaboo is such a fun baby game and incorporating it into reading is just a wonderful idea. My babies love this book!

In Conclusion

Reading with your baby shouldn’t be something you have to schedule in or even feel guilty about if you haven’t done it in awhile. If you set up an environment that is full of language rich experiences and lots of books, it will be easy to find moments here and there that are just right to snuggle up with a good book. If your baby is sitting on your lap, fed and content, and you’re wondering what to do beside having those wonderful face to face baby conversations, pick up a book and read it together!

Check out the next blog in my teach your child to read series: Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading

Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the ABCs is absolutely the foundation for learning how to read. It is where reading begins, and it is where reading can fall apart at a later age if it isn’t taught correctly. By working with children from a young age on the alphabet, they will have a solid foundation in reading skills that will make learning how to read a breeze.

Learning the ABCs means learning the letter names (both capital and lower case letters) and the letter sounds. In the first introduction to the alphabet, it’s important to keep it simple and start with the short vowels as well as the hard c and g. Later on, using my Phonemic Awareness resources, children will learn about the remaining sounds that make up the 44 sounds in the English language.

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children the alphabet is between 6-8 months of age. Are you thinking, “Really? Why so young?” Well, I’ll tell you, children’s brains start EXPLODING with growth at this age (read more about the brain development of children here), and if you can add input to the framework while it’s being built, it makes learning to read SO EASY.

When I was an elementary school teacher, I thought that preschool was the time to introduce the alphabet to children. But then when I applied what I had learned as an elementary school teacher (and while getting my Master’s degree with an emphasis on Language Acquisition) with my own children, I was BLOWN AWAY when our first daughter knew all of her letter names and sounds by 15 months and was READING by the age of three.

What I learned was that if I started young, I only had to teach my daughter the ABCs for few minutes here and there. You can certainly start with children at any age, however, and learning how to read will still follow the same progression. But if you wait until the child is older, learning the ABCs can be pretty boring so you’ll need to make it more exciting with fun, hands on, kinesthetic, and engaging activities. (Think Pinterest.)  You’ll also need to do longer and more consistent lessons because instead of building neural connections, you’re rewiring them, and that’s harder to do.

How to Teach

I have found that it’s best to teach the letter names, letter sounds, word, and picture simultaneously. When I start teaching my children the ABCs, I’ll make a couple sets of my flashcards and keep them in places where we have routines, like in my rocking chair and at the breakfast table.

If you can find a few minutes to do use the flashcards a week and show the ABC video a few times per week, in addition to using the other resources I’ve made and link to later, then your child should learn their ABCs in about 6-8 months. All of my children knew their ABCs by 15 months.

When I start using the flashcards with my children for the first time, I read through them rather quickly and show the video for as long as I can hold their interest. I like to chant (you’ll hear it in my ABC video), “A is for apple, a, a, apple” and do this for each letter. (Here is a video of me doing the chant with 14 month old Ophelia. You’ll also get to see what the first draft of my flashcards looked like!) I also put up posters (especially near the diaper changing table), read ABC books, play with ABC toys, and watch other ABC videos. Immersion is the best way to learn!

Ophelia Playing with Fridge Letter Magnets

Ophelia Playing with Fridge Letter Magnets

Learning the ABC song is also a key part of learning the alphabet because it helps to teach the order of the letters and gives children a way to remember all of the letters at once. I love going to YouTube and finding ABC song videos that my children enjoy to add to my playlist. You can check out my extensive ABC collection here. At the end of my ABC video, my children sing the ABC song several times.

As my children get older and more familiar with the flashcards, I will start to ask them, “What is this?” for each card, and whether they say the letter name, letter sound, or word associated with the letter, I praise them equally because each answer is correct. If they don’t say anything after about three seconds, I’ll say it. Once my children are familiar with the letter names and sounds, and word associated with each letter, I’ll start to introduce more words that start with each letter and point out words they know while reading.

Ophelia Reading an ABC Book

Ophelia Reading an ABC Book

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

If you are going to be making these, I highly recommend getting the following supplies:

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like buying this big pack because it’s good to have plenty of laminating sheets for flashcards, posters, art projects, and more.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.
  • Long Arm Stapler – This is for making the books. You will love having a long arm stapler for a variety of reasons.
  • Premium Paper – I recommend using this paper for making the books. The paper is a little thicker and smoother.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut in half horizontally and vertically.
  3. Laminate – Arrange four cut out pieces into the laminate pouch. Make sure there is a bigger space between the cards in the middle since it will need to be cut horizontally and vertically again. (If you don’t leave extra laminate around all sides, it will peel.)
  4. Cut Again – If you stayed pretty consistent with the positions of the cards in the laminate, you should be able to cut a big stack of them at once.
  5. Assemble – Put them together in order.
  6. Hole Punch – I like to angle each corner into the three hole punch and can do several cards at once with a heavy duty hole puncher. Put two holes on top in the corners.
  7. Rings – I like using the 1/4″ rings.

To Make the Book

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on premium paper.
  2. Cut – Cut in half horizontally on the dotted line.
  3. Assemble – Put the top half that you cut on top of the bottom half.
  4. Staple – Use a long arm stapler to staple three times on top of the dark dashes.
  5. Fold – I find it’s best to fold and crease each page open so that it will stay open when you lay it flat.

To Make the Linear Poster

  1. Print – Print on card stock.
  2. Trim the Edges – Cut 1/8″ from each side…basically cut off anything that is white.
  3. Cut in Half – Cut in the middle horizontally.
  4. Tape Together – I like using packing tape and taping alternately from the back and then on the front so that it will fold up, but if you’re going to hang it up right away, it really doesn’t matter.

To Make the All Together Poster

  1. Print – Print on card stock. *You can also bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size. 
  2. Laminate – Laminating this will ensure that it will last for a long time, but you don’t have to.

1. ABC Flashcards

I created these ABC flashcards because I was pretty disappointed with the flashcards that are out there. First of all, many cards confuse children by using things like ape for a where children may think it’s actually a monkey, or they’ll use digraphs for words (like cheese for c). My flashcards have an easily recognizable image, feature only short vowels, the hard c and g, and have no confusing digraphs, diphthongs, or r-controlled vowels. It was also hard to find ABC flashcards that had the upper and lowercase letters, picture, and word all in one space. I also created my own font because many fonts used in flashcards on the market today use archaic old-style typefaces that don’t accurately depict how children are taught to write letters.

ABC Flashcards

ABC Flashcards

ABC Flashcards, A Page

ABC Flashcards, A Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: ABC Flashcards Single Set

2. ABC Video

This ABC video is designed to bring my flashcards to life! After a brief intro, this 22 minute ABC Video shows the flashcards while I say the letter chant. This is followed by images and videos of my children that bring the words to life. Not only will children be engaged while learning the letter names and sounds, but they will be building vocabulary as well.

Don’t just stick your child in front of this video and walk away! Watch it WITH your child. Say the words along with the video, and praise your child when they get a word right. Eventually, your child will become extremely familiar with the video, and then you can use it as a babysitter from time to time, just don’t do so initially.

3. ABC Book

This book has the same letters, pictures, and words as the flashcards, but in a different format. I like this book format because it’s a little easier to assemble than the flashcards and introduces children to the principles of reading a book.

ABC Book

ABC Book

Inside View of ABC Book

Inside View of ABC Book

4. ABC Picture Poster

This alphabet poster combines all of the graphics from my alphabet flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this poster and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

ABC Poster

ABC Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: ABC Poster Full Page

4. Linear Poster

It’s nice for children to see a linear version of the alphabet all together as well. I really like keeping this hung up above my diaper changing station and another one at the eye level of my little ones in a high traffic area.

ABC Linear Poster

ABC Linear Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: ABC Linear Poster

5. Android Alphabet Explorer App

My husband brought my ABC Video to life in a new format. Children can click on a menu featuring each letter of the alphabet to see its letter chant, images, and video. They can also go directly to the ABC songs. This is for Android devices only.

Alphabet Explorer App

Alphabet Explorer App

Get the Alphabet Explorer App here.

Additional Resources

In addition to my homemade resources, these are the things I have purchased that have made a HUGE impact on my children’s learning. I recommend the first three at least as MUST HAVES. If you use these resources often, your child will learn the ABCs so fast it will make your head spin! (*Note: Some of these are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

  • *Preschool Prep – This company makes REMARKABLE videos and I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the whole pack. They have a wonderful letter name video and a letter sound video that is highly engaging for little ones and really enforces learning all of the letter names and letter sounds.
  • *ABC Bath Letters – Making the letters a toy is a great idea! During bath time you can talk to your little ones about letter names and letter sounds in a fun and silly way. (For example, “Look at my dancing A, she likes to stand on my head!”)
  • *Starfall – This amazing online resource has everything you need to teach your child pretty much everything he or she needs to learn pertaining to reading and math through grade 2. I love starting out with the interactive ABCs that are great for teaching letter names, letter sounds, and vocabulary. This part is free, the rest of the site is $35/year, and SOOOOOOOOO worth it. Here’s a video of Ophelia using Starfall. They also have numerous apps.
  • Leapfrog Fridge Magnet Set – This is great for children starting at about 12-18 months, or whenever they are walking and developing fine motor skills. Here’s a video of our 21 month old daughter, Ophelia, using them.
  • Leapfrog Tablet – I look for tablets like these at garage sales and thrift stores. They are a fun way for young children to reinforce learning the letter names and sounds in a way that makes them feel like they have their own computer. Here’s a video of Ophelia using a Leapfrog tablet.
  • Robot Letters – If you are teaching an older child the ABCs, especially one who likes robots and transformers, this is a great resource!
  • Dr. Suess’s ABC – This book has been an absolute favorite with each of our kids (probably because I love it so much). Find whatever ABC books YOU love to read, like Chica Chica Boom Boom, Elmo’s ABC Book, this textured ABC Alphabet Fun book, Sandra Boynton’s A to ZThe Alphabet Book, or anything else you can find at garage sales, thrift stores, and hand-me-downs.
  • Endless Alphabet App – I would say that this app is best for children 2 and older and is a GREAT way to reinforce letter names and sounds.
  • Storybots – My kids LOVE these videos! They are great for older children and reinforcing letter names and words that start with that letter. They have a great ABC app and tons of other great learning videos.

Usborne Books

I am an Usborne book consultant because I LOVE their books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading. If you purchase books through these links (which will lead you to my own Usborne website), I will make a commission, so I thank you kindly.

  • Alfie and Bet’s ABC – Children will love this colorful ABC pop-up book.
  • Very First ABC – The cute board book is a great introduction to the ABCs.
  • Alphabet Picture Book – This is a great book to “read” together as you look for the pictures that go with each letter.
  • B is for Bedtime – This rhyming A – Z bedtime routine book is a great book for a bedtime routine.
  • Illustrated Alphabet – This cloth bound foil book with slip case is simply beautiful and features a funny zoo animal and rhyming story for each letter. This is great for a read aloud/read together.
  • ABC Sticker Book – Children affix letter picture stickers over the letters in this book.
  • Alphabet Sticker Book – This would really be for an older child reinforcing beginning sounds, but the word matching for each letter is a great review.
  • Alphabet Beginning Level – This is the type of resource you would want to use with an older child learning the ABCs to make it more fun and engaging. It is basically a system of matching and self correcting cards. It requires this base plate that can be used with several other learning packs as well. Click here to see an animated demo (you need flash player).

In Conclusion

Teaching your children the ABCs at a young age is one of the best gifts you can give to them. In doing so, they will have a solid foundation in the skill of reading which will make it that much easier to develop a love of reading. Children who love reading can access the entire world, follow their passions, and unlock the doors to their destiny.

Check out the next blog in my reach your child to read series: Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

As children are learning about letter names and letter sounds, it’s important for them to simultaneously learn that letters are used to form words and that words carry meaning. Memorizing words is a MUCH bigger part of reading than people realize. Once a word is memorized, it doesn’t need to be sounded out. (I’ll talk about sounding out words in part 5.)

When creating my resources, I chose common words that children would hear often and that would be useful to know. Many times, people have children memorize “sight words” like the, from, and said, but these words don’t have an easily discernable meaning like the ones I have chosen here. My feelings about “sight words” or “frequently used words” is that since they are so frequently used, it seems redundant to memorize them in isolation when children will encounter them repeatedly while engaged with quality literature. But I digress…

I don’t include any pictures with these words resources because I want children to memorize the shape of the word as if it were a picture. I want them to understand the entire meaning of the word. I also chose many words that require actions. As children learn these words, I recommend bringing them to life and using the flashcards in conjunction with my Words Video as well as your own motions.

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children to memorize words is between 6-8 months of age. This is when the neurons in their brain are exploding with growth! I recommend starting with the ABCs FIRST, but then introducing these words shortly thereafter. The ABCs are the smallest snippets of written language, more easily identifiable, and easier to memorize as a set, but children need to see pretty quickly what these letters are being used for.

How I Discovered the Importance of Memorizing Words

When my daughter Ruby (my first of five) was 6 months old, I started showing her the Your Baby Can Read videos (now called Your Baby Can Learn…people got mad about the claims that babies could read and so they have had to rebrand themselves). They were simple, engaging, and effective. While watching the videos together, she was always engaged, but she never vocalized anything until after about 10 months. (This is the silent period of language acquisition where children are little sponges taking everything in, but not yet speaking.)

Then at about 12-14 months old, she expressed an explosion of language! She started out by saying the beginning sounds of the words and eventually words by the dozen. By the time she was 15 months old, I would write down words from the video and she would read them! Then I started adding more words pertaining to things she liked: cat, walk, moon, mom, dad, Ruby, etc. and after repeated exposure, she would read those too.

People who saw her do this would be blown away, but they would say, “She’s not reading those words, she just memorized them.” And I would say,

“YES, MEMORIZING WORDS IS A PART OF READING!!!”

We are so trained to think that words need to be sounded out, and yes, that is a part of reading too, but once a word has been sounded out over and over again, it becomes MEMORIZED.

How to Teach

At birth, a newborn’s brain contains 100 billion neurons, but it’s not the neurons that are so fascinating as is the connections between them. When two neurons connect, the path between them is covered in a fatty myelin sheath. The more something is done or used, the thicker the myelin sheath gets and the faster the connection becomes. When children learn the same thing (like memorizing words) over and over and over again, the speed of recognition increases until it is automatic and instantaneous.

A synapse is basically the space where two neurons connect, and when children are 6 months old, there is an EXPLOSION of synapse formations, this continues until the age of 2 when synaptic pruning begins to occur. So basically, whatever isn’t used goes away to strengthen what is being utilized in the child’s environment. (Check out this AMAZING visual here.) That is why it is CRUCIAL to lay the foundation for brain development with the right things, and why it is imperative to start at a young age. Memorizing words is a HUGE part of learning how to read, and if it can be introduced before the age of two it will be part of the brain’s framework.

I highly recommend using the Words Flashcards with my Words Video because these words need to be brought to life! I also recommend finding at least 5 minutes three times per week to teach these words. As you read through these words with your child, remember them so that when you’re going about your day you can talk about their meaning and point them out. I really like writing words down in a little book, on a white board, or on a piece of paper for us to color over as well.

Reading with Julian

Reading with Julian

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

If you are going to be making these, I highly recommend getting the following supplies:

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like buying this big pack because it’s good to have plenty of laminating sheets for flashcards, posters, art projects, and more.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.
  • Long Arm Stapler – This is for making the books. You will love having a long arm stapler for a variety of reasons.
  • Premium Paper – I recommend using this paper for making the books. The paper is a little thicker and smoother.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut in half horizontally and vertically.
  3. Laminate – Arrange four cut out pieces into the laminate pouch. Make sure there is a bigger space between the cards in the middle since it will need to be cut horizontally and vertically again. (If you don’t leave extra laminate around all sides, it will peel.)
  4. Cut Again – If you stayed pretty consistent with the positions of the cards in the laminate, you should be able to cut a big stack of them at once.
  5. Assemble – Put them together in order.
  6. Hole Punch – I like to angle each corner into the three hole punch and can do several cards at once with a heavy duty hole puncher. Put two holes on top in the corners.
  7. Rings – I like using the 1/4″ rings.

To Make the Book

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on premium paper.
  2. Cut – Cut in half horizontally on the dotted line.
  3. Assemble – Put the top half that you cut on top of the bottom half.
  4. Staple – Use a long arm stapler to staple three times on top of the dark dashes.
  5. Fold – I find it’s best to fold and crease each page open so that it will stay open when you lay it flat.

To Make the Poster

  1. Print – Print on card stock. *You can also bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size. 
  2. Laminate – Laminating this will ensure that it will last for a long time, but you don’t have to.

1. Words Flashcards

I carefully chose this selection of words based on the words my own children have been most interested in and the words that I felt would have the greatest chance of being used in their environment. I have also included words with suffixes (word endings). I have some verbs with an -ing ending (present progressive…meaning that it is happening right now or will happen) and many plural suffixes (meaning more than one). It is not important for children to know what a suffix is, but it is important for them to notice the root word (like clap in clapping) to see that it can look differently.

Words Flashcards

Words Flashcards

Words Flashcards, Yes

Words Flashcards, Yes

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Words Flashcards Single Set

2. Words Video

This Words Video is designed to bring my flashcards to life! After a brief intro, this 31 minute video shows the flashcards followed by images and videos of my children that will give each word meaning. Not only will children be engaged while learning these words, but they will be building vocabulary and memorizing words as well.

Don’t just stick your child in front of this video and walk away! Watch it WITH your child. Say the words along with the video, and praise your child when they get a word right. Eventually, your child will become extremely familiar with the video, and then you can use it as a babysitter from time to time, just don’t do so initially.

3. Words Book

This book has the same words as the flashcards, but in a different format. I like this book format because it’s a little easier to assemble than the flashcards and introduces children to the principles of reading a book.

Words Book

Words Book

Inside View of the Words Book

Inside View of the Words Book

Get a PDF of the book here: Words Printable Book

4. Words Posters

These Words and Words with Suffixes Posters combine all of the words I have used in the flashcards and video in one easy to see resource. I like putting these on the wall in multiple locations, using them as placements, bringing them with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Words Poster

Words Poster

Get a PDF of the Words poster here: Words Poster

Words with Suffixes Poster

Words with Suffixes Poster

Get a PDF of the Words with Suffixes poster here: Words with Suffixes Poster

5. Android Words Explorer App

My husband brought my Words Video to life in a new format. Children can click on a menu featuring each word to the the corresponding video. This is for Android devices only.

Words App

Words App

Get the Words Explorer App here.

Additional Resources

Children will memorize words that they see over and over and over again. This is best done through repeated reading. Here are some of the books I have enjoyed reading repeatedly with my little ones. I like making reading part of my routines like going to bed, morning reading, and reading before rest time. (*Note: These are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

Words Books

  • Baby’s First Words – I LOVE how this book is thick, has a sturdy puffy cover, and has simple images surrounded by white with one word below to describe it. This is great for building vocabulary and teaching children new words. The Hinkler company is amazing and everything they make is great.
  • First 100 Words – This book has an array of boxes on a page with many pictures with a word underneath falling into a variety of different categories. It’s a great tool for teaching the names of things.
  • Let’s Talk – Children will love pressing the buttons that make sounds for the corresponding pictures. It’s a great way to bring these basic words to life.
  • Tails – This is one of my favorite books of all time. It is SUPER sturdy and every page is brightly colored, flashy, and has some sort of movement you can facilitate. What a great way to teach words! There’s also a similar book called Heads that is equally amazing.
  • Bard’s Rhyme Time – Finding books with a rhyming pattern makes figuring out the last word super easy. I love the flaps in this book and pausing before the last word to give my little one a chance to say it.

Bedtime/Morningtime Books

  • Pajama Time – Anything by Sandra Boynton is great for babies. I love turning this book into a little song. All of our kids have LOVED this as part of their bedtime routine.
  • The Going to Bed Book – This is another Boynton book and another family favorite.
  • Maisy Goes to Bed – This book is interactive and very cute. There is also a Maisy cartoon show which helps little ones to become even more familiar with the books.
  • Bedtime Peekaboo! – This board book is very short and simple with pages that fold out. I love reading it at night with my little ones.
  • 10 Minutes till Bedtime – This is another all time favorite book. There is minimal text, but so many details to point out in the pictures that make it a different experience every time we read it.
  • Hey! Wake Up! – This Sandra Boynton book makes a great morning routine with it’s cute characters and rhyming text.

Sight Word Videos

Even though I’m not a big fan of teaching sight words, I love how these videos personify each word by making it come to life and act out the meaning of the word, which is the most important part.

Usborne books

I am an Usborne book consultant because I LOVE their books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading. If you purchase books through these links (which will lead you to my own Usborne website), I will make a commission, so I thank you kindly.

  • My First Word Books – In this collection, there are books about words, farms, food, about me, and things that go. Each book features 270 words with simple and engaging pictures.
  • Learn Words with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book while they lift the flaps to learn about first words.
  • Lift the Flap Words – This bright lift the flap book gives children lots of practice naming basic words in a fun and engaging way.
  • Very First Books of Things to Spot – There are three books in this series. The first one is in general, the next is at home, and the last is out and about. There are no words, only pictures, but it’s great for oral language development.
  • Lift and Look Board Books – This series features books about constructions sites, dinosaurs, planes, tractors, trains, and under the sea. Children will love lifting the flaps in these sturdy books.

In Conclusion

Memorizing words is a very important part in the first stages of reading because children need to see that letters are used to make words and that words convey meaning. In addition, memorizing words is a much bigger part of reading than people think. Once children memorize the first set of words from my flashcards and video, they will be ready to memorize words in the context of quality literature. If you read rhyming text, do repeated reading with the same books over and over, point to words occasionally as you’re reading with your child, pause to let them fill in the words they know while pointing to them, and make reading fun and part of your daily routines – your child will memorize words and be on their way to independent reading!

Check out the next blog in my teach your child to read series: Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning how to read depends heavily on a child’s background knowledge. Also called schema, prior knowledge, or just plain experience; basically it’s what happens when children make connections to what they are reading. This greatly increases their reading comprehension. Reading isn’t just sounding out letters on a page, it is finding meaning in written words. By teaching children numbers, colors, and shapes, it will give them the basic vocabulary to start understanding written text. I have chosen to focus my initial vocabulary development on these categories because they are EVERYWHERE in a child’s environment.

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children about numbers, colors, and shapes is between 8-12 months of age. At this time, the neurons in their brains are exploding with growth! If you’re following my program, I recommend starting with the ABCs first, then introduce memorizing words, and when you feel like your child is ready (don’t overwhelm him or her), start adding numbers, colors, and shapes one at a time.

How to Teach

The way something becomes committed to long term memory is consistent repetition over a long period of time. The reason I love starting to teach my children how to read when they are super young is that it really doesn’t take much effort at all. By spending a few minutes here and there throughout the day teaching your child about numbers, colors, and shapes, after about 6-8 months, they should know them really well.

I like keeping several sets of my flashcards around the house and incorporate them into my daily routines. When my little ones start eating solid food, I find that this is a great time to watch videos and do flashcards. I love using  the videos on KidsTV123 and Busy Beavers to teach numbers, colors, and shapes. I also link to several other resources at the end of this article that will make teaching fun and easy.

Ophelia Counting Bears in a Mini Muffin Tin

Ophelia Counting Bears in a Mini Muffin Tin

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

If you are going to be making these, I highly recommend getting the following supplies:

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like buying this big pack because it’s good to have plenty of laminating sheets for flashcards, posters, art projects, and more.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.
  • Long Arm Stapler – This is for making the books. You will love having a long arm stapler for a variety of reasons.
  • Premium Paper – I recommend using this paper for making the books. The paper is a little thicker and smoother.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut in half horizontally and vertically.
  3. Laminate – Arrange four cut out pieces into the laminate pouch. Make sure there is a bigger space between the cards in the middle since it will need to be cut horizontally and vertically again. (If you don’t leave extra laminate around all sides, it will peel.)
  4. Cut Again – If you stayed pretty consistent with the positions of the cards in the laminate, you should be able to cut a big stack of them at once.
  5. Assemble – Put them together in order.
  6. Hole Punch – I like to angle each corner into the three hole punch and can do several cards at once with a heavy duty hole puncher. Put two holes on top in the corners.
  7. Rings – I like using the 1/4″ rings.

To Make the Books

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on premium paper.
  2. Cut – Cut in half horizontally on the dotted line.
  3. Assemble – Put the top half that you cut on top of the bottom half.
  4. Staple – Use a long arm stapler to staple three times on top of the dark dashes.
  5. Fold – I find it’s best to fold and crease each page open so that it will stay open when you lay it flat.

To Make the Posters

  1. Print – Print on card stock. *You can also bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size. 
  2. Laminate – Laminating this will ensure that it will last for a long time, but you don’t have to.

Numbers

Learning that one object represents one thing (one to one principal) is the KEY to understanding all future math. When using these flashcards, practice pointing to each object as you count them.

1. Numbers Flashcards

These numbers flashcards only go to ten, but I HIGHLY recommend continuously adding on to that. Once children reach 10, go to 20, then 100. Have them practice counting by 10s and talking about even and odd as well. This will help them to really excel in math as they get older.

Numbers Flashcards

Numbers Flashcards

Numbers Flashcards, 2 Page

Numbers Flashcards, 2 Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Numbers Flashcards Single Set

2. Numbers Book

This Numbers Book has the same numbers and pictures as the Numbers Flashcards but in a different format. I like this book format because it’s a little easier to assemble than the flashcards and introduces children to the principles of reading a book.

Numbers Book

Numbers Book

Inside View of Numbers Book

Inside View of Numbers Book

Get a PDF of the book here: Numbers Printable Book

3. Numbers Poster

This Numbers Poster combines all of my Numbers Flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Numbers Poster

Numbers Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Numbers Poster

Shapes

Learning about shapes lays the foundation for geometry. First, children should learn the names of the shapes and then they can learn about their attributes. Once children are familiar with the names of the shapes, you can start talking about their attributes by asking questions like: How many sides does this shape have? Are all of the sides equal in length? How many corners (vertices) are there? Are the sides across from each other going the same way (parallel)? Do you see any right angles? The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives is a great resource for young children who are ready to learn more. Just check out their geometry section.

1. Shapes Flashcards

These shapes flashcards cover the basic shapes that children will encounter at a young age. Yes, there are sooooooo many more shapes to learn, and you should talk to your child about those once they master these, but these shapes are a GREAT place to start.

Shapes Flashcards

Shapes Flashcards

Inside View of Shapes Flashcards

Inside View of Shapes Flashcards

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Shapes Flashcards Single Set

2. Shapes Book

This Shapes Book has the same information as the Shapes Flashcards, just in a different format. I like this book format because it’s a little easier to assemble than the flashcards and introduces children to the principles of reading a book.

Shapes Book

Shapes Book

Inside View of the Shapes Book

Inside View of the Shapes Book

Get a PDF of the book here: Numbers Printable Book

3. Shapes Poster

This Shapes Poster combines all of my Shapes Flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Shapes Poster

Shapes Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Shapes Poster

Colors

Colors are a very easy attribute that children can readily recognize. As children are developing their vocabulary, describing the colors of things is a very easy thing for them to do that will build their confidence in language development. When children are familiar with the color words, start asking them what things are that color. “What things are red?” When children are holding an object, ask them what color it is. If they don’t know or say the wrong thing, tell them right away what it is.

1. Colors Flashcards

These color flashcards cover the basic colors that children will encounter in their environment. Once your child has mastered these colors, I definitely recommend teaching more. Using crayon labels is a great way to learn the names of more colors!

Colors Flashcards

Colors Flashcards

Inside Page of Colors Flashcards

Inside Page of Colors Flashcards

Get a PDF of the poster here: Colors Flashcards Single Set

2. Colors Book

This Colors Book has the same information as the Colors Flashcards, just in a different format. I like this book format because it’s a little easier to assemble than the flashcards and introduces children to the principles of reading a book.

Colors Book

Colors Book

Inside Page of Colors Book

Inside Page of Colors Book

Get a PDF of the book here: Colors Printable Book

3. Colors Poster

This Colors Poster combines all of my Colors Flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Colors Poster

Colors Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Colors Poster

Usborne books

I am an Usborne book consultant because I LOVE their books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading. If you purchase books through these links (which will lead you to my own Usborne website), I will make a commission, so I thank you kindly.

Numbers Resources

  • Learn Numbers with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book where they lift the flaps to learn about numbers 1-10.
  • 123 Counting – Designed for babies, this fold out/stand up book has high-contrast black and white images and patterns that are easily recognizable for babies.
  • Usborne Very First 1 2 3 – This book only goes up to number five, but is a great introduction for little ones to numbers.
  • Count to 100 – I LOVE this book! Teaching children to count to 10 is great, but showing them what 100 means is AMAZING!
  • How Big is a Million? – Showing young children the concept of one million is phenomenal, and this cute book with a penguin does a wonderful job! It also comes with a poster.
  • First Numbers Sticker Book – This would be a resource for a bit of an older child to use independently. Using stickers is a great way to reinforce skills.

Shapes Resources

Colors Resources

  • Learn Colors with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book while they lift the flaps to learn about colors.
  • Lift the Flap Colors – This bright lift the flap book gives children lots of practice naming basic colors in a fun and engaging way.
  • Usborne Very First Colors – This beautifully illustrated book is not only good at teaching colors using basic images, but is great at teaching vocabulary as well.
  • Big Book of Colors – I love how this book introduces children to many different color variations such as turquoise, vermillion, and magenta.
  • First Colors Sticker Book – The sticker books are for a bit of an older child, but I love how this book helps to reinforce color recognition.

Additional Resources

Most of these resources are things I have used and loved with my own children, but I did have to throw in a few other things that are on my wish list. (*Note: Some of these are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

Numbers Resources

  • Meet the Numbers – This DVD is absolutely AMAZING at helping children to learn numbers. The images are simple, engaging, effective, and will hold your little one’s attention.
  • Ten Little Ladybugs – The raised ladybugs and the holes in the pages make it irresistible for little fingers. The rhyming text makes it very predictable to say the next number
  • First Numbers – Of all the number books we have in the house, this has been a favorite with every single one of our children. I love how it uses interesting images for each number and how it also shows larger numbers like 20, 50, and 100.
  • Magnetic Numbers – These magnetic numbers are a great way to teach numbers using a hands on resource. You’ll want a magnetic white board or some muffin tins with these.
  • 1-100 Numbers Poster – My kids LOVE this poster! It’s a great tool to teach children numbers up to 100. Make sure to hang it at their eye level.
  • Counting Car – This counting car from Lakeshore Learning is a GREAT way to teach children how to count.
  • Number Robots – This is for more for an older child, and is a great resource for reinforcing number with transforming robots.
  • Number Peg Boards – Peg boards are super fun as is, and these peg boards are a great way to learn about numbers and counting.

Shapes Resources

  • Meet the Shapes – This DVD is absolutely AMAZING at helping children to learn colors. The images are simple, engaging, effective, and will hold your little ones attention.
  • Shape by Shape – This book uses die-cut shapes to teach basic shapes like a triangle, crescent, semicircle, oval, and diamond by posing a simple question, “Do you know who I am?” Each page is vibrant with a minimal amount of text that allows the focus to be on the shape.
  • My Very First Book of Shapes (by Eric Carl) – This book uses Eric Carl’s chunky painting style to teach shapes if a very bright and colorful way.
  • Shape Sorting Center – Children can sort real life examples of shapes on to these shape sorting mats.
  • Pattern Blocks – Not only will children love playing with these shapes making beautiful patterns, but they will learn about shapes and their attributes through play.
  • 3-D Geometric Shapes Tub – These colorful solid plastic shapes are a fun hands-on way for children to learn about 3-D shapes.

Colors Resources

  • Meet the Colors – This DVD is absolutely AMAZING at helping children to learn colors. The images are simple, engaging, effective, and will hold your little ones attention.
  • Flaptastic Colors – This is the type of book you’ll want to have multiple copies of around the house! It is great for teaching little ones about colors and the interactive nature and extensive examples make it very engaging.
  • Curious Kittens: A Colors Book – The yarn that runs across each page is a true delight for babies to play with and a great way to learn colors.
  • My First Sorting Bears – Children can sort these cute little bears onto the color mats. I’m sure that children will like playing imagination games with these critters too!
  • Color Discovery Boxes – These color boxes come with a bunch of really cool objects that can be sorted by color.

In Conclusion

Oral language development is tied into reading more than people would think. As children interact with their environment, they need a guide (you) to help them provide them with the names of everything and to explain the world they are just learning about. Teaching numbers, colors, and shapes will give children some really basic descriptors that will help immensely with oral language development and will build background knowledge to create strong readers.

Check out the next blog in my Teach Your Child to Read series: Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success

Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Rooted in oral language, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds that the letters make. Each individual sound is called a phoneme, and we have 44 phonemes in the English language. Studies show that,

“The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness.”

When children first learn their ABCs, they become familiar with 26 letters and letter sounds. (I recommend starting with the short vowels as are in my ABC resources.) Once they have mastered this, they are ready to move on to identify the rest of the sounds. This can be tricky to teach because as adults, we may not even know how to identify the remaining sounds ourselves. Since I have a Master’s level education with an emphasis on language acquisition, this information was a little more easily identifiable for me, but I still had to do some research to get all of my ducks in a row.

The Remaining Sounds

These are the remaining sounds in the English language.

  • Long Vowels – In addition to teaching children about the long vowel sounds, I also want them to be introduced to common spelling patterns.
  • Long and Short oo – The oo in moon is long, and the oo in  book is short.
  • R Controlled Vowels – When a vowel is followed by an r, it makes a different sound.
  • Diphthongs – These gliding vowels start with the sound of the first letter and glide to the next.
  • Digraphs – Digraphs are two letters that come together to form one single sound.

Age to Start

Wait until your child has mastered the letter names and sounds from my ABC resources and has become familiar with my words and vocabulary resources before introducing these phonemic awareness resources. I would recommend starting these resources when your child is between 18 months to 24 months.

How to Teach

It’s really best to start gradually. With my children, once I saw that they had a solid understanding of the short vowels, I started to sneak in some long vowels too. So, for example, when we were reading through my ABC flashcards and we would say that “a is for apple”, I would also add “and a is for apron and ape too”.

I love resources like this Leapfrog Fridge Phonics Letter Magnets and this Preschool Prep Letter Sounds dvd because they teach children all of the sounds that each letter makes at once. While this is too overwhelming for your 6 month old baby who is just starting to become familiar with the alphabet, it’s great for your toddler who is ready to master a deeper level of understanding about ALL of the sounds that letters can make. Preschool Prep also makes a really engaging Meet the Digraphs dvd that is a GREAT way to introduce your child to digraphs.

Teaching the remaining letter sounds can seem overwhelming, but if like the rest of my resources, you start young and do a little bit at a time, your child will master the remaining letter sounds and have a great foundation for learning how to read. I do not have any books or videos with these resources, just flashcards and posters. I recommend introducing one set of flashcards at a time and putting up the posters where your little one can see and touch them, but most importantly, get to know these flashcards YOURSELF so that you can point them out while reading quality literature together.

It’s very important to have regular reading time when your child is at this stage. Reading should be fun, not a “set your timer” sort of chore. I find that by having a reading ready environment with tons of books in baskets easily accessible in every room, it makes reading easy to do. I love cuddling up with my little ones, getting some snacks, covering up with a favorite blanket, and getting really animated while we read our favorite books. This is the perfect time to start pointing out long vowels, the long and short oo, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs.

Reading with Elliot

Reading with Elliot

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

If you are going to be making these, I highly recommend getting the following supplies:

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like buying this big pack because it’s good to have plenty of laminating sheets for flashcards, posters, art projects, and more.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut in half horizontally and vertically.
  3. Laminate – Arrange four cut out pieces into the laminate pouch. Make sure there is a bigger space between the cards in the middle since it will need to be cut horizontally and vertically again. (If you don’t leave extra laminate around all sides, it will peel.)
  4. Cut Again – If you stayed pretty consistent with the positions of the cards in the laminate, you should be able to cut a big stack of them at once.
  5. Assemble – Put them together in order.
  6. Hole Punch – I like to angle each corner into the three hole punch and can do several cards at once with a heavy duty hole puncher. Put two holes on top in the corners.
  7. Rings – I like using the 1/4″ rings.

To Make the Posters

  1. Print – Print on card stock. *You can also bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size. 
  2. Laminate – Laminating this will ensure that it will last for a long time, but you don’t have to.

Long Vowels Flashcards

Long vowels are tricky because in our English language there are soooooooo many ways to spell them. Teaching children the common ways to make these long vowels will help them immensely as they start to read. When you start using these flashcards, focus first on the the picture and the word. Once your child is familiar with the picture and word, then you can start talking about the rule that makes the vowel long. If your child is ready for a challenge, start talking about other words that fit that rule. It’s all about layers, and teaching a little bit at a time over a long period of time.

Long Vowels Flashcards

Long Vowels Flashcards

Inside Long Vowels Flashcards, a_e Page

Inside Long Vowels Flashcards, a_e Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Long Vowels Flashcards

Long Vowels Posters

I have created one poster for each of the long vowels as well as one poster with all of the long vowels together. I like putting these on the wall in multiple locations, using them as placements, bringing them with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure. *Scroll down below all of the images to get the PDF that will have all posters in one file.

Long a Page

Long a Page

Long e Page

Long e Page

Long i Page

Long i Page

Long o Page

Long o Page

Long u Page

Long u Page

Long Vowels All Together Poster

Long Vowels All Together Poster

Get a PDF of the posters here: Long Vowels Posters

Other Vowels Flashcards

These other vowel sounds are tricky because they don’t really fit into the short or long vowel categories. First, there’s the long and short oo, followed by r-controlled vowels, and finally diphthongs. These vowels sounds aren’t something that most adults know how to properly name, so you may be learning alongside your child, and that’s okay!

Other Vowels Flashcards

Other Vowels Flashcards

Inside Other Vowels Flashcards with Diphtongs

Inside Other Vowels Flashcards with Diphthongs

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Other Vowels Flashcards

Other Vowels Posters

I have created one poster with all of the other vowel sounds together. I like putting this on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Other Vowel Sounds Poster

Other Vowel Sounds Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Other Vowel Sounds Poster

Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs are tricky because they are two letters that come together to form one single sound. When children don’t know about digraphs, it can make sounding out words like phone and them very difficult. As with the other vowels, you may not be familiar with all of the digraphs, and so once again, it’s totally fine to learn alongside your child!

Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs Flashcards

Inside Digraphs Flashcards, ph

Inside Digraphs Flashcards, ph

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs Poster

This digraphs poster has all of the digraphs from my flashcards in one location. I like putting this on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Digraphs Poster

Digraphs Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Digraphs Poster

In Conclusion

By learning about ALL of the sounds in the English language, children will have the code to unlock reading, and they don’t need to wait until they’re school aged and do piles of worksheets to do so. By using these flashcards and posters, both you and your child will learn how to name and identify the common spelling patterns with long vowels, the long and short oo, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs. When children are familiar with these sounds and how they are presented in text, it is best to reinforce this understanding by pointing them out while reading quality literature. So make reading fun, fill your house with quality literature with easily accessible books, and read often. (See blog 7 in this series, Encouraging Children to Read Independently for suggestions on quality literature.)

Check out the next blog in my Teach Your Child to Read series: Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words

Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

The best way to teach a child how to read, is to make reading enjoyable! When you love reading with your child, your child will know it, and he or she will develop a love of reading alongside you. By creating an environment that encourages reading, filling this environment with quality books, and making reading special, it will make reading happen naturally, easily, and without force.

Creating a Reading Environment

These are the ways that I have created a reading environment in my home.

  • Baskets of Books – I love having baskets of books in every room in the house, and several baskets in our living room areas. I love these cloth lined wicker baskets.

    Organizing My Books

    Organizing My Books

  • Build a Home Library of Books – To get your library started, go to thrift stores and garage sales to build the bulk of your collection. Once you start reading with your child, you’ll learn what he or she is into and get more books to satisfy his or her interests. Once you have a base collection, you can start adding new books that are really high quality, like these books from Usborne.
  • Trips to the Library – The librarians always look at me funny when I ask what the maximum number of books I can check out is (it’s 35). I love letting our kids pick out as many books as they want until we reach our limit. It’s always fun to have a new collection of books to read.

    Ruby Reading at the Library

    Ruby Reading at the Library

  • Little Chairs and/or Couches – Making little reading stations with small chairs, bean bags, or little couches makes reading so much fun and encourages children to read independently.
  • Comfy Reading Spots to Read Together – I love pulling my little ones onto my lap while sitting in a comfy rocking chair or snuggling up next to them on the couch. Near these spots, I make sure to keep baskets of books, blankets to snuggle up in, and maybe some water too!

    My Reading Chair

    My Reading Chair

  • Make Reading Special – If you begrudgingly set a timer and say, you have to read for 15 minutes right now, it takes all of the fun out of reading. Do whatever you have to do to make this a special time. Maybe have milk and cookies while you’re reading or purchase some new books…whatever you have to do to get excited about it!

    Reading with Ophelia

    Reading with Ophelia

  • Books in Bed – Bedtime reading is a favorite part of our day. Each of our children have baskets of books next to their beds that are their personal favorites. We always read books at bedtime, and it is a special way to end the day. Also, since these books get read over and over and over, they are usually the first ones our little ones read since they have memorized all of the words. (Yes! Memorizing words is part of reading!!!)

    Bedtime Reading Routine

    Bedtime Reading Routine

How to Teach

When children are familiar and comfortable with reading, they will show more and more signs that they want to get involved. I believe that the gradual release of responsibility model of teaching is phenomenal because it slowly builds a child’s confidence until they are ready to do it on their own. First, they start out watching you as you read, then you start to get them involved in little ways, and finally they will be reading completely on their own! Here are some of the ways you can slowly get your child involved in reading.

  • Turn the Page – I like to lift up the next page just a bit until my little ones grab on and turn the page. It’s amazing how much they enjoy this!
  • Interactive Books – I love reading books that have flaps, sounds, and more so that my little ones can see that books are meant to be engaging.
  • Pointing to Words – I don’t do this every time I read because it would get tedious and boring, but on occasion, I like to point to each word as I’m reading. This shows children how reading works and helps them to memorize new words in the context of a book.
  • Leaving Out Words – I love reading the same books over and over and over again with my children until they are practically memorized. Then, I start pausing at the last word on the page for them to say. I find that if I pause in sort of a questiony way, they will say it on their own. When they do, I point to the word as they are saying it. Once they’ve mastered reading the last word, I also like to incorporate leaving out other words in the book.
  • Picture Reading – I like to show my little ones how to “read” a book without any words by just talking about whatever I see in the pictures, and then I like to encourage them to do the same.
  • Repeated Reading – Whenever a child shows special interest in a book, I like to read it over and over as much as possible. This repeated reading will help children to memorize words that will become part of their word bank that they use for speedy reading.
Elliot Reading in Bed

Elliot Reading in Bed

Usborne Books

I am an Usborne book consultant because I LOVE their books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading. If you purchase books through these links (which will lead you to my own Usborne website), I will make a commission, so I thank you kindly.

Build Your Library with These Books

In the previous blogs in this series, I have linked to my favorite books and resources that matched each category, these books that I’m suggesting now are examples of QUALITY LITERATURE that you can use to reinforce all of the skills they have learned so far. I have geared my recommendations here for young children ages 4-6 who are ready to take off with reading!

  • *My First Reading Library – This is the best set of books you could ever buy! I have totally used all of these books to teach my children how to read from a young age. I love how each book has two layers of text. One page has minimal text for the child to read, often in the form of a word bubble, and the other page has more text for the parent to read.
  • Phonics Readers (20 Book Collection) – These phonics books blow anything I have ever seen out of this world! In some phonics readers, they focus so heavily on one certain sound that it overpowers the text. Not so with these! If you flip to the end of the book, there’s a section for parents that explains what the focus is and how to use the books which is great! Every book in this series is so well done. I mean, this is quality literature for sure that your little readers will learn how to decode with repeated reading. The rhyming text makes figuring out the last word very predictable. I like pausing to give my little ones a chance to say the last word as they are learning how to read.
  • Peek Inside Books – This boxed set includes six beautifully illustrated lift the flap books that children can interact with to discover what goes on at the zoo, in animal homes, on the farm, in the garden, at night, and inside the world of dinosaurs. You can get the box set here.
  • Pop Up Books – What better way to bring a book to life than with colorful pop up pages that move with these garden, dinosaurs, and jungle pop up books!
  • Look Inside Board Books – Children are so curious and love to learn how things work. In this series about castles, airports, food, computers, our world, space, the jungle, your body, and more, children will be engaged as they learn about their world while learning how to read.
  • Lift the Flap Questions and Answers – Inquisitive children will love the simple answers to their complex questions hidden behind interactive flaps. This is a great way for children to learn!
  • Picture Books – These picture books take classic old stories and retell them simply and from a childlike perspective. They would make a great addition to any developing library. You can get the box set here.
  • Books by Age – Browse Usborne for some AMAZING and QUALITY books!

Additional Resources

Building your library with quality books will ensure that not only will your child learn how to read, but he or she will ENJOY reading! These are the books that our children have loved through and through that helped them become readers. (*Note: These are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

  • Elephant and Piggie Books – We love ALL of these books! Elliot was a bit of a “late reader” (reading at age 5, everyone else was reading by 3, but that’s another story…) in our family and he LOVED books like: We are in a Book, The Thank You Book, There’s a Bird on Your Head, and I Broke My Trunk! These books are the new and improved Dick and Jane books from the past revamped with engaging text that is simple, easy, and fun for new readers.
  • Book Box Sets – There’s something super fun about getting a set of books that fit into a cute little carrying case. If children have favorite characters and then can read multiple books about those same characters, they are bringing a lot of background knowledge to the table. These phonics boxed sets are a great place for children to start reading.
  • Ready to Read Books – I love the large print and simple text using characters and settings that children are familiar with for children who are beginning to read independently. Here are some sets of Ready to Read books.
  • Books About TV Shows – We LOVE connecting reading with our kids’ favorite TV programs because it gives them a HUGE wealth of background knowledge to read the books on their own. Often times, books about TV shows will have way too much text for a new reader, but our children have enjoyed picture reading or reading them repeatedly with us until they’re ready to read them on their own. We’ve enjoyed Dora, Backyardigans, Maisy, Daniel Tiger, and more.
  • Shel Silverstein – We love reading Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic as read alouds and our kids (once they’re about 3-4 years old) LOVE them. They are so funny!
  • Captain Underpants – These books are not what is typically considered “quality” because of the potty humor, but kids LOVE them, and I think that is most important. Our son Elliot was a bit reluctant to start reading, and these books gave him the final push and motivation to start really reading when he was 5. He LOVED reading the little cartoons and pictures, doing the flip-o-rama pages, and all of the potty humor.
  • Share Your Interests – I’m mostly a nonfiction reader, and I really enjoy learning about biology and how the body works, so I LOVE reading these Basher Books about chemistry, biology, the periodic table and more. My husband really likes reading illustrated classics like Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, and Swiss Family Robinson as well as anything by Neil Gaiman.
  • Follow Their Interests – Each of our children have expressed different interests at different ages, and we make it a point to purchase books for them that match their interest. Right now for example, our son Julian (2) is really into cars and trucks, our daughter Ophelia (4) loves Daniel Tiger, Elliot (6) is really into Pokemon, and Ruby (7) devours chapter books at an amazing rate and right now is learning about Manga.

In Conclusion

What is the point of teaching children how to read? I’ll tell you what it’s NOT…it’s not so that children can perform well on tests, it’s not so that children can read a certain amount of words in a minute, and it’s not to get 100% on worksheets. The point of teaching children how to read is so that they can learn about their world on their own terms. At first, we are the ones filling their brains with lessons about the world, but once they know how to read, they can access everything and anything in the world that they seek. By creating a fun reading atmosphere, making a reading a special priority, and filling your house with quality books, not only will children learn how to read easily, but they will be able to navigate the world through their own lens, on their own terms, and follow their individual passions along the way.

Check out the next blog in my Teach Your Child to Read series: Reinforcing Reading with Writing

Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Reinforcing Reading with Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

It is common practice to teach reading alongside writing, but the reality is that children are capable of learning to how read FAR before learning how to write. That being said, teaching writing AFTER children learn how to read is a great way to reinforce reading.

Ages and Stages

I have noticed that my children have been interested and capable of writing in very different ways and at very different ages. Learning how to hold a writing utensil requires special fine motor skills that take lots of time to develop. I think it’s good to introduce children to writing at a young age if they are interested, but I wouldn’t force it.

  • Toddlers – Use fat crayons and markers and encourage any kind of markings on a page. I love writing words and pictures, and my 2.5 year old son Julian LOVES coloring over them. My daughter Ophelia (now just 4), never really cared for crayons or markers, but she has always loved painting.
  • Preschool – Start introducing a pencil and model the correct way to hold it, but don’t push it. Start practicing lines, shapes, and letter formation. Let your child watch you as you draw and color. Provide lots of opportunities for coloring, and make it fun!
  • Kindergarten – Practice making letters and start writing words.
Julian Loves Coloring!

Julian Loves Coloring!

My Resources

These hand drawn resources are basically my ABC resources without the color. I created this font by hand then imported it into Gimp where I cleaned it up and digitized it. I wanted to make my own font because I wanted to teach children how to read letters the way we typically write letters. I also wanted to be able to color in my letters. Feel free to use these resources liberally for your own personal use.

If you are going to be making these, I highly recommend getting the following supplies:

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut the words apart.
  3. Hole Punch – Put the cards in order and then put two holes in the top. I like to angle each corner into the three hole punch and can do several cards at once with my heavy duty hole puncher.
  4. Rings – I like using the 1/4″ rings to attach the cards together.

To Make the Coloring Page

  1. Print – Print on card stock. *You can also bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size. 
  2. *Enlarge – You can bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size.

ABC Coloring Page

After children have learned their letter names and letter sounds, coloring them in will reinforce this skill. You can print out this coloring page, and have your child color over it or color it in using crayons, pencils, markers, or paint. When coloring with your child, it can be fun to color your own page while sitting next to him or her. This way, your child will be able to see how you do things like hold a writing utensil, stay in the lines, and choose what to color. Make sure you “think aloud” to tell your child what you’re thinking while you’re doing it.

ABC Coloring Page

ABC Coloring Page

Get a PDF of the poster here: ABC Black and White Coloring Page

ABC Coloring Flashcards

These one sided flashcards are a great way to reinforce letter names, letter sounds, and to introduce children to writing. You can print out one set and let your child scribble in it however he or she chooses, and then you can print out another set to color in yourself or color together. Your child will enjoy watching you color, and it’s fun to have a personalized set of flashcards. You could even laminate them when you’re done!

ABC Coloring Flashcards

ABC Coloring Flashcards

Inside View of ABC Coloring Flashcards

Inside View of ABC Coloring Flashcards

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: ABC Black and White Flashcards

Usborne Books

I am an Usborne book consultant because I LOVE their books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading. If you purchase books through these links (which will lead you to my own Usborne website), I will make a commission, so I thank you kindly.

  • Wipe-Clean Resources – Usborne has a TON of wipe clean activity books that you can look through. Wipe clean books are a great way for child to reinforce skills in a repetitive and fun way.
  • Beginning Pen Control – Before children can learn to write they need lots of practice with pen control, and this book provides plenty of opportunities. They can complete the various activities again and again, using the special wipe-clean pen provided. Includes mazes, dot-to-dots, things to draw and more.
  • Wipe-Clean Alphabet – This fun book is perfect way for young children to reinforce what they’ve learned about letters while learning how to write.
  • Wipe Clean Alphabet Cards – These alphabet cards are another great way to reinforce letter names and sounds.
  • Wipe-Clean 123 – Learning to write numbers is right up there with learning to write letters, and this book provides great practice.
  • Get Ready for School Wipe-Clean Activity Pack – This pack covers writing letters, numbers, common words, and comes in a neat carrying case with a handle.
  • Wipe-Clean Dinosaur Activities – If your child is interested in dinosaurs, this would be a great resource to practice writing. There are lots of other interest-based resources as well.
  • Wipe-Clean Dot to Dot – Dot to dots are a great way to learn about drawing and writing because the lines are short and controlled.

Additional Resources

Being a teacher-mom, I have been exposed to a TON of resources. The ones I link to below are simply the best of the best and have been a HUGE help as I’ve been teaching my little ones about writing. (*Note: These are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

In Conclusion

The idea that children should be learning how to read the ABCs while learning how to write the ABCs is just absurd. Children are capable of learning how to read at a very young age, but the fine motor skills required to master handwriting take quite some time to develop. If children learn about letter names and sounds, how to memorize words, vocabulary, how to sound out words, and more complex phonemic awareness before learning about writing, it makes learning about writing the singular focus which is far less overwhelming for children.

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

15 Reasons Why Finland's Schools Are Performing Better Than Schools in the United States at Embracing Motherhood

15 Reasons Why Finland’s Schools Are Performing Better Than Schools in the United States

Unless you’re really interested in education, you might not be aware of what’s going on in Finland’s schools. If you are, you may have read a few click bait articles about more recess, delayed kindergarten, and play based learning, but the whole story is much more interesting…and complex.

In this article, I hope to shed some light on why Finland has become such a buzzword for educational experts, how they got to be where they are, and all of the parts that make up the whole of their successful educational system. Throughout this article, I will compare what is working in Finland to what is currently being done in the United States to help paint a complete picture.

PISA Results

Let’s begin with the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that put Finland on the map (as an educational buzzword that is) in the first place. PISA in an international test given every three years to 15 year olds in the areas of reading, math, and science with the 65 countries that have chosen to participate.

Below, I have listed the most recent scores (from 2012) from Finland and the United States in the three categories that the test covers. Below that, you will find their overall ranks listed with all of the other countries who participated. *Also note that Finland was ranked 1st in reading, 4th in math, and 3rd in science in 2000, 1st in reading and science and 2nd in math in 2003, 1st in reading and 2nd in math and science in 2006, and 1st in reading, 6th in math, and 2nd in science in 2009.

Finland

  • Reading – 6th
  • Science – 5th
  • Math – 12th

United States

  • Reading – 24th
  • Science – 28th
  • Math – 36th

2012 PISA Results

  1. Shanghai-China
  2. Singapore
  3. Hong Kong-China
  4. Taiwan
  5. Korea
  6. Macau-China
  7. Japan
  8. Liechtenstein
  9. Switzerland
  10. Netherlands
  11. Estonia
  12. Finland – 12th
  13. Canada
  14. Poland
  15. Belgium
  16. Germany
  17. Vietnam
  18. Austria
  19. Australia
  20. Ireland
  21. Slovenia
  22. New Zealand
  23. Denmark
  24. Czech Republic
  25. France
  26. UK
  27. Iceland
  28. Latvia
  29. Luxembourg
  30. Norway
  31. Portugal
  32.  Italy
  33. Spain
  34. Russia
  35. Slovakia
  36. US – 36th
  37. Lithuania
  38. Sweden
  39. Hungary
  40. Croatia
  41. Israel
  42. Greece
  43. Serbia
  44. Turkey
  45. Romania
  46. Cyprus
  47. Bulgaria
  48. UAE
  49. Kazakhstan
  50. Thiland
  51. Chile
  52. Malaysia
  53. Mexico
  54. Montenegro
  55. Uruguay
  56. Costa Rica
  57. Albania
  58. Brazil
  59. Argentina
  60. Tunisia
  61. Jordan
  62. Colombia
  63. Qatar
  64. Indonesia
  65. Peru

Since PISA began in 2000, Finland has held 1st place for reading year after year after year (which is why it initially gained such notoriety). The 2012 testing year saw Finland fall in rank from it’s usual top spots; read the theories about why that happened here. One of the theories is that countries like China, who are now showing up in the highest positions, emphasize rigorously preparing for tests via rote memorization which leaves children lacking in social and practical skills, self-discipline and imagination, and curiosity and passion for learning (source). Another theory is that Finland has been so preoccupied with being in a fishbowl while everyone analyzed what made them so great instead of focusing on their continuous progression. Always room for improvement, right?

1. Finland’s Reform

It is important to note that the educational system in Finland hasn’t always produced such pleasing results. In his article in the New Republic, “The Children Must Play“, Samuel E. Abrams, a visiting scholar at Teachers College, explains how Finland turned it’s educational system around in the 1970s.

“Finland’s schools weren’t always so successful. In the 1960s, they were middling at best. In 1971, a government commission concluded that, poor as the nation was in natural resources, it had to modernize its economy and could only do so by first improving its schools. To that end, the government agreed to reduce class size, boost teacher pay, and require that, by 1979, all teachers complete a rigorous master’s program.”

By recognizing the need for change and taking radical steps to do so, Finland is now performing near the top of the list. They faced a lot of scrutiny about their methods until the PISA test results came out in 2000, and now everyone is trying to figure out what makes Finland’s schools so successful.

In the rest of this article, I’ll focus on the hallmarks that have contributed to Finland’s successful educational system with a brief comparison to the educational system in the United States. Please keep in mind that it is all of these components working together that contribute to Finland’s success.

2. Being a Welfare State

As one of the world’s best functioning welfare states, Finland takes care of all of its citizens equally. With a poverty rate of just 5.3%, you won’t find huge disparities between the rich and the poor. Even if you grew up in poverty here, however, you would still get the same resources including high quality education as someone who grew up with more privileges.

Some people say that Finnish people are paid like doctors, but it’s not because teachers get paid more, it’s that doctors get paid less. In Finland, the amount of money you pay for a speeding ticket is all relative to your income. One millionaire was fined the equivalent of $103,000 for going 40 mph in a 35 mph. In Finland, the playing field is made as level as can be.

United States: In the United States, there is not the same sort of equality. The poverty rate in the U.S is 15%, but it’s even higher for children at 21%. That means that there are 15.5 million children, or roughly 1 in 5, that live in poverty. (Check out this poverty map to see the huge variance of poverty statistics from state to state.) In the United States, there is a huge disparity between the rich and the poor, and if you grow up in poverty, you will NOT be afforded the same opportunities as those who grow up with more privileges. In fact, the United States is the ONLY nation in the world where the quality of public education is based on local wealth

So, in the end, Finland’s economy promotes social harmony, but the competitive nature of America’s economy has fueled many innovations…but at what price?

3. A Culture of Literacy and Learning

Finland is a country that prides itself on their love of learning and literacy. Check out this great PowerPoint created by the Finnish National Board of Education that explains what they do as a society (not just as an educational system) to create successful students.

One way that Finnish society supports literacy is by having one of the world’s best library systems. They are constantly getting new books and there is a high check out rate. Most homes subscribe to at least one newspaper, and the typical Finnish family starts the day at breakfast reading the morning paper and commenting on the day’s news.

About half of all Finnish TV is broadcast in a foreign language (mostly English) using Finnish subtitles (rather than dubbing). So when children are watching foreign TV, they need to read everything in Finnish! Bedtime stories are also a very important ritual.

United States: What are the priorities of the United States as a whole? This was kind of a hard one to sum up because the United States is so much bigger than Finland, but I think that this guide to living in America for foreigners gives a very revealing portrayal of what foreigners should expect when trying to fit into “American culture”. First of all, it explains that Americans are individualistic and time oriented as well as friendly and direct. It goes on to say that Americans love their sports, love their hobbies, and are fastidious about their appearance. It also warns of the prejudices and racism found mainly in small towns and in the south often expressed in off color humor where the presenter maybe doesn’t realize that they are sounding racist. 

In my opinion, I feel that there is this pervasive (yet erroneous) notion of the “American Dream” fostered by stories such as Abraham Lincoln living in a log cabin and rising to become president just because he worked hard enough when the reality is best expressed in the story of “The Death of a Salesman”  which gives a much more realistic (and grim) portrayal of this ideal. The majority of American culture that I have encountered (throughout my brief exposure to the entirety of the United States) can be summed up by our stereotype of nerds. They are often portrayed in sitcoms, movies, and life as being very smart yet socially awkward, not into fashion, not invited to parties, and thus a less desirable position to be in. Then you have those who slough of school, who don’t need to work hard, and who have all the friends and popularity portrayed as the ultimate achievement leading to true happiness. The fact that the notion of “nerds being unpopular” even exists reveals that our true opinions are of learning and literacy are that it is more important to look cool than to be smart and that the two don’t typically mix.

4. Teacher Training

I think that one of the most important things that Finland did to reform education was to create highly qualified teachers. They did this by not just requiring all teachers to get a Master’s degree, but by paying for it as well. Not only is college in Finland free, but when teachers are enrolled in the graduate level teacher’s program for three years, they get a stipend for living expenses so that they don’t go into debt while they’re going to school.

Getting into this graduate level program is tough with only 10-15% of applicants being accepted, so the teacher education program is truly getting the top of the pool. Being a teacher in Finland is considered a highly prestigious position because the entire Finnish culture supports learning.

United States: In the United States, most states require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate, but because of teacher shortages, there are many alternative routes to becoming a teacher and private schools do not often require teaching certificates at all. Also, there is no free college here. You may get some financial aid for a bachelor’s degree, but the average debt of a Master’s level degree in education is $50,000.

5. Taken Care of From Birth

One of the hallmark’s of Finland’s success is how they take care of their mothers and children. All working mothers are provided a 4 month paid maternity leave in addition to a free Finnish baby box (or cash value) that includes everything needed for a newborn. Then, either the mother or father can take a paid parental leave until the baby is 9 months old. This benefit is extended to adoptive parents as well.

If a parent chooses to stay home with their child until he/she is 3, they will get a Child Care Allowance in the equivalence of $385/mo. Approximately 50% of all mothers take full advantage of this. *This is in addition to the $107/mo. Child Benefit package that is given until the child reaches 17.

United States: The United States is pretty much the only country that doesn’t provide maternity leave for mothers…or fathers, except for assuring twelve weeks of unpaid paternity leave without losing their job. The Child Tax Credit does take approximately $1,000 off your tax bill per child, a recent increase which is actually pretty cool. 

6. Early Childhood Education (Day Care)

When parents in Finland choose work and send their children to day care, it is not at all considered to be a babysitting service. There are National Curriculum Guidelines that discuss such things as the child’s well-being as the target, the role of the educator, the joy of learning, the role of language, how young children learn through play, parental engagement, and content orientations in the areas of mathematics, nature, science, history, aesthetics, religion, ethics, religion, and philosophy. This is because day cares fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. In addition, most teaching and guidance staff in day cares hold a bachelor’s degree.

About 80% of mothers with their youngest child between the ages of 3-6 are working and most take advantage of the municipal day care system which is heavily subsidized based on family size and income. There is also a private day care allowance if that is the route parents choose.

United States: In the United States, it is a completely different story. First of all, there is no unifying system for day cares, no guiding curriculum that focuses on the “whole child” or any sort of educational or enrichment standards whatsoever, and the Department of Education is not involved in any way shape, or form. Instead, day cares are overseen by the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs that merely provides a massive checklist of possible health and safety violations. (Check out this example from Michigan.) Even though every state is slightly different, most day cares require only a high school diploma for employment. 

A 2007 survey by the National Institute of Child Health Development found that the majority of day care facilities were either “fair” or “poor”, and only 10% were found to provide high quality care. The recommendation is that there is one caregiver for every three infants between the ages of 6-18 months, but only one-third of settings meet that standard. Horror stories like these are way too common in day cares across the United States.

The overall statistic says that 61% of all children ages 3-6 are in some sort of center-based care. The reality is that for poor families, this looks more like 45%, and for wealthier families, it looks more like 72%. And even though the government subsidizes up to $3,000 per family for daycare (regardless of income), this only covers a fraction of the costs which can be upwards of $15,000/year.

7. Pre-Primary Education (Pre-School and Kindergarten)

While kindergarten may not start until children are 7, mandatory preschool starts when children are 6. Before this became mandatory in 2015, 97% of children were already attending preschool.

Just like with the day cares, the preschools are governed by the Ministry of Education and use a very holistic pre-primary curriculum (used for preschool and kindergarten) that focuses on the development of the whole child. This document discusses the purpose of pre-primary education, general objectives of education and learning, the concept of learning, what constitutes a good learning environment, and more. And while yes, they do include paragraphs detailing the big ideas for language and interaction as well as mathematics, they also have sections explaining the instruction of ethics and religion, environmental and natural studies, health, physical and motor development, arts and culture, and more. It is a very well rounded curriculum guideline.

United States: In the United States, preschool starts at the age of 3 or 4, and it is not mandatory. A 2015 report by the Department of Education called A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America, explains how only 41% of 4 year olds attend preschool and that there are racial and socioeconomic disparities that prevent access to high quality preschool programs for all children. It also explains how we know that the preschool education provided is abysmal and that steps are being taken to correct that…but are they the right steps?

Grants were recently given to 20 states to design better plans for teaching young children, and states like Missouri did a nice job of creating Early Learning Standards, but the problem is that the focus is just too narrow and too specific. Instead of presenting a narrative that gives the big idea while still allowing for teacher and student autonomy and flexibility, everything is broken up into core subjects and then extremely specific descriptors are given for every possible skill that anyone could ever imagine covering. The document is so large and overbearing that there is no way someone could teach all of this without carrying around a little guidebook telling them what to say and do every step of the way.

8. A Curriculum That Focuses on the Whole Child

Here are the Finnish standards for the basic education, which covers grades 1st – 9th. Like with pre-primary education, they focus on the whole child and cover a wide variety of topics that extend far beyond just what is measured on standardized tests. While art, music, and PE are being cut for budgetary reasons in the U.S., Finland still finds time to teach crafts, home economics, foreign languages, health, religion, ethics, music, visual arts, physical education, and more. This focus on the whole child is one of the hallmarks that makes their educational system not just work, but thrive.

The Center on International Education Benchmarking, an organization dedicated to learning from the world’s high performing education systems explains how,

“Finnish classrooms emphasize the importance of learning through doing, and place particular emphasis on group work, creativity and problem-solving skills. From primary school onward, students are expected to work collaboratively on interdisciplinary projects. In many cases, students are expected to contribute to the design of these projects as well. In upper secondary school, students are expected to contribute to the design of their course of study.”

They also describe how,

“In the early years of school, Finnish students often stay together in a class with the same teacher for several years. That way, the teacher can follow their development over several grade levels, and they are able to learn in what many consider to be a family-like environment.”

United States: In the United States, we have federally created Common Core Standards that most states have adopted and then adapted for their own personal use. Since I live in Michigan, here are Michigan’s standards. I encourage you to at least browse through their categories. You’ll notice an emphasis on core subjects with standards that give very specific examples for how each grade level should progress through each standard. Check out these English Language Arts Standards for K and 1st grade to see exactly what I mean.

There is this sense in the United States that we have to teach skills to mastery and that it is facts and skills that will lead to knowledge and success, but Finland has touched on something that I have found to be highly successful in my own teaching experience both in the classroom and with my own children, and in my opinion, it is this:

Children are not empty vessels to be filled. They are curious, inquisitive, and imaginative beings that only need to be given the tools to reach their given potential. Our role as teacher should be to guide them towards their interests, to provide them with the skills and resources necessary to take their learning to the next level, and to be an audience as they share their discoveries.

If we can do this, our children will reach greater heights than anything we could ever design for them.

9. How Finnish Children Learn to Read

There is a misconception that because Finnish children don’t start going to compulsory school (kindergarten) until they are 7, they don’t start learning how to read until then, but that is simply not true.

Because the National Ministry in Finland is in charge of the day cares and preschools, it designs a curriculum that supports the literacy growth through all developmental phases. In day care, children are engaged in play based learning that prepares them for preschool. In preschool, they teach phonological awareness and vocabulary through a variety of genres and types of literature.

And this is why the Finnish National Board of Education states that,

“half of the pre-school pupils learn to read as if by chance.”

There is also a lot of support for struggling students. 37% of first-graders get some kind of additional support, but the students who struggle rarely do so because of a lack of basic skills. (i.e. Students enter school with a strong foundation in basic skills.) Early intervention is strongly emphasized, and all teachers have knowledge and expertise on learning difficulties. The cooperation between parents, teachers, and other experts is intense and is a HUGE part of student achievement.

Finally, Finnish is actually one of the easiest languages to learn how to read. The Finnish alphabet is similar to the English alphabet but with only 21 letters (that are used anyways) and no weird exceptions (like the hard and soft g and c and diagraphs). In addition, every Finnish word is pronounced exactly as it’s written, and there are simple rules for everything with very few exceptions. This makes it very easy for children how to read “as if by chance” and explains why the vast majority of Finnish students enter school with strong reading skills.

United States: Children in the United States are taught to read according to the five components of reading.

  1. Phonemic Awareness: Letter sounds
  2. Phonics: The relationship between letter names, sounds, and how they work together
  3. Fluency: Reading with accuracy, speed, and expression
  4. Vocabulary: The meaning of words
  5. Comprehension: Understanding what is being read

The instruction is systemic (meaning that it is carried out by the entire system), and systematic (meaning that it is carried out in a step by step process).

When it come to reading, the U.S. Department of Education supports the notion that, 

“Becoming a reader is not a natural process, but requires direct and explicit instruction.”

Remember how in Finland kids were learning to read “as if by chance”? Well, not so in the U.S. Here, students must patiently wait until their empty little brains are filled with all of the facts and skills that teachers can cram in there.

And how well is this working? Not so well. According to the most recent 2015 national reading test as reported by the NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) otherwise known as the “Nation’s Report Card”, only 36% of 4th graders and 38% of 8th graders were proficient in reading. Yikes!

10. No Standardized Testing

One of the biggest hallmarks of Finland’s educational system is that they have no standardized testing whatsoever. The only test they are required to take is when they graduate high school if they wish to go on to a university. Samuel E. Abrams explains how,

“While nations around the world introduced heavy standardized testing regimes in the 1990s, the Finnish National Board of Education concluded that such tests would consume too much instructional time, cost too much to construct, proctor, and grade, and generate undue stress.”

United States: In the United States, we spend $1.7 billion on standardized testing every year. In her article in Education Week, “Why Bipartisanism Isn’t Working for Educational Reform“, Ann Stuart Wells, a professor at Teachers College points out that since NCLB, we now spend five to six times more funds on testing with 90% of this going to private testing companies. In this environment, teachers can’t help but feel inundated with testing that seems to drive every aspect of their teaching day. Even Obama says that he regrets “taking the joy out of teaching and learning with too much testing”. 

11. Teacher (and Student) Freedom and Autonomy

Not only are all teachers in Finland highly qualified, they are trusted to do what is best for their students. Samuel E. Abrams explains how,

“Teachers in Finland design their own courses, using a national curriculum as a guide, not a blueprint, and spend about 80 percent as much time leading classes as their U.S. counterparts do, so that they have sufficient opportunity to plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues.”

In his article, “Inside of a Finnish Classroom“, Tim Walker, an American teacher teaching in Finland shares his observations of what Finnish classrooms look like.

“In Finland, it’s common to find classrooms that are very different from each other. This makes sense given that a teacher’s individuality is deeply respected.”

He goes on to explain the slow pace of the classroom where the teacher is calm instead of, “anxiously pacing around the classroom, checking in on everyone”, which is so often the mood in the U.S. schools, especially during testing time. Teachers also dress casually, are called by their first names, and students don’t even have to wear shoes.

Check out this video of a teacher in a Finnish school where you’ll notice her calm demeanor, the freedom and autonomy that the children have, the lack of discipline problems, the way that the students are engaged and on task, and the way that each child is given time and attention. At no time does it feel like a script is being followed.

United States: Check out this video of a teacher in the United States teaching literacy. This is pretty much the exact same thing you will see in just about every primary literacy lesson because teachers in the United States must follow a very scripted method of teaching which leaves little room for freedom and autonomy for teachers or students. The teacher is typically either addressing the entire class as a group or working with small ability groups.

12. Less Time in School

In Finland, school starts between 8 and 9 am and ends between 1 and 2 pm. During this 5 hour school day (7-8 year olds attend half days), there is lunch (hot lunches are provided free for every student) with a 75 minute long recess and 15 minute breaks every hour where kids must go outside to play. Their playgrounds are also elaborately designed (sometimes with the help of the children) in ways that encourage lots of movement as well as creative and imaginative play.

In his article published in Education Week, “Classroom Shock: What I Am Learning as a Teacher in Finland“, Tim Walker explains how not only are the kids getting a break every hour, but the teachers are as well. During their 15 minute breaks, teachers are encouraged to catch up with their colleagues while drinking coffee in the teacher’s lounge rather than frantically trying to prepare for the next lesson.

Finnish teachers work on average 570 hours a year, nearly half of the 1,100 hours that U.S. teachers do. In addition, they also have little to no homework.

United States: Students in the U.S. spend about 7 hours a day at school with a 30 minute lunch recess and maybe a 15 minute morning recess for the younger grades. 

13. Smaller Class Sizes

In 1985, when authorities in Finland postponed tracking from 7th to 10th grade (meaning the separation of students based on ability), they knew that they would need to make class sizes smaller to accommodate these heterogeneous groups. Now, the average class size in 1st and 2nd grade is 19 students and in grades 3 through 9, it is 21 students.

United States: It’s very hard to find reliable data about class sizes in the United States because we are governed by a 16:1 student to teacher ratio, meaning that specialist teachers from speech therapists to music teachers who might not be in the room every day count towards this ratio leaving some classrooms to balloon to 30+ students. We saw this in our daughter’s kindergarten class before we switched schools.

14. Play Based Learning

Finland encourages play based learning as the foundation of day care, preschool, and kindergarten.

In an article published in the Atlantic by Finland education blogger Tim Walker, he explains how kindergarten students only engage in desk work, like handwriting, once a week. He goes on to explain what he noticed while observing classrooms:

“Instead of a daily itinerary, two of them [teachers] showed me a weekly schedule with no more than several major activities per day: Mondays, for example, are dedicated to field trips, ballgames, and running, while Fridays—the day I visited—are for songs and stations.”

During his observations, he noticed kids singing songs and chants, attending stations such as fort-making with bed sheets, arts and crafts, and running a pretend ice cream shop.

United States: In select preschools in the U.S. there is a remarkable programs being used Tools of the Mind that uses play based Vygotsky-inspired learning that encourages creative and imaginative play, but this is the exception, not the rule.

15. Cooperation not Competition

In his article, “The Finnish Miracle“, published in Great Kids!, Hand Pellissier, a freelance writer on education and brain development, explains how,

“Americans give lip service to the notion that ‘all men are created equal’, but our appetite for competition creates an intense focus on ranking low and high performers — whether they’re schools or students.”

Without standardized testing in Finland, schools aren’t ranked against each other, teachers aren’t evaluated primarily by the test scores of their students, and the curriculum isn’t organized around these tests. This creates an environment without the pressure to “perform” on one single measure of assessment, but to allow for more open ended model of learning.

Students aren’t ability grouped, and the advanced students work alongside the struggling ones. There isn’t a sense of one group looking down on another, they realize that they all have different strengths and weaknesses, and they work together to help each other out.

There are also no private schools, no schools of choice, and no sense that the best students are being skimmed off the top. Also, most schools don’t even provide organized sports.

In Conclusion

Since their reform in the 1970s, Finland has turned around a stagnant economy by focusing on the improvement of their educational system. As a result, they have a thriving economy and one of the world’s most respected educational systems. They didn’t do this by just having children start kindergarten at a later age or providing more recess time (which are the two big buzz topics that always get all of the attention), they did it by focusing on the entire infrastructure of education from the ground up…from funding, to training, to best practices, to seeing results.

In the end, what makes Finland work is a mindset. They love learning, they enjoy it, they see each child as an individual, not a test score, and they provide an open ended method of instruction that leaves the sky as the limit. By adopting this mindset within our families, within our homes, and within our communities, maybe that can be the first step in a long journey of educational improvement in the United States…and around the world.

Check out my Embracing Motherhood Shop where I am working on creating a system that teaches children how to read!

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In my article, I have provided links where appropriate to all of my sources. These links below are either resources that I didn’t link to in the article or that I thought provided a very thorough and complete look at this topic.