setting up a homeschool routine

As a former classroom teacher and currently a stay at home mom with five young children (Ruby-5th grade, Elliot-3rd grade, Ophelia-1st grade, Julian-Pre-K, and Jack-3 years old), I wanted to share what’s working for us as we adjust to a homeschooling schedule for the rest of the year. We live in Michigan, one of 15 states who have decided to end face to face school for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, and so we are now settling into the new normal.

I tried homeschooling all of my children a few years ago, and made the mistake of setting too high of expectations for both my children and myself. This time around, I focused on the routine before the content, and I’m happy to say that things are going really really well. Through trial and error, we figured out what worked for all of us and what didn’t, and I’m pleased to see that my children are engaged, motivated, and most importantly happy. It took an attitude adjustment from me, however, seeing as how before this, I was putting out my application and looking to go back to work, but now I am so content and so happy in my role here, I will definitely not be looking for work anytime soon.

None of us chose to be here in this quarantined and forced homeschool routine, but that doesn’t mean we have to hate it. I actually see all of this as an incredible opportunity to bond with my family and really connect with each other. If you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed, just know we’ve all felt or are feeling that way. Things felt really overwhelming to me at first as I tried to figure out what my kids needed and balance that with what would be possible to achieve. This routine that we settled on has been my saving grace, and it really helps the day to run itself.

Setting Up a Homeschool Routine

First of all, do not stress yourself out thinking you need to create in depth lessons right out of the gate. In the beginning, the focus should be on settling into a routine that works for you and your family in a way that leaves everyone still smiling at the end of the day. Start with a few paper/pencil things, reading books, and online resources that you KNOW your child will love. For example, my son who is in 3rd grade loves Star Wars, so I got him a Star Wars workbook. My preschooler who has always been very reluctant to try anything new loves mazes, so he starts his work day tracing mazes with his finger. When the routine is new, the work needs to be easy and fun. I had to go through a ton of resources until I found ones that worked for my children, and I will share all of those resources a bit later.

Our Daily Homeschool Routine

Our Daily Homeschool Routine

Morning Routine

I’d say my favorite thing about the school cancellation has been the later start time we’ve settled into. Getting everyone off to school in the morning before 7:30 a.m. used to be the most stressful part of my day BY FAR, and now it is so pleasant. I wake up at 6:30 a.m., shower, get dressed, have coffee with my husband, and prepare breakfast. The boys are usually up around 8 a.m., and they get to pick a movie to watch while I’m opening up the house for the day and finishing breakfast preparations. Ruby sets her alarm for 7:30 a.m., showers, and reads until breakfast is ready. When I’m out of pancakes, she always helps me make more. Ophelia has always had a really difficult time both falling asleep (melatonin is currently helping with that) and getting up in the morning. On school days in the past, I would have to physically dress her and carry her downstairs just about every day. Now, I start rousing her at about 9:00 a.m. and with a few encouragements, she gets dressed and comes downstairs on her own as chipper as can be for breakfast time.

When the kids were younger, I would have a checklist for our morning routine to make sure they got dressed, made their beds, ate breakfast, and brushed their teeth. I would list each of these things and then to the right have a row with each child’s initial and a checkbox underneath. We did this for so long that they don’t need the check boxes anymore, but if you’re just starting out, I think it would be a good idea.

Homeschool Routine with Checkboxes

Homeschool Routine with Checkboxes

Breakfast 9:30

Every morning I serve pancakes, two kinds of bacon, sausage, fried eggs, and toast. While eating, the kids take turns picking YouTube videos to watch. You’ll notice on the top left corner of my whiteboard, I have the days of the week listed and their initials in a rotating schedule underneath. Once their video starts, each child uses our Google Home Mini to set a timer for five minutes, and when the timer runs out it’s the next person’s turn and so on until everyone has had a turn.

Breakfast

Breakfast

After breakfast, we turn the videos off and talk about the date, the weather, any special activities for the day (lots of Zoom meetings these days), and any other expectations. When they’re done eating, they bring their plates to the sink, brush their teeth, and move to our designated homeschool table in the other room. I really like having a separate table so that I can keep all books, materials, and supplies set up and ready to go. They each have a spot where they normally sit, and I have the work that they need to do ready to go in front of their chair before they get started. While they’re brushing their teeth, I try to clear the rest of the table and get the dishes in the dishwasher as much as I can.

Paper/Pencil and Reading Time 10:00

It’s rare for us to all sit down at the same time to do our paper/pencil activities. I usually have to stagger it so I can give one on one attention during this time. Jack, my 3 year old, is usually playing with cars when we get started, but whenever I see that he is eager to join, I say, “Are you ready for your homeschool?” and try to make the most of every teachable moment we have! Julian, my preschooler, can do about 15-20 minutes of work with my help, and then we read. He also always poops during this time (and takes a long time because we let him have his iPad – long story short…he needs the motivation), so that works out well for me to give the other kids attention.

Younger Boys Working During Paper/Pencil Time

Younger Boys Working During Paper/Pencil Time

Ruby likes to start her day with Khan Academy lessons and does her paper/pencil activities afterwards. Ophelia has Zoom chats with her teacher and classmates 3x/week, and she will do her paper/pencil activities afterwards. I set my expectations pretty low and make sure I’m only assigning what each child can handle. Ophelia likes a little more of a challenge and can work independently, so I expect her to do about 7-8 pages of work per day. Elliot struggles with writing and won’t really work done unless I’m sitting right next to him, so I only assign him about 4 pages. Usually I just tell them what pages they have to do on a daily basis, but sometimes they like me to write individual checklists on a little white board.

Homeschool Work Time

Homeschool Work Time

I try to encourage everyone to get as much pencil/paper work done as they can, and then we read. All of my kids LOVE reading and are excellent readers, so this is a really fun part of our day. I have lots of books around the house and they can read whatever they choose. In the past, I struggled to get Ophelia and Elliot to read chapter books, but with all of the extra time we’ve had at home, they are both finding many chapter books to enjoy. In the picture below, you’ll see Ruby is reading a book on her iPad.

I think the best thing you can do is to help your child develop a love of reading by first of all teaching them the skills necessary to read and then helping them to find books they enjoy reading on their own (while of course finding lots of time to read together as well). I have found that the best way to make sure children have reading comprehension is to ask them questions about the books they are reading. (“What is your book about? Why do you like it? What was the moral of the story? Can you relate to the main character? Would you read another book by the same author? Why or why not?”)

Reading Time

Reading Time

Sometimes I read to Jack and Julian together and sometimes I read to them one on one. This is always a special time where we cuddle up somewhere comfy, get under a blanket, and enjoy reading together. They both really like the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Williams, and I also have a basket full of Usborne books that are great for early readers. Of course Dr. Seuss books are a favorite too. It’s very sweet because Elliot and Ophelia will often come over and listen to the stories and will also help me read. Julian is an excellent reader, but he prefers that I read to him, and that’s just fine with me!

Reading with Julian

Reading with Julian

Reading with Julian and Jack

Reading with Julian and Jack

Educational Choice Time (Technology) 11:00

There are sooooo many excellent educational websites and apps out there which can actually be kind of overwhelming. We have been trying all of the recommendations from the kids’ teachers, the ones we have enjoyed over the years, and even some old school ones that I enjoyed when I was a kid! If you could only pick one online resource to use with your child pre-K through 2nd grade, I would say use Starfall, and if you could only pick one online resource for the upper grades, I would say Khan Academy. Try out as many sites as you’d like and then pick your favorite ones to have your kids focus on. If you have them on too many sites, you’ll lose track of what they’re doing and they won’t make as much progress as they could if you’d just stick to a few or do a few for awhile and then rotate if or when they lose interest.

  • Khan Academy: I actually used Khan Academy for myself years ago when I was curious to know more about biology and chemistry, and my husband took the computer programming classes to prepare him for his computer science degree. Now, they feature math lessons for kids ages 2-18 and reading lessons from 2nd – 9th grade. What I love about Khan Academy is that they provide short, simple, and engaging videos to explain new content and then provide repeated practice and an assessment at the end of each module. If your child has an account through school, then their teacher can assign them lessons. If not, you’ll need to create a parent account, then create an account with a username and password for each child. From there, you can assign courses based on subject and grade level. The best thing about Khan Academy is that it’s completely free and there are no ads. They also have a free app for kids ages 2-7 called Khan Academy Kids designed to teach early math and literacy skills. This has been an excellent resource for my 3rd and 5th graders.
  • Starfall: The Starfall website has fun, engaging, and high quality literacy and math content for Pre-K through 3rd grade, and is BY FAR my favorite online resource for all of my young children. A lot of the content is free, but I highly suggest getting a home membership for $35/year. (FYI: You can login on many devices simultaneously.) I have used this website and the many amazing Starfall apps (many of which are free) to help me teach all of my children how to read at a very young age. I usually introduce the content before the age of 2 and when they are about 3, they are able to do the activities on their own using a touch screen. The three younger ones use Starfall every day. For now, I’m letting them choose whatever they want to do, but in the future, I will probably encourage them to do certain lessons.
    Jack and Ophelia Playing Starfall

    Jack and Ophelia Playing Starfall

    Julian Using Starfall on a Computer

    Julian Using Starfall on a Computer

  • Mario Teaches Typing: This came out in 1992, and I actually used it to learn how to type! I’ve never seen anything better, and Elliot LOVES it. There’s also a Mario Teaches Typing 2, but you need to be a bit techy to figure out how to get it on your computer.Elliot's Computer
  • Prodigy: Julian, Ophelia, and Elliot LOVE prodigy! Kids enter a magical world where they choose an avatar to explore worlds and battle other online players. In order to get power for their battles, they have to answer math questions. I’m not too fond of just having random math questions with no instruction and often children will just guess the answers, but they really really love it, and so I let them play as a reward for completing their other educational choice time. The math content is for grades 1st – 8th, but my preschooler enjoys it. Ruby used to love it, but she’s in the 5th grade and she finds it too childish now. It’s free to create an account for your child, just make sure to keep the login information written and posted somewhere if you’re using a tablet because it doesn’t save. You can pay to have an upgraded account, but it’s quite expensive and not worth it in my opinion.
  • MobyMax: Both my 1st and 5th graders’ teachers are having them do MobyMax. We haven’t been using it long enough for me to really have an opinion, but it seems like a good resource so far. Students first take placement tests to see where their instructional level is, then teachers assign lessons based on learning gaps. It’s free to create an account.
  • Raz-Kids: This is my favorite online reading program. It’s simple, easy to use, and engaging. They have great content, and I like the comprehension questions at the end. If your child’s school has access to this site, I would definitely take advantage of it. If not, you can get a free trial, but the subscription is very expensive, like $115/yr. Get Epic is another great online reading program that your child’s school might have access to, but my opinion is that if kids are going to read, I’d rather have them read real books.

Lunch and Recess 12:00

I try to start lunch at 12:00, but sometimes if we really get into our lessons we won’t eat until 12:30 or 12:45. I try to be really consistent about starting choice time at 1:00 because the kids work really hard all morning, and if I don’t do my part to follow through, I’m sure it would make them feel like I’m not holding up my end of the bargain.

Eating Lunch

Eating Lunch

If the weather is nice, we’ll go outside for recess after lunch, and they LOVE jumping on the trampoline, but lately the weather has been HORRIBLE, and we’ve been stuck inside. During these dreary days, we’ll either do a yoga video, some shared workouts (my son Elliot loves leading the kids in jumping jacks, push ups, etc.), or play hide and seek or tag. Basically, I want them to do something to get their energy out. Also, my husband usually joins us for lunch and is able to help the kids if they have a math or computer questions which is really nice.

Jumping on the Trampoline

Jumping on the Trampoline

Choice Time 1:00

Choice time means they can do whatever they want (which is typically something with iPads, video games, or computers). Right now, Minecraft and Roblox are their favorite games because they can join each others’ worlds. They also like to do this weird thing where they watch other people playing video games while talking about it. Anyone else mystified as to how this is entertainment???

Choice Time

Choice Time

Once the kids start choice time, they are pretty independent, so I use this time to work on my projects. I work really hard from the moment I wake up until now taking care of others, so it’s really nice to be able to carve out some time for me. I spend a lot of this time cleaning, doing laundry, and preparing dinner because having a clean and tidy environment always helps me to keep my anxiety under control (that and a cup of Valarian root tea if I’m really stressed out). But if I’m really lucky and manage my time appropriately, I might be able to spend some time working in the office, reading a book, or doing some yoga. I also really enjoy putting on one of my favorite programs in the kitchen with preparing food, and that’s really fun too. Right now I’m really enjoying Outlander on Netflix, and I just finished The Tiger King which was not something I intended to watch, but couldn’t stop once I started!

Free Time (Specials) 3:00

During this time, I like to encourage activities that foster creativity and togetherness, so we’ll do art together, play music, build with Legos, play a board game, get dressed up and play imagination games, jump on the trampoline, play outside, etc. My routine oriented daughter Ophelia has requested that we incorporate the same special’s schedule she had at school during this time, so on Mondays we’ll do something with computers, Tuesdays-music, Wednesdays-art, Thursdays-PE, and Fridays-fun Fridays (watch a movie together). When we do art projects, I like to find YouTube videos to teach them a new skill or idea. Ruby and Elliot are really into this, but the others just like to draw their own ideas. I’m actually quite surprised how much my kids enjoy watching Rob Ross. He is very soothing. We also really like watching Mo Williams doodle and seeing his thought process for creating books.

Art Lesson

Art Lesson

During this time, I like to make being present and interacting or playing with the kids a priority. Yes, there’s always a mountain of work I could be doing, but when I fill their tanks with attention and love, they have far better attitudes and behaviors.

Watching Mo Williams and Doodling

Watching Mo Williams and Doodling

Harry Potter Clue is our favorite board game right now.

Playing Harry Potter Clue

Playing Harry Potter Clue

Dinner 5:00-6:00

My husband gets home from work a little after 4:30, and we’ll typically eat dinner between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. Afterwards, we enjoy some family time. If it’s nice outside, we’ll jump on the trampoline, play frisbee, have a fire, or work on yard projects. If it’s crummy outside, then we’ll play music together, do something creative, play a board game, and sometimes we’ll even play a Jack Box game like Drawful.

Enjoying a Fire

Enjoying a Fire

Pajamas and Choice Time 6:30

Before the kids can have their evening choice time, we all work together to make sure the house is clean. When the kids have their choice time, my husband likes to play video games with them (usually something like Zelda, Minecraft, or some Mario game), and I get a little more me time. Usually I spend this time to make sure all of their workbooks are set up for the next day, get the kitchen tidied up, make sure beds are all ready for tuck in, and if I’m lucky a little more office time. At 7:30ish, we hang out in our bedroom, watch some videos, wrestle, eat snacks, and then brush teeth and do the rest of our bedtime routine.

Summer Routine

Every summer I create a routine with my kids so that they stay productive and don’t ask for choice time all day. If you’re looking for a more relaxed routine, you may want to try a schedule like this.

Summer Routine

Summer Routine

My Favorite Pencil/Paper Resources

When we started our homeschool routine, the kids’ teachers gave them packets of work to do. These were an excellent resource to bridge the gap between home and school. Once they completed those packets, I set learning goals for each child based on their strengths and weaknesses and found or created resources to help them achieve those goals. I’ll share a little bit about each child, their learning goals, and the resources I’m using. Also, right now I’m keeping the instruction focused on core foundational skills of reading, writing, math, and electives, but as we progress, I want to include more science and social studies lessons. This may be something we focus on more during the summer.

I feel like often times the tendency is to teach things an inch deep and a mile wide. I’d rather my children know their basic skills really really really well so that they can use this foundation to pursue whatever they are passionate about. I think the most important gift we can give our children is to know the joy of learning and guide them to seek it independently for their own pleasure and not just for a sticker or a grade. In this section, I’ll share a mini profile for each child, their learning goals, and my favorite pencil/paper resources.

Ruby: 5th Grade, 10 Years Old

Profile and Learning Goals: Ruby reads at a 13th grade level, is a total bookworm, and loves reading more than anything. She can sometimes isolate herself in her own world of books, so we encourage her as much as possible to be part of the group. She is a self starter, very motivated, and quite independent. She’s at the age and stage of her life where she wants to do things on her own without me hovering. She can have messy handwriting and struggles with organization at times. When she learns a new concept in math and doesn’t get it right away, she gets frustrated and gives up, but Scott is very patient explaining things to her.

Ruby Writing

Ruby Writing

Pencil/Paper Activities: Ruby finished all of the writing assignments from her teacher long ago (although we’re going to the school to get more tomorrow), so I’m having her work on this cursive handwriting book and write in her journal. I let each child choose if they wanted a cursive or print handwriting book, and the three older ones chose cursive because they think it’s fun. Ruby is an excellent writer with a vivid imagination, so I let her write about whatever she wants. She is currently writing an outline for a book series she wants to write. She’s also an excellent artist and loves to doodle, paint, and she especially loves drawing characters and creating profiles for them so that is something she does during writing time too.

Ruby's Paper/Pencil Activities

Ruby’s Paper/Pencil Activities

Elliot: 3rd Grade, 9 Years Old

Profile and Learning Goals: Elliot is very bright, reads at a 6th grade level, and loves learning about nonfiction topics. He struggles with handwriting, spelling, staying still, and completing assignments that take concentration like writing a paragraph. When he was at school, he was on medication for ADD, but now that he’s home, I just give him a cup of coffee when he needs to concentrate and it really helps. Whenever he is writing, I sit by him and have him tell me what he wants to write, I write it on a white board, and then he writes it. I know that with scaffolding and practice he’ll become more and more independent with this.

Elliot Writing

Elliot Writing

Pencil/Paper Activities: I want Elliot to become proficient at writing a single paragraph in one sitting, so each day we do something to work on this. On the first day, we only brainstormed ideas for a topic (I write down what he says), the next day we came up with a topic sentence, and today he wrote the detail sentences and conclusion. Tomorrow we’ll either revise, edit, and publish or simply start a new paragraph. Kumon makes EXCELLENT resources that teach children basic skills in progressively challenging lessons that build off from each other. Every day, I have him do 1-2 pages of his 3rd Grade Multiplication workbook, one page of his Handwriting Without Tears Cursive Handwriting workbook, and 1-2 pages of his Star Wars 3rd Grade Reading and Writing workbook. They have these Star Wars books for every grade level and subject. We recently picked up packets of work from his teacher, so when he’s mastered these resources, we’ll dive into the packets.

Elliot's Paper/Pencil Activities

Elliot’s Paper/Pencil Activities

Ophelia: 1st Grade, 6 Years Old

Profile and Learning Goals: Ophelia has a photographic memory and learns things very quickly. She was reading at the age of 2 and constantly blows us away with her ability to learn. She is also very emotional and struggles with sensory overload. She often has meltdowns and cries saying, “I don’t know why I’m sad.” It breaks my heart, but we are very patient with her and talk to her about her feelings knowing that the majority of the time it’s because her routine has changed or she’s hungry. Her teacher wanted her to skip 2nd grade next year (although even Elliot’s 3rd grade homework is too easy for her), but I’m not sure she could handle it emotionally. She actually said she wants to keep homeschooling next year, so we’ll see what happens. At any rate, I want to cover all 2nd grade basic skills to make sure there’s no gaps in her learning and work on handwriting and increasing her writing stamina. Her reading stamina has already improved dramatically. She used to only have the patience to finish picture books, but now she’s finishing a different chapter book just about every other day. She’s really getting into Illustrated Classics right now.

Ophelia's Paper/Pencil Activities

Ophelia’s Paper/Pencil Activities

Pencil/Paper Activities: I’ve seen Ophelia write multiple sentences before, but it’s been hard to get her motivated her to write more than one sentence for a writing prompt. I’m sure once we get in the swing of things and finally discover something she’s passionate to write about, she will want to write more. She does 4 pages in her 2nd Grade Brain Quest Workbook (absolutely the best workbooks for any grade) and 2-4 pages in her Cursive Kickoff Handwriting Without Tears workbook.

Ophelia's Paper/Pencil Activities

Ophelia’s Paper/Pencil Activities

Julian: Pre-K, 5 Years Old

Profile and Learning Goals: Julian is the first one of our children to go to preschool! He’s always been very sensitive and quite attached to me, and preschool has been a wonderful way for him to gain independence. Before preschool, he never wanted to do any learning activities and would constantly ask me when it would be choice time. Even though he only does about 15 minutes of “pencil/paper work” a day, he is still making wonderful growth and having a lot of fun along the way. Julian is a wonderful reader. I taught him letter names and sounds at a young age and now he can read just about everything. Since he’s so good at reading, my main goal for him is to increase his hand strength, learn how to hold a writing utensil correctly, learn the correct way to form letters, and work on math facts.

Pencil/Paper Activities: Every day we start with tracing mazes. At first, I had him use a crayon, but he started using his finger and really liked it so that’s what we do now. I noticed that he was having a lot of trouble holding a writing utensil correctly, and I wanted to make something that would help him build up his hand and finger strength, so every day we do between 5-10 math facts and he has to open the clothespin to put it on the correct number. At first, he could barely open the clothespin without my help, but now he is doing it much more easily! His teacher showed me this cool rubber band trick to help him learn how to hold a writing utensil correctly, and it’s really helping. We also just ordered these finger grips, and I’m really excited to try them out. He also loves doing these Wipe Clean Workbooks with dry erase markers.

Julian's Paper/Pencil Activities

Julian’s Paper/Pencil Activities

We just started using this Handwriting Without Tears My First School Book, which starts out with simple coloring activities and then progresses into letter formation. It is a phenomenal resource!

Julian's Handwriting Workbook

Julian’s Handwriting Workbook

Jack: 3 Years Old

Profile and Learning Goals: Jack is full of energy and constantly making messes. Trying to keep him out of trouble is definitely a full time job! I try to give him a bunch of attention when he first wakes up so that I can focus on the older ones during our homeschool time. I started doing ABC flashcards with Jack when he was about 8 months old, and he is now reading. I believe in doing a little bit over a long period of time as well as making an environment conducive to learning. I have ABC, colors, numbers, and shapes posters and flashcards everywhere. He loves interacting with them and knows all of his letter names and sounds, colors, shapes, numbers, and is reading basic sentences now. I wait for teachable moments with Jack, and he eats it up. He loves to learn and he loves to be challenged. I created the flashcards in the picture below plus many more free digital download resources that you can use to teach your child how to read.

Jack's Bed

Jack’s Bed

Pencil/Paper Activities: The only workbook I use with Jack is the Handwriting Without Tears My First School Book. He likes singing the ABCs and pointing to the letters. He also likes scribbling over pictures as he reads the words or watching me color the pictures while we talk about it. He also likes reading the write on wipe off books and sometimes colors in them. We find time to cuddle up and read every day, mostly books about construction vehicles, and he loves it! When he was younger, he would LOVE to sit on my lap and do flashcards together.

Jack's Workbook

Jack’s Workbook

Elliot has really bonded with Jack during this break. I know part of the reason why Elliot spends so much time with him is oftentimes to get out of doing schoolwork, but I actually really love that he keeps Jack busy! Jack loves flipping through these Basher Books (which take higher level topics like Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering and simplifies it for young children) trying to read the headings, and Elliot tells him the words he doesn’t know.

Elliot Reading Basher Books with Jack

Elliot Reading Basher Books with Jack

Most of the time, Jack is learning through play. I have little stations all over the house filled with puzzles, little figures and houses, Legos, baskets of cars, dress up clothes, and so on. I try to find time to facilitate his play, but with all of the kids home, he has lots of playmates!

Doing an Opposite Puzzle with Jack

Doing an Opposite Puzzle with Jack

Tips and Tricks for Getting Through Your Day

When I tried homeschooling a few years ago, I made the mistake of trying to recreate a typical school day all while being up in the night nursing and toting a small baby on my hip during the day. We started our day at 8:00 a.m., went through each subject just like they would at school; I even came up with big ideas and mini lessons, taught a curriculum that was differentiated for all of their ages and abilities, and just about drove myself mad in the process. It was so overwhelming to plan for and execute that I just gave up. This time around, not only do I have the support of the kids’ classroom teachers, but I have created WAY less expectations for myself and my children. The end result is that I am calm, happy, and relaxed, my kids are having fun and learning, and even though we’re trapped in quarantine, we’ve never been happier or closer as a family. Here are some of the things that have helped me to keep my sanity.

Take Care of Yourself

You cannot care for your family without making sure that you are taking care of your self. For me, that means waking up early so my husband and I can drink coffee together before he heads off to work and making sure I’m showered, dressed, etc. before my children wake up. Two years ago, I got to my goal weight by doing keto and intermittent fasting. Over time, however, my old eating habits crept back, and I’ve gained back nearly all of the weight. Now, I’m trying to stop snacking all morning and wait to make one really savory meal between 10:00 a.m. and noon (depending on how long I can wait). I also try to carve out time in the day for me to do some yoga, drink tea and read a book, work in my office, or knit. When my husband gets home from work and on the weekends, he spends a lot of time with the kids so I can do some things by myself, and that is really nice!

Use Your Talents Accordingly

Teach your children whatever you are good at and enjoy doing. For example, my husband is really good at math and computers, so whenever is he home, he helps the older ones with computer programming lessons on Khan Academy and any math assignments they are struggling with. One of my passions is reading, so I enjoy teaching my children how to read at a young age and helping them to find what they are passionate about reading. I’m also really good at being a homemaker, so I like to have my children help me make meals and teach them things like how to know when the pan is the right temperature to cook a fried egg, how to know when to flip a pancake, and how to make something from scratch. I’ve also enjoyed teaching them how to sew and how to clean the house.

I also think it’s important to show your children the things you like to make and create in your free time. For example, my husband loves playing and recording music, so he teaches the kids how to do that. I really like blogging, creating teaching resources, and video editing, so I talk to the kids about my passions and show them my process. You may be into farming, horticulture, or web design…whatever you are good at and passionate about share it!

When Things Aren’t Working

Sometimes, the room is so quiet I could hear a pin drop, and I just let them keep working until someone asks if they can be done. Other times, we barely get five minutes of work done before tempers and meltdowns bring everything to a screeching halt. I take each day as it comes knowing that it’s better to stop when things get rough, evaluate at a later time why things got that way, and make plans to change for the next day. There is no reason to keep plowing through an assignment when a child is angry, sad, or frustrated.

Also, if you feel like you’re about to lose your cool, just stop what you’re doing and walk away. When I feel like this, I tell my children,

“Mommy needs a time out. I’ll be right back.”

I have always struggled with my temper and have learned over the years how to bite my tongue when I get really mad because I know deep down the things I want to shout in anger are not going to bring about positive change. I’ll admit, sometimes kids need a strong and stern scolding, but that’s a controlled form of guidance. Yelling or shouting in anger will only result in fear and hurt feelings and should be avoided at all costs.

Feed Them

Don’t try to teach your children on empty stomachs! It is sometimes unbelievable to me the amount and frequency with which my kids eat, but while I may be shocked, I try to always be prepared by having healthy meals ready at regular times as well as plenty of healthy snacks ready to go. I try to make breakfast as hearty as possible with plenty of protein. While they’re working, I make sure they have access to water and offer snacks if needed, but usually they’re pretty good about waiting until lunch. At 3:00, they usually need some kind of snack. I’ve got a great healthy cookie recipe that the kids love, or I’ll offer apples and peanut butter, string cheese, beef sticks, hard boiled eggs, orange slices, etc. If I don’t offer them a healthy snack, they’ll usually get into the goldfish crackers, veggie sticks, mini muffins, ice cream bars, etc. For dinner, I like to rotate between the kids’ favorite meals and make sure we have a good keto option for my husband and I. I talk to the kids a lot about how important it is to make sure they eat enough protein, healthy fats, and veggies before filling up on carbs, but in the end spaghetti is easy, everyone loves it, and it is what it is.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed with Teacher Assignments

My kid’s teachers have been fantastic about giving us TONS of excellent resources both pencil/paper and online. I know that they are purposefully giving parents a variety of options and resources so that we can have an arsenal of resources to use, but they are not expecting parents to do ALL of the work they are sending home. I would recommend checking out the resources they are sending home to see which ones are a fit for you and your child. You may have a child who hates all of the pencil/paper work but loves the online assignments or vice versa. Have your child try out a variety of activities and then ask them what they’d like to continue doing. Get rid of the stuff that they don’t like and that is stressful for you and focus on what is enjoyable and easy. It doesn’t matter the modality, they will learn!

Managing Multiple Children

There is only one of me and so when multiple children need me, I have to make some adjustments. With my youngest who is 3 for example, I never know when he is going to be ready for a teachable moment so I need to be prepared to drop everything and meet his needs. Today for example, he wanted to sit on my lap while I was helping Elliot with his writing to look at his workbook. We looked through the pictures and colored them talking about the things on the page until he was ready to jump down and play. Because I started working with Jack, Elliot totally got off track and started doing something else, and that was okay with me. Jack is usually pretty good about playing with cars and trucks on his own, but if he’s getting to be too much of a distraction, I’ll put him in our bedroom and turn on one of his favorite shows.

Coloring with Jack

Coloring with Jack

Ruby has actually been phenomenal about independently getting her work done, and my husband has been wonderful about helping her out and answering any questions she has. The other kids, however, need me in varying degrees and at different times, so I have to be flexible. When we were first starting out and testing out new materials, I would sometimes have to spend the entire two hour chunk of learning time with one child often working with materials that were very frustrating until we finally settled on what worked. During these times, the other children would join Jack in my room to watch TV. There have also been times where Ophelia has gotten extremely emotional for one reason or another and I reassure her saying, “That’s ok, we don’t need to do any of that work today.”

I know that some days we are going to be very productive and get a lot done, and other days are going to be difficult for one reason or another. On days where the vibe is off, I try to remind myself that even if each child just spends 5 minutes learning something new, that’s still progress. If we can keep moving forward every day, even just a little bit, then over time we will grow. This is the reason why I plan on continuing this schedule over summer break. Not only will the summer schedule provide our days with more structure and help us avoid boredom, but it takes the pressure off from us having to get it all done now.

Also, keep in mind that it’s more important for everyone to be happy, having fun, and still smiling at the end of the day than it is to complete every worksheet and online assignment.

What To Do with an Unmotivated Child

Getting children to become self motivated takes a delicate amount of balance. Without ANY expectations, routines, or guidelines and endless amounts of screen time, children are going to be VERY hard to motivate. But swing the pendulum the other way and expect 6+ hours of productivity a day doing piles of work that is difficult, tedious, and boring will burn children out and also make them very hard to motivate. You have to create routines and set expectations that are within a child’s zone of proximal development which means that lessons aren’t too easy or too challenging, but just right. Children are naturally curious and like to learn. They feel proud when they overcome obstacles and can see themselves growing even if it’s difficult at times.

Finding out how your child likes to learn and what they like learning about will take some trial and error. Your child may LOVE doing pencil/paper activities, but hate doing things online. If this is the case, do most of the learning with pencil/paper. If a child LOVES doing the online portions, have that be the majority of the learning. Also. figure out what subject matter your child is most interested and get workbooks or create activities that follow that theme.

Keep in mind that children hate the things that are difficult for them, but sometimes it’s necessary to work on these things a little bit over a long period of time so that they won’t be so challenging anymore, especially with core subjects. My third grader, for example HATES writing because his brain works faster than his hands and his writing is very sloppy. I want him to be able to write a paragraph, so right now we are only writing 1-2 sentences a day, but I am also teaching him typing so that someday he can just type his papers.

In Conclusion

Being forced to create a homeschool routine because of Covid-19 is not something we ever thought we’d have to do, but I am so thankful it happened. We moved a year ago, and we’re finally settled into a home that we can afford and hope to love for a long time. Our family has needed this time to bond and reconnect without feeling pulled in a thousand different directions. I don’t know what the future holds for us in terms of schooling, but I know we are happy now, and that is all that matters. I have created tons of great resources you can use to teach your child to read here. If you find yourself thrust into a homeschooling situation or decide to homeschool for any reason, just know that it will take time to get things to run smoothly, so give yourself a grace period, have fun with it, and find ways to smile as much as possible throughout the day.

Happy Jack

Happy Jack

I love setting up an environment where my young preschool aged children (and older children as well) can be engaged in play based learning. I do this by setting up lots of little centers in every room that encourage creative and imaginative play with a little bit of skill based learning thrown in there as well. This is basically a Montessori approach to learning where children are given a lot of choice in a resource rich learning environment that incorporates plenty of opportunities for guided instruction.

While being a stay at home mom and raising our four children (after being an elementary school teacher for 7 years and getting my Master’s degree in Linguistics), these are the learning centers that have worked for me and have helped all of our children learn how to read at a young age, develop curious and imaginative minds, and get ready for school.

Before I dive into the learning centers, I wanted to set the scene with a few tips and tricks that have helped my learning centers to be successful.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Little Learning Centers: Set up small tables, little chairs, small couches, and other areas that are easy to access for little ones.
  2. Organization: I love using baskets, bins, cardboard boxes (with the flaps cut off), and tubs to sort and organize my toys and supplies. I like to label things when I can as well.
  3. Children’s Choice: Introduce children to new learning centers, but after introductions are made, let them choose what they want to do. Follow them and provide guidance and support wherever they choose to be.
  4. The Way to Start Your Day: Start the day with the most learning intensive projects first. You’ve got maybe an hour or two after they wake up for optimal attention, so use your time wisely!
  5. When to Pack it Up: If I have a center set up (like a Play-doh or a water table center) that’s really messy, but doesn’t sustain their attention for very long, I will pack it up. I’m usually okay with cleaning up a big mess as long as it was really and truly worth it. *With a new baby on the way, I’m starting to pack away all centers that make a big mess, just to help me manage things a little better. 🙂
  6. Rotation: If a center isn’t getting used, I’ll pack it away. Then, when I take it out again later, it’s like a brand new toy all over again! (If they still don’t use it, I’ll just get rid of it.)
  7. Routines and Procedures: Having a good behavior management system in place will make the day run much more smoothly. I have found both as a teacher and now a parent, that most behaviors can be managed with consistent routines, procedures, and expectations.

Whether you are setting up an atmosphere for homeschool or just looking to create a stimulating learning environment for your little one(s), these learning centers are sure to engage, stimulate, and provide hours and hours of play based learning opportunities for your child(ren). Also, keep in mind that we have four children ranging in age from 21 months to 7 years, and they ALL enjoy using all of these centers to varying degrees. 🙂

Here is a little video of me showing most of the learning centers we have set up in our home.

1. ABC Magnet Letters

Learning the ABCs isn’t just about singing a song, it’s about learning BOTH the letter names AND letter sounds really really well. Doing so will lay a strong foundation for reading.

ABC Magnet Letters

ABC Magnet Letters

This ABC magnet letter center is a perfect way for little ones to explore what they are learning about letters in a fun and hands on way. *Watch a video of Ophelia using ABC magnet letters here

Materials Needed:

  • Magnet Letters: I like these foam ones the best (120 pieces, capitals and lowercase letters), but they are currently only available from third party sellers on Amazon. These would be pretty good too if you don’t mind the pastel colors. I do like the Melissa and Doug wooden letters (52 pieces, one capital and one lowercase for each letter), but the magnets separate from the wood after time. This set of 240 lowercase letters (blue consonants and red vowels) from Lakeshore Learning is also a really great teaching tool, but the letters just aren’t as fun for kids to use. I like using it more for a teaching tool or to set up a lot of words at once. If you look at my letter set up, you’ll notice that I like setting the magnet letters in a shallow box so that little fingers can easily dig through them. Don’t worry about sorting the letters out, they’ll just get mixed up again! 🙂 I also like having these Leapfrog ABC letters for the refrigerator.
  • Muffin Pans: I like using this 2 x 3 pan for learning three letter words, this 12 muffin pan for either three or four letter words, and this mini muffin pan for longer words (and counting practice).
  • Magnetic White Board: There are lots of different options here. You could get a larger white board to hang on the wall, mini white boards to fit on laps, a standing mini white board, or even an easel. It all depends on your space really.
  • Small Table: You don’t really have to have a table (the floor would be just fine), but it does make it more fun! I made this mini table (pictured above) using scraps of wood we had lying around, and I measured it specifically to fit this funny little place in our “homeschool room”. When I was a teacher, I liked taking the lower parts of the table legs off from my rectangular tables to make a lower work surface for kids, and they loved it!

*For more of my favorite ABC resources, check out my blog: 10 Best Resources for Teaching the ABCs.

2. Counting

Learning how to count lays the foundation for math like learning the letter names and sounds lays the foundation for reading. It can take young children a very long time to learn one-to-one-correspondence (meaning that each object represents one thing, so it is definitely a good idea to encourage children to count often.

In the picture below, you’ll see that I have a mason jar numbered and labeled. I used to have 20 or so different counting jars with different things in them from beans to legos to small cars, but these counting bears were always the favorite, so that’s all I use now. 🙂 *The Investigations math curriculum is great for teaching math concepts in a fun and exploratory way.

Counting Bears Center

Counting Bears Center

I like using anything that encourages counting like the game Connect 4. Not only is this good for counting, but it’s good fine motor skill practice for little hands too.

Counting with Connect 4

Counting with Connect 4

Materials Needed:

  • Counters: These are the counting bears that I like to use.
  • More Counters: Lakeshore Learning has TONS of great counting resources. Check them out here.
  • Mason Jars: These wide mouths jars are best for storing the counters.
  • Muffin Tin: I like using this mini muffin tin to practice counting and for my ABC Magnet Center too.
  • Connect 4: This Connect 4 game is a great way to practice counting (we usually go to 20).

3. Drawing

I really like having one table in the house set up just for drawing. This table is in our homeschool room, and I always have coloring books, workbooks, how to draw books, printouts of favorite things to draw, stencils, paper, crayons, markers, other office supplies like scissors and tape, and a little box for finished drawings laying out and ready to use.

Drawing Table

Drawing Table

Not pictured to the right is a tall bookshelf that I keep stocked with a variety of coloring and work books, mini books we have made, blank mini books ready to be filled, extra markers, and more supplies. The pencils here in the picture below belong to our 7 year old daughter Ruby. She LOVES drawing and can be found doing one project or another here at this table every single day.

Ruby's Drawings

Ruby’s Drawings

Materials Needed:

  • Coloring Books: I like collecting coloring books and workbooks from garage sales, thrift stores, and trips to the grocery store based on whatever our children are interested in.
  • Crayons, Markers, Pencils: These are the pencils my older daughter loves. They are kind of expensive, but really good quality. I really like having this pencil sharpener too.
  • Paper: I get paper scraps from my parents’ business and cut it up for drawing paper, but blank computer paper like this works well too.
  • Printouts: I like going to Google and typing in “free coloring pages” and then whatever my kids are into like monsters, princesses, Dora, or the ABCs. I have a cool storage rack like this that I hang on the wall to hold available printouts for children to grab.

4. Painting

Yes, painting is messy, but soooooooooooo much fun for kids! Having a bunch of painting supplies on hand and ready to go makes for a really fun project.

My Painting Supplies

My Painting Supplies

I like letting kids draw whatever they want when we paint, but sometimes I’ll paint with them and we’ll talk about different things to paint like the sky, flowers, trees, cats, or whatever! If I’m feeling really artsy, maybe we’ll look up some famous artists someday and try to mimic their work.

Painting Over Masking Tape Letters

Painting Over Masking Tape Letters

Ruby Painting

Ruby Painting

Materials Needed:

5. Arts and Crafts Box

I love collecting things from garage sales, thrift stores, or the crafting aisles at Walmart to fill my craft box. I like to put most things in plastic bags and label them. It’s really fun to just take out the whole box, and get crafty!

My Craft Box

My Craft Box

Materials Needed:

  • Craft Box Items: Pom poms, little googly eyes, artificial flowers, buttons, sequins, glitter, pine cones, headbands, cotton balls, shells, pipe cleaners, paper scraps, yarn, and ribbons are some of the things I have in my craft box. Or you can just buy a random assortment of things here or here for example.
  • Glue: Glue sticks are nice for paper things, but you’ll want Elmer’s glue for bigger things, and maybe even a glue gun if you want things to be really permanent.
  • Paper: Sometimes it’s nice to make things on paper, so I like to have an assortment of large and small blank paper as well as construction paper.
  • Craft Ideas: I like letting the kids make whatever they want, but sometimes you need some inspiration or a pre-made kit like this headband kit or this bracelet kit.

6. Cutting and Gluing

Cutting is a really hard skill for little hands to master, and so any opportunities for young children to cut and glue will help prepare them for kindergarten. Sometimes it’s fun to just cut shapes out of colored paper and glue them onto large pieces of white paper. Other times, it’s fun to just cut and cut and cut! 🙂 One thing I’ve noticed though is that if a child isn’t ready to cut, don’t push it.

Fancy Cutting Scissors and Construction Paper

Fancy Cutting Scissors and Construction Paper

Materials Needed:

7. Stickers and Stamps

Stickers and stamps are a really fun way for kids to be creative, work on vocabulary and language skills, and develop their fine motor skills. I like to let the kids have complete freedom and do whatever they want with stickers and stamps, but sometimes they need a little help getting started. When this happens, I just get out my own piece of paper and think aloud as I choose what stamps to use and how to arrange my stickers. For extra vocabulary practice, I like to write descriptive words underneath the stickers or add word bubbles to the characters.

Stickers and Stamps

Stickers and Stamps

Materials Needed:

8. Write On/Wipe Off

Write on/wipe off boards are such a novel thing that it makes writing really different and fun. It’s a good way to give your child guided practice as they start to learn how to make lines, shapes, letters, numbers, and more.

Write On/Wipe Off Books and Whiteboard Center

Write On/Wipe Off Books and Whiteboard Center

Materials Needed:

9. Water Play

I usually save my water play centers for the dead of winter when we really need something to liven things up. It can get very messy, but kids LOVE it, and hey, it’s just water. When my water centers are in motion, I pretty much constantly have a load of towels in the dryer. 🙂

Water Pouring Center

Water Pouring Center

Ruby and Ophelia Pouring Water

Ruby and Ophelia Pouring Water

A less messy option is to just do water play in the sink, or better yet, in the bathtub! There have been many long winter days where we take a bath in the afternoon just for fun!

Elliot Doing Water Play in the Sink

Elliot Doing Water Play in the Sink

Materials Needed:

  • Cups and Saucers: There are many different types of tea sets that are really fun to pour with, but sometimes larger cups are fun too.
  • Tubs and Buckets: It’s nice to have a tub or bucket for collecting the water and another for pouring into. I like these rectangular dishpans a lot.
  • Water Table: I did buy this water table last winter, and it was a lot of fun, but not really as fun as the tables with cups and saucers. In the summer we keep it outside, and that has been fun, although a bit of work to keep clean.
  • Towels: I like keeping a stash of old towels hanging near the water centers.

10. Cars and Trains

Our youngest son Julian (21 months) is absolutely OBSESSED with anything that has wheels. All day long he loves pushing his cars and trucks. At the end of the day, there are little areas of cars and trucks everywhere. It’s adorable!

Toy Cars

Toy Cars

Julian Loves Pushing His Big Truck Throughout the House

Julian Loves Pushing His Big Truck Throughout the House

Even though we have an official “Car Center”, there are cars and trucks stashed in just about every room in the house!

Julian's Bedroom

Julian’s Bedroom

Materials Needed:

  • Cars and Trucks: Like with just about everything else in our home, I like finding cars and trucks at thrift stores and garage sales for $0.25 – $0.50/piece. This 20-pack Matchbox set would be a nice way to get started though, and these bulldozers and trucks would make a nice addition. I try to stay away from things that require batteries and make noise because a) they can be really annoying and b) I think that they stifle the imagination. We like using a large truck like this to store all of our cars in.
  • Ramps: We have this ramp, and it’s amazing, but apparently, they’re not making it anymore. Bummer. Something like this or this would be really fun too.
  • Train Tracks: Our kids have a lot of fun with these wooden train tracks. Smaller cars fit on them perfectly too.
  • Road Rug: The kids love our road rugs and play many imagination games using them. You can get a small one like this, or a large one like this. We got our large rug from a thrift store, but you can find some great ones on Amazon like this.

11. Building Toys

Toys that require building are my absolute favorite. They engage the children for extended periods of time, and they really help to get their creative juices flowing. When they’re first learning about how to use the building tools, my husband and I spend a lot of time building with them to model the possibilities. But once they get going, they really start learning from each other, and it’s incredible.

Many Different Kinds of Blocks

Many Different Kinds of Blocks

Big Legos, Kinex, and Unifix Cubes

Big Legos, K’nex, and Unifix Cubes

I love having this table set up just for Legos. The big kids play here as a part of their nightly bedtime routine every night while we put the little ones to bed first. We enjoy buying and making Lego kits from time to time, but mostly they just enjoy building whatever they’d like.

Lego Table

Lego Table

Ophelia and Ruby Building with K'nex

Ophelia and Ruby Building with K’nex

Materials Needed:

  • Big Legos: I like using two bags of these big legos at once. I have a large cardboard box that I cut the flaps off from, cut the front down so that little hands can reach in, and reinforced it with duct tape.
  • Small Legos: We inherited my husband’s old lego set from when he was a kid, but you can buy some basic legos like these. We have also enjoyed making many kits together, but when we’re done, the pieces just get thrown into the collection. I love using large shallow Amazon boxes with the flaps cut off, or a storage tub like this to store the legos in so that kids can find the pieces they’re looking for more easily.
  • Mathlink Cubes: These cubes are great for learning about patterns, counting, or just using to make swords and towers.
  • K’nex: There are so many different ways kids can play with these K’nex building toys. While there may be many different kits available, we have never tried any out.
  • Wooden Blocks: These large wooden blocks are something you must have! We also like these small colored blocks, these ABC blocks, and while we don’t have these large cardboard bricks, I always thought they would be fun to have.
  • Other Fun Building Toys: We don’t have the following building toys, but they are on my wish list!

12. Reading Nooks

I like having little reading spaces all over the house. By making the books easy to see and easy to reach, children are more likely to become engaged with them.

Little Chair and Boxes with Books

Little Chair and Boxes with Books

I like rotating my books based on who is reading them and where. The older children are able to go to the bookshelves to select books, and they each have huge assortments of books in their rooms, so I kind of like to keep my baskets of books and little chairs geared for the little ones.

Little Reading Chairs with a Basket of Books Inbetween

Little Reading Chairs with a Basket of Books Inbetween

Materials Needed:

  • Little Furniture: We bought our mini chairs at our local Walmart, but if I were to buy some online, these mini bean bag chairs look great and have great reviews, and this sturdy wooden framed chair would be the dream! I highly recommend getting something that has a removable cover that can be washed! We inherited a mini couch like this from my parents who bought it for my twin sisters (who are now grown). I think it really pays to buy quality when it’s an item that will get used a lot, but this foam mini couch would be really fun too.
  • Book Baskets: I started collecting wicker baskets like these when Ruby was born to hold diapers and such, and the size and shape is just perfect for storing books! I think this lined wicker basket would be even better, but it’s twice as much. I think it’s really important to fan the books out so that as many can be seen as possible (so big ones in the back), and so they are really easy to grab.
  • Bookshelves: I like storing chapter books and books waiting to be rotated in, as well as our adult books, on bookshelves. We have picked up small ones like thisbig ones like this, and square ones like this over the years at garage sales and thrift stores that have worked really well. I never bought one, but I always thought this book rack storage shelf would be really cool too.
  • Best Books: I have a blog about my favorite books for babies and an Amazon astore with my favorite books for children of all ages, but mainly, I just try to find really good garage sales where the books are like $0.10/each and stock up on ones that cover content, have interesting pictures, and contain text that is on the larger side. I’m always looking for really good sturdy board books especially.

*Read more of my blogs about teaching reading here.

13. Favorite Things Books

I believe in giving children a foundation of learning by helping them master the basic skills, but after that, I like to let them choose to engage in whatever they are interested in. These favorite things books are a great way for me to encourage each child to follow his or her own learning path. Basically, I just do Google image searches and print out pictures of their favorite things.

Ruby’s Favorite Things book is filled with her favorite Miyazaki films, My Little Pony characters, Digimon characters, and pictures of special memories that we printed out. Elliot is really into monsters, superheroes, Godzilla, octopuses, and anything gross. Ophelia loves learning about the ABCs, counting, Dora, seasons, weather, maps, and more, so her book is more educationally themed.

Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot's Favorite Things Books

Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot’s Favorite Things Books

Inside Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot's Favorite Things Books

Inside Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot’s Favorite Things Books

Ophelia Reading Her Favorite Things Book

Ophelia Reading Her Favorite Things Book

Materials Needed:

  • Paper: I like using laminated covers and card stock like this for the pages. Sometimes I just print the images right on the page, and sometimes I cut and glue them. This paper cutter has been very handy.
  • Printer: Finding a good printer is tough, and I am not too happy with the printer choices we have made in the past. But my dad owns a small business where he does a lot of printing and highly recommends the Epson WorkForce ET-4550. He says it prints great and the replacement ink is VERY affordable because it uses liquid refills. Once we’re out of ink for our current printer, we will be purchasing this one!
  • Laminator: This is the laminator I have. It is really basic, has a good price, and works great! This one is about the same price and has even better reviews though.
  • Binder: I have tried the comb binding (with binding spines) and it is affordable and easy to use, but not super durable (yet simple enough to fix). I have also tried the cinch binding (with binding wires) that is much more durable but the binding wires are quite expensive.

14. Little Figures and Houses

Creative and imaginative play is one of THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of childhood. When I was a third grade teacher, I was always amazed when kids had no idea what to do with themselves during recess. When I was growing up, my brother and I always played intricate imagination games that would take us to other worlds and keep us engaged for hours.

Playing with little figures and houses is an excellent way for young children to use play to make sense of the world around them. Sometimes their play is about real things (going to bed, taking a bath, getting dressed) and sometimes it’s a completely made up fantasy.

Little House and Mini Figures

Little House and Mini Figures

When Ruby and Elliot were first starting to show interest in little house and mini figures, we would get on the floor and play with them as we modeled different scenarios with heroes and villains as well as other story lines that they could play along with. Now, Ophelia and Julian are learning from their older siblings how to do the same thing.

Doll House with Toy Baskets

Doll House with Toy Baskets

We have little houses and figures in just about every room in the house, and they always keep our children engaged in imaginative play for extended periods of time.

Ruby and Elliot Playing with Little Houses and Figures

Ruby and Elliot Playing with Little Houses and Figures

Materials Needed:

  • Little Houses: Just like with everything else, we look for all sorts of houses, castles, barns, tree house, and any other structures at garage sales and thrift stores. These things are so expensive to buy new, but just look on Craigslist or find a way to buy them used. Otherwise, Fisher Price Little People houses like this small one or this larger one are great too.
  • Figures: We are always buying these My Busy Books at the grocery store, not so much for the book and play mat, but for the mini figures inside. I am always on the lookout for small figures like these superheroes and these Peanuts characters. I try to stay away from Barbies and anything else that objectifies women.
  • Baskets: I like using wide shallow baskets like this because children only like to play with what they can see. This toy rack has also been very nice for organizing toys (although I just dump anything anywhere, it at least looks organized).

15. Dress Up

Playing dress up is another really great way for children to use their imaginations. By getting dressed up, they can become a different person with new characteristics. This imaginative play is a very important aspect of their development and actually a key piece of the highly successful Tools of the Mind Preschool Curriculum.

Dress Up Clothes and Hats

Dress Up Clothes and Hats

Sometimes when children get dressed up, they don’t know what to do. I like to provide scenarios and props to help spin them into action (usually some kind of problem and solution involving a hero and villain works well). Being able to engage in extended imaginative play (without adult interaction) is a very important skill for little ones to develop. It teaches them how to sustain their attention on something for an extended period of time and fosters all sorts of creativity that is a much more important aspect of an optimal learning environment than some would think.

Dress Up Dresses

Dress Up Dresses

Ophelia is a Cowgirl!

Ophelia is a Cowgirl!

I like looking for dress up clothes at garages year round, but my favorite thing to do is to hit up thrift stores right before Halloween to pick up more outfits, hats, and props to add to my collection.

Materials Needed:

16. Music

My husband is very musical, and so we have him to thank for filling our house with such wonderful instruments. He is talented at playing just about everything and has a very good ear for music. The kids love sitting on his lap while he plays the drums and we all enjoy making family music together.

Drums, Keyboard, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, and Amp

Drums, Keyboard, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, and Amp

I have placed colored stickers on the keyboard with letters on them to teach kids the names of the keys. We like printing out simple song sheets (look for ones that have the notes and letters for each note) and color coding them so that the children can learn how to read music.

Keyboard with Labeled Keys

Keyboard with Labeled Keys

Materials Needed:

17. Puzzles

Puzzles are an excellent way for children to practice their dexterity while also learning about the vocabulary and content of the puzzle. Yes, there are times when I have to hide my puzzles when the little ones want to just dump all of the pieces out in one big jumble, but when they’re ready to actually sit down and attend to one (or maybe two) puzzles at a time, then I leave them out!

Puzzle Rack

Puzzle Rack

Playing with Puzzles

Playing with Puzzles

Materials Needed:

18. Pocket Charts

There are many different pocket charts that you can get for a variety of purposes. I like having my pocket chart as an interactive wall center. Sometimes I use pre-made cards, sometimes I use my own flashcards, and sometimes I use flashcards that the kids have colored. There are so many different options for pocket charts and the best thing is that they don’t take up any floor space!

Pocket Chart with Beginning Word Sounds

Pocket Chart with Beginning Word Sounds

Materials Needed:

19. Play-Doh

Play-Doh is a fun moldable adventure for children. Little fingers love squishing and squashing it, and there are so many different options for creativity.

Ophelia and Elliot Playing with Play-Doh

Ophelia and Elliot Playing with Play-Doh

I like keeping my Play-Doh supplies stored in cardboard boxes (from Amazon) with the flaps cut off and labeled with mailing labels. It’s nice to have a table or space on the floor to play with the Play-Doh so that it doesn’t get ground into the carpet. Right now, my Ophelia is obsessed with this

Materials Needed:

20. Puppets

Puppets are a wonderful way to teach children new things or entertain them using funny voices and silly dialogue. I enjoy using puppets to talk to my children or read them books and we all like putting on puppet shows.

Puppet Stand

Puppet Stand

Materials Needed:

  • Puppet Stand: I made this puppet stand using spare scraps of wood we had lying around. It’s a good thing it’s covered up with fabric, because it’s a very crude job! I even had to screw it into the wall just so it would stay standing. 🙂 If you don’t feel like making your own, you could certainly just buy one like this.
  • Hand Puppets: These animal hand puppets are great (and a good price), but I really like the puppets with mouths that open, and my kids LOVE our Ernie and Kermit the Frog puppets because they recognize the characters. You can get this Sesame Street Puppet Collection here, but it is pretty pricey. This set of 8 multi-ethnic puppets is a better value.
  • Finger Puppets: This is a great 16 piece finger puppet set.

21. Games

I love, love, LOVE these big cupboards with shelves that we inherited when we bought our house, and I have one entire cupboard where we keep most of our board games. Many games I have found at garage sales and thrift stores, and many others have been on wish lists for Christmas and Birthdays. The frustrating thing about the popular games these days is that they seem to be made cheaper and cheaper with each generation. I like finding older versions of classic games like Connect 4 and Guess Who that are of obviously superior quality.

Our Board Game Cupboard

Our Board Game Cupboard

When little ones are first learning about board games, I find that it is very important to let them play however they want. When they are ready, they’ll want to play by the rules, so in the meantime, don’t make everyone frustrated by forcing it.

We try to make it common practice to just take out one game at a time, and we try to not make TOO big of a mess. Also, I’m sure there are a ton more great games (especially educational ones) out there, but we usually look for ours second hand, so we just get what we can find! 🙂

Materials Needed:

22. Science

When I think of teaching little ones science, I think about teaching them how to see the world up close and giving them opportunities to explore it. I want them to get magnifying glasses and look at bugs…how they move, where they’re going, they’re characteristics, I want them to catch frogs and learn how to gently handle them, I want them to observe the colors of the sky and to see the patterns in the clouds, I want them to get messy as they compare the texture of dirt to mud, and most of all, I want them to play, explore, wonder, question, and see…really see the world.

Ruby and Elliot in the Garden

Ruby and Elliot in the Garden

Ruby and Elliot Doing a Vinegar and Baking Soda Experiment

Ruby and Elliot Doing a Vinegar and Baking Soda Experiment

Materials Needed:

23. Social Studies

Learning about where we are in place in time should be a gradual infiltration of knowledge instead of a sudden mind dump. As a third grade teacher introducing concepts such as “we live in a city that is part of a state that is part of a country that is part of a continent” and “before we lived here other people lived here with fewer advancements in technology” are all really big ideas that can be hard to grasp when introduced too quickly.

The more children can be exposed to these concepts at a young age, the more receptive they will be to learn about them more in depth at a later age.

State, World, and Universe Maps

State, World, and Universe Maps

Materials Needed:

24. My Favorite Workbooks

During the summer (and weekends, holidays, etc.), I have a pretty nice routine that involves all of us adopting a homeschool framework that helps all of us to be productive and accountable. First thing in the morning, I like to have my older ones do about 2-4 pages from any workbook of their choosing. Sometimes the little ones like to do workbooks too, sometimes they just color, and sometimes they’re playing elsewhere. 🙂

My Favorite Workbooks

My Favorite Workbooks

Some kids really really like sitting down and doing workbooks, and some just don’t. I think you have to find what works for your child. Try to expose them to some pencil paper activities where you can and let their interests lead the way.

Materials Needed:

  • Kumon Books: Every single Kumon book is simple, fun, direct, to the point, and a very effective teaching too. I love everything they make from tracing and mazes, to addition and subtraction, to upper and lowercase letters, to rhyming words, and much much more.
  • Brain Quest: I love everything Brain Quest makes! Their workbooks are high quality with full color, simple graphics, age appropriate content, and fun for kids. You might like starting with the Pre-K or K workbook for your little one.
  • Star Wars: When I was doing homeschool preschool with my son Elliot, he was pretty reluctant to sit down and do any sort of workbooks, but he loved these Star Wars workbooks! We enjoyed the Kindergarten Phonics and ABCs and Kindergarten Math Skills. There’s also some really great Preschool ABC and Preschool Number workbooks.
  • Investigations Math: This curriculum does an amazing job of making learning math fun! There are lots of different games that help to build math concepts. You can buy individual student books by grade level on Amazon like this K workbook. If you go to the Investigations ordering page, you’ll see that it’s not super easy to order from them unless you’re buying the whole kit and kaboodle.
  • Grocery Store Books: If you go to the book section at any grocery store or Walmart, there’s always a selection of different workbooks. I have enjoyed using these as well. If you live near any teacher stores, I highly recommend going there and just looking through the resources in person.

25. Technology

We have always enjoyed using technology as a teaching tool with our little ones. Read more about why we don’t ban screen time for our little ones under two here, and also read more about how we set limits with technology here. If you are the type of parent who has trouble setting limits, leaves the TV on all day even if no one is watching it, or is struggling with young ones who want to spend all day in front of a screen, then you might want to skip this section. But if you’re okay with using technology in a structured and supervised way, then you might love the following blogs:

Our Favorite Preschool Apps

Our Favorite Preschool Apps

In Conclusion

By setting up a stimulating environment filled with many different learning centers, your little ones will not only be engaged, they will be growing and developing so fast that you might find it hard to keep up, and that is definitely not something to complain about!

You don’t have to be a teacher in order to provide your child with a stimulating learning environment, and you don’t need to wait until you send them off to school before you can expect them to learn anything. Babies and young children crave stimulation and learning. and you’re not going to find all that you need in workbooks and paper/pencil activities. Kids need opportunities to learn through play, and play based learning centers are a great way to get started!

For Further Reading

  • Zone of Proximal Development: Children of all ages, babies included, love to be challenged. By providing learning opportunities that are at the right level for your child and by scaffolding them to new learning, they will be engaged, happy, and continuously making advancements.
  • Learning Goals: Now, I’m not talking about state standards, lesson plan books, and goal sheets, I’m talking about knowing where your children are developmentally and thinking about where they could go next based on their ages, abilities, personalities, etc. Knowing this will help you to design your learning environment with each child’s needs in mine. See examples of the learning goals I set for my children here.
  • How Children Learn: When you look at brain development and see that the neurons in a child’s brain peak at about 2-3 years of age, you will understand why I believe that this is the most crucial window of opportunity there is.
  • Oral Language Development: Learning how to speak is what represents the background knowledge that children will bring to every new learning experience that they encounter.
#1-Oral Language Development Lays the Foundation for Reading

Oral language development is one of the most important aspects of a developing young child’s brain and is what lays the foundation for learning how to read.

According to SEDL’s Reading Resources, oral language development is “highly correlated with later reading proficiency”. The research also shows that,

“Most language development occurs indirectly through language exposure rather than through explicit instruction,”

This means that as parents, we don’t need to teach our babies and toddlers specifically targeted language lessons, we just need to give them lots of exposure to quality language experiences. But what are quality language experiences? Does this simply meaning talking more or leaving the TV on?

Children are not just passive receptors of their environment. They want to engage, they want to be stimulated, challenged, and acknowledged every step of the way. Many people look at children as though they are not ready to learn until they are much older, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They are ready to learn from birth, but it’s all about meeting them where they are and providing the language experiences that best fit their stage of language development.

Stages of Language Development

First, let’s take a look at the stages of language development to see what is appropriate at each age level. Children may not fit into these categories perfectly, but it gives you an idea of how the focus changes from learning how to make sounds to asking questions.

Newborns (0-3 months)

During this “4th trimester”, a child’s brain is finishing the growth that couldn’t happen in the womb. They need you close. They need to feel your heartbeat and drink in your scent.

Basking in the Glow of Newborn Julian

Basking in the Glow of Newborn Julian

They need to look in your eyes and feel you smooth their head and coo to them that everything is going to be all right. They need to feel safe, comfortable, fed, and warm. This is the bonding time where it all begins and your heart will completely melt when you start to hear them coo their first sounds. They have a voice!

Infants (3-6 months)

It’s so amazing to see infants leave the newborn stage. The memory of birth is just starting to fade as you hold your child with wonder and fascination instead of just shock and awe. Their eyesight is just starting to become fully functional and they are now a bit more comfortable with this world outside the womb. They have been soaking up the sights and sounds around them and are now ready to start mimicking what they see and hear.

Bonding with 4 Month Old Elliot

Bonding with 4 Month Old Elliot

They love to look at your mouth and it’s fun to make exaggerated sounds. You can enjoy having “conversations” by saying something sweet and then waiting for them to respond. If you wait, you’ll hear them try to coo and copy you. When they are done, say something sweet again and then pause to let them respond. It is the cutest darn thing ever. These baby conversations are very important in their language development.

Babies (6-12 months)

Just look at the diagram below to see the explosion of synaptic connections by 6 months! This is when babies’ brains are in an optimal place for learning.

Reproduced from Seeman et. al: Human Brain Dopamine Receptors in Children and Aging Adults, Synapse 1987: 1:399-404. Copyright ©1987, Wiley-Liss Inc., a division of John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Reprinted by permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Reproduced from Seeman et. al: Human Brain Dopamine Receptors in Children and Aging Adults, Synapse 1987: 1:399-404. Copyright ©1987, Wiley-Liss Inc., a division of John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Reprinted by permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

There is a big misconception that because babies cannot produce language at this point – that they aren’t ready for it, but they are! They are just in the listening and learning phase for a little while. Because myelination is just starting to form (the fatty sheath around the synaptic connections that helps the signals transfer faster) it takes lots and lots of repetition of the same thing in order to make this connection speedy. So pick things that are important to repeat.

Watching Your Baby Can Read with 7 Month Old Ophelia

Watching Your Baby Can Read with 7 Month Old Ophelia

This is when I like to start using my ABC, First Words, Colors, Shapes, and Numbers Flashcards and Videos, and reading familiar books over and over again. This is a very crucial window, don’t miss it!

Emerging Toddlers (12-18 month)

You will notice that they will now start to produce what you have been repetitiously teaching them. It will seem as if they just suddenly learned it, but really, it started building when they were 6 months old.

One Year Old Ruby Loves Reading Books

One Year Old Ruby Loves Reading Books

As their vocabularies start to explode, I’m often reminded of Helen Keller when she has that magical moment with her teacher Anne Sullivan and everything just clicks and she feverishly wants to know the names of everything. This is what it’s like at this stage. They understand that words have meaning and they want to know the names of things. So tell them! Tell them the names of every single thing their curious little minds want to discover.

Toddlers (18-24 months)

At this stage, they will actually be able to start communicating with you in ways that you can understand. They will start to use short phrases and they will be able to repeat simple nursery rhymes, songs, and chants.

19 Month Ophelia Loves to Learn

19 Month Ophelia Loves to Learn

If you have been working on the ABCs and nursery rhymes all along, your heart will just melt when you hear them sing them. During this stage, I find it very helpful to repeat whatever they say to provide clarity. You’ll know when you get what they were trying to say right or wrong depending on their expressions.

Two Year Olds (24-36 months)

This stage is what some refer to as the “terrible twos” and I believe that this is because their brains comprehend and want to articulate way more than they are capable of expressing. You just need to help them find the words for what they are trying to say as they begin to assert their independence.

2 Year Old Ruby Learning About Her World

2 Year Old Ruby Learning About Her World

At this time, I like to use a lot of teaching tools to bring as many different modalities of learning together such as ABC fridge magnets, flashcards, and puzzles. Doing activities with your children and talking to them about what you are both doing is one of the best ways to facilitate language growth at this point.

Three Year Olds (36-48 months)

This is when children seem to take special interest in certain characters, topics, and toys. Use their interests to help them develop more specialized vocabularies based on whatever they are fascinated by.

3 Year Old Elliot Playing with his ABC Transformers

3 Year Old Elliot Playing with his ABC Transformers

It could be anything from superheroes, to dinosaurs, to space exploration, to princesses. Help them to learn the specialized vocabulary that aligns with their interests as they continue to expand their vocabularies. This is they time I typically like introducing my Three Letter Word Families activities.

Four Year Olds (48-60 months)

At this age, any content that interests them can be used to teach vocabulary. They will be full of curiosities and questions and it is so very important that you don’t brush their questions aside, especially if it’s because you don’t know the answer. Show them what you do when you don’t know the answer to a question, like use google on your phone, look in a book, or ask an expert. It might be a good idea to have a real or electronic notepad to keep track of all of their questions. We enjoyed having a question wall for awhile because they were asking so many questions that I couldn’t keep up and I wanted to remember to get to them.

4 Year Old Ruby Exploring Her World Outdoors

4 Year Old Ruby Exploring Her World Outdoors

I love this Einstein quote: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” When children ask why the leaves change color, use words like photosynthesis, carbon dioxide, chlorophyll, and oxygen. Sometimes your explanations might be a little over their heads, but the more you talk about it and learn about it, the more it will make sense.

Tips and Tricks for Optimal Oral Language Development

1. Vocabulary

Start by teaching your children the names of things. Everything in this world is new to them and the best place to start is to teach them what everything is called. Start with family members, things about them (body parts, clothes, etc.), and things in your house, then move on to things in the outside world.

When you’re changing diapers, talk about the clothes you are putting on them, when you’re eating, point out the foods that are in front of them, when they are playing with toys (especially educational toys such as alphabet blocks and shape sorters), talk about what they are and what color they are, and how you are using them. The best way to teach vocabulary is in the moment, so be there in the moment to teach your children the names of things when they want to know what they are.

2. Monitor Your Speech

Speak clearly, speak slowly, and carefully enunciate your words to ensure that you are understood. Get down to their level, make eye contact, and really talk to them. Especially after babies are 6 months old and older, you want to avoid the goo-goo-ga-ga baby talk. You’re not going to talk to them like you’d talk to another adult, but you don’t need to use a made up language with poorly crafted words either.

The most important thing is to make sure you have their attention. When or if you lose it, just adjust your speech until you have it again. You might need to use a funny voice, really over enunciate what you are saying, or speak with fewer or simpler words, but just keep trying something until it clicks or wait until a better time.

3. Zone of Proximal Development

When teaching in the zone of proximal development, you don’t want the learning to be too easy or too challenging. You want it to be just challenging enough so that’s it’s one level above where they are. Scaffolding occurs when you guide them to do something they couldn’t do on their own and then you take the scaffolding away when they can do it independently.

So if children are speaking just one or two words at a time, you’ll want to start modeling more complex sentences and phrases that are just slightly more complex than what they are saying. For example, if they point to your cat and say, “Kitty.” You can repeat what they say and add onto it saying, “Yes, that’s a kitty. A kitty says meow. Do you want to pet the kitty?

You wouldn’t want to say, “Yes, that’s our cat Ferguson, and he’s 14 years old. He’s diabetic and in the beginning stages of feline leukemia so we will just let him continue sleeping.” This is so over their heads, that they will lose interest and no learning will take place. And if you just repeat “Kitty”, you’re keeping it too easy and not providing them with enough of a challenge.

4. Get Down on the Floor and Play

Get down on the floor to play with your children and talk about what you are doing. For example you might say, “Do you see the blue ball? Can you roll it to me? Good job! You found the blue ball! Now I’m going to roll it to you. Ready, set, go! Good job! You caught it!”

Ophelia and Julian Playing with Stacking Cups

Ophelia and Julian Playing with Stacking Cups

This is one of the most simple things you can do and it’s a fun bonding experience as well. By getting down on the floor with them you are entering their world in a way that helps you to help them navigate it. The worst thing you can do is to talk down to your children when you’re not at their level and expect that they will understand you. The distance from your towering voice and their little world down below is a gap easily bridged by a little crouch. And hey, it’s time you worked those quads anyways! Here’s a video of me and Ophelia playing on the floor in a great example of some oral language development play.

5. Talk About What You’re Doing

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, just talk to them about everything and anything. Talk about what you’re doing as you get them dressed, buckled in the car, and on the drive to the grocery store. At the store, describe everything you see. Talk about the food you’re putting in the cart, point out the numbers on the aisles, and stop to look at the lobsters and the swimming fish. Anytime you do something, talk about it. These experiences are the best ways to build background knowledge and learn language.

6. Listen and Repeat

Encourage your children to talk about whatever they are doing. To get children to talk more, you can start by repeating the last thing they say and then pause. This encourages them to speak openly without you dictating what they say with overly specific prompts. If they don’t have much to say, you can prompt them with simple questions like, “What’s this? What color is it? How many ____ are there? Can you find the triangle?” 

Pausing after a question is very important with children. During this “wait time”, they are processing the question and formulating a response. Far too often, we answer our own questions after we incorrectly assume that the child wasn’t capable of answering it, when the reality is just that he or she needed more time.

Here’s a video of Elliot talking to me while playing his Minecraft game. Notice how I just kind of rephrase what he says as a way to encourage him to keep saying more.

7. Nursery Rhymes, Songs, and Chants

Learning new things is all about memorization and memorization is all about associations. The more associations you have with something, the more embedded in your memory it will become. This is why the repetition of nursery rhymes, songs, and chants are so easily embedded into long term memory. The more children can memorize, the stronger the neural pathways in their brain will become, and the more they will be primed for learning how to read.

Nursery rhymes are a great place to start because really young children do not have a very long attention span and anything that engages them is a great place to begin. Nursery rhymes with hand motions like the Eensy Weensy Spider, I’m a Little Teapot, Ring Around the Rosy are a great combinations of simple repetitious chants with basic movements that help make memorization easier.

8. Read Books

Books, of course, are great ways to engage children with language and experiences that they might not otherwise be able to have. I love reading everything from word books, to magical fantasies, to books about favorite TV shows like Dora, to nonfiction books. Whatever is exciting to both you and them is a great place to start. Keep in mind that it’s not just about reading the books, it’s about engaging with them.

You can do this without reading a single word. Look at the pictures and talk about what you see. By encouraging this picture reading, you will familiarize your child with how to hold a book, how to turn the pages, and how to be a reader. Learn more about how to teach your child how to read in my blog: How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps.

9. Share Your Questions and Passions

Share your curiosities and passions with your children and provide a model for what it means to be a life long learner. Show them that you value questioning by listening to them and honoring the importance of the questions they ask. Encourage them to ask why and answer their questions in detail. If you don’t know the answer, tell them so and then look up the answer together.

10. Favorite Things Books

When they are ready, make favorite things books. Print out pictures of their favorite things or print out pictures of them doing things. Then, look through it together and write down what they say next to each picture.

Favorite Things Books with Comb Binder

A Look Inside Favorite Things Books

A Look Inside Favorite Things Books

I love having a little pile of blank books laying around and letting the children decide how they want to use them. Sometimes we write stories, sometimes we make books about whatever they’re passionate about, sometimes we make ABC books, and sometimes we make books about the things we’re learning about.

In Conclusion

If you spend a lot of quality time with your children, then oral language development should happen without giving it a second thought. Oral language is the foundation for all further learning by providing background knowledge. The earlier children’s brains can be stimulated, the more connections they will have in their brains and the stronger they will be. So get down on the floor and play with your child, talk with your child, and listen, really listen every chance you get.

For More Information

You’ll find everything you need to teach your child to read on my FREE READING RESOURCES page which includes flashcards, videos, plus more tips and tricks. 

How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps (Keeping it Simple)

  1. Language Rich Environment: Use oral language at the child’s level (Get down on the floor and play together!) and help them memorize vocabulary words. (Tell them the names of things!)
  2. Phonemic Awareness: Teach one sound for each letter of the alphabet. (Start with short vowels.)
  3. Phonics: Tap out sounds in three letter words to teach how sounds come together to make words.
  4. More Complex Phonemic Awareness: Introduce long vowels, digraphs, and other vowel sounds.
  5. Reading Comprehension Strategies: Use quality literature to interact with books and ask questions before, during, and after reading to make sure your child is understanding what is being read.

Teach Your Child to Read Blog Series (Digging Deeper)

how to engage your baby with reading

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.

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

What Babies First Learn About Reading

  • 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.

1. In Utero

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

Reading to Ophelia While Pregnant for Jack

Reading to Ophelia While Pregnant for Jack

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

2. 4th Trimester Bonding Time

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

Bonding with Newborn Ruby

Bonding with Newborn Ruby

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

3. Introducing Books

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

3 Month Old Julian Practicing Tummy Time While Looking at His Favorite Book

3 Month Old Julian Practicing Tummy Time While Looking at His Favorite Book

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

4. Create a Reading Environment

These are the ways that I have created a reading environment in my home. I have found that if you integrate reading into your daily life and make books easily accessible, children will be immersed in a world where they can’t help but read and see reading as a fun past time.

  • Make Books Easily Accessible – I love having baskets of books in every room of the house, and several baskets in our living room areas. I regularly sort them to make sure all books can be seen and are being used. If you keep books tucked away on bookshelves with only their spines showing, they won’t get used as much.

    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. I love watching as kids start picking out their own books that match their interests.

    Ruby Reading at the Library

    Ruby Reading at the Library

  • Make Comfy Reading Spaces– Making little reading stations with small chairs, bean bags, or little couches makes reading so much fun and encourages children to read independently. My children can often be found snacking while reading. I think it’s important to make sure children are fed and happy while reading to make it an enjoyable experience.

    Ophelia in Her Reading Chair

    Ophelia in Her Reading Chair

  • Lap Reading – 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

  • 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.

    Bedtime Reading Routine

    Bedtime Reading Routine

5. Reading Routines

There are certain times I always like to read to my babies. I usually love to just nurse my babies to sleep, but when this stops happening, I like to incorporate some books (usually three) into our bedtime routine. I also love reading before nap time and then again when my babies first wake up. Before we begin reading, I make sure to “set the stage”. I have a nice comfy rocking chair next to a little table with a basket full of books that my baby loves, a soft lamp, and anything else we might need like milk or a pacifier. Then we get cuddled up with a nice soft silky and get to reading.

6. Repetitive Reading

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

Reading with Julian

Reading with Julian

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

7. Expressive Reading

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

8. Interacting with Books

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.

9. Enjoy Yourself

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

10. Don’t Force It

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

Ophelia Likes to Have Her Silky and Her Milky When We Read

Ophelia Likes to Have Her Silky and Her Milky When We Read

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. Read about my favorite board books here.

  • 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!

Usborne Books

I LOVE Usborne 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.

  • 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.

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!

For More Information

You’ll find everything you need to teach your child to read on my FREE READING RESOURCES page which includes flashcards, videos, plus more tips and tricks. 

How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps (Keeping it Simple)

  1. Language Rich Environment: Use oral language at the child’s level (Get down on the floor and play together!) and help them memorize vocabulary words. (Tell them the names of things!)
  2. Phonemic Awareness: Teach one sound for each letter of the alphabet. (Start with short vowels.)
  3. Phonics: Tap out sounds in three letter words to teach how sounds come together to make words.
  4. More Complex Phonemic Awareness: Introduce long vowels, digraphs, and other vowel sounds.
  5. Reading Comprehension Strategies: Use quality literature to interact with books and ask questions before, during, and after reading to make sure your child is understanding what is being read.

Teach Your Child to Read Blog Series (Digging Deeper)

learning to read begins with the abcs

Learning the ABCs lays the foundation for all future reading skills. Memorizing letter names and letter sounds (known as phonemic awareness) at a young age is the BEST way to ensure that children are good readers down the road. Children who know their letter names and sounds automatically will find learning to read fun and easy, but children who struggle to memorize letter names and sounds will find learning to read laborious and difficult. This is something I have seen as both a classroom teacher and as a parent, but don’t just take my word for it.

ABC Flashcards with Jack

ABC Flashcards with Jack

Alphabet Knowledge Predicts Later Reading Ability

The research shows that children who start kindergarten with a strong foundation in their knowledge of the alphabet and early literacy skills will find learning to read to be easy and fun, but students who start off already behind will find learning to read difficult and discouraging.

The findings of Developing Early Literacy Skills: A Meta-Analysis of Alphabet Learning and Instruction (a peer reviewed article at NCBI – US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health) show that,

“Children’s knowledge of letter names and sounds is the best predictor of their later reading and spelling abilities,” (Hammill, 2004Scarborough, 1998Schatschneider, Fletcher, Francis, Carlson, & Foorman, 2004).

They also point out that,

“Preschool and kindergarten students with poor knowledge of letter names and sounds are more likely to struggle with learning to read and be classified as having reading disabilities,” (Gallagher, Frith, & Snowling, 2000O’Connor & Jenkins, 1999Torppa, Poikkeus, Laakso, Eklund, & Lyytinen, 2006).

ABC Flashcards with Julian

ABC Flashcards with Julian

By creating a language rich environment with lots of opportunities for oral language development, helping children to memorize important vocabulary words, and teaching them letter names and letter sounds, children will have a strong foundation in literacy that will make learning to read easy, natural, and fun!

Age to Start

In my experience, the ideal time to start teaching children the alphabet is between 6-8 months of age. Are you thinking, “Really? Why so young?”

Children’s brains start EXPLODING with growth at 6 months of age. This continues until the age of about 3 when synaptic pruning occurs at a rapid rate. Think “use it or lose it”.

So when you start teaching your child the alphabet at a young age, their brain will put knowledge of the alphabet at the center of its framework and build everything else around it. But if you wait until your child is older, they will have to find a new place to put this information. The best way to commit new information to long term memory after synaptic pruning has begun is to connect it to existing knowledge. If there is no existing knowledge, repetition (especially with movement) is the only way to make sure the new information is stored long term.

What this means is that if you start teaching the ABCs when your child is young, you can teach a little bit over a long period of time, but if you start when they are older, they will require more repetitions and the repetitions need to connect to prior learning whenever possible.

How to Teach the ABCs to Babies and Toddlers

Teaching babies and toddlers the alphabet is easy because they are very interested to learn it. Once you show them what these “symbols” mean, and then they identify them in books, on signs, in the kitchen, and everywhere, they will feel like they can connect to and understand the world around them.

  1. Teach the letter name, letter sound, and word simultaneously. Teaching all three simultaneously shows children how intrinsically linked all three are.
  2. Allow for a silent period. If you start teaching your child the ABCs between 6-8 months of age when they aren’t capable of producing speech, it may take them 6-8 months or until they are able to vocalize what they are learning. This is the silent period of language acquisition where children are observing and taking it all in. (*Note: The silent period is something I learned about in my linguistics classes referring to a child learning a second language, but I have observed it in my own children learning their first language as well.)
  3. Praise any right answer. If your child vocalizes the letter name, sound, or word associated with that letter praise him or her for getting the answer right because each answer is right! This praise will motivate children to continue with more vocalizations.
  4. Watch a variety of ABC videos. I certainly hope that you enjoy my homemade ABC Video, but I highly encourage you to create a playlist on YouTube of your child’s favorite ABC songs.
  5. Fill your house with ABCs. Posters, rugs, magnets, books, toys…you name it, just fill your house and make the ABCs a fun and engaging part of your little one’s day. Listed below I have a section called Additional Resources where I share some of my favorite resources, check out my blog: 10 Best Resources for Teaching the ABCs, and of course check out my Free Reading Resources page for flashcards, videos, and more.
  6. Read lots of ABC books. Go to the library often and pick out a ton of ABC books, find which ones your children enjoy the most, then buy a few sturdy ones to read over and over.
  7. A little bit over a long period of time is best. Don’t worry about teaching the ABCs every day, just try to fit it in a few times a week or even just a few times a month when the timing is right. Wait until your child is happy, in a good mood, and ready to learn. I love using feeding time for teaching. You may find that there are periods where your child wants to learn about the ABCs every single day, but then will completely lose interest for a few months and that’s okay too.

I started teaching Ophelia her ABCs with a crude homemade set of flashcards when she was about 6 months old, and she loved learning her letters!

How to Teach the ABCs to Preschoolers and Older Children

If you wait until your children are older to teach them the alphabet, the knowledge they need to learn will still follow the same progression, it will just need to look different to fit the needs and interests of an older child. Also, starting at the age of 3, synaptic pruning occurs, so if you’re teaching the ABCs to a 4, 5, or 6 year old, they will need many more repetitions to help rewire their brains to make room for this new information.

Because we were in the middle of a lot of life changes when Elliot was youn and also due to his personality and not being able to sit still and focus, we didn’t really start using flashcards and videos to teach the ABCs until he was about 3-4 years old. He actually started learning alongside Ophelia when she was first starting to learn at 6-8 months. After about two years of exposure, Elliot started reading at the age of 5. He is currently in the 3rd grade and at the top of his class reading at a 6th grade level!

One of the things he LOVED doing was making ABC books. We would sit at the computer together and find print outs for each letter of the alphabet. He loved it when we would personify the characters and make them talk. 🙂

  1. Play ABC videos in the background. YouTube has many ABC videos geared for older children that feature things like these alphabet transformers and Minecraft characters. Use what your child is interested in to custom make your own ABC playlist. Don’t expect your child to sit and watch the ABC videos with full attention, but if you play them in the background when he or she is quietly playing, you would be surprised how much is absorbed.
  2. Make it physical and fun! Spread ABC flashcards on the floor, pretend the floor is lava, and then jump from one letter to the next (shout the name or sound of the letter as you step on it) going from one part of the room to the next. Make hopscotch letters with sidewalk chalk outside. Place all flashcards upside down on the floor, flip a card over, keep it in a pile if you know it right away, and get a prize for how many cards piled up (small candies or minutes of choice time). Go to Pinterest, use your imagination, and have fun with it!
  3. Use technology. Children can be very motivated to play educational games if you limit screen time. There are many great apps and games for older children who are learning the alphabet that you can find by looking in the app store. Starfall has some amazing resources many of which are free. Check out my blog: Best Teaching Apps for Children 0-6 for some more app ideas.
  4. Read to your child. Many of the simple ABC books will be too babyish for your child, but you can find some great ABC books geared for older children like this Star Wars ABC book and this Superhero ABC book. Also, go to the library often and read piles and piles of books with your child. As you’re reading, you can point out certain words and the letters they start with.
  5. Teach someone younger. If your child has a younger sibling, friend, pet, or even stuffed animal, have your child be the teacher. He or she can use flashcards, videos, and books to help teach their pupil!
  6. Make it kinesthetic and tactile. If your child has the dexterity to start writing letters, this can help to reinforce learning the letter names and sounds. Get a large baking sheet and cover it with shaving cream or sand. Then have your child trace the letter with his or her finger.
  7. Use white boards and dry erase markers. Either write the letters yourself and have your child erase them, or have your child write his or her own letters. You could also do a letter search by writing 5- 10 letters and then have your child try to find the ones you call out. Write-on-wipe-off ABC books are fun too.
  8. Use sign language. When children are a little bit older, they can start manipulating their fingers to make sign language letters. This will be just challenging enough for them to be exciting. Here’s a great video to use!
  9. Separate capital and lowercase letters. Focus on using capital letters for letter names and lowercase letters for letter sounds and spend more time working on letter sounds.
  10. Try to do something every day. Children starting at an older age will need more repetitions and have a shorter amount of time to master letter names and letter sounds before they start to read so try to set aside time as often as you can for learning to occur.

My ABC Flashcards

I created these ABC flashcards because I couldn’t find what I was really looking for anywhere else. Each of my flashcards features the upper and lowercase letter (using my own hand drawn font), a simple and easily identifiable picture, and the word associated with that picture. In addition, the vowels are all short, the /k/ sound is used for the letter c and the /g/ sound is used for the letter g, and there are no confusing digraphs, diphthongs, or r-controlled vowels as you will find in so many other flashcards on the market. Click here to get a free digital download of the ABC Flashcards you see below. I have created these flashcards in a variety of sizes and have many more flashcards and videos on my FREE READING RESOURCES page, so check it out!

ABC Horizontal Flashcards

ABC Horizontal Flashcards

Materials to Make My Flashcards

You can certainly just print these flashcards out on card stock and use them as is, but babies love to chew on things, and laminating them and putting them together with some rings will ensure their durability. *Before and after laminating, I cut the corners so they are rounded. 

  • 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.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like having this in stock at all times because not only is it great for laminating flashcards, but for making favorite things books and saving favorite pieces of art work.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects. When laminating, you want to leave at least an eighth of an inch of laminate around the edges so it won’t peel.
  • Paper Cutter – You will LOVE having this around for cutting school pictures and so much more, but it’s great at cutting 4-5 pieces of card stock and 3-4 stacks of laminated card stock.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper. I like angling my flashcards so I get right in the center of each of the top corners.
  • 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.

My ABC Video

My ABC video is designed to bring my flashcards to life! Not only will children be engaged while learning the letter names and sounds, but they will be building vocabulary as well! When using my ABC Flashcards, I recommend that you use the same chant as I do in the video to ensure that your child is learning the letter name, letter sound, and word associated with each letter. Click here for a free digital download of my ABC Video or you can check it out on YouTube.

ABC Video

ABC Video

Alphabet Explorer App (Android)

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. Get the Alphabet Explorer App here.

Alphabet Explorer App

Alphabet Explorer App

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! (Check out my blog: 10 Best Resources for Teaching the ABCs for a more detailed and comprehensive list with pictures.)

    • *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.
  • Alphabet Apple – This 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.
  • 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.

*Consonants with More Than One Sound Flashcards

I originally included these flashcards in my blog #7-Unlock the Final Stages of Reading with Advanced Phonemic Awareness, but I thought it would be helpful to include them here as well in case your child was ready earlier. I find that the best time to talk to children about consonants that make other sounds is when they are curious or when they make a mistake. For example, if you ask your child what sound the letter c makes, and they say /s/ as in “circus” instead of the common sound of /k/ as in “cat”, you can say, “Yes, the letter c can make the /s/ sound as in circus, but usually it will make the /k/ sound as in cat. That’s why we call it a copycat letter. It actually doesn’t make its own sound but either borrows the /k/ sound or the /s/ sound.” Click here for a free digital download of my Consonants with Other Sounds Flashcards.

Consonants with More Than One Sound Flashcards

Consonants with More Than One Sound Flashcards

In Conclusion

Teaching your children the ABCs (especially 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, they can follow their passions independently, and they can be free to unlock the doors to any destiny they desire.

Ophelia and Julian Reading Books

Ophelia and Julian Reading Books

For More Information

You’ll find everything you need to teach your child to read on my FREE READING RESOURCES page which includes flashcards, videos, plus more tips and tricks. 

How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps (Keeping it Simple)

  1. Language Rich Environment: Use oral language at the child’s level (Get down on the floor and play together!) and help them memorize vocabulary words. (Tell them the names of things!)
  2. Phonemic Awareness: Teach one sound for each letter of the alphabet. (Start with short vowels.)
  3. Phonics: Tap out sounds in three letter words to teach how sounds come together to make words.
  4. More Complex Phonemic Awareness: Introduce long vowels, digraphs, and other vowel sounds.
  5. Reading Comprehension Strategies: Use quality literature to interact with books and ask questions before, during, and after reading to make sure your child is understanding what is being read.

Teach Your Child to Read Blog Series (Digging Deeper)

memorizing words is what good readers do

I have discovered while teaching my own five children how to read that memorizing words before learning how to sound them out is a HUGE (and often overlooked) part of learning how to read.

When children memorize words, it shows them that letters come together to form words and that these words have meaning.

Elliot and Ophelia Exploring Flashcards

Elliot and Ophelia Exploring Flashcards

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children to memorize words is between 6-10 months of age and ideally before a child is 3. (If your child is older than 3, don’t worry! He or she will follow the same progression just with certain modifications.)  At 6-10 months of age, neurons in the brain start to form connections that will lay the foundation for how the brain is organized. By the time children are 2-3 years old, they have more neurons than they will ever have in their entire lives. After this, synaptic pruning occurs as the brain becomes more specialized based on the child’s environment.

Reading with Julian

Reading with Julian

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 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.

Ruby Loves Reading

Ruby Loves Reading

First Words Flashcards

I selected words for my flashcards that would be useful for a baby or young child to know. Words like clapwave, hug, and kiss are actions that little ones like to perform. Simple nouns like ball, cup, cat, and dog are things that young children are likely to be familiar with and see in their every day environments. I also included these same words with suffixes so that children can build an understanding from a young age that words with suffixes may look different but still carry the same core meaning. Click here for a free digital download of my First Words Flashcards in addition to a handy one page poster.

First Words Flashcards

First Words Flashcards

The words for the flashcards are written in a font that I personally created. First of all, I wanted to create a font that is representative of how we teach children to write. I also wanted to be able to fill in my letters with simple bold colors that would create a pleasing image.

I purposefully do not include images with these words because I want children to memorize the shape of the word as if it were an image itself. By showing children the video along with the flashcards, they will learn what the words mean while still keeping the focus on the shape of the word.

Materials to Make My Flashcards

You can certainly just print these flashcards out on card stock and use them as is, but babies love to chew on things, and laminating them and putting them together with some rings will ensure their durability. *Before and after laminating, I cut the corners so they are rounded. 

  • 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.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like having this in stock at all times because not only is it great for laminating flashcards, but for making favorite things books and saving favorite pieces of art work.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects. When laminating, you want to leave at least an eighth of an inch of laminate around the edges so it won’t peel.
  • Paper Cutter – You will LOVE having this around for cutting school pictures and so much more, but it’s great at cutting 4-5 pieces of card stock and 3-4 stacks of laminated card stock.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper. I like angling my flashcards so I get right in the center of each of the top corners.
  • 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.

First Words Video

I highly recommend printing out my flashcards to use while watching this video. In the video, I repeat each word three times and allow pauses so that children can have a chance to say each word the second and third time. After each word, I have video clips showing my children acting out the meaning of each of the words. The video is 30 minutes long and and loops through all of the words three times with videos of my children singing a song inbetween sets. Click here to download my First Words Video for free in addition to a YouTube Link.

First Words Video

https://embracing-motherhood.com/abc-black-and-white-coloring-flashcards-free-digital-download/

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. Get the Words Explorer App here.

Words App

Words App

How to Teach Your Baby or Toddler

I recommend starting to use these resources when your child is between 6-10 months of age and to do so while they are learning their ABCs. You will see the most dramatic amount of growth if you can start before the age of 1, and by the age of 3 at the very latest.

  1. Start with the video first. I have found that the best time to show the Words Video is while my children are eating. As you show your child the video initially, he or she might not show a tremendous amount of focus and attention, but as the video becomes familiar, you will notice it holding your child’s attention for longer periods of time.
  2. Add the flashcards. After your child is familiar with the video, start introducing the flashcards. Try to get through as many as you can but don’t force it. You may find that your child has favorite words and it’s okay to only include those favorite flashcards in the pack.
  3. A little bit over a long period of time is best. Don’t try to cram everything into one day creating the “perfect lesson”. Doing a little bit over a long period of time is the best way to get something committed to long term memory. Keep little baskets around your house with flashcards so that when the moment is just right, they’re easy to grab.
  4. Show the flashcards while watching the video. Once your child is familiar with the words and video, use them together!
  5. Use wait time. In my video I ask, “Can you say____?” and “What does this say?” After each question, I pause to give children a chance to say the word. When you do this with your child using the flashcards, make sure you allow just the right amount of wait time. If the pause becomes really long, just say the word and move on.
  6. Point out these words in daily life. Remember some of your child’s favorite words and use them often during the day. Words like kiss, clap, wave, and ball should be easy to incorporate throughout the day.

How to Teach Preschoolers and Older Children

If you have children are 4+, and you haven’t started to teach them how to read yet, don’t fret! It is still possible to use these resources to teach children them how to read. The approach will just need to be a bit different and focus on more engaging and hands on activities in order to make it interesting and appealing.

  1. Have the video on in the background. An older child may not be as motivated to sit down and watch this entire video, but you can play it in the background while they are playing. Wait until your children are building with legos, doing puzzles, or drawing, and then have this video on in the background so they can at least hear it. You may find them pausing their play to watch the video here and there and that’s perfectly fine. You could also have it on during meal time.
  2. Teach a younger sibling, friend, or even stuffed animal. If you’re teaching your one year old and your four year old at the same time, you can pretend like both you and the four year old are really just teaching the one year old. You could also pretend that you’re teaching a stuffed animal who doesn’t know how to read words.
  3. Write and wipe. Kids LOVE using dry erase boards and markers. You can write the word and have them erase it, of have them copy the word from the flashcards and write it down.
  4. Flashcards timed. Show your child the flashcards repeatedly until he or she can say most words correctly. Then time a first read through, making sure it’s nice and slow. This will motivate the child to beat his or her original time.
  5. Loose cards and pocket chart. Take the flashcards off from the rings and hand one card at a time to your child. Have them place the cards into the pocket chart while trying to sort them in some way (by color, by type of word…is it an action? verb or is it a thing? noun)
  6. I spy. Spread all of the cards out on the floor and say, “I spy with my little eye a yellow word that starts with the letter c.” If they don’t get it, give another clue by acting out the word (like clapping your hands for clap) or giving another clue (like meowing for cat). They can either gather the words they find in a pile or put them in the pocket chart.
  7. Make a Path. You can spread out the words in a long line in any order. Then pretend that the floor is lava and tell your child that the words are stones that will save him or her from the lava. As he or she hops from word to word ask him or her, “What word are you on now?” or “What word will you be stepping on next.”
  8. Charades. Hold the flashcards away from you so you can’t see the word but your child can. Then tell your child that he or she must act out the word and you will have to guess it. You can make a rule that words can’t be used but sounds can. And of course they can use props from around the house or even draw a picture!
  9. Point out words while reading. The best way to teach children how to memorize words is by reading quality literature. You’ll notice that your child may have favorite words that you can point out while reading. Feel free to make your own set up flashcards based on your child’s individual favorite words.

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.

Ophelia LOVES Reading!

Ophelia LOVES Reading!

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/Morning Time 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

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. Get the entire collection of Preschool Prep videos here (I can’t recommend these enough!).

Usborne books

I LOVE Usborne 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.

  • 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 additional words and “read them” 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!

For More Information

You’ll find everything you need to teach your child to read on my FREE READING RESOURCES page which includes flashcards, videos, plus more tips and tricks. 

How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps (Keeping it Simple)

  1. Language Rich Environment: Use oral language at the child’s level (Get down on the floor and play together!) and help them memorize vocabulary words. (Tell them the names of things!)
  2. Phonemic Awareness: Teach one sound for each letter of the alphabet. (Start with short vowels.)
  3. Phonics: Tap out sounds in three letter words to teach how sounds come together to make words.
  4. More Complex Phonemic Awareness: Introduce long vowels, digraphs, and other vowel sounds.
  5. Reading Comprehension Strategies: Use quality literature to interact with books and ask questions before, during, and after reading to make sure your child is understanding what is being read.

Teach Your Child to Read Blog Series (Digging Deeper)

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

By teaching children numbers, colors, and shapes, it will give them the basic vocabulary to start understanding written text. 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. I have chosen to focus my initial vocabulary development on these categories because numbers, colors, and shapes 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! But if you don’t start until your child is older, that’s okay too! Just start with wherever you are.

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

Numbers Flashcards

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. Find all of my Numbers Flashcards here, or download the flashcards you see below here.

Numbers Flashcards

Numbers Flashcards

These numbers flashcards only go to ten, but I HIGHLY recommend going as high as your child’s attention span allows. Once children reach 10, go to 20, then 100. Have them practice counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s and talk about even and odd as well. This will help them to really excel in math as they get older.

Numbers Video

This 12 minute video uses shapes, words, and images from my flashcards in conjunction with live video footage of my children showing different examples and talking about the attributes of each shape. Click here to get a free digital download of my Numbers Video.

Numbers Video

Numbers Video

Additional 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 can put them on your fridge or use a magnetic white board 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.
  • 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.

Colors Flashcards

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. Find all of my Colors Flashcards here or click here to download the flashcards you see below.

Colors Flashcards

Colors Flashcards

These colors 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 Video

This 11 minute video uses colors, words, and images from my flashcards in conjunction with live video footage of my children showing different examples and talking about each color. Click here for a free digital download of my Colors video.

Colors Video

Colors Video

Additional 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.

Shapes Flashcards

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? Click here for all of my Shapes Flashcards or click here for an immediate digital download of the flashcards you see below.

Shapes Flashcards

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. 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.

Shapes Video

This 16 minute video uses shapes, words, and images from my flashcards in conjunction with live video footage of my children showing different examples and talking about the attributes of each shape. Click here for a free digital download of my Shapes Video.

Shapes Video

Shapes Video

Additional 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.
  • Learn Shapes with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book while they lift the flaps to learn about shapes.
  • Lift the Flap Shapes – This bright lift the flap book gives children lots of practice naming basic shapes in a fun and engaging way.

Materials to Make My Flashcards

You can certainly just print these flashcards out on card stock and use them as is, but babies love to chew on things, and laminating them and putting them together with some rings will ensure their durability. *Before and after laminating, I cut the corners so they are rounded. 

  • 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.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like having this in stock at all times because not only is it great for laminating flashcards, but for making favorite things books and saving favorite pieces of art work.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects. When laminating, you want to leave at least an eighth of an inch of laminate around the edges so it won’t peel.
  • Paper Cutter – You will LOVE having this around for cutting school pictures and so much more, but it’s great at cutting 4-5 pieces of card stock and 3-4 stacks of laminated card stock.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper. I like angling my flashcards so I get right in the center of each of the top corners.
  • 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.

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.

Reading with Ruby and Elliot

Reading with Ruby and Elliot

For More Information

You’ll find everything you need to teach your child to read on my FREE READING RESOURCES page which includes flashcards, videos, plus more tips and tricks. 

How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps (Keeping it Simple)

  1. Language Rich Environment: Use oral language at the child’s level (Get down on the floor and play together!) and help them memorize vocabulary words. (Tell them the names of things!)
  2. Phonemic Awareness: Teach one sound for each letter of the alphabet. (Start with short vowels.)
  3. Phonics: Tap out sounds in three letter words to teach how sounds come together to make words.
  4. More Complex Phonemic Awareness: Introduce long vowels, digraphs, and other vowel sounds.
  5. Reading Comprehension Strategies: Use quality literature to interact with books and ask questions before, during, and after reading to make sure your child is understanding what is being read.

Teach Your Child to Read Blog Series (Digging Deeper)

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

Phonics is a crucial part of learning how to read and involves using letter sounds to form words. I have found that using word families (words that have the same ending) is a great way to do this because it’s pattern driven and predictable. Before children start sounding out words, it’s best that they be really really familiar with letter names and sounds (short vowels and one sound for each letter to begin with).

Age to Start

After children have a solid understanding of letter names and letter sounds, know that words are made up of letters that carry meaning, and have a good vocabulary, it’s a good time to start teaching them how to sound out three letter words using word families. Some children are ready to start this as young as 2-2.5, and others won’t be ready until they are 3-4. The important thing is to make sure they have a solid understanding of the previous skills and show an interest.

How to Teach

To teach three letter words, it’s very important for children to see the difference between the NAMES of the letters and the SOUNDS of the letters. (*Please review my ABC video and flashcards often to make sure this is really understood.)

As children start to sound out words, it’s important to have the focus be on the SOUNDS that the letters are making.

When I was a teacher, there was an amazing reading program called Fundations that would have children tap out each sound using their fingers. So, for example with the word cat, you would tap your thumb to your index finger saying the c sound, then tap your thumb to your middle finger saying the a sound, and finally your thumb to your ring finger saying the t sound. Then you slide your thumb across your three fingers and say the whole word. (See a video demonstration of tapping out sounds here.)

When my daughter Ophelia was 2, I had a little magnet letter station set up and together we discovered that if you flip a 6 cup muffin tin over, it makes a great platform for teaching three letter words. (You could also flip over a regular baking sheet.) I would set some letters aside, and we would build words together. At first, I built the words ahead of time and then tapped out each sound as I read the word to her. Once she had seen me do it over and over again, she started to say the letter sounds with me, and eventually she said them on her own. After that, we would build words together.

Building Words with Muffin Tins and Magnet Letters

Building Words with Muffin Tins and Magnet Letters

If we were going to build the word dog, I would say something like this, “Let’s spell the word dog. Do you know what letter the word dog starts with? That’s right! It starts with the letter d. Now, what vowel makes the short o sound? That’s right, o! Now, what letter makes the g sound? That’s right, g! We spelled dog!” She loved doing this magnet letter muffin tin activity, and we did it often.

Here is a video of my nephew, Tristan, learning his three letter words at age 2.5 with magnet letters and muffin tins.

After Ophelia had mastered three letter words, we found an eight cup muffin tin and spelled four letter words. This was a great time to bring up words with digraphs like shop and chip. We also started talking about long vowel words in addition to some of the trickier sounds like the long and short oo, r controlled vowels, and diphthongs from my phonemic awareness resources. (*Check out my resources for digraphs, long vowels, and tricky vowels here.) We also enjoyed spelling favorite words like her full name, the names of family members, and so on.

Here is a video of my daughter, Ophelia, learning about three letter words using magnet letters.

My son Julian (2.5 at the time), on the other hand, hasn’t enjoyed the muffin tins and magnet letters as much as he has coloring over my words, or erasing my words, and this has really helped him to learn about sounding out words while he memorizes them. We also enjoy using Starfall’s word machine.

Here is a video of our oldest daughter Ruby (age 9) teaching Julian (age 3.5) three letter words using magnet letters and a muffin tin.

Word Families Flashcards Set #1

Click here for free digital downloads all of my Word Families Set #1 Flashcards. I currently have the flashcards you see below as well as a smaller version and a one page poster that includes both set #1 and #2. Print out these flashcards and use them to help you teach your child how to sound out three letter words.

Word Families Flashcards Set #1

Word Families Flashcards Set #1

Word Families Letters Set #1

Click here for a free digital download of my Word Families Letters Set #1. Print out these letters and use them to teach your child how to build three letter words. I recommend storing each word family in a small baggie and taping a label to the front of each bag for easy storage and use.

Word Families Letters Flashcards Set #1

Word Families Letters Flashcards Set #1

Word Families Video Set #1

Click here a free download of my Word Families Video Set #1. At this link, you’ll find a free download of the movie for your convenience plus a YouTube link. In this video, my son Julian and I use fun hands on manipulatives to put together and read the words in each word family.

Word Families Video Set #1

Word Families Video Set #1

Word Families Flashcards Set #2

Click here for a free digital download of all of my Word Families Set #2 Flashcards. I currently have the flashcards you see below as well as a smaller version and a one page poster that includes both set #1 and #2. Print out these flashcards and use them to help you teach your child how to sound out three letter words.

Word Families Flashcards Set #2

Word Families Flashcards Set #2

Word Families Letters Set #2

Click here for a free digital download of my Word Families Letters Set #2. Print out these letters and use them to teach your child how to build three letter words. I recommend storing each word family in a small baggie and taping a label to the front of each bag for easy storage and use.

Word Families Letters Flashcards Set #2

Word Families Letters Flashcards Set #2

Word Families Video Set #2

Click here a free download of my Word Families Video Set #2. At this link, you’ll find a free download of the movie for your convenience plus a YouTube link. In this video, my son Julian and I use fun hands on manipulatives to put together and read the words in each word family.

Word Families Video Set #2

Word Families Video Set #2

Additional Resources

To maximize the use of my word families flashcards, I highly recommend you acquire some of the following teaching tools. Based on your child’s age and his or her interests, you will find different resources that will be appealing. Sometimes the best way to figure this out is through trial and error!

  • Magnet Letters and Muffin Tin – Using these two resources together will make learning three letter words fun and easy. Using my flashcards as a guide, have your child build three letter words on the bottoms of the muffin tins.
  • White Board and Dry Erase Markers with Built in Erasers – I recommend attaching this white board to the wall and using dry erase markers to write three letter words for your little one to erase. The board I have recommended is magnetic, so you can put the magnet letters on it too. With these resources, you can write three letter words on the white board and have your child erase them while reading them.
  • Sidewalk Chalk – Write three letter words on your sidewalk in a hopscotch pattern, and have your little one hop on them and read them.
  • Change-A-Sound Flip Books – I LOVED using these flip books to teach my children how to sound out words. I like how they have sections where the beginning, middle, and ending sound change in the word. The pictures are also great for building vocabulary.
  • Phonics Flip Books – These 34 flip books focus on patterns such as long and short vowels, digraphs, and blends.
  • Starfall Three Letter WordsStarfall is an AMAZING resource for teaching your little one the ABCs, basic math, and how to read. They have an amazing three letter word interactive game that is so fun for kids. The membership is $35/year and WELL WORTH every penny.
  • Montessori Crosswords – Fun Phonics Game for Kids – This app is great for teaching three letter words using pictures and boxes for the letters. I like how you can choose between upper and lowercase as well as cursive.

Usborne Books

I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people at 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.

  • 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.
    • The series includesBug in a Rug, Goat in a Boat, Llamas in Pajamas, Raccoon on the Moon, Cow Takes a Bow, Snail Brings the Mail, Bee Makes Tea, Underpants for Ants, Crock Gets a Shock, Crow in the Snow, Fox on a Box, Ted in a Red Bed, Ted’s Shed, Hen’s Pens, Fat Cat on a Mat, Goose on the Loose, Frog on a Log, Toad Makes a Road, Mouse Moves House, and Big Pig on a Dig
  • My First Reading Library (50 Book Collection) – 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 levels 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. When your child is ready, he or she can read both pages!
Scott Reading Julian His Favorite Usborne Phonics Book

Scott Reading Julian His Favorite Usborne Phonics Book

In Conclusion

Teaching children to sound out three letter words is the beginning of their independent reading journey. With each of my children, once they get to this part after building a strong foundation with letter names and letter sounds, understanding that words have meaning, and building vocabulary, reading seems to take off as if by MAGIC. It’s like they have broken the code and are in the same fervor as Helen Keller’s water scene where she finally understands that the letters Anne Sullivan is putting together in her hand are words that represent things in her world. Help your child break the code for learning how to read…with phonics.

For More Information

You’ll find everything you need to teach your child to read on my FREE READING RESOURCES page which includes flashcards, videos, plus more tips and tricks. 

How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps (Keeping it Simple)

  1. Language Rich Environment: Use oral language at the child’s level (Get down on the floor and play together!) and help them memorize vocabulary words. (Tell them the names of things!)
  2. Phonemic Awareness: Teach one sound for each letter of the alphabet. (Start with short vowels.)
  3. Phonics: Tap out sounds in three letter words to teach how sounds come together to make words.
  4. More Complex Phonemic Awareness: Introduce long vowels, digraphs, and other vowel sounds.
  5. Reading Comprehension Strategies: Use quality literature to interact with books and ask questions before, during, and after reading to make sure your child is understanding what is being read.

Teach Your Child to Read Blog Series (Digging Deeper)

Phonemic Awareness

The ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds the letters make is known as phonemic awareness. 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 first teaching children the ABCs, I highly recommend associating only one sound to each letter (like I do with my ABC Flashcards and in my ABC Video), but once children have mastered that, it’s time to introduce them to ALL of the sounds the letters make.

Auditory Exposure

Before children learn how to SPELL the letter arrangements that make these sounds, they need to HEAR and IDENTIFY them. Children are exposed to these sounds through oral language, but by having these spelling patterns pointed out at a young age while reading quality literature, it will make learning how to read all of the tricky words in our English language SO much easier.

There is a misconception that children need to wait until they are a certain age before being taught about the complexities of the English language, but the reality is that their brains are yearning for this information at a much younger age like when their brains are peaking at the age of 2-3 years.

The Remaining Sounds

After learning the basic sounds from the alphabet (one sound for each letter, short vowels), these are the remaining sounds in the English language.

  • Long Vowels – In addition to teaching children about the 5 long vowel sounds, I also want to introduce them to common spelling patterns.
  • R Controlled Vowels – When a vowel is followed by an r, it makes a different sound.
  • Digraphs – Digraphs are two letters that come together to form one single sound.
  • Long and Short oo (Vowel Digraphs – Two vowels that come together to make one sound.) – The oo in moon is long, and the oo in  book is short.
  • Diphthongs – These gliding vowels start with the sound of the first letter and glide to the next.
  • *Consonants with More Than One Sound – Although children may be familiar with the other sounds these letters make, it is a tricky concept that some consonants make more than one sound, so I have included it here, but feel free to introduce this concept earlier or later based on the interest and needs of your child.

Age to Start

The ages that I have introduced my children to this level of phonemic awareness has varied based on their abilities and interests. I would say let their curiosity guide you to find teachable moments. My daughter Ophelia, who was reading by age 2 was very curious and very aware of the differences in sounds, so I would tell her the rules at a very young age. My sons Julian and Elliot didn’t really show an interest until they were about 4-5 years old. When they were reading and stumbled upon a word that didn’t seem to fit the standard rules, I would point out the rule for why it sounded the way it did.

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, “a is for apron 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 recommend introducing one set of flashcards at a time, 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 vowel digraphs, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs.

Reading with Elliot

Reading with Elliot

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. Click here for a free digital download of the long vowels flashcards pictured below as well as a handy one page poster to hang on your wall.

Long Vowels Flashcards

Long Vowels Flashcards

Long Vowels Video

Using videos of my children and handmade image overlays, I made this Long Vowels Video to correspond with my Long Vowels Flashcards. Use this video with your child to help him or her learn long vowels. Click here for a link to a free digital download of my Long Vowels Video and a YouTube link.

Long Vowels Video

Long Vowels Video

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 vowel digraphs, followed by r-controlled vowels, and finally diphthongs. These vowels sounds are something that adults may not even know how to properly name, so you may be learning alongside your child, and that’s okay! Click here for a free digital download of the Other Vowels Flashcards you see below as well as a handy one page poster.

Other Vowels Flashcards

Other Vowels Flashcards

Other Vowels Video

I made this video with the help of my child to accompany my Other Vowels Flashcards. Use this video to support your child as he or she learns about other vowels. Click here for a free digital download of my Other Vowels Video as well as a YouTube link.

Other Vowels Video

Other Vowels Video

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! Click here for a free digital download of the Digraphs Flashcards you see below as well as a handy one page poster.

Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs Video

My wonderful children were excellent participants to help me create this Digraphs Video that corresponds with my Digraphs Flashcards. Click here for a free digital download of my Digraphs Video as well as a YouTube link.