5 Toys to teach Alphabet Letters and Sounds (Phonemic Awareness)

 

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

The new preschool year has just started.  Some of you may be thinking, how can I help my child learn to read at home?  What are the most important skills they will need for kindergarten?  They need to know their letters and the sounds.  This is so important and the basis for taking the next step when learning to read.  There are so many toys on the market, but how do you know if they are good?

I have rounded up some of my favorite toys to help teach letters and their sounds, also known as phonemic awareness in teacher talk.  These toys are a great way to practice and have fun while doing so.

5 Toys to Teach Letters and Sounds

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Fridge phonics magnet letter set.  This toy was around 12 years ago when my oldest was toddling around, and is still one of the best.  It has nice big letters, easy for little hands to grasp.  Press the letter and they can hear the sound and how it’s used in a word.

 

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Learn the Alphabet Dough Mats.  Kids use dough to form each letter right on the mats.  This helps to boost letter recognition & fine motor skills as they create!  The set comes with 26 mats.

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Alpha Catch Phonics Game.  This is a great game to involve some physical activity.  You take turns tossing the ball and say the letter or sound, or both!  The same idea can be used for sight words.

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Uppercase Alphabet and Number Dough Stampers.  Kids love playdough.  This activity reinforces their letters and numbers, while having them practice fine motor skills.  Ask them to find a particular letter, make the sound, make a pattern with two letters, the options are endless.

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Alphabet Marks the Spot.  The kid alphabet version of Twister! Call a letter or sound, kids run to the spot.  Watch them get all twisted up!  You would start with letter names, progress to sounds, and then a word that starts with the sound.

This should help on the road to preparing for school.  Check out my link on how to encourage reading with your little ones!

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5 Tips to Encourage Reading

 

5 tips to encourage readers

 

I am a reading specialist and special educator by profession.  I have spent many years working with small groups of children, trying to encourage them as readers.  Most of these children are 2 or more years behind with their reading.  As a reading specialist and special educator I have received a TON of training on how to teach reading, how readers learn, and the science of reading.  The fact remains that the best way to learn to read, is to develop a love of reading.  Today I am going to offer 5 tips to help encourage a love of reading at any age.

5 tips to encourage readers

  1.  Introduce new and engaging books.  Libraries have plenty of choices.  But have you thought to look at garage sales, consignment sales, or trading with friends?  Try and make a weekly trip to your local library to constantly have a rotating collection of stories.
  2. Create special experiences that involve reading.  My children look forward to Daddy reading time each evening, where they cuddle up in bed and listen to him read a chapter book.  My toddler loves when we lay out a quilt and pull up a bin of books to read and look through.
  3. Children should be encouraged to self select books.  Yes, even your toddlers.  Keep the books at their eye level, where they can pull books out and decide what they want to look through.  Reading should be done both independently and supported.  Toddlers learn about concepts such as turning pages, direction of print, by looking through books.  It is important to allow toddlers to explore books and develop an interest in reading.
  4. Children should hear and see a variety of people reading.  This includes different members of your immediate household.  It also includes other family and friends you may be visiting or trips to the local story time at the library.  Children should understand that reading is important to everyone around them.
  5. Create a special reading nook.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but don’t you love a place to cozy up to a story?  Maybe you have a few special blankets to cuddle when reading, or a special little chair next to a basket of favorite books.  Make it inviting and comfortable.  Check out some of my pins for creative reading areas 

5 tips to encourage readers

How have you encouraged reading in your home?

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IEP Meeting: 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask

iep meeting

Preparing to attend an IEP Meeting? These are 10 questions every parent should ask the team in an IEP meeting!

I want this post to provide support for families and be able to express myself clearly.  I have served as a special education teacher for many years in the school system.  I have sat in on hundreds of IEPs and intervention meetings. They are a regular part of my work week.  And they don’t have to be scary or intimidating!

Why would I say that?  Well it provides a chance for families and all staff that works with that child to communicate and brainstorm.  It is a chance to create a plan to help children who need support.  It provides a chance to create a truly individualized plan to meet the students’ needs.

An IEP meeting is a chance for school personnel and parents to communicate.  The one thing I say to every parent before an IEP meeting is to be prepared.  Make sure you have done your homework.  An IEP meeting can be an amazingly positive experience if everyone is able to communicate clearly.

IEP meeting

A FEW THINGS TO DO BEFORE AN IEP MEETING:

-observe in your child’s current classroom setting if allowed

-reread their expiring IEP if they already have one…..do you feel their academic and behavioral goals have been met? Be prepared to share YOUR thoughts.

-make a list of concerns and a list of accomplishments.  What is going WELL? What is still a struggle?

-research the academic standards for your child’s grade level…….consider where they currently fall in terms of those standards.  They may need support still, and that’s TOTALLY fine.  But the more you’ve thought about these long term goals….the more prepared you’ll be to speak to them and to listen to the team.

-be prepared to ask questions (a lot of them)

iep meeting

IEP Meetings: 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask

  1. How can I contact you? Ask each member of the IEP Meeting Team the BEST way to contact them.  Let them know you’ll be checking in regularly.
  2. When is a good time to have an informal conversation about my child’s progress? Teachers are more than willing to chat and meet about your child.  However their day is often very busy, so it is best to ask them what time would work the best.
  3. What do you see as my child’s strengths? How can I support and encourage them? An IEP meeting should not be all about weaknesses.  Ask how you can support your child’s strengths and passions.  These strengths and passions are what will make your kiddo successful as an adult.
  4. What type of progress can I expect to see? What will this look like? The great thing about an IEP meeting is that you get the input of specialists.  But that’s also the toughest at times.  Acronyms, teacher speak, developmental milestones….it can be VERY overwhelming.  After each IEP section, ask the team…….what should this LOOK like? How long will it be before I see progress? What are the signs that we are moving in the right directions? What should I watch out for?
  5. What can I do at home to support our goals? For students to make the most progress (emotionally or academically), goals needs to be fluid between school and home.  Ask the team…..what can I do at home? Ask for specific suggestions.
  6. Which of these goals are the top priority? Between behavioral goals and academic goals…..by the end of an IEP meeting, you’ll feel like your head is spinning.  An important thing to ask…..which of these is top priority? Is it behavioral (transitioning to school, for instance)? Is it academic (phonemic awareness….you need to read before you can write or comprehend text)?  Ask the team.  That way, you’ll know what to focus on in discussions about school.
  7. How will we measure progress? How will we communicate about this with my child? Progress towards goals (both academic and behavioral) can be measured in many ways.  Will the team be using test scores? A running record with observations of the child? A tally system of behaviors being exhibited (or not exhibited)?
  8. What do these supports look like on a daily basis? How will my child’s day look? Academic and behavior supports can be provided in MANY ways.  Will the supports be a pull-out model (student removed from the class for small group support) or a push-in model (the support staff blends in to the classroom for a period of time)?   You should know EXACTLY what your child’s day looks like!
  9. Who will provide these supports? How will my child’s classroom teacher be provided with resources and assistance to implement these supports? The best thing about having a support team in place? Everyone helps EACH OTHER (that includes you mom and dad)! Ask questions.  How can you support the teacher? How can the speech therapist support you?
  10. What would YOU do if this were YOUR child? An IEP meeting can often be all business.  In the end….what would I want to know? If this were your own family member, what would you suggest?  Trust me, you’ll get some pretty honest answers.

iep meeting

IEP meeting questions Poster (1)

Are you looking for more information about IEP’s and 504 Plans?

Here are some fantastic resources

What is the difference between and IEP and 504 Plan?

Why you might need a 504 Plan

10 Common Mistakes Parents Make at IEP meetings

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Why is my child so Angry? ADHD and anger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a child or student who can get angry, frustrated, or even explosive? Maybe they often need help calming down.  Children with ADHD can have frequent meltdowns and need lots of help and coaching to get back on track. I am super excited about the download I have created and am ready to share with you.   From many years of teaching children with special needs, and parenting three children, I have gathered 10 tips and resources to help calm the angry child.

[emaillocker id=”212″] [/emaillocker]

 

ARMED WITH KNOWLEDGE

I really believe in trying to be proactive before big problems arise.  This means becoming better at catching the “build up” or knowing what the “triggers” are for that child.  It is best to be educated as a caregiver and have concrete strategies you can easily put in place.  This download can be hung up in your kitchen, classroom, anywhere that allows you to glance quickly and remind yourself of some things to help.  This can be hard in the heat of an argument.

Below is a resource which may be helpful to some of you.

 

The Explosive Child by Ross W Greene

 

Remember that outbursts are always the result of the child needing something. The reasons vary and there are many layers involved with teaching and parenting an angry child.

 

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Apple Picking: Guide to Orchards in Virginia

apple picking at orchard Great Country Farms

I never really went apple picking at the orchard growing up.  However now as a mom it is definitely on my bucket list each fall.  Virginia has some of the best apple orchards around.  I just love all the fall smells, the crisp air, the beautiful photo opportunities, kettle corn, and of course, the delicious apples.

There are also some pretty cool facts about apple orchards that you can share with your kids.

Farmers love to share their knowledge.

If you are not sure what type of apple is good for a recipe, ask the farmer.  If you’re not sure what color a ripe apple should be, just ask the farmer.  They are usually more than happy to chat and share all of their knowledge.

Most pick your own farms grow dwarf trees.

You can reach for the apples without climbing a tree.  Apples also ripen from the outside of the tree to the inside, so preschoolers can easily pick their share.

Most pick your own farms have lots of other activities.

As shared in yesterday’s post on Great Country Farms, there is plenty to do at the apple orchards.  There may be tractor rides, barn animals, jumping pillows, rope swings, corn mazes and play areas.  Check the websites to see what is offered.

Picking and caring for the fruit is the perfect multi disciplinary lesson.

There are so many opportunities for learning when going to the apple orchard.  What color is that apple?  How many apples are in the basket?  Don’t drop the apple, it may bruise.  How much do all these apples weigh?  How much will the apples cost?  Try reading a book or two before you go to the apple orchard to get your kids excited.

Apples by Gail Gibbons,  How do Apples Grow by Betsy Maestro , and Ten Apples Up On Top! by Theo LeSieg.

Great Country Farms – Bluemont
Apples are $1.29/lb and are available for u-pick http://www.greatcountryfarms.com/index.php/u-pick.html from 9am-5pm daily. Weekday admission is $8/child and $10/adult and weekend admission is $10/child & $12/adult; admission includes all the farm activities (playground, slides, farm animals, wagon rides, and more).  Later in the season you also can pick pumpkins and greens.  Also see their special events including the Fall Harvest Festival and Pumpkin Chunkin’.

Hartland Orchard – Markham
Pick your own apples including Gala, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and Jonagold at this family working farm with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hours are 9 am to 5 pm daily. You can also pick peaches and pumpkins.

Crooked Run Orchard – Purcelville
Pick your own apples including Gala and Golden Delicious (you also can pick pears and blackberries).  Note: the orchard’s Facebook page is updated more frequently (and has more information) and the website directs you there for updates.

Mackintosh Fruit Farm – Berryville
Pick your own apples daily (8 am-6 p) during the active growing season, which usually goes through late October.  Apple varieties include Ginger Gold, Gala, Honeycrisp, Blondee, Golden Delicious, York, and Fuji.

Marker-Miller Orchards – Winchester
With 325 acres of apples in the orchard and more than 20 varieties to choose from, you’re bound to find something you like here. Their online chart that tells you what you can expect when. The orchard also has a playground, cow train, and wagon rides.

Have you gone apple picking?  Where have you gone and did you like it?

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Annual Apple Picking Trip at Great Country Farm

close up red and yellow apples

This past weekend marked our annual apple picking trip.  The weather was perfect on Sunday, especially after a really gloomy Saturday.  So we hopped in the car, rain boots and all in case of mud, and drove out to Great Country Farms.

Weekday Admission: $8/child & $10/adult
Saturday/Sunday Admission: $10/child & $12/adult
540-554-2073
18780 Foggy Bottom Road, Bluemont, VA 20135

We were meeting up with friends at the apple orchard which made the trip extra awesome.  My friend over at Lightning Bug Designs told us about Great Country Farms two years ago.  I find it makes the perfect apple orchard adventure for several reasons.  It’s a little over an hour from Prince William County.  There are several routes out, but we always take the most scenic which makes for an awesome Sunday drive.  Great Country Farm s really big and fun for all ages.  And if you are military they waive the admission fee which is amazing and means more money on this apple picking trip for donuts, apples and kettle corn!

apples in box, peck, bushel

Activities on the Farm

Our group had kids ranging from ages 13 months all the way up to 12 years. They all had fun at the apple orchard, like alot of fun.  Most fell asleep on the ride home from the exhaustion of playing and picking apples all day.

When you get to Great Country Farms, go ahead through the main gates to get your bracelet which gives you unlimited access to almost everything on the farm.  There are wagon rides, a giant jumping pillow, putt putt, animals in the barn, tractors to climb on, farm play area, corn mazes, and a fishing pond.

Ninja Course and GaGa Ball

Worth special mention is the new Ninja Course geared towards 12 and under.  And a GaGa ball pit.  The dads were so excited about this, as they all felt they had become experts at scout camp this summer.  It was super fun to watch them play!

baby counting apples in orchard

For a small additional fee at Great Country Farms there is a super cute cow train for the little ones and a gem mine sluice.  This is a big hit with my kids.  You buy a bag of dirt with hidden items in it like arrowheads and rocks, then they take it to the sluice and mine for treasure.

Lunch

There are lots of food choices or you can bring a picnic.  If you want to buy lunch there are chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, pulled pork, donuts, ice cream, and kettle corn all available while you listen to live music on Sundays.

jam and salsa at apple picking farm in mason jars

Wagon Ride to the Orchard

We decided to head out to pick apples in the orchard after playing for several hours.  You hop in a wagon for a quick 5 minute ride, and the wagon driver will let you know which orchards are open for picking that day.

Plan on spending the day playing and apple picking, because your kids won’t want to leave.  They will be begging you to come back soon to pick some pumpkins.  Grab some donuts for the ride home, and plan out some recipes to make with all your apples.

apple pie homemade from apple picking, lattice on top

We went with the apple pie this year, after much debate.  Although I still have a ton left, so it’s on to apple crumble, baked apples, and apple sauce next.

Come back tomorrow for a roundup of Northern Virginia’s Best Apple Picking Farms.

 

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5 Steps to the Ultimate After School Routine

5 steps to the ultimate after school routine

The new school year means a new chance to create an after school routine.  Every day little guy and I head outside to wait for the big, yellow school bus.  We are super lucky that the stop is in front of our house.  It is extra awesome that there are about 11 families that use our stop.  So it basically means a giant playdate in my yard and driveway each afternoon.

Little guy eagerly waves at the bus, and all the kids come tumbling down the steps.  This usually turns into kids running everywhere and asking who’s house they can play at that afternoon.  It also means every parent reminds their child that they have their afternoon routine to get through.

If the weather is super awesome, or in the winter if darkness comes way to soon, we may choose to delay the ultimate after school routine.  It has taken many years of adjustment trying to figure out what works best for our family.  And honestly each year the after school routine changes a bit.  But so far this years’ is the best so I am excited to share with you!

 

1.  Get the kids inside

Like I said, since our house is at the bus stop it is hard to get them inside.  But once I do, the backpacks are tossed on the ground, the baby is crawling everywhere, the dog and cat are running around, and there is lots of talking.

All of this can make my head spin, but I try not to start yelling “Pick up your backpack” or “Start your afternoon routine.” Often there is something that happened which they can’t wait to talk about, or the opposite occurs and there is radio silence.  Both are okay.

bus stop after school

2.  Feed them!

School schedules are crazy and this year my one child eats at 10:20 in the morning.

This means they come home hungry and cranky.  I know personally I become hangry when I don’t eat, I think my kids are the same way.

Although they won’t admit it, they are much more pleasant with a full tummy.  I encourage a snack with some protein and carbs, for some quick energy and to sustain their energy.

Breakfast cookies, now after school cookies, can be a great option.

breakfast cookies after school snack

3.  Chill out time

We are lucky enough to have lots of friends in the neighborhood.  I really believe in letting kids run around after a very long day at school.  Recess has been cut so short in our district, our kids just need to get up and move.  Plus all the benefits of getting kids moving really helps with concentration for school work.  So it’s playdates at rotating houses for about 45 minutes.

swings after school playground

 

4.  Unpack backpack and complete homework

So it’s time to tackle school paperwork and homework.  In our county there is minimal homework, as the belief is that after a long day of school work kids should have time for other activities.  With that being said there is always reading and usually a small number of math problems.  For older kids studying for quizzes and tests occurs as well.

We have a basket for each child where important papers are placed.  These are items to be signed and any work samples I would like to save.  We have several homework stations throughout the house that are stocked with needed supplies.  Read this article to see why multiple stations may be beneficial to your child.

homework station with paper, pen, computer

5.  Chore cards

Finally they have to complete one chore before earning free time.  We have tried many chore charts.  They never work for long.  So this summer I came up with chore cards.  On each card is written a different chore, and each child gets seven for the week.  They can choose which they want to complete each day.  At the end of the week my two oldest switch piles for the upcoming week.  This has eliminated me having to yell about helping around the house.  They know if it doesn’t happen, then electronics are not an option.  And that is really motivating.

chore card after school routine

I hope this ultimate after school routine helps to get your family on track for more peaceful afternoons.  Less yelling and more talking is always a good thing!

 

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Homework Help for the ADHD Child- Part 2

Starting homework

Getting any child to start homework can be hard, but getting a child with ADHD to start can sometimes seem impossible.  They may be wanting to play video games, watch TV, run around outside, but at some point they need to start.  Try to ask the question “What do you hope to accomplish today?”  instead of “You need to start now.”  Question 1 requires an actual answer and is constructive, where as question 2 can easily be answered with “No”, and a possible tantrum.

Ask leading questions that force your child to think about the big picture and problem solve.  Asking “Did you study for tomorrow’s test?” may very well lead to a fight.  Instead you can ask “What should we do first to get ready for tomorrow’s test?”  Or you may ask “What events this week might get in our way of studying and homework?”  This forces them to use executive functioning and plan out their time.

Time Management

Kids with ADHD have alot of trouble estimating time. They may think it will only take them 15 minutes to get ready in the morning, where in reality it can take closer to an hour.  How many mornings are spent screaming hurry up when the grown up realizes they are going to miss the bus, but they think they’ve got it all under control?

It is a good idea once they finish the task at home, regardless of how long it took, to actually discuss with them the length of time.  Then discuss what were the events that caused slow downs and strategies to help minimize those the next time.

     The long term assignment

It’s only a matter of time before the first long term assignment for school comes home.  Again this can be challenging due to the organization and time management required to be successful.  The key is to help your child break down the assignment into manageable chunks.  A tangible reward such as several Pokemon cards at each milestone can help turn abstract time management into something concrete.

 

Talk with your child

The biggest thing to remember is that you are on the same side as your child, remind them of that.  You are not the enemy and you really do want them to succeed.  Help them to put words to their feelings.  If you notice they are very frustrated doing math homework, you can say “I see you are getting frustrated while trying to figure that out.  What can I do to help you?”  You may get screamed at, but try your best to keep your cool.  Sometimes just your physical presence is enough for them to know you care.

For more ADHD resources see ADHD and the new school yearADHD 504 PlanHomework Help Part 1

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Homework Help for the ADHD child- Part 1

Homework Battles

So the first week of school has come to a close.  For most kids the routine of homework and studying is not in full swing yet.  That makes this the perfect time to get a head start and set your student up for success.  A common story heard from almost all ADHD households is how much homework is disliked.

Most families can easily remember the endless nagging, arguing, searching for missing assignments, and endless hours of wasted time that lead to utter frustration.  Your student is smart and capable.  You see that they aren’t reaching their potential.  And the daily homework battle is a constant reminder of your child’s challenges and struggles.

Homework Police

It is absolutely no fun taking on the job of nagging and prodding your child on a daily basis.  You don’t want to hear it, your child doesn’t want to hear it, and it really isn’t helping them in the long run.  This will probably lead to larger battles and more trouble in the long run, as homework resentment builds up.

Setting up for Success

What your child will really benefit from is having their parent set up routine and structure so that they can improve their executive function ability.  The goal is for them to complete their homework, independently, without the nagging.  The parents’ role is to ask questions, provide guidance, and support.  So you may be asking “How do I do this?”

Organize

What you do not want to do each year is wait and see how it goes.  This is not taking a very proactive approach, and you want to be able to set your student up for success.  Make a plan before the school year starts, and then adjust as the year goes on.

Talk with your child about what worked last year and what did not.  Discuss what needs to change this year. Remember that no parent or child loves the constant nagging or arguing during homework.

Here are some practical organizing tips:

  1.  Sunday night should be a time to get set up for the week.  Plan out the week activities, discuss upcoming assignments, know which days are gym or instrument days.
  2. Homework folders for all ages are really helpful.  In middle school teachers will not often set them up, but you can do so at home.  Incoming assignments go on one side, completed assignments go on the other.
  3. Have a staging area in the house where your child can lay things out at night for the morning.  This includes a packed backpack, lunch, shoes, gym bag, instrument, sports equipment.  In the morning it will be a big relief to not run around looking for shoes!

Set up a homework routine

Homework routines are important but it is not a one size fits all.  I recommend having several areas throughout the house that can accommodate a child doing homework.  This can be in the kitchen, in a study or other quiet room, maybe a spot on the porch.  Sometimes a change of scenery for a child will help them complete the assignment. I often find that having your child have a snack first helps to boost their mood and blood sugar.  Burning off some energy with a short playdate can also help them to focus later on for homework.  Have your child reflect on what has worked in the past, and what hasn’t.  They should be part of creating a routine.

Squirmy, restless kids

For the child who just cannot sit still to do their homework, do not embarrass and point out the negative behavior.  Instead try and redirect that energy.  The spinner fidgets have been all the rage this year, but there are many other types of fidgets.  Take some time to research and try different types to see what type of sensory input would be helpful.

 

Next up, Part 2– Getting started, estimating time, and procrastination

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National Book Festival- Children’s Guide

The 17th Library of Congress National Book Festival kicks off September 2, 2017 at the Washington Convention Center.  This annual festival is an awesome event.  If you have never made it downtown with your kids, you should definitely consider going.  Meeting your favorite author is pretty special, and you may just get to hug some of your favorite characters.

There is so much to do, and I have created a plan that can help you tackle most of the event.

Follow these 5 tips for a truly spectacular experience:

 

Download the 2017 Children’s Guide

Once you print out the guide sit down with your child and make a list of your must do activities.  You can then add activities that would be nice, but if missed would not cause any extra tears.

Scavenger Hunt

Completing a scavenger hunt in any new situation is a fun way to really get the lay of the land.  Some things to collect on this scavenger hunt include finding an author from your home state at the Pavilion of States.  Another is to find all three Waldo cutouts and then complete a Waldo postcard to enter a contest.  Try and find Dog Man, Ned the Newshound, or Clifford the Big Red Dog and snap a picture.

Author Talks

When listening to a favorite author, remember that some do book signings before their talk.  Check the schedule.  If you are hoping to ask the author a question after the talk, sit near the center aisle.  As soon as the talk is finished, get in line for the microphone because they get big quickly.

Play Eye Spy with the official poster

This year’s poster was created by Roz Chast, who is a cartoonist.  There are lots of details and it’s fun to try and find some of the sillier ones.

  1.  Find all the books with boots on.
  2. How many animals can you find?
  3. How many books do not have any hair?
  4. How many colors of books are there?

Visit the Pavilion of States

Grab a passport and try to get stamps from each of the states.  Along the way learn about some great books from different areas of our country.  Collect a prize at the Junior League booth.

Now go print out the guide and make your list.

Check back for Part 2 of this series, with more tips and tricks for the festival.

 

 

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