Reflections on Teaching my boys to Read

All three of my boys are independent readers now, so I thought it might be interesting to reflect on my experience of teaching them to read (before I forget it all completely!).
When – and how – we began.

Our Eldest son came to us at five, Middly at three, and Youngest (our birth child) at zero. So, we began teaching our children to read at very different ages.

We began with the older two by reading to them. We did this a lot. We read at bedtime and at several points during the day, every day.

Middly had a couple of favourite books; he loved We’re going on a Bear Hunt, and The Monkey with a Bright Blue Bottom, so much that I can still receit them by heart. However, I have never been keen on re-reading the same books endlessly. So, as well as buying lots of books, we visited the library each week and took piles of books home.

When Eldest began to read with us, it was clear that he was unfamiliar with not common fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Many modern children’s books take a sideways angle on these common themes, which can be bemusing to a child who has never heard the originals. We made an effort to read fairy tales to all our boys, but Eldest still forgets the stories, and occasionally misses references to them. When his class spent a term looking at fairy tales, he really struggled to keep up.

When Eldest began to read for himself, the lack of nursery rhymes became more frustrating. He didn’t know what would come after “Twinkle twinkle little”, so he couldn’t enjoy easily reading books of nursery rhymes. Many workbooks for young children presume a knowledge of nursery rhymes, which made extra work for Eldest.

More importantly, his lack of exposure to rhymes meant that he had to learn which words rhymed. Being able to recognise rhyming words really helps with learning to read. Eldest couldn’t read ‘cat’ and then see that ‘mat’ would end the same. Again, he had more work to do.

Middly was younger and when he began to read, we noticed that he understood rhyming easily. If we sounded out “sun”, for example, he could easily work out that “fun” and “run” would end the same.

I also noticed that Middly would sometimes presume the ending of sentences (and do so correctly frequently enough to make the guesses worthwhile). At the close of speech marks, he expected to see ‘said’. This gave Middly much quicker successes, which made him very confident.

Youngest, however, found reading the easiest. We read to him from the very beginning. He sat in on his older brothers’ bedtime stories. As a result, Youngest was familiar with books long before he began to read. He could predict sentences, rhyme schemes, and even plots. If he saw a goat heading for a bridge, he would guess that it would meet a troll. He was often able to guess correctly, which made his reading fluent far earlier than the others.

I think hearing nursery rhymes, songs, and simple stories from day one definitely helped give Youngest the best foundation for learning to read.

Jolly Phonics

When we first started to teach our Eldest to read we expected to send him to primary school in year one. So, I checked the school’s website, intending to use the same scheme as them. I hoped that would make it as easy as possible for Eldest to slot into class.

The school used Jolly Phonics, so I had a look. I was pretty impressed. I bought their photocopiable resources, CD, and activity books. I followed their scheme of introducing a phoneme every day. It was pretty spectacular. Eldest picked up reading within a couple of months.

Middly followed along with Eldest – though I gave him only the photocopied sheets, with minimal writing, and kept the activity books exclusively for Eldest – and was pretty much on a level with him. We sang along to the songs in the car.

When Youngest turned three and a half, we picked up the Jolly Phonics set again. It was quite fun to listen to the songs  again. This time around, I was also home educating two bigger boys, and I spent far less time with Youngest. It took us about twice as long to get through the course! But, it was equally effective. I bought a new set of activity books, and they were much brighter than the ones Eldest used. I was really impressed and Youngest enjoyed them.

Other stuff we’ve enjoyed.

Bath letters are awesome! We bought a set for the big boys, and another set for Youngest. We used them to practice blending, reading and spelling. The boys love putting messages up for us during bath  time. For all three boys, cheeky words on the side of the bath have been some of their very first attempts at independent spelling. 

Bath letters are wonderful and definitely my favourite resource for teaching reading. They’re also very cheap and available from loads of places.

Lacing letters have proven less popular. The children can find it confusing to work out how to thread the letters, and accidentally spell words backwards. It’s also fiddly to change a letter in the middle of a word. 

We did buy Cookie Letters Toy for Youngest. He played with it a few times, but none of the games really engaged his interest much.

Making letters out of playdough and biscuit dough, drawing letters in sand and rice, were also briefly entertaining, but not big hits. There are lots of other things that the boys would rather make out of playdough.

When Middly was learning to read, I had a letter tracing app on my iPhone, which he played a few times. When Youngest was learning to read there were thousands of electronic games available! Many of Youngest’s friends are keen on Reading Eggs, but it didn’t appeal to Youngest at all.

Reading Schemes

We were very lucky with the big boys, as we lived near a fantastic library which had numerous entire sets of reading schemes. That made it easy to find lots of books at the right level.

I do think that having books at the right level available helps. If books are too easy, the boys are quickly bored. If the books are too hard, they lose confidence and baulk at reading at all.

We moved, however, and our new library was no use for Youngest. It had a very limited selection of books and didn’t keep them in order. So, I ended up having to buy reading schemes for him. I bought a few sets so that he had plenty to read at each reading level.

Our favorites have been Oxford Reading Tree. We loved the Songbirds set, and got a set of activity books and a card game to match. Youngest quite liked Biff, Chip and Kipper, and the Fairy tales set, and the poetry books were surprisingly good fun.

But, our absolute favourite has been Project X. Youngest loves these exciting stories and is eager to keep reading! There are some cliffhangers at the end of books, though. And there’s even a big cliff hanger at the end of the first set of books. I was very glad that I had the next set ready to go. Youngest was very worried about Seven!

We tried Big Cat Readers, which Youngest didn’t enjoy much. I also bought a Marvel reading set and a Paw Patrol reading set. Youngest loves superheroes and Paw Patrol. But, the books themselves weren’t very exciting. They spent a lot of time describing Youngest’s favourite characters, not giving him new information. It’s hard to convince anyone that it’s worth making the effort to read something you already know.
Tricky bits.

All of the boys went through a patch of not really wanting to read. I went with a little and often approach. Sometimes breaking a page down into little bits. But, I stuck to a basic rule of reading every day, regardless of how busy we were, or anything else. Sometimes we alternated pages (I read one, the child read one, and so on); sometimes we even alternated words. We always read. I find it easier to have clear rules; once I have made one exception, it’s much harder to refuse to make another.

Eldest also struggled with blending for a while. I read Handbook of Reading Interventions. They described a game called Talking like a Robot. Instead of trying to teach Eldest to push sounds together to make words, we played a game where he split words up into individual sounds. For example, I showed him the word boat and explained that a robot would say “b-oa-t”. I said lots of words in robot language, and Eldest had a go at saying words in robot language too. Once he was able to break words down into sounds, he was also able to push sounds together to make words.

Final thoughts

Teaching the boys to read has a lot of fun. I have lived watching them go from recognising a few letters​ to fluently reading books. It’s given them, and me, an enormous sense of achievement. I am a little sorry to be leaving this stage behind. But, I am sure that there are plenty more wonderful things for us to learn together!

Science Club – Pneumatics 2

Pneumatics

Arrival Craft: Air colouring sheet. air

Introduction: Gasses can be compressed more than liquids or solids, but there are still limits. If we try to squash air too much, it will rush away.

If I blow up a balloon and let go of the end, what will happen?

The air will rush out of the balloon. The force of the air rushing out will push the balloon away in the opposite direction. This is one of the big rules of energy: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Demonstrate.

If you inflate a balloon and attach it to a CD, then the air will rush out through the hole, pushing the CD into the air, like a tiny hovercraft. These are easy to make, but there’s a YouTube video on @Bristol’s site, which is very good. https://www.at-bristol.org.uk

Individual Task: Make CD hovercrafts.

Break for drink and snack.

Second Part: If we don’t give the air any way out, then we can use it to push things.

This is called pneumatics.

Individual Task: Make pneumatic hoists out of tech card.

Science Club – Plants

Plants

Arrival CraftMake leaf mobiles. leafmobile

Introduction: Plants are the beginning of all food chains, because they are able to make their own food using the energy from sunlight. This is called photosynthesis.

We can’t exactly see it happening, but we can come close. In photosynthesis, leaves take carbon dioxide and sunlight and produce glucose and oxygen.

Individual Task: Children try leaf disc experiment and observe the bubbles that show oxygen is being produced. leafdisc

Break for drink and snack.

Second half: Show cress that has grown in light and dark and ask children what plants need to grow.

Individual Task: Children plant cress on cotton wool to make little cress heads.

Science Club – Food

Food

Arrival Craft: Make origami Protein Channels. I found this fantastic craft online here. There are videos to help you! 

Introduction: We need to eat a balanced diet, which means we need to eat different types of food.

We need: Carbohydrates, Proteins, Vitamins and Minerals and Fats.

Some foods obviously belong to one group or another, but other foods can be in several groups at once.

I have iodine, which we can use to test for starch; and bieuret solution, which we can use to test for protein.

We’re going to test some foods to see if they contain starch and / or protein.

Egg white is a good source of protein, so we’re going to use egg white and water to show the difference between a positive protein test and a negative protein test.

Individual Task: Test for proteins. (The Biuret reagent contains: Hydrated Copper sulphate, Potassium hydroxide solution, Potassium sodium tartrate) foodtesting

Children then mash up different foods with water and test them for protein.

They should also test a sample of only water – as a control.

Gather Together: Which of the foods contained protein?

Is that what you expected?

Break for drink and snack.

Second part: This is a potato – obviously, it’s going to contain starch. When I add iodine to it, the iodine goes blue, indicating the presence of starch. We’re going to use iodine to see which of these foods contain starch.

Give out worksheets for children to predict whether foods will contain starch. foodtesting

 

Science Club – Insects

Insects

Arrival Craft: Make insect models with jointed legs. insects

Introduction: There are lots of different types of insects.

People discover new ones all the time, and new species are often discovered by amateurs. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21458463)

You could easily hunt for insects in your own gardens. We’re going to make some pooters to help you safely collect creatures to study.

Individual Task: Make pooters.

Practice picking up grains of rice.

Drinks and snack

Second Part: How many legs do insects have? (6)

But, what about a caterpillar? Is a caterpillar an insect?

Of course, a caterpillar is the pupa stage of a butterfly. Pupa do not all have six legs. It is all adult insects that have six legs.

The life cycle of an insect isn’t quite the same as the life cycle of a mammal (like us).

Does anyone know the life cycle of an insect?

Make insect life cycle plates.

Insects are a huge part of the animal kingdom and very important for keeping everything going.

We can see how insects fit into the ecosystem by making a food web.

We’ll lay out these names of animals and plants (I printed off pictures from Wildlife Watch), and then we’ll use bits of string to connect each animal with what it eats.

Home Education Reception

This year, my youngest would be starting school. So, I thought I would share what home education looks like for him. This is a week of reception home education in our house:

Monday

Youngest usually gets up earlier than the other boys. He got up and played with his Lego while daddy made breakfast.

When I came downstairs, he showed me what he’s been playing with while I ate my breakfast.

Then Youngest did his reading.

He was interested in the workbook on offer this morning, so we looked at that together straight away. Youngest has really enjoyed doing the Songbirds workbooks alongside the reading books, but since we only use the workbook once a week, I’ve had to stagger the reading books so he doesn’t get completely out of sync.

After lunch, we had Poetry Club. I run this for home educated children of all ages (since all my boys come along). Youngest enjoyed learning about onomatopoeia by trying to mimic some of the words in ‘On the Ning Nang Nong’ with musical instruments.

He also liked snack time, and coming up with alliterative names for cuddly toys. All the children took turns identifying alliteration in some poems and youngest managed that well.

He was less interested in our long discussion about assonance, however, and spent part of that drawing all over his face with felttips.

After Poetry Club, we went to the park, and most of the children came with us. They played together, while the parents chatted.

Then we had to drop Youngest’s brothers off, and we had a bit of special Youngest and Mummy time. I read to Youngest, then we made some Paw Patrol cakes.

On the way to pick up the big boys, we collected a parcel. Then all the children watched part of the Minions movie while I made tea.

At bedtime, we’ve been reading Grammarland to all of the boys. Youngest giggles and giggles. There are some very simple grammar questions at the ends of chapters. Youngest takes turns with his brothers to answer them.

Tuesday

Youngest and Daddy were up first, again. Youngest had a look in the craft box and made himself some wings. 

Yes, he did simply sellotape feathers to bits of paper. But, it was adorable  when he draped it over his arms and ran around trying to fly!

Youngest was eager to read today, so we did that straight away. Then he messed around with the feathers, trying out various ways of attaching them to his arms. He was quite pleased with himself when he found a long piece of elastic. He wrapped it around his waist several times, then tucked the feathers into it.

After breakfast, Youngest and I did some German together. We listened to a CD and had a go at greeting each other in German. Youngest traced some German words and we sang along to a song together.

After our German, Youngest ran around the house trying his German greetings out on everyone.

Then he set up a toy shop using a calculator and some bits of wood. Eldest and I took turns buying things until it was time for lunch.

After lunch, Youngest joined Middly in playing with his pet rats.

Youngest likes making bridges for the rats to scamper over, but they’re so fast that all my pictures are of blurry rats. They’re only still when they’re eating.

The RSPB sent a paper bird mask with our new membership cards, so I helped Youngest to make it. 

Then we had to go to Middly’s swimming lesson. We arrived a bit early so the boys could play in the park together. 
During Middly’s lesson, Youngest and I looked through a Spot the Meerkats book, played with some lego and then played on the CBeebies Play Island game on my phone. I had also taken a fossil sticker book that Youngest had enjoyed looking at at the weekend, but he wasn’t keen, so we didn’t do anything more with that.

When we got home, Daddy had made tea, so we ate and then it was bedtime. Youngest had a couple of Mr Men books, then all the boys listened to Grammarland again.

Wednesday

My husband went to a client’s site today, so I actually had to do breakfast myself! 

Youngest loves his current maths workbook, so we did a bit of that and then he did some reading.

I had to get things ready for Science Club, so Youngest played independently for a while. He had lego, feathers and elastic and seemed quite contented.

After a quick lunch, we headed out to Science Club. Youngest isn’t keen on colouring in, so I wasn’t surprised when he drew on his face again while everyone else completed in a sheet about colour mixing.

I encouraged him to sit next to me, then, so he joined in  with the chromatography experiment and really enjoyed it.

After snack time, I showed the children some teabags and we talked about how bug the holes need to be to make effective teabags.

Then, the children all made their own tea bags. Youngest helped clear up by putting away the crayons. Then we all went to the park again.

After the park trip, we headed home and Youngest was eager to use his new teabag. 

It was a good excuse for a cup of tea and a sit down! I read a pile of books to Youngest.

Youngest got dragged about a bit this evening, dropping the big bboysat their seperate clubs, then going back out to pick them up late in the evening. We started listening to ‘The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark’ audio book in the car. Youngest was pretty tired, so we just watched cartoons between the driving errands. 

Thursday

Another Mummy-breakfast morning. But, we had a brilliant reading book about frogs, so that cheered us up!

Then we all went out to the library, because it closes early on Thursdays, and we’ve been caught out by that before.

We read a couple of books there, then chose some to bring home.

We went to the park in town for a good run and some fresh air. Then we strolled around town so the big boys could play Pokémon Go.

Back home, I made lunch. Then Youngest did his writing.

We listened to this week’s German song again. I read the books Youngest had brought back from the library to him.

Then Youngest turned my hat into a gun.

We took Eldest to tennis club and, while he played, Middly, Youngest and I kicked a football around and had a run through the woods nearby.

Back home, Youngest played with the rats and Middly again. Then Youngest played with Lego again. He plays very long involved games, occasionally stopping to show me what he’s made.

This, for example, is a Musoupal. Which is ‘something small and rectangular, which likes soup; and this one is an amphibian’.

Youngest came to help me with tea today. He topped and tailed the green beans.

Then he watched the rest of the Minions movie while tea cooked.

Friday

Youngest had breakfast with Daddy again. He played with play dough while everyone else got up and ate breakfast.

When he’d finished with his play dough, Youngest came to find me and read his book.

Then he played with Lego for a while, until I asked him to look at his science book with me. He did a page about bees that involved finding squares on a grid, then we read some facts about butterflies and he drew a few of his own. He told me that he was drawing a ‘night butterfly’, and I tried to tell him that usually it’s moths that fly at night. Turns out he was drawing a ‘knight butterfly’ riding on a caterpillar!
Having finished his drawing, Youngest ran to see if Middly knew what ‘metamorphosis’ meant. Middly chatted about the lifecycle of butterflies with Youngest for a bit. Then went back to his book, so Youngest returned to his Lego.

After lunch, we went to a new park, with some friends. There was lots to explore, plenty of trees to climb, and we found a duck pond. We listened to the rest of ‘The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark’ in the car.

Back home, Youngest had a snack, then I read his library books to him again. Then he went off to read them to himself.

I got out the CD player and we listened to this week’s German song again. Then I offered to do a puzzle with him, but he wasn’t interested and returned to playing with the feathers and elastic. He interfered with a game that I set up with Middly, which was a bit unusual for him, but after we finished playing, Youngest explained that he had lost the end of the sellotape. I found it for him and he happily returned to sticking feathers together.

Middly made balloon-powered cars out of Lego. Youngest was very impressed and tried making a balloon-powered ship of his own. It did fly a little way. 

Summary

All in all, I think it’s been a pretty typical week. I think there were a few more parks than usual. We go outside every day, but it isn’t always to the park. Friday trips aren’t always to parks, either, we’ve been to museums, art galleries, farms, zoos and fire stations too. But, overall, I think this is pretty much what Youngest does all week.

Putting this blog together has made me realise quite how much time Youngest spends entertaining himself. He seems happy enough, and it’s a great help to me, since I have the other two boys around as well. 

Workbooks

At the moment, Youngest is doing several workbooks from Schofield and Simms. They’re very good value and the pages are quite plain, which Youngest likes.

He is also working through the Songbirds activity books, which tie in with some of his reading books.

I put a workbook in Youngest’s box every day, along with his reading book. We usually do a couple of pages at some point in the day.

Reading books

Youngest isn’t keen on re-reading books. He likes to read a new one each day. Our library isn’t equipped with reading schemes, so I have purchased quite a few for Youngest to use. Book People do a lot of good value packs. 

Some of the books take him more than a day to get through, so here’s this week’s selection:

Seeing them all together, I realise that they’re all Oxford Reading Tree, but he does have some Collins Big Cat Readers sets as well, and one from Marvel kids too, he just didn’t read any of those this week!

Wind

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Arrival Craft:

I gave out some sheets with pictures of clouds (which I took from Wild Weather), some card, cotton wool and foil. The children made their own cloud identification charts.

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Gather Together:

We talked about pressure. I put a balloon over the top of an empty bottle and lowered it into a cup of boiling water. The balloon expanded as the air inside the bottle got hotter.

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We then made barometers (following the instructions from Easy Science for Kids). Each child stretched a balloon over the top of a glass jar. Then we taped a long straw to the middle of the balloon. We made card board guides so that we could see when the stick moved up or down.

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I showed the children an anemometer next and talked about how it measured wind speed.

The children made their own simple anemometers by attaching a polystyrene ball to a string, then tying the other end if the string to the top of half a paper plate.

We had a discussion about calibration. The children took it in turns to calibrate their anemometers by holding them in front of a fan alongside the electronic anemometer.

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