Tag Archives: phonics

Phonics Program Round Up for Reading Instruction

Phonics Program Round Up for Reading Instruction


One of the greatest homeschooling joys—and greatest challenges—during my thirty-two years of homeschooling has definitely been teaching my kids to read. My undergraduate degree is in elementary education, and my master’s work is in reading specialist. So, um, yeah, I should have been a specialist.

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This Reading Mama Phonics Program & More

Eliah ReadingClick to watch!

I have loved teaching reading again! And I have loved creating products to use for letter recognition and sounds/letter recognition. It is so fun to work with younger children again…and makes me anxious to teach my grandkids to read (or help teach them!).

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Product Highlight: Letters and Sounds ABC Cards

Letters and Sounds ABC Cards

School is in session everywhere now, which means young learners are learning their ABC’s and 1-2-3’s! I love back to school! I especially loved it when I taught my own kids at home! Nowadays, I am enjoying teaching (along with my oldest son Joshua, age thirty-two, history major with emphases in too many subjects to list!) one hundred students writing and language arts in cottage classes at three locations in and around Fort Wayne, Indiana. I call it my “testing program” to test my new books before we publish them, but really, they are just excuses to do what I love most—teach!


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Introducing the Letters & Sounds Series


Introducing the Letters & Sounds Series

I have been busy this summer doing some private tutoring as well as teaching a few small groups in my home. It was fun to teach in my home in a super relaxed environment of fewer students (and less homework since it was “summer school,” and parents wanted about half the normal amount of homework for their kids).


Additionally, I was blessed with the opportunity to work with a special needs student on her letters and sounds. (In case you ever wonder what the best age of kids is, I stand firm in my conviction that the best is four to six year old, followed closely by every other age!)

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Wondering Wednesday: Summer Reading Help for Young Students

Summer Reading Help for Young StudentsDonna Reish, curriculum author and parenting/homeschool speaker, answers readers’ questions about bringing an elementary student up to grade level in reading during the summer. In this episode, Donna helps parents learn what to focus on in bringing their child to reading fluency, including terminology, phonics programs, reader selections, and steps in helping children learn to read during the summer school break. She has many links to help parents find the phonics program, readers, and methods that will work best for them and their children.


Click here to download the printable handout.

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You know what one of my least favorite words is? FACADE.

First of all, I work week in and week out to try to teach that an A, O, U, or most consonants make the C say “kuh.” That would make this word fuh-kade, right? (Or even fay-kade.) Unfortunately, that is wrong.

It is pronounced fuh-sodd. (That A really doesn’t make the C say “kuh.”)

That clearly makes this word a FAKE, which is one of its only redeeming qualities–it means what it looks like! Smile…

That bring us to the second aspect of the word–its meaning. It is a noun that means “a face of a building or a superficial appearance.”

In that regard, it is as it is pronounced–even though it isn’t pronounced like it is spelled (which is true of many words that came from somewhere else).

So it is easy to learn the meaning of—it has to do with what it sounds like–FACE (albeit, a fake face). But it is not spelled as one would think.

So, don’t put on a facade today! Don’t try to put on a superficial front or fake face. Be yourself!

U is for UNUSUAL SPELLINGS: Wednesday

So many of my students have trouble spelling today’s day of the week! Wednesday is definitely not phonetic, so students (and adults!) get stuck on the spelling of it. Most people say Wednesday without the sound of the d at all.
We teach our students to spell difficult words in many ways, giving them as many tools as we possibly can.
1.    Syllable by syllable—longer words that are phonetic in nature can often be syllabicated and spelled syllable by syllable by a student who is fairly phonetically-savvy: con/se/quence.

2.    Tricks and mnemonics—we call these “Tricky Tricks to Help It Stick” and use them often with our “Wacky Words”—words that have a wacky counterpart that can be confusing, such as the homophones their, there, and they’re. I had an elementary student this year who told the class that they could easily spell Nebuchadnezzar if they just divided it up and pronounced the ch as choo (not kuh): Neb/U/Chad/Nez/Zar! Of course, any tricks that help a person are handy tools to have (though the trick must help that person in order to be effective).

3.    Visual tricks—many visual people spell by “seeing” the word—its shape, its sequence of letters (and the shapes those letters make), etc.

4.    Memorization—some people  are just naturally good spellers (it is now thought to be a specific skill set separate from intelligence) and can memorize a word’s spelling once it is seen.

How do YOU spell Wednesday. Many of my students say it just like it looks to spelll it: WED/NES/DAY!
Does that help you?

“Readability Levels and Formulas for Homeschooling Parents”

                         “Readability Levels and Formulas for Homeschooling Parents”

                                                                                   Donna Reish

                                             An Introduction to Readability Levels

I began homeschooling over thirty years agol when Ray and I taught my younger sister (who was in eighth grade at the time) in our home. During my first several years of homeschooling, I used early readers when my children were first learning to read, but I did not care for “readers” for older children. I always felt that abridged or excerpted stories were inferior—and that children should read whole books.

This worked wonderfully for my first two (the ones who learned to read at age eight and nine). They didn’t like abridgements and excerpts very much anyway—and could easily read a couple of chapter books a week from ages ten and up. (I should note that they are both real literature buffs as adults, and our son teaches literary analysis of many novels to homeschooled students every semester. All of that reading really paid off!)

Then along came our third child, who begged for everything that I did not think was “best” for learning—workbooks (the more, the merrier, in her opinion); readers with excerpts and short stories; tons of what I had thought were useless pages of worksheets and coloring pages; and more. She was a different type of learner than Joshua and Kayla had been—and desired different learning tools.

So I began my hunt for “older” readers—readers for children beyond the phonetically-controlled ones that I had utilized to teach reading. I found many that I liked—and actually used some of them to read aloud to the kids since we found the stories and excerpts interesting and fun. They even caused my kids to go on and read entire books for themselves that they might have otherwise not known about or read (after reading an excerpted portion in their readers).

So…the moral of this story? Every child is different. Each child has his own learning style, likes, dislikes, etc. And we need to cater to those as much as possible in their learning. In order to choose reading materials for your children, a basic knowledge of readability levels will be a great help. I will detail readability levels and determinations in this month’s newsletter (March) and next month’s.  

                                          Readability Levels of Books

When a child is in school, he is likely in a “reading group,” that is a group of children from his class in which all of the students read at about the same reading level. The child’s teacher chooses readers/stories for each group of children based on that group’s (the children in that group’s) reading level.

To practice with your child at home, you will want to do the same thing—but in a one on one, rather than small group, situation. How do you know what level is appropriate for your child?

I will enumerate some tips for choosing books at your child’s reading level, primarily for word-calling purposes. First, though, a small peek at readability levels will help you in determining your child’s reading level.

Readability is based on many factors. Many readability scales use one of a few simple formulae in which the number of words in a passage or story is divided by the number of words—and a readability level is derived based on the number of words each sentence contains (on an average). Other formulae use the number of syllables, considering that a sentence that contains twenty “one-syllable” words is certainly easier to word call than a sentence that contains twenty “three-syllable” words.

In both of those cases, the readability level is based on word calling, which is an accurate portrayal of early readers since children do not focus much on comprehension at that level of reading. (And if a class does focus on comprehension, it is usually just literal comprehension—what happened, who the characters were, etc.)

As students progress in their reading, we want them to not only be able to sound out words in a passage or story, but we want them to derive meaning from those words. Formulae for readability of a text based on comprehension is much more difficult to assess (though definitely counting number of words with longer syllables demonstrates a higher comprehension level than just merely counting the number of words).

So many things come into play when considering readability of, say, a chapter book of 150 pages. A book might be short but extremely difficult to comprehend due to the vocabulary used (which some formulae do not consider). Likewise, a book can be very long but have extremely immature vocabulary and not be difficult to comprehend at all.

In our language arts and composition books, we give students passages to write from at least half of the time for factual writing in the early grades, lessening as students learn to find appropriate sources themselves, etc. In choosing these passages to write from, comprehension is extremely important. In order to write from source material, a much higher level of comprehension must be realized than merely that of sounding out the words. In choosing passages for students to read, take notes from, and write from, we consider readability in terms of word calling first, then we consider sentence structure. Sentence structure includes the length of the sentence, the type of sentence (i.e. what we learned as compound, compound-complex, etc.), the type of and length of sentence openers a sentence contains (prepositional phrase openers, adverb openers, etc.), and finally, the vocabulary of the passage.

How does this apply to your reading with your student? Consider the list of ascending skills below concerning readability and readers:

Readability and Readers

1. In the early grades, you will be concerned with readability in terms of decoding, phonics, sight words, etc. That is, can your student read the words?

2. If your child already reads well in terms of decoding (sounding out words), and can “pick up anything and ‘read’ it,” you will want to focus on content—comprehending what he reads, discussing it, etc.

3. As students progress in reading, homeschooling moms and teachers in school often forsake the practice of reading aloud with children, noting that the child can word call anything, so there is no need to check for word calling skills/application of phonics. However, we advocate reading aloud with your child for some years, at least a couple of times a week. No, you will not be checking for word calling anymore (though my older boys will still say something like, “How do you pronounce this word—m-y-r-i-a-d?” when they are reading something to themselves), but reading involves word calling AND comprehension. A child who can “read anything” but not comprehend it is like a child reading “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.” To say that a child in fourth grade can read at a ninth grade level because he can decode all of the words in a passage that is rated at a ninth grade readability level is like saying he can read the “Wocket” tale by Dr. Seuss. He might be able to word call it, but is he “reading” if he cannot comprehend what he reads?

4. Oral reading together with Mom or Dad at upper elementary grades is for comprehension—you will not necessarily be checking on the application of his decoding skills, but you will be checking on his comprehension, vocabulary recognition, etc. You will hopefully be guiding him through his reading, discussing it, answering questions about vocabulary words (i.e. words he can easily sound out but does not know the meaning of), etc.

5. If your child is beyond the beginning phonics instruction, you may not need books that are “graded” in terms of readability. Perhaps he already enjoys reading a certain picture book series or early junior fiction series. These can then become his “readers” to read with you.

6. Consider the differences in “readability” in the materials he reads with you vs the materials he reads to himself:

a.    Be sure the material he reads aloud with you is somewhat challenging (i.e. he needs some help with words here and there but the books do not leave him in tears).

b.    Be sure that what he is reading to himself is not so difficult that he needs cueing or instruction as he reads it.

7.     Keep in mind that there are other things that affect readability besides syllable count, numbers of pages, sentence structure, and vocabulary. Interest is a strong factor in determining readability. (That is why I recommended the Saxon Bold Intervention+ for older students who need remedial reading on our Positive Parenting blog.The materials that they read from are high interest for older students—not childish or primary stories.) This is the reason that children who would not read their science or history book in fifth grade are picking up huge books of Harry Potter and these vampire books (not sure of their titles). Whether we like them or not, many children out there are reading these tomes simply because they are interested in them—despite the fact that those kids are not “at that reading level” and would never have picked up a book over two hundred pages prior to these books being released. (If you have an older student who is working on remedial reading, ask your librarian specifically for high interest/low readability materials for older students. Some of the adult literacy materials are extremely high interest with lower readability levels, as well.)

+Note: If you have an elementary child who is struggling with learning to read, visit Positive Parenting and click on “Reading Instruction” for helps and reviews of programs.

WORDY WEDNESDAY: acceleration vs deceleration

The other day I looked down on my steering wheel to find these two abbreviations: accel and decel. I am sure that these are the formal abbreviations, and I also assume that the two are abbreviations for acceleration and deceleration.

The two words are perfect words for working on two of my favorite “wordy” sub-lessons: spelling and prefix/root studies.

As a self-declared bi-phonic woman, I love to point out spelling rules any time there is the slightest bit of phonetic consistency to them. And, it just so happens, that acceleration and deceleration have a little bit of consistency to their spellings:

1. Hard and soft c
     a. ac/cel/er/a/tion
        i. The first c says kuh because it is followed by a c. (When a c or g is followed by a, o, u, or most consonants, it says its hard sound—kuh or guh.)
        ii. The second c says suh because it is followed by an e. (When a c or g is followed by e, i, or y, it says its soft sound–suh or juh.)
     b. de/cel/er/a/tion–This word only contains one c, and that c makes its soft sound (suh) because it is followed by an e.

2. Both spelled the same from then on–syllable by syllable
    a. After our cel phonemes, the remainder of each word is spelled the same.
    b. Both can be spelled syllable by syllable at that point
       i. er
       ii. a
       iii. tion

3. Thus, you can easily remember how to spell both words.
    a. ac/cel and d/cel
    b. er/a/tion (for both)

+Note: If acceleration only had one c, the first two syllables would look (“sound”) like this: a/sell (ay/sell).
+Note: If deceleration had two c’s, the first two syllables would look (“sound”) like this: dek/sell.

If you are not a lover of phonics or you learned to read and spell through sight words and memorization, you might be bored by now, so I will give you something you can take with you from this “wordy” lesson–deciphering meaning from roots and affixes (prefixes and suffixes).

First of all, remember this: You know more than you think you know!

Applying that to our two words: What do you already know about their meanings:

1. They have something to do with movement (on the steering wheel of a car; you hear them association with physics, etc.).

2. De is a prefix you are familiar with–it usually means the opposite.
   a. de-frost–unfrost
   b. de-value–not to value
3. tion–Tion (and sion words) words are usually nouns
   a. nation
   b. hypertension
   c. limitation

If you already knew those things (and now you do!), take what you already know and add it to what else you might learn about these two words:

1. ac–Prefix meaning toward

2. In physics, these two words have much more technical meanings that we do not need to concern ourselves with for this lesson. (A part of learning is knowing what you do not need to know!)

3. In medical terms, these two words have to do with getting hurt via a collision (still retaining the general meaning of movement).

4. The suffix cel can have something to do with movement or an action
   a. cancel
   b. excel

Okay, you have all of the information to unlock the definitions (and the spellings, thank-you very much!) of these two words.


A. They have something to do with movement (cel)
B. They are nouns (tion)
C. One means forward (ac–toward)
D. The other means backwards or not or undo (de).
E. Acceleration means to move forward.
F. Deceleration means to move backwards (de) or not to move.

Wasn’t that fun? 🙂

*For complete steps on “dissecting” words, see the posts about Character Ink’s teaching methods we call Definition Dissection. Here is a list of prefixes to get you started: http://languagelady365.blogspot.com/2011/01/days-13-14-roots-and-affixes-list.html