“Look, Mom!  I spelled ‘James!'”

I have had many parents come to me worried that their preschool or kindergarten aged child may be dyslexic* after he or she continues to spell and write words/letters backwards, upside down, in mirror image, or mix up letters within a word.

Let me say now that this writing behavior is totally normal at this stage in your child’s pre-writing and pre-reading development and in most cases* is not indicative of a learning disability.

We, the smarter-than-the-average-preschooler mommy teachers, see a triangle.  3 sides + 3 points = triangle no matter how you look at it.

(Technically that last one is a pyramid says my 5year old, but you get my point.)

What, then, is the letter A?

It is but a mere visual representation of a sound in a word… a symbol… or simply, a shape, not unlike our friend, the triangle.  We recognize this shape no matter the direction, font, size or color.  Our brains are hardwired to group these similar shapes together so we can recognize them even though they may look slightly different than the  Times New Roman  capital letter A.

Our kids are naturally doing the same exact thing which is why they can still find the letter A in a pile of letters, even though some of the As are upside down.

To help teach correct directionality (the direction in which we read and write in English), use your index finger to guide reading: top-bottom, left-right.  This is a learned skill and will become ingrained through repetition and practice.  In Leyson’s case, if he knew that he should have spelled the letters out from left to right, the word would have actually spelled JAMES instead of SEMAJ – but with a sideways S and an E for an M… babysteps.

When Leyson spelled James’ name backwards, I then modeled how to spell his own name as he said the letters out loud to me.  Leaving those letters in place, I then pulled a second set of letters for his name and asked him to put them in order directly under the one I had done.

“Which letter comes first?  Which comes second?”  Etc.

To fix his sideways S, I lined up a few of the same letter and laid them out right side, upside down and sideways and we chose the correct letter.  This taught him that it DOES matter which way a letter is written… BAM!  Epiphany.

Back to his spelling of James’ name:

Me:  “Now, if we spelled the name LEYSON with the L over here on the left, what is different about how you spelled JAMES?”

Leyson:  “I used an upside down E as an M!”

Epiphany x2.

*  Dyslexia is a Developmental Reading Disorder (DRD) which is one of the most common learning disabilities.  A small percentage of those with this type of DRD actually see and write letters backwards or upside down.  Most often dyslexia is diagnosed within the critical beginning reader years (kindergarten – 2nd grade) if  a child of normal intelligence still has difficulties with visual and/or auditory reading comprehension, spelling and phonological awareness.

If after age appropriate and developmentally appropriate reading and writing strategies have been correctly taught to your school-aged child and you find he or she is still struggling with reading, begin to log your perception of your child’s reading abilities and share it with your child’s teacher or doctor so they can determine if your child may need further evaluation.

I just have to share a funny moment between my 3 year old and myself today…

I have been working on blending sounds with Leyson and today I wanted to test his understanding…

Me: “/b/, /a/, /t/.  Put it together…”
Leyson:  silence
Me: “/b/, /at/. Put it together…”
Leyson: silence
Me: “/b/, /a/, /t/.  /b/, /at/. Put it together…bat. Let’s try another.
Leyson: “No.  /t/,/A/,/k/,/i/,/t/,/u/, /p/, /ar/, /t/. Take it apart!”

I don’t think he likes blending, but at least he figured out segmenting on his own!  And it’s pretty obvious that despite my classroom background, my own kids aren’t always receptive to my teaching efforts.

However, when they ARE excited about learning, how do I teach about blending and segmentingBlending is taking separate sounds and putting them together to make a blended sound  and segmenting is taking them apart, separating the sounds.  That’s easy to remember, right?

I blend and segment a LOT as if it’s perfectly natural to do in conversation.  My kids and I will be talking about baseball and I will say something like, “Don’t forget your baseball bat!  /b/ /a/ /t/ put it together… BAT!”

(Letters inside of / /  represents the sound those letters make.)

When I say “put it together” I take my two index fingers and bring them together to add a little visual to our blending efforts.  And would you believe that to “take them apart” I touch my fingers together and move them apart from each other?  I’d like to take credit for that simple little trick, but alas, someone got to the wheel before me.

When playing I also use toys to help me sound things out as well.  Today I used Hot Wheels to help me blend the sounds together.  I grabbed three cars to segment DOG – /d/ /o/ /g/ – and each time I said a sound, I moved a car up an inch.  This allows your child to visualize how many different sounds are within one word.  Three cars = three different sounds.

Kids really pick up on this repetition, and through that they begin to do the same thing in their heads.  They can better hear the differences between the sounds in words and how sounds work together to make words.  This is beneficial for when we sit down with written words and can break them down sound by sound then piece them back together.  Blending and segmenting are essential skills to learn in order to be able to READ!  This is also a skill that is often looked over in early reading programs that teach reading through visual repeitions such as flash cards.

Even after all this talk lately about putting sounds together and taking them apart, Leyson still missed the mark completely when showing off his baseball trophy with his name on it…

Leyson:  “L…e…y…s…o…n.  That spells ‘mine.'”

So just because he’s blending and segmenting does not mean that he’s reading quiet yet, but baby steps!

Side note:  your child does not have to know all 26 shapes of letters and their sounds for you to begin the habit of blending and segmenting sounds in everyday conversation.  Your goal for this is EXPOSURE… and through repetitive exposure, your child will begin to grasp the CONCEPT of phonemic awareness:  letters make sounds, sounds when put together make words, words are separated from other words and when put together they make phrases and sentences which make up our thoughts and conversations on and on and on!  When we understand this concept, we are ready to learn how to READ!

One teaching tool that I love to have within an arm’s reach is my storytelling bag collection.  I hesitated to use the word “collection” but I looked up synonyms and nothing was cooler than that so I guess I have to admit that I collect storytelling bags.  A storytelling bag is basically a themed bag that includes a book, props for that book, and some teaching tips and ideas (mini-lesson plans) that extend the learning opportunities for that theme.  I love to use props to act out a story because drama really brings the characters to life and children are better able to recall the story from memory.

So many skills can be hit on using story telling bags…. check out some of Louisiana’s ELA grade level expectations for “reading literature and informational text” and “speaking and listening” for ideas.

Here is an example of a story-telling bag (also called a literacy bag),

and here is my effort to create the same story-telling bag for a friend who homeschools on her little one’s birthday 🙂

The llama is from Bolivia, in South America…. so glad my impulse buys came in handy 🙂

I also added teaching tips in the bag. You can do the same by typing the name of the book that you are gifting into a google search followed by “lesson plans” or something similar….OR you can come up with your own!  I may be the mommy teacher but I truly believe in saving time, (money), and reserving energy for my kids so do what is best for YOU.  In fact, if you are a garage-saler, be on the look-out for quality books and props that might correspond to the books and you will save money, and time shopping for the next birthday gift!

There are 3 different rhyming skills:

1) Listening to words and identifying whether or not they rhyme:  Do these words rhyme: “cat/rat”? ; Do these words rhyme: “hot/shoe”?

2) Listening to rhyming words and coming up with another one: “mop, stop, ________”  (Even if they say a made up word like shlop.)

3) Coming up with a rhyming word for a single word: “Can you think of a word that rhymes with day?”

My earlier rhyming posts are both activities that fall into the first category of the rhyming skills because both activities are made to listen for and identify whether or not the words rhyme.

Once your child can tell you whether or not words rhyme (skill #1), you want to practice activities that will help them to create rhymes.

Click on the link for an activity for skill #2:

Books are a GREAT way to INTRODUCE new concepts.  If I am teaching about shapes, focusing on squares, I might pick a book from my expansive library that centers around squares.  But~ I would make sure that I discuss the pre-conceived understandings about squares first.  I might ask the little one “What do you know about shapes?” This one question “What do you know?” is probably on the first column of a 3 column KWL chart of classrooms all across the country.  The K stands for “Know” -what do you already know? The W stands for “Want” -what do you want to learn? and the L stands for “Learned” – what you have learned after the subject is taught.  So a great way to plan your teaching is to first learn what your “student” already knows about the topic.

Then, I might make some associations – brainstorming with the little one about what squares remind them of.

THEN…I would read a book about it 🙂  – but this is a great time to bring in visuals, dig a little deeper into the topic, and ask questions throughout the reading that get them thinking.

Afterwards, I could do an extension activity with them to “extend” their understandings, or have them record (draw) what they have learned about shapes from our discussion and book.

And quite honestly, as a teacher, I learned a lot from books; not just growing up reading books.  I learned a lot from reading books to my Kindergarteners.  In fact, I love kids books and grew an appreciation for them, but I still find it important to select books strategically.  You need a good balance of fiction and non-fiction.  You need to select a variety for each topic.  And you need to make sure the book is engaging.

There is a difference between read-aloud books that carry a life lesson, and books that teach a specific subject matter.  I have tons of favorite read-aloud books, and a lot of favorite books on each theme I am teaching.  Buying them can be great to have your own little library, or you can check your local library for availability.

Either way, I am going to make an amazon list of books for you to check out.    Feel free to E-MAIL ME if you have any questions about searching for specific resources.

So, if you haven’t figured it out already…today’s activity is to READ with purpose whether it be on colors, shapes, counting, alphabet principles, etc. 🙂