How to Teach Your Child to Read Independently and Confidently

Your goal every day is to teach your child to become an independent and confident reader. You start this from day one when you ask them to point to the dog or cat in the book as they sit on your lap and listen to stories. You continue this as you celebrate the first time they put three sounds together to decode a word: c-a- t: cat. Yay! You develop these skills as you teach them self-monitoring strategies. 


What Are Self-Monitoring Strategies? 

Simply put, self-monitoring strategies are what independent readers do to help themselves make sense of new words and make meaning of the text they are reading. One indication that your child is depending on you too much as they read is if he looks to you immediately when encountering a new. I used to joke with my first graders that they word was not on my face! What I meant was I wanted them to look at the page for clues to help them decode new words. The more confident your child becomes the less they will automatically look to you for the answers. Typically I find that parents are on one end of the spectrum in this area: they either help too soon and do not allow time for the child to figure out the new word, or they allow the child to struggle too long and become discourages. We want to balance these extremes and support when necessary but continue to teach self-monitoring skills so your child will look to you less and less as he read. 


What Do Independent Readers Do?

Independent readers have learned that its their job to make sense of what they reading. They take ownership of their comprehension of a story and they take risks when it comes to decoding and trying new words. Remember, beginning readers are taking risks every day and we need to celebrate every time they try and point out the ways they are growing as readers. The more confident they become in their own ability to read new words and make meaning from what they read, the more risks they will take and the more confident they become - it's a wonderful cycle! 


Independent Readers...

- Reread when they know they have not understood the text or to clarify what they've read

- Slow down to read new words or information that is unfamiliar

- Make mental images of visualize they story as they read

- Use background knowledge to connect to new material

- Ask questions as they read

- Connect new information to things they already know or have experienced

- Use context clues to make sense of new words


What You Can Do...

- Reread sentences and paragraphs when reading together to show them that this is what good readers do to understand 

- set a purpose for each book or story - explain when the story is for fun or for learning new information and then explain that good readers slow down when they need to learn something new

- talk about what you read as you read and the mental pictures - "what do you think the boy looks like?" "how do you picture his grandma's house?" 

- Ask questions as you read - not quiz-like but thoughtful: "what do you think the boy is feeling now?" "do you think the boy will regret his decision?" "have you ever felt like the character in this story?" 

- when presenting new information take time to talk about something that your child already knows that relates. If your child knows about spiders and you are going to read about insect, first talk about how many legs a spider has and the name of the body parts. As your child reads, he can start to make comparisons and contrast information about spiders vs. insects. 

- teach your child to use all the words in a sentence to help decode a new words. If they say "puddle" for "pedal" in the sentence: The girl learned how to pedal her bike fast to win the race." ask them in "puddle" makes sense in that sentence and with what else they know is going on in the story. 


Download the Strategy Bookmark to help your child remember these strategies when reading. 


Teach them these strategies:

1. "Does it make sense?" and "Try that again" This gives them time to think about what they are reading, go back and reread, and use the context clues around the word to try again.

2. "Do the sounds your read match the letters and letter patterns?" or "Does it sound right?" If the word is able to be decoded using phonics, they should be able to try the word again and properly decode it. If they say "steps" for "stops" it is easy enough to ask them what short o says and to try that word again.

3. "Does it look right?" or "Reread the sentence again and see if it you can get it this time." If it's a sight word we cannot tell them to "sound it out" and pictures won't make sense but you can let them know it's a sight word and to try to read it again with that bit of information. 


Keep in Mind:

  • You will need to teach self-monitoring and model these strategies
  • Don't let them rely on you for every new word
  • Build confidence and remove fear of failure - encourage an atmosphere of risk-taking when reading
  • Use mistakes as an opportunity to teach
  • Always be positive! 


Teach them these strategies and point out what strategy would be helpful for them as they read. Over time your child will begin to do these things automatically and will look to you less and less. Guide, support, encourage, and celebrate all their attempts and successes! 





Read More 0 Comments

How to Choose the RIGHT Books for Your Child

5 Simple Steps to Choose the Right Books for Your Child
Problem: How can I use REAL children’s books when I don’t know which books are the right books?
Solution: 5 Simple Steps to Find the Right Books
How to Choose the RIGHT BOOKS for Your C
Adobe Acrobat Document 67.7 KB

What To Look for When Choosing Children's Books

Well, you've decided that using REAL books is definitely the way to go for teaching reading, but one thing to keep in mind is that children need the RIGHT BOOKS to read in order to make progress. Here's what to look for when choosing books for your child to read.


Baby or Toddler Books

- board books

- easy to hold and page through

- letters or one word only that directly matches the picture

- photographs are preferable over drawings (especially for babies who need the clear, crisp representation of real objects)

- lots of white space


Emergent Readers (pre-kindergarten/late toddler stage)

- minimal text - one or two words on page

- very large font

- repetitive structure: The boy. The dog. The cat. 

- familiar language

- pictures dominate and tell the story


Emergent/Beginning Readers (kindergarten level)

- direct picture to text matching

- pictures still dominate the page

- repeated patterns and phrases: Polar Bear, Polar Bear, what do you hear?

- a few words or one sentence per page

- large font

- some rhyming words and obvious sight words or high frequency words like color words, number words, or the days of the week. 

- one basic concept or simple plot

- one or two characters 


Beginning Readers (first grade) 

- pictures support the text

- high frequency and sight words

- few sentences per page

- medium sized font

- simple plot or concept

- one and two syllable words: teacher, farmer, someday, happy

- simple dialogue

- main characters with some supporting characters

-introduction of past tense verbs and suffixes: -ed, -ly, -ing, -er


Developing Readers (end of first grade into second)

- pictures enhance the story but do not provide for specific clues about print

- less repetition

- paragraphs are introduced

- short and simple chapter structure

- compound sentences: The dog walked home and sat down in his chair. 

- dialogue between characters

- introduction of compound words and multi-syllabic words: mailman, butterfly, everywhere, exactly

- more complex plot or story line: a problem and resolution 


Keep in Mind:

  • all children progress at their own pace so the developmental/grade range given is a standard but may be different at different stages for each child and some children may stay in one stage longer than others. Wait until your child is ready to move to the next level of books before introducing them. 
  • This applies to books your child practices with you or reads on their own. Read-aloud books can be any books you and your child are interested in and preferably above your child's level so they learn new vocabulary and enjoy complex stories with captivating characters. 
  • Much of the child's "reading" in the Baby to Emergent Reader phases is memorizing books, that is why the repetitive nature and attachment to pictures are so important. 

**For more book recommendations see the Appendices in Teach a Child to Read with Children's Books. Need your copy now? PURCHASE HERE


Why You Should Be Using Poetry in Your Lessons

There are many benefits of using poetry in your reading lessons so I hope you will consider incorporating poetry on a regular basis! 

Here are 5 reasons why you should be using poetry in your reading lessons: 


1. Phonemic Awareness: playing with and hearing sounds is what phonemic awareness is all about. Phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading success that we have. Wait - let me say that again - phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading success. 

Using rhyming poetry will help develop this skill in your pre-readers. There's a reason Mother Goose has stood the test of time! 

Jack Sprat could eat no fat,

his wife could eat no lean, 

and so between the two of them they licked the platter clean.

Just unpacking this simple nursery rhyme we see how children are being introduced to the short 'a' sound, rhyming word families like 'at' and the long 'e' vowel pattern of 'ea'. Hearing these sounds and playing with them in language will go a long way to help them be successful when it's time to read these words and decode the patterns. 


2. Fluency! Oh how great poetry is for helping slower or stilted readers develop fluency. Since fluency comprises more than just the ability to read quickly, we can use poetry to model phrasing, the rhythm of reading, and expression. It is impossible to read poetry without infusing it with expression. Take this excerpt from a poem by Jack Prelutsky, for example: 

The Bogeyman


In the desolate depths of a perilous place

the bogeyman lurks, with a snarl on his face.

Never dare, never dare to approach his dark lair

for he's waiting . . . just waiting . . . to get you.


He skulks in the shadows, relentless and wild

in his search for a tender, delectable child.

With his steely sharp claws and his slavering jaws


oh he's waiting . . . just waiting . . . to get you.



3. High Interest. Children who are reluctant readers will often only read if something really, really interests them. Poems can bring the high interest factor to your reading program. If your child likes silly, funny, or humorous go for Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. 


4. Short and Quick. Our reluctant readers will groan and moan when faced with a page of text or long paragraphs, but reading a poem makes the words slide along quickly and smoothly. Use poetry that interests your child if they are easily intimidated by long chunks of text or shut down when faced with too many words on a page.


5. Repeated Readings. Children need to reread text in order to be able to read it fluently. Well - poetry is made to be read over and over again - in fact - the more you read a poem, the more fun it becomes! 


Use poetry often in your reading program and watch how it can impact your pre-reader, beginning reader, or struggling reader! 

Don't miss out on these tips and more! Join our newsletter and get exclusive content and support. 

The 5 Finger Method for Choosing a Book

Independent readers know how to choose their own books! You can help your child choose her own books using the 5-Finger Method.


1. Choose a book you think you will enjoy.

2. Read the second page.

3. Hold up a finger for each word you are not sure of or do not know.

4. If there are 5 or more words you did not know on one page, you should choose an easier book. 

5. Not sure? Still think it might not be too difficult? Use the 5-Finger Rule on two more pages. 


Independent Reading Practice


For independent reading practice, it's important that children are reading books in the Independent range: 95% or better accuracy. Simply put, for every 100 words, your child should not miss more than 5. 


For more on reading levels, go here. 


But what if the books are TOO EASY? 

Great question! 


Here are a few tips:


1. EASY is better than HARD! Remember we are talking about books your child will be reading independently, so it's important that they are books they can read with ease. Hard books will take too much energy away from comprehension to concentrate on decoding. When children read books that are too hard they fail to make progress toward fluency and they end up unable to find meaning from text, thereby teaching them that reading is not something that makes sense to them or helps them learn. Plus, it's not much fun to read something that is too much do you enjoy those inserts from the medication the pharmacy gave you or the prospectus from your IRA investments? 


2. Reading independently should be enjoyable: If a child does choose something that is, in your opinion, too easy, just remember you are also nurturing the LOVE of READING also! 


3. Balance: Help your child choose a balance of books that will entertain easily and also reinforce new skills that she is ready for. 


4. Give some parameters like: "You can choose 3 books that are super easy and then 3 books from this selection." (pointing them toward the level you know is more appropriate).


5. What does your child need? Struggling readers should consume easy books, stronger readers can be challenged a bit more. 


6. They can be a model and practice at the same time! Encourage them to read easy books TO others like a younger sibling. When reading easy books they can practice expression, intonation, and phrasing. 


You will be choosing their Instructional Level books for them so don't worry about them practicing with easy books! 


Try the 5-Finger Method the next time you visit the library then tell us how it worked inside the Facebook Group: Teach a Child to Read. 


~ Mary 


3 Reasons Children Struggle with Reading

Most things in life seem more complicated than they really are. Let me rephrase that: most solutions to our problems seem more complicated than they really are. That's often the result of incorrect information, rumors, fear, or just not knowing what to do. 

We have a way of thinking the worst when a problem arises, don't we? Reading difficulties are no exception to this tendency. If I had a dollar for every parent who was certain their child had dyslexia I could retire in my RV and start traveling! Seriously though, there are 3 reasons most often attributed to why children struggle to become fluent, independent readers. 

1. They are reading books that are TOO HARD for them. Reading practice is meant for books that are relatively easy for them to read AND understand. Fluency and comprehension are what we are looking for and we need to pay attention to both to ensure our children are able to access the print (decode it) and comprehend it (make meaning from it).


Independent Reading Level (books children can read on their own with no help): 95% - 100% accuracy, easy to understand, their choice, fun to read, enjoyable.

Instructional Reading Level (books your guide them through during reading time): 90% -94% accuracy, can read with assistance and support, missing a few words per each 100 words is okay, able to comprehend and retell.

Frustration Level (books that are too hard - accuracy is below 90% and comprehension is weak): avoid these - only use as read aloud books. 


Let's unpack this so you know what to look for when choosing books. 

  • For every 100 words read,  your child should not miss more than 10 to make that book suitable for Instructional Level reading. 
  • For every 100 words read, your child should not miss more than 5 to make that book suitable for Independent Level reading. 
  • More than 10 words missed per 100: too hard for either - save it for read aloud time.

You don't have to make your child read 100 words to figure this out. If he's missing more than a few words per page right off the bat you know this book is too hard. 


TIP: Few words on a page does not mean easy. Think about picture books with a few words or sentences per page but the vocabulary or word structure is too hard for beginning readers. Look at the type of words and match them to your child's level. Short words, short vowels, few blends, single syllable etc. would all be clues to matching a beginning reader to a "just right" book. 

Once you find books that are easy for your child to read independently you will see his confidence and skill increase right away! 

Which leads us to reason #2:


2. Not enough practice. When I say practice I mean practice reading books - not practice with flashcards or worksheets. There are appropriate times for flashcards, *some* worksheets, games, and puzzles but when a child has uninterrupted practice reading books that are at his independent reading level magical and amazing things happen!

His confidence shoots up, the desire to read increases, his speed, accuracy, and overall fluency will improve, comprehension levels are high, and he's able to employ all the strategies and skills you have been working on together. 


CAUTION: more reading practice with books that are TOO HARD will have the opposite and unwanted affect: children will lose their enthusiasm for reading quickly when things are too hard - who can blame them? I don't like to do things that are hard for me either!

Confidence decreases and without confidence, children do not take risks. Good readers take risks every day in order to learn.

Confusion, frustration, anxiety, stress, physical discomfort are all signals that your child is faced with text that is too hard for him.


Back up a level or more until you find books that are easy reads. And then provide ample time to explore, read, reread, read to others, and practice until those books can be set aside for the next level. 

How much practice? At least 30 minutes per day of independent reading - this is aside from instructional time when you are guiding his reading and aside from read aloud time. Do be sure to break up these times to avoid exhaustion and stress! 


3. Not using the right strategies. "Sound it out" is a strategy, but it cannot be our only strategy because it doesn't work all the time. If a child is stumped when he gets to the word 'done' I cannot say "sound it out" because 'done' does not follow the longO/silentE pattern like the words bone or home do.

In this case I might remind my child that 'done' is one of our sight words, or high-frequency words, and cannot be sounded out. I might point to this word on our word wall and see if he remembers it and if not, I would tell him the word. I would then make a note to practice that word until it becomes automatic.

***Avoid saying things like, "You know that word." or "You can do it." without giving them a clue or strategy to use. If you need a list of strategies like this, refer to Chapter 7 Book Reading and Strategy Development or email me at and I'll send you a document listing the strategies you can use and when to use them. You can also join our Facebook group to get this document and MUCH MORE! 


It is possible that these 3 things are in place and yet your child is still struggling to read. I can help you dig deeper and get unstuck. Below are some consultation options for you if you want to work with me to help get to the heart of what's holding your child back. 

It is also possible that your child has an underlying disability but that cannot be clearly determined until other things have been tried. Sometimes taking a step backward is necessary in order to move forward, so please don't be upset if you have to back up your child's reading level by several levels - once he gets those "just right" books in his hands and some strategies under his belt, you will see tremendous progress! ~ Mary 


Consultation Packages: (Click Here for Pricing Options)

One Time Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50-minute phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources e-mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • 4 week follow up email to check


Package Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50-minute initial phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • Weekly follow up email and ongoing support
  • Monthly phone conference at 4 weeks and 8 weeks 




The Basic Components of a Home Reading Program

Feeling overwhelmed trying to decide exactly what you need to create a wonderful reading program for your child? Getting a headache just looking at all that curriculum?


Let's focus on the basics first and build a strong foundation for reading success. Then you can layer in other supporting resources as needed.


I promise just by doing the steps listed below you will see progress quickly for both you as the reading coach/teacher and your child.


You know that meme that says something like this: "I just got off a conference call that should have been an email."?


I chuckle at that because I have sat through MANY meetings that did not need to happen. Why do we do this? Because it's human nature to complicate things.


But I am a fan of simplicity! One of my life mottoes is: "Keep it simple, my friends."


When it comes to teaching reading things can get complicated quickly! Complication leads to overwhelm, stress, and then you are likely to shut down or give up.


I don't want you to give up on working with your child in reading. I also don't want you to give over - give the responsibility and joy to someone else who you might be tempted to think can do it better. 


You CAN do this, but if you are feeling overwhelmed it's important to stop,

pull back, and pare down to the basics.


This post will show you the basic foundation you need to set up in order to build a strong and effective reading program for your child. Don't put the cart before the horse which only complicates things and makes it darn near impossible to make any progress. 


If you are just getting started or you want to double check that you have the foundation in place, keep reading! 


Until you understand the basic components of a balanced literacy approach it will be hard to choose supporting curriculum and until you understand how children really learn to read it will be difficult to know if you have all the right things in place. This is why Cathy Duffy recommends that "every parent of preschoolers read this [our book] before making a decision about purchasing any other program." 


The Basic Components of a Strong Reading Program


1. Read Aloud Time 

We cannot stress enough the importance of read aloud time and the impact reading aloud will have on your child. Regardless of all other programs or curriculum you choose, the read aloud is the pivotal piece around which everything else will extend.


I mean it, it's that important and effective. 


According to the US Department of Education, reading aloud is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading. And you should not stop once your child is old enough to read on his own because we also know that the decline of older students' recreational (or independent) reading coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them.


In other words: read aloud the minute they are born and don't stop until they are out from under your roof!


See more on read aloud from author Mem Fox, the father of the read aloud family, Jim Trelease, and at Read Aloud Revival. 


2. Create a Literacy Rich Home

The tone or culture around reading that you set in your home will teach your children volumes about the importance of literacy. So much of learning to read and love books is CAUGHT vs. TAUGHT.


And trust me, as a mom of adult children - you cannot scrimp on this part! Your children are watching and observing how you LIVE not what you SAY. They pretend like they don't notice and they may fight you tooth and nail or act completely disengaged, but everything you do that says, "Reading is important" is being downloaded into their souls and will reap tremendous, lifelong benefits.


Here are some basics to get started:

  • get a library card and get all your children their own library cards as soon as they are old enough
  • fill bookshelves in your home with books from any sources you can afford: bookstores, half-price books, church and community sales, garage sales, thrift stores, dollar stores, book exchanges in the community or online like, library used book sales. Quantity matters here because you need a lot of reading material for you child to access easily.
  • Display books around the house so the covers are face out not just lined up on a bookshelf in one room. 
  • Place book baskets around the house: at the kitchen table, in the bathroom, their bedrooms, family room, front porch
  • Keep book bags in the car to take to babysitter or to read on the ride
  • Check out audio books from the library and replace music or DVDs in the car for a change of pace
  • Visit the library at least weekly
  • When at all possible, buy books your child is interested in - investing in books shows them that you value literacy
  • Request books for shower gifts and birthdays
  • Read yourself and talk to your child about what you read
  • Limit screen time
  • Join local book clubs or online book clubs
  • Keep reading logs  - it's fun to see all the great things you've read as a family
  • Get the whole family involved: dad, grandpa, babysitters, and older siblings reading to younger children

3. Teach your child how to choose books that he can read independently.

The younger a child perceives himself to be an independent reader, the easier it will be for him to take responsibility for his own reading growth. Teach the five finger method. Here it is explained by Reading Rockets. 


Five finger rule


  • Choose a book that you think you will enjoy.
  • Read the second page.
  • Hold up a finger for each word you are not sure of, or do not know.
  • If there are five or more words you did not know, you should choose an easier book.
  • Still think it may not be too difficult? Use the five finger rule on two more pages.


4. Time to Read 

This may seem obvious but if you are using a complicated curriculum or packaged reading program there may be so many reading-like activities to complete that actual reading time gets pushed aside.


I am talking about that uninterrupted time for a child to dive into books, to get lost in a book, to feel no pressure to perform - just the pleasure of immersion in a good book. Solid blocks of time to just read.


It takes time for children to settle in to a book and we're often such busy families that we don't build this type of margin in our lives. Running here and there can erode quality reading time as well. Try to guard your schedule and time so your children have quality time to become readers.


A good practice is to set aside a sacred reading time in your day where everyone reads - that includes all the adults in the home too! No fair using this time to empty the dishwasher, because, remember, you are creating a culture of reading in your home and your actions matter! 


5. Guided Reading Practice


This is the time where you will use real books as the catalyst for a reading lesson. Don't worry about creating amazing reading lessons just yet. You are setting a foundation and you will learn to build on it. The important thing here is that you are creating a routine where your and your child read together and you begin to support her reading by recognizing where she is catching on and reviewing strategies and skills to help her move forward.


We model this at the end of the book where we show you what a guided reading lesson plan could look like. But, don't be overwhelmed here - this is the model you are working off - your first lessons may not be this planned out or complete. That's Okay!


Here is a saying I keep posted in my office: "You don't have to be perfect, you just have to get going." The important thing is to establish a routine and begin working with your child and listening to her read every day so you can start to see where the strategies we teach you in the book will come into play. 


6. Writing

Reading and writing go hand in hand and grow side by side. Don't wait until your child is a proficient reader to start addressing writing.


Create opportunity for easy writing tasks from the time your child picks up a crayon to draw a picture and "write" her name. Use the activities and ideas we present in chapter 9 on writing and also implement interactive writing as often as possible. 


There you have it! The basic to getting started. Until these things are well established in your schooling program, do not try to choose additional materials or curriculum. You can add these pieces after you have set the foundation for a successful reading program and feel confident that you are creating a literacy/print rich environment for your child. 


Do you have this foundation set? What areas are you still working on? What holds you back? Drop a comment below or Visit our Facebook Page and find out more or Join our Facebook Group and ask some questions! 


Do you need help identifying your next step? Learn more about how to get unstuck and get consultation so you and your child can move forward now! 


Until then, keep it simple, my friends, and ignore the shiny distractions. You've got this! ~ Mary 



3 Great Ways to Use Word Walls

This post will offer you 3 great ways to use word walls in your classroom or home school setting.


What's so great about a word wall and why should you use it? Walk into any primary classroom in a school and you will find one or more word walls.


It's not because teachers like to cover every square inch of classroom walls and doors (although it looks that way!) - it's because word walls are a wonderful way to display words that students are learning and need to access regularly. Let's get right to it. 


3 Ways to Use a Word Wall


Sight Words/High Frequency Words

We've talked about how the first 300 most common/high frequency words are seen by children in almost 75% of the print they consume so it's pretty darn important for them to be able to read these words accurately and through fast recall.


Their fluency depends on it. And, don't forget, their comprehension depends on fluency (see how this all works together?)


You can post them in alphabetical order to make it easy for your child to find when writing and spelling.

Having these words visible means more exposure and more opportunity to learn them by sight.


Quick access means more fluent writing as well. We don't want them bogged down by spelling when they write. Writing, just like reading, should be fluent.

The cards can be pulled down for flashcard sight word practice, bingo, and matching games. 


Word Families (Onsets and Rimes)

Each time you practice a new word family you can add that family to a word wall.


An example of a word family is a chunk of letters that typically represent a sound, like 'ong' in long. Long can be your anchor word and you can practice making as many words as possible from this rime: belong, strong, gong, tong, etc. When your child is stuck on a word you can refer to the word family from your word wall. 


Grammar! Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives, Oh My!

This word wall can be fun and added to over and over. It can be anything you like, from fun words discovered during reading time to vocabulary words learned from new books, to words in your child's environment.


If you live on a farm you can highlight all the words unique to farm life. Or if your child is fascinated with animals you can add animal words to the wall. pigs, messy, snort, ducks, fuzzy, swim...etc. 


Be creative and have fun! Think of how much you are building your child's vocabulary with this one.


Remember, children have to see and hear a word at least 12 times before they internalize it. When a child starts using the word in her speech and her own writing, you know she owns it. 


Some Tips to Remember


Make your child part of the process. Have her write the words on note cards and place on the word wall where appropriate.


Use colored note cards to break up the black/white monotony and for easier searching. 


Once the word wall is no longer needed, pack it away and replace with one for a science or history unit or for states and capitals...there are no limits to what you can use word walls for. 


Worried About Space?

Ways to create words walls:

  • hang strips from ceiling
  • use the back of a door
  • use cardboard trifold that can be folded and moved out of the way
  • use the closet door
  • use a word chart that hangs and can be moved around as needed
  • use an easel
  • look low and high

Do you have word walls in your home classroom? Tell us what you use them for! If you haven't started a word wall yet, you now have 3 great ideas to choose from. 


Looking for more ideas and support? Have you signed up for the weekly newsletter? Have you joined our Facebook Group. Both are great ways to get informed and to get FREE support for your reader(s). 


Here's the link to both - talk to you soon! ~ Mary 

Add me to the newsletter! Click HERE to sign up. 

Facebook Group: Click HERE to join. 


Interactive Writing: A Simple Strategy to Help with Writing


Here's the scenario: You just got back from the zoo and you tell the children they are going to write a story about their experience at the zoo.


One is only beginning to write 3-letter, short vowel words, one is saying things like "Oh, no fair!" because he hates to write, and one is jumping up and down ready to put pen to paper.


How are you going to have time to work with all three of them when you still have to get dinner ready? 



**Create a story together using interactive writing.**


Interactive writing is the easiest way to jump-start a reluctant writer or help a beginning writer interact in the writing process. It's simple, requires little prep, if any, and no special materials. 


You can customize the process to your needs and make it fun, even including multiple children in the process

You can use a large whiteboard, chalkboard, or easel with paper. Start the story by writing "Today we visited the..."


Let a volunteer come up and fill in the word 'zoo'. This could be an easy place for the beginning writer to jump in!


Then ask the strong writer to begin the next sentence and allow the reluctant writer to fill in a few words. Continue this way as you guide the story so it follows a logical sequence and develops into a well-written story.


Let the children get creative and try to include everyone's ideas. It won't be long before they are jumping up and down asking for their next turn to contribute to the story.


When they are finished, read it to them and ask someone to read again. Then have them copy the story into their story journals and illustrate as you get the chicken in the oven! 


Interactive writing takes pressure off the reluctant or beginning writer and allows the stronger writer to showcase their strengths and act as a model for the others.

Interactive writing helps the weaker writer feel like part of the process without getting bogged down and stressed out about creating an entire story. 


You can use this technique one on one and you can pull it out of your bag of tricks when you sense someone is getting tired or frustrated and needs some support to finish a writing assignment. 


Don't forget to use teachable moments to create mini-lessons throughout out the process! Here are just a few suggestions from Reading Rockets on Interactive Writing

  • Capitalize words in a title, the first word in a sentence, and names, days, months, place names, and a person's title
  • Indent the first sentence
  • Punctuation
    • At the end of a sentence, use a period, question mark, or exclamation mark
    • Commas in dates, a series, and addresses
    • Apostrophes in contractions and possessives o Periods in abbreviations
    • Commas in compound and complex sentences o Quotation marks in dialogue
  • Spelling
    • Ask for ideas about how to spell the word; model the conventional spelling of the word
  • Writing the date

Remember, make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. ~ Einstein 




Getting Boys to Read

I admit I may have a soft spot in my heart when it comes to getting boys to read. That's because I have two boys of my own and at different stages of their lives I worried they would not become the avid, lifelong readers I had set out so hard to help them become. At one point, early on, I was concerned my youngest son, Sean, had a reading disability.

Oh boy - I knew that if he encountered difficulty reading early on it would impact his love for reading. I was concerned but I held fast to the course that I know works for ALL children and we made it through that rough start. To save you the suspense and to set your mind at ease in case you have a boy or two in the home that doesn't like to read, both my boys are strong, independent readers who always have their nose in a book as adults. PHEW! Mission accomplished!

So what did I do and what can you do to help boys who may be getting off to a slow start or tell you they aren't as interested in  books as they are sports, video games, snacks, sleeping, and just about anything else they can think of? 

First, stay the course and keep calm! One thing about our children - whether boys or girls - is if they know something bugs us or pushes our buttons they will do it all the more, right? If they know saying things like, "I hate to read." upsets you they are going to use that as leverage. 

Pick your battles, don't get emotional, and don't let them see you sweat! We cannot control our children's likes, dislikes, feelings about something, or force them to do things. Well, we can but in my experience forcing doesn't equate with learning to love something. We will have to set guidelines and make the medicine go down with some sugar but be gentle and remember your ultimate goal: you want them to LOVE to read and be fluent, confident, independent readers. 


Practical Things You CAN Do


Be Consistent

Just like with chores and household rules, be consistent with your reading times and expectations. If you let them wiggle out of reading time or fanagle a video instead of book "just this one time" I promise they will sniff out your weakness! Set routines and guidelines around reading.

Example: 20 minutes of independent reading every morning before schooling time or before the TV gets turned on. This is where they can choose what they read - so a little give and take here helps them feel like they have choices - but be clear that this time is non-negotiable.

Be consistent with your set reading times during school or review time. Don't let them pick math over reading and then be "too tired" to read. Reward or incentivize for their attention and best effort during reading time so the experience ends on a positive note.

Example: "you can go out to play after reading time."

Keep reading practice time sacred. This is the time when your child practices familiar books and reads to others. This will reinforce that reading is not just for "school time" but it's a skill everyone works on daily.

And then, of course, don't skip the read aloud. This should be the best time of the day and allow you to choose books above your child's reading level so he can see that if he keeps practicing he can read books like Hatchet and The Hardy Boys on his own some day.  

"Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent."

~ Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer


Choice and Interest

Boys often have particular interests in reading materials and oftentimes moms and female teachers fail to recognize this. There may be bias toward what good reading material is and the books that may have interested you or your daughter may be a real drag to the boys.

It's okay to give in in this area. I've overheard parents argue with middle school boys about books and it only serves to make them less reluctant to read.

None of us like to read books that are boring, irrelevant, or fail to capture our interest. Let's give boys the flexibility and freedom to read what they want and not make them feel bad about their choices. I know, Captain Underpants is not on every parent's dream list, but trust me, he will grow out of it. And if he doesn't then maybe he's destined to be a comedian, comic book writer, or even a successful author like Dav Pilkey (who by the way has a tear jerker of a story and one you need to hear if you have a child who may see the world a bit differently than most do!)


Books Choices and Genres

Here are the choices about reading that boys tend to make. Knowing this information can help you research appropriate books that you will allow and that are tuned to his interests. Of course, these are generalities based on research and experience, you know your child best so stay attuned to his likes and dislikes.


Boys tend to prefer:

  • comic books and graphic novels*
  • joke books
  • stats books
  • research
  • non-fiction
  • strong boy protagonists who go on adventures
  • history or science based fiction**
  • series books
  • realistic fiction
  • fantasy and science fiction
  • magazines
  • online research


*parents please always preview graphic novels for content and make sure it's appropriate for your child

**hence why series books like The Magic Tree House and Star Wars are so popular


Limit Distractions

This is definitely a tough one. There is a lot that can eat up reading time: television, video games, sports, play time, play dates and sleepovers, parties and other activities 

Do your best. Life is a balancing act. Sports and outdoor activities are also healthy for a child's development. Think more about the tone you are trying to set in the home and the culture you want as a family. What are your core values that you want to be evident in how you live as a family?

I assume literacy is a core value. You will need to define what that looks like for your family. It may mean no electronics or no television, or limiting these for seasons.

What we do more of we do better. Better readers tend to read more which makes them better readers. Weaker readers tend to read less thus keeping them behind stronger readers. It's all about how you communicate what's important as a family. I allowed video games and television but always kept parameters around those things. 


Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Whenever my boys showed an interest in certain books or authors, I jumped on that opening.

Sometimes it meant dropping everything and going to the library to find the latest books he was interested in, taking the time to order from a different branch, and yes, paying those library fines too!

I also took advantage of free book exchange sites like and gave my children the log in so they could order books or place them on their wish lists.

For the latest best sellers, it meant buying them new and pre-ordering to make sure the book was in my son's hands as soon as it was released. Honestly, I rarely said "no" to a book purchase. The good news is there are many ways to get books at reduced costs now days!

Be an example to them and read. Creating a print rich home environment goes a long way to deeply planting the seed that reading is a value your family holds dear.

Show interest in what he is reading. It may not be our cup of tea but take the time to read aloud with him the books that are lighting his fire at the moment - who knows - you just might find Diary of a Wimpy Kid is funnier than you thought it would be! 


Make it Competitive 

Chances are your boys are more competitive or goal driven than the girls (again, a generality but this might work for you). Create goals and races or competitions to get there.

My son didn't really take off until about third grade when his teacher set reading goals for all her students. It worked and he ended up reading about 65 books that school year! Learn more about setting goals with readers from author Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. 

Try book logs, reading logs, Lucky Listeners (for young ones), rewards, incentives, exchanges for screen time, etc. 


Have FUN

Most of all - just have fun. Let your child have fun. Enjoy the process and be in the moment. Grit your teeth if you have to during the Diaper Baby season but just keep them moving forward and keep the love of reading your main focus


Read more about what REALLY motivates all children to read. 


The following list is roughly structured from early readers to fluent readers in middle school. Please comment and share some of your son's favorites!  

Nate the Great

Henry and Mudge

Horrible Harry

Encyclopedia Brown

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Fly Guy

Big Nate

Captain Underpants

Geronimo Stilton

Baseball Card Adventures

Matt Christopher books - all about sports

Magic Tree House

The Magic Schoolbus

The Boxcar Children

A-Z Mysteries

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

Shadow Children

Dork Diaries


Choose Your Own Adventure

The Hardy Boys

Star Wars

A Series of Unfortunate Events

7 Wonders

Graphic Novels - parents preview content first

G.A. Henty - historical fiction

I Survived

Rangers Apprentice


Percy Jackson and the Olympians


Thanks for tuning in and letting me share what's near and dear to my heart.

I would love to share more with you in our Facebook Group. Click HERE To Join. ~ Mary 


It's Time to Get Unstuck

You know the famous and beloved fable from Aesop about the tortoise and the hare. It's one of the first stories we learn as children. The moral being it's OK to be you and progress at your own pace. It's a reminder we all need in this fast paced society.


Turtles make progress - just at their own pace! It's true, but they can also get stuck. If a turtle ends up on his back, his progress is stalled, he is likely to experience frustration, and may eventually give up. That's not the moral we are shooting for!


It's a wonderful thing when you create a home environment where your children can thrive and learn at their own pace. I'll always be a strong and vocal proponent for school choice because not every child learns the same way or at the same speed and traditional school systems are set up to keep pace with the middle of the pack. Children falling outside the mainstream or on the edges of the bell curve can and do get left behind.


Let me say that I applaud you for making the investment in your children's education at home. That being said, we don't want any child to get stuck. Forward progress in reading is always the goal and critical to the foundation of success and the love of reading.


If your child encounters reading books as hard, stressful, and something she is not good at, she can quickly give up and decide that reading is just not for her. We know that reading fluency and comprehension is critical to the ability to thrive in all walks of life and to move forward in their education, so we cannot allow our children to get stuck.


Sometimes it is us who are stuck. We've used the same materials we used with our other child, but this time it's just not clicking. Or maybe reading came more naturally to your first child and the second one seems more resistant. It's important to approach each child as an individual and have a toolkit of resources and strategies to use in order to be able to pivot when one strategy isn't working.


There are some basic things that ALL children need to thrive as readers and then there are some things we need to work on when the skills are not developing in specific areas. Let's take a look at what all children need and what we can do if our child seems to be stuck in one particular area. The video following this post dives into each of these points in greater detail. 


What ALL Children Need 


1. Individualized Instruction. How wonderful that you can offer this in your home. It's truly a gift that your child would not be receiving in a large classroom setting.


You can choose books and genres and other reading materials that appeal to your child thereby enhancing interest in learning to read.

You can slow down or pick up the pace if you child is bored, confused, overwhelmed, or tired.

You are not teaching a curriculum, you are teaching a child.

You can spend more time on games and practice in areas your child needs while skipping over or fast forwarding through skills she has already mastered.

You can review and repeat books or activities until mastery is obtained without the pressure to keep moving forward.

You can adjust to your child's strengths, indulging in writing books and creating art work around the lessons and books. You can introduce informational text that capitalizes on your child's interests and create connected lessons to Science and History and other areas of your curriculum.


Other Tips for Individualizing Instruction

  • Be prepared to shift gears in midstream
  • Recognize when children are not working in their “learning zone”
  • Adjust your expectations if necessary
  • Make notes and use the lesson to build on for next time
  • Listen to what your child is saying about the reading experience
  • Never force a child to read through something that is obviously too difficult
  • Don’t worry about the appearance of your lesson or compare with other children; focus on the child
2. The Power of Modeling. Consider this finding from The Big Fresh from Choice Literacy August 23, 2008 Mirrors and Models

Scientists have recently been decoding how "mirror neurons" in our brains work. They've realized humans are wired to connect with others, to live vicariously through others' experiences, in much stronger ways than we once thought.  

The brain doesn't differentiate much between watching someone do something, and doing it yourself - which is why there are so many obsessed sports fans in the world.  [think about why we are so drawn to social media] 

Most important for parents, these mirror neurons are also a key to how we learn. Just watching someone read a book teaches us more than we ever realized about the reading process. 

And we use our emotions to readily connect those experiences to other related tasks (either physically or emotionally). 

Mirror neurons are also the reason modeling in your home is so essential.  When children see the strategies adults use to tackle difficult texts, no matter the genre, their brains don't differentiate between their experiences and ours. 

The adults' strategies become part of the mix that fires up whenever a student approaches a new text. 


Isn't' that exciting? Just by reading to your children, you are teaching them to read! It's simple but so profound and why we always advocate for reading aloud in the home. For more resources and support on reading aloud and it's power and potential to transform any child's attitude about reading:


The Read-Aloud Handbook - Jim Trelease

Reading Magic - Mem Fox

The Read Aloud Family - Sarah Mackenzie

Teach a Child to Read with Children's Books - Thogmartin and Gallagher 


3.  Time to Read and Read More. Parents often are shocked when I tell them how much practice time their children need in order to become strong, active readers. They are even more shocked when I tell them how much time their child should practice if they are behind grade level.


But consider the idea that what we do we get better at, and what we do more, we get better at faster. The fact is that reading is an accrued skill: those who read more, generally read better. And it's a bit of a cycle, as children who read more read better and children who read better tend to read more. This positive momentum propels them forward as confident, active, and engaged readers.


But this momentum can work the opposite way as well. Children who find reading hard, boring, or have negative experiences associated with it will read less, and less engagement with text makes them weaker, passive, unengaged readers.


Always keep reading enjoyable and avoid frustration or negative experiences. If reading material is too hard, drop the level down until your child is able to make progress. Reading at a frustration level always does more harm than good.


A developing reader needs 90 minutes a day of reading practice. This includes time with you and independent reading time or reading with others. Please break this up throughout the day and allow for ample opportunities to pick up books.


A child who is one or more grade levels behind in reading can need double that time. It can be hard to fit that in and convince the child who reads slowly or doesn't like to read to read that much, so you will need to offer incentives, lots of support, and start small and work toward that goal. 



  •  children need to read a lot
  •  children need to be read to
  •  children need books they can read
  •  children need access to lots of books
  •  children need choice in reading
  •  children need to read fluently
  •  children need to understand what they read
  •  children need to engage in reading

 The following video will talk in more detail about ways to help when your child is stuck. If you have specific questions about your child's reading progress or need simple strategies to help expand your repertoire, join our Facebook Group.


Watch It's Time to Get Unstuck Here! 


Really stuck? Just starting to work with your child or have concerns that s/he is not where they should be?


Book a consultation package!


I have nearly 30 years experience teaching children at all levels to read and have a particular passion to help parents understand where their child is stuck. Here's what you get when you book a consultation: 

One-Time Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50 minute phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources e-mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • 4 week follow up email to check


Package Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50 minute initial phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • Weekly follow up email
  • Monthly phone conference at 4 weeks and 8 weeks to adjust and monitor the plan 


The button below will take you to my calendar! 


My thrill is seeing families and children thriving in their pursuit of reading. Questions or comments? Email us at

~ Mary 



Read More 0 Comments

How Eric Carle Books Teach Children to Read

Have you ever wondered what makes books like Eric Carle's so captivating for children and adults?


There is no doubt that books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? are beloved by millions of readers around the world. While you may think these books are entertaining and simply written to capture a child's attention, there is much more going on under the surface. This is why we recommend predictable pattern books like these as anchor texts for your reading program. Let's dive into what makes these books a powerful tool in your toolkit.


Predictable Pattern Books help children predict. This is a key comprehension skill. As readers make sense of text and master the process of reading for comprehension and meaning, one thing we all do is predict.


"I bet he's the thief." we say when reading our murder mysteries.


"I think she's going to find out she has a twin sister!" we suspect as we read a thick, family drama.


Children need to learn this skill as well. Predictable pattern books help them do this from an early age. The predictability of following the caterpillar through the days of the week helps children learn that stories follow a sequence and they can use clues to determine or predict what may happen next in the story. This not only engages the child as she reads, it helps her create meaning from the text. 


Predictable pattern text helps early readers feel like readers. In many cases they can guess and use the repeated patterns to "read" or memorize the text. We want young children to see themselves as readers right out of the gate. You are helping to build amazing confidence in your child as a reader when she can pick up a book like Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? and read it aloud to herself. 


High interest story lines. Unlike contrived and boring phonics readers, using real books like this engages your child in every lesson. They do not see fun books as something they get to do after reading class is over. They understand that reading is always engaging and interesting and that there are real books they can access and read on their own


Pictures match the text to support fluency and comprehension. Your child does not need to have covered all the phonics sounds needed to read a multi-syllabic word like caterpillar to read through the very hungry caterpillar's adventures. The word is repeated and matched with the text on every page so they can recognize it and read it with fluency.


This is why pictures with high correlation to the text are important for beginning readers. It's okay to use the pictures - that is what they are there for. But why restrict your child from exposure to rich vocabulary words like hippo and polar bear and butterfly and have them only read dry phonics readers with cat, dog, and hat as the only nouns present? Learning new vocabulary is critical to your child's growth as a reader and we can enrich this process by using authentic children's literature throughout the day. 


Use of high frequency words that children will encounter and need to be able to read with fluency such as: days of the week, color words, number words, animals and senses (hear, see, taste, eat, etc.) 


Did You Know? 

  • The first 100 words from the Fry Instant Word List (1980) represent 50 percent of all the words children encounter in elementary school reading.
  • The complete list of 300 words contains approximately two-thirds of all words students encounter in their reading.


Why not use children's books that feature these words frequently in order to provide ample practice? I know some will challenge what I am saying and tell you that words should be restricted in print until children have all the phonics skills mastered. What we say to that is: Did you restrict your child's speaking until she had mastered all the sounds? Surely you did not! In fact you enjoyed listening to her talk and say things like "sgetti" for spaghetti and "posed to be" for supposed to be. Let's be as generous and fun loving with learning to read! 


Sight Words. Plenty of sight words to be found in repeated pattern, high interest, quality children's literature. Exposure to words like: what, do, you, see, hear, from, to, under, over, etc...You can see just from the title of Brown Bear, Brown Bear how many sight words you are working with! Use this opportunity to make flashcards and talk about these words. 


Now, let's talk phonics! 


What sounds can you pull out just from the title of Brown Bear to work with? You can use judgement here. The 'ear' sound may not be what your child is ready for but 'ow' is an easy and common vowel sound that you can practice with. Practice making more words with 'ow' showing your child that 'ow' can be at the end of words like 'cow' and 'how' or in the middle like 'shower' and 'clown'.


You could introduce the 'ear' sound in bear and explain that sometimes 'ear' says the sound like in 'ear' and sometimes it makes a long 'a' sound like 'bear' and 'pear'.


We always recommend you build on what your child already knows and use the natural occurrences of words in books to find teachable moments. Mastery will not come from worksheets and drill but from practice reading these words in context and seeing them over and over. We talk much more about teachable moments in Chapter 6


And last but not least these books are fun, entertaining, tell stories, and help children learn about the world around them. That is ultimately what we are always aiming for: teaching our children that reading is fun and creating a sense of wonder in them that will propel them through the learning to read process so they can become independent, lifelong readers! 


If this is your goal, predictable pattern books are your best friend. Find what you need at your local library and don't worry about repeating through them to pull out new skills and phonics elements. 


If you are the person who needs to know both the WHY and the HOW, then our book is the book that will support you as you teach your child to read. We not only give you an abundance of how to and resources you can use immediately, we also explain the why. The why is what's going to sustain you when you see other parents buying packaged reading programs and you are tempted to do so. Our readers time and again come back and tell us how this book is ALL THEY NEEDED!


Don't worry, we've got you covered! Everything you need to start making good decisions about your child's reading program is supported in detail in the book and we have a FREE Facebook group that gives you support and how-to as you go. Click HERE to join today! 




Strategies for a Reluctant Writer

It's a common lament: "My child hates to write." This post will help you with practical strategies for working with a reluctant writer. 


Parents often tell me that their child will only write a few sentences and they want to know what they can do to help their child become a better writer. 

First things first. 


Good writers are always avid readers. Ask any prolific author his or her secret to being a great writer and they will tell you that you have to read a lot to be a good writer. So, make sure your child is reading a lot and reading from a wide range of genres. This will help him understand what good writing looks and sounds like and will help him discover his voice as a writer. 


Help your child understand that reading is receiving a message and writing is conveying a message. Children need to see themselves as communicators in order to see themselves as writers. 


Since writing is more than answering some questions on a test, make every effort to help your child see writing as a personal and unique way of expressing himself.



If your child struggles to get his thoughts on paper, here are some suggestions to help set the stage:

  • offer a safe environment in which to write - no criticism or critiquing of ideas or thoughts.
  • give opportunities to write daily.
  • offer short, focused writing opportunities that do not require revising and editing.
  • get them involved in everyday writing activities: shopping lists, directions, recipes, letter writing, thank you notes, etc.
  • exposure to great literature and great authors
  • provide tools to write with that will entice him: journals, colorful pens, a student dictionary, etc.

Students must be able to write fluently as well as read fluently.


Just as you would encourage your child to read with fluency, you should encourage and nurture fluent writing. This means allowing him to write freely without stopping to spellcheck every word. Teach your child that spelling, grammar, and word choice can be worked on later. The most important thing is to get their ideas flowing and onto paper. 


The biggest challenge most young writers face is overcoming their fear of spelling a word wrong. Take the emphasis away from spelling during the brainstorming and drafting stage and watch your child blossom as a writer!


Simple Ways to Incorporate Writing Into Your Day:

  • Journaling - this is a private safe space for children to write about anything
  • Readers' Response - ask them to write 3-5 sentences about a story they just read. It can be anything from "I like this story because..." to "This story made me happy because..." It's a simple way to build in writing and help them process what they've read.
  • Give them story starters. "My favorite part of the day is....because." "If I were a...I would..." etc. 
  • Write alternate endings to stories.
  • Write a letter to a character in the story.
  • Write a letter to the author.
  • Write a persuasive paper about why they should be allowed to stay up late, eat junk food, or go somewhere with a friend. 

Writing Tips to Encourage Writing and Improve Writing Skills 

  • Always write about what you know.
  • Choose a topic of interest.
  • Create short and catchy titles.
  • Use details - words that paint a picture for the reader.
  • Brainstorm: start with one word and then write down all the words that come to mind when you think of that word. For example: Camping. Write down all you can think about for camping: Smores, fire, bears, getting lost, tents, fishing, ghost stories. This will stimulate ideas for a story.
  • Do some interactive writing: write a story together, you write a line, he writes a line. 
  • Make lists of ideas for future writing.
  • Copy favorite poems, song lyrics, quotes, and sayings. Keep in a journal. 


Final Thoughts

A little goes a long way. Short everyday practicing with writing will help your child develop skills that will sustain him when it's time to create a fully published piece of writing.

Teach editing skills naturally. Remind him about punctuation and ask him to fix spelling errors without making it into a lesson. 

Don't edit everything and have fun with writing! 


Lastly, your attitude or feelings about writing will impact how you teach your child. Let go of your frustrations or fears and that will free you up to enjoy exploring writing with your child! 




PS: If you need support and more resources, just message me in the Facebook group



What REALLY Motivates Children to Read

It isn't hard to figure out what motivates children to read. All we have to do is think about how we read!


Have you ever been part of a book club where you were given a quiz at the start of every meeting so the facilitator could check that you read the book and understood it? Ya, me neither! 


Do you like to choose the types of books you read and do you choose different types of books depending on your need or mood? Ya, me too! 


Have you ever read a book just for pleasure or to relax or for pure entertainment value only? Ya, me too! 


Would you like to read books that were boring or too difficult for you all the time because you thought reading was supposed to be something you had to work at ALL. THE. TIME? Ya, me neither!


What Really Motivates Children to Read


What motivates children to read are the same things that motivate adults to read:


-book selection

-recommendations from others

-to learn

-to be entertained or for enjoyment

-to connect to the author or characters

-to connect with the world around us

-to connect with other readers

-to learn about ourselves


How to Check for Comprehension Without Using Quizzes


It's important that we know if our children are comprehending what they read but comprehension can be checked many ways besides using a quiz or worksheet. 

  • ask your child to tell you about the story and ask guiding or probing questions as they do: "How did the characters in the story solve their problem?" "What was the author trying to teach us with this story?" Did the characters change throughout the story?"
  • draw a picture or write a short response about the story.
  • complete a book review along with your child's recommendation to others 
  • act out the story
  • rewrite the story with a different ending

Motivate Them with Choice


It's important to expose our children to quality literature but not all the books they read have to be classics. They can choose from other genres: joke books, graphic novels, picture books, stat books, biographies of sports figures, funny series books to name a few.

Try not to judge a book or worry that some books aren't "real books."

Think about your child, even your young child as an independent reader and begin treating her that way. Keep these Reader's Rights in mind when working with your child. 


"Wigfield and Guthrie (1997) documented that students who are intrinsically motivated spend 300% more time reading than students who have low intrinsic motivation for reading. Compared to 10 other motivations, intrinsic motivation for reading was most highly associated with whether or not students read widely and frequently on their own accord." - Reading Rockets 


Reading time should be pleasant and stress free. If you were reading knowing that when you completed a chapter someone was going to hand you a quiz or worksheet, you may not be able to immerse yourself in the book naturally; more likely, you would probably be reading to find answers to questions that you anticipate.


There is a time to teach our children how to read for a purpose or to find answers from the text but that would be explicitly taught and explained at the start of the lesson. For example, during a science lesson you would start by saying, "Today we are reading to find out how pollution impacts wild birds in our city. While you are reading I want you to look for clues that helps us figure this out..."


In short, have fun with your child! Make reading such a natural thing in your home that when you plan your intentional lessons like we model for you in Chapter 10: Putting it All Together, you and your child will as comfortable as if you were snuggled under the covers reading Winnie-The-Pooh.


Read, read more, read more often! ~ Mary 




Maybe you are doing "all the right things" and your child still seems unmotivated and lacks confidence. What then? Just keep reading and hoping for the best?


You may need to identify and pinpoint the specific areas he's lacking skills. Children who are still struggling to gain fluency by the beginning of the third grade level are typically missing some key skills and need direct intervention to get on track. It can seem daunting to know where to begin and waiting longer can result in delayed progress. I can help you determine the next steps that will help you help your child get over the hump.


Book a consultation today. Choose a one-time consultation or extended support to ensure you are hitting the right targets. 


 One Time Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50-minute phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources e-mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • 4 week follow up email to check


Package Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50-minute initial phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • Weekly follow up email
  • Monthly phone conference at 4 weeks and 8 weeks 


 Questions? Email me at 

Get Unstuck Today! 





The Rights of the Reader

Do you wonder if you should allow your child to reread favorite stories, or on the other hand, if you should allow them to choose their books? What about silly books like Captain Underpants - is that type of book really helping your child become a reader? And what if he's bored or hates the chapter book all the home-school curriculum suggest is good, classic literature? 


Basic Guidelines


When it comes to what's best for your readers we want to respect and abide by some basic guidelines we would give our adult selves. Some guidance and best judgement is recommended here but basically don't force your child to read something they find dreadfully boring unless it is necessary to fulfill a different purpose, and then provide ways to make it engaging: allow them to listen to the audio book or use it as a read-aloud or paired reading activity.


If your child chooses a book from the library and does not want to finish it, don't insist that he does. Life is too short to read books that aren't good and sometimes the best cover disguises the fact that a book just isn't our cup of tea. Now, don't let him get into the habit of never finishing a book because that is not good for habit development. Again - use your best judgement and think how you would handle the situation as an adult.


And those silly books and graphic novels? They are okay in moderation and they are preferable if your child is otherwise unmotivated to read or is overcoming a reading deficit. Interest will always propel a child to read more and try harder than a book he does not like.


I often hear parents ask if graphic novels are "real books". My answer: they are if they help your child become a better, happier reader! 


Allow your child to explore different genres. My son always made a beeline for the nonfiction section in the library and try as I might I could not get him interested in the pictures books no matter how lovely the illustrations.


It's All About Learning to Love Reading 

In short, we want children to love books, love to read, and become independent readers who feel empowered to make choices about their reading. Reading should be something they choose to engage in not something done to them or imposed on them.


Read, read more, read more often. ~ Mary 


Looking for more tips and resources delivered directly to your Inbox? Subscribe to our newsletter


"It's Not a REAL Book"

"It's Not a REAL Book" 


I was working in an elementary school a few years back and popped into the book sale - because who can resist looking at and touching all those new books? I was looking at new chapter books that might interest my son when I heard a mom and her son arguing.


"No, you can't get that. It's not a real book." she told him.

"But, mom," he replied, "I promise I'll read it!".


I casually maneuvered my way around the racks to see what this "not a real book" was that the mom was opposed to buying. It was a graphic novel.


The graphic novel has gained popularity in recent years and is an upgrade from the comic book of years ago. I knew that some boys liked the fast pace of the graphic novel, the high quality illustrations, and the adventure stories usually associated with them. I silently started chanting: "Let him get it. Let him get it." All the while having the internal conversation with myself about whether, as a reading specialist, it was appropriate for me to but in!


I let the mom in me (nobody wants unsolicited advice in front of their child) get the better of me and I kept silent. I was crushed, however, when she drew the line in the sand and said: "If that's the only thing you want then we are leaving and you're not getting anything." And so they did. Ugh, I regretted not saying something.


Why I Say Yes to the Graphic Novel


While a graphic novel may not be every parent's idea of great literature, if it interests a child, and it's in line with the content you approve, then let him read it!


I once had a second grader I was tutoring who was behind in reading and truthfully did not want to read or practice reading. I desperately needed to find him reading material so he could practice. I talked with him until I found something he was interested in, we visited the school library together, and we found him an armful of Calvin and Hobbes books to take home. His parents were thrilled that he was reading at home and that practice moved him forward in his reading skills.


Many experts will recommend that you start with phonics readers only, move to I Can Read books, short chapter books, and then on to classic children's literature. I say, include all of the above AND anything your child is interested in reading or learning about! And don't forget joke books, and magazines, and encyclopedias, and websites, and poems too! 


Read, read more, read more often.  Mary 


Boys have particular reading tastes. If you have boy who is a reluctant reader, check out these tips and a list of series books that is tried and true and proven to please even the pickiest reader. 


Are you on our email list? You can sign up here and get exclusive content to you Inbox to help your child learn to read AND learn to love reading. 


First Things aka "Big Rocks"

First Things aka "Big Rocks" 



One of my favorite quotes is from C. S. Lewis.


"When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased."


To me, this speaks to all areas of life. It's like the illustration where the speaker tries to fit a bunch of big rocks, sand, and pebbles into a glass jar. Have you seen this? 


When he places the sand in first, followed by the pebbles and last the rocks, the big rocks do not fit. Try as he might, the rocks stick out or cannot all be placed into the jar. But, when he puts the big rocks in first, he can then pour the pebbles in, followed by the sand, and the pebbles and sand fall in and around the big rocks filling all the space in the jar. He can even add water to the jar because he's adding things in the correct order. 


This illustration shows us that it's important to first identify our "big rocks" in different areas of our lives. 


When it comes to teaching reading, a big rock should always be read-aloud time.


When read-aloud time is not negotiable and becomes a daily habit, there will always be time for other activities. The read-aloud is the cornerstone of literacy instruction and should always maintain its big rock placement. 


The "second things" like flashcard practice, letter and sound activities, and handwriting development, will all fit better when the big rocks are in place. 



SIGN UP for our NEWSLETTER for regular tips and resources. 



What are some other big rocks when it comes to literacy instruction and foundation in the home?


  • Time alone with books that are easy for them to read. We need to provide children the free time to get lost in a good book. This is unstructured time when children can pick books they enjoy that are easy-reads for them. They can choose favorites they read over and over or new books. This time allows them to develop as independent readers, gives them ownership and choice over what they read, and sets the foundation for becoming a lifelong reader for pleasure.



  • Time for writing – even if it is the very early foundations of writing for a preschooler – is also a big rock. Writing should be seen as the glove to the hand of reading and when young children are exposed to free writing time they will not develop the fear of writing we see in many school-age children and even in adults. Allow children to draw pictures about what you’ve read together, create their own stories either independently or with your help, and encourage them to read these stories to others, thereby creating an awareness of themselves as storytellers and writers.


  • Another big rock you will want to embed for literacy instruction is the daily guided reading time with your child. Guided reading time is when you model a new book or the next level of reading for your child and then read the selection together. You will want to check out chapter 10 in Teach a Child to Read with Children’s Books where we model for you what a typical guided reading lesson would look like.

One thing I am confident about is when you read-aloud to your children daily, help them to gain confidence as writers, support them as independent readers, and give them supportive guided reading instruction, you are laying a strong foundation for capable, lifelong readers – using all the right rocks, of course!




Lucky Listeners Summer Reading Challenge

Lucky Listeners Challenge

Do you wonder if your child should read the same book multiple times? Is it okay to let them reread a book that is too easy? Yes and Yes. 


Reading an easy book or a book they are familiar with is one of the best ways to practice fluency and build your child's confidence


Fluent readers are able to comprehend what they read because their mind can pay attention to meaning instead of decoding. 


Confident readers read more, and we all know what happens when children read more! They become better readers. 


Here's a simple way to encourage your child to reread books they are familiar with. 


Create a Lucky Listeners chart. Each time they read a book to someone, the Lucky Listener fills out the chart with their name, the name of the book, and leaves an encouraging comment for your child. 


Grandpa and Grandma, babysitter, and aunt can all leave positive comments such as, "You are a great reader!" or "You did a great job reading out loud to me."


After your child reads a book to a handful of Lucky Listeners, she can trade it in for a new one and start all over. Continue the chart for as long as you like and consider a reward or special treat like ice cream or a few hours at the pool once it's complete.  


*** If you'd like a free copy of a Lucky Listeners chart, click on the image above, head on over to our Facebook group and once you're in, you can find the Lucky Listeners chart in the FILES section in the group. 


I can't wait to meet you there! 



Read, read more, read more often.  Mary 


What is Phonemic Awareness or Phonological Awareness and How Do I Teach It?

What is Phonemic Awareness or Phonological Awareness and How Do I Teach It?


Did you know that phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading success? This is so important that we don't want you to skip or discount the activities that promote phonemic awareness. Keep reading for ideas on how to develop this awareness for your child. 


Phonemic awareness is a child’s basic understanding that speech is composed of series of sounds.  It is the ability to manipulate these sounds, known as phonemes, in words orally. It is the understanding that every word is comprised of basic sounds or phonemes. Playing with words and sounds orally is the best way to help children hear how these sounds fit together to make words. 


Phonemes are the smallest units of speech. Children manipulate, or play with, these sounds by rhyming, changing beginning sounds, talking with silly names and words, and playing games like Pig Latin or The Name Game. 


While they may seem silly or non-educational, these types of activities are extremely important for developing phonemic awareness. The emphasis in developing phonemic awareness is on listening and talking rather than reading and writing.


It is a great achievement for your child when he understands that words are composed of smaller units.  By developing phonemic awareness, your child will use sound-symbol correspondences to read and spell words. 


Phonemic awareness is often confused with phonics, but it is not the sounding out of words, reading of words, spelling patterns, or words.  Rather, it is the foundation for phonics and reading success.


*Adams (1990) provided an outline of five levels of phonemic awareness:

  1. Rhyme and alliteration - to hear rhymes and alliteration as measured by knowledge of nursery rhymes
  2. Oddity Tasks - comparing and contrasting the sounds of words for rhyme and alliteration
  3. Blending and splitting syllables
  4. Phonemic segmentation - being able to identify and count the individual sounds in a word
  5. Phoneme manipulation - manipulating sounds by taking away or adding a sound, thereby creating a new word  

 *From - to read more about phonemic awareness click here


Important: If children lack phonemic awareness, it is likely they will be weak readers. To ensure your child’s reading success, spend adequate time developing phonemic awareness.


Easy (and fun) Ways to Promote Phonemic Awareness


  • Read aloud often from books with rhyming words, alphabet books, Mother Goose, and Dr. Seuss. 
  • Play with words - tongue twisters, rhyme games, and making up nonsense words to rhyme
  • Games: 

Blending: putting separate sounds together to make a word.

Example:  Say the separate sounds of ‘cat’/c//a//t/ and have your child blend them together to say the word “cat”.  This should be fluent and quick.


Segmenting: breaking words apart into separate sounds; stretch the word out slowly (like talking underwater).

Example:  Say the word ‘fan’ and tell your child to separate the sounds /f/---/a/---/n/.


Echoes: It is important for children to be able to segment the sounds in a word as well as take sounds and blend them into a word.  This game will help him practice doing both.


a.)Say a segmented word aloud and have your child echo the blended word in response. For example: say /p/ /a/ /n/ and the child should respond pan.


b.)You say the blended word pan and have the child echo the segmented word /p/ /a/ /n/.


 *Practice doing this both ways and work into more difficult words as your child learns blends and long vowels. 


Books that we recommend include How Now Brown Cow by Alice Schertle and There's a Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Suess. For many more ideas, check out this article from Reading Rockets. 



As always, I encourage you to read, read more, read more often.  ~Mary 


Free Facebook Group!

Everybody gets stuck once in a while and wouldn't it be nice to be able to post your question and get immediate help? I've learned one thing over the years: if you're stuck on something it will keep you from making forward progress. Don't get stuck - just ask. 


In case you haven't heard! We now have a Facebook group to help you implement the strategies and methods we outline in the book.


Other things happening in the Facebook group: Live videos answering your Top 10 Questions.


FREE resources! Need a quick and easy phonics package? We've got that! All you have to do is download. 


Need some help determining if your child is making adequate progress? You'd be surprised how much a short video of your child reading can tell me about his reading skills. I'm happy to take a look and give you a strategic plan to move your child forward. 


There is more happening inside the group but you have to join to take advantage of it all. 


See you on the inside! ~ Mary 

Read More 0 Comments

"Is This a Full Phonics Program?"


















We recently received this email question from a parent:


I am looking at curriculum for next year for my sons who will be in Kindergarten and Grade 2. My Kindergarten child hasn't learned to read yet, and my other son is reading at a grade one level now. Would this book be appropriate as a full phonics program for the both of them? Or is it meant to supplement phonics/spelling? What would your recommendation be, to use this as a whole LA program, or would additional programs be needed as well? Thanks! 


Our reply:


Thanks for your interest in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books. Although we wrote the book from the perspective that a child can learn to read without the need of a sequential intensive phonics program, it can be used in conjunction with such a program.


In the book we express our concerns with intensive phonics approaches, specifically that children who are taught to focus primarily on memorizing rules and sounding out words can, sometimes, fall into a pattern where they are reading like a computer and not reading with fluency and comprehension.


If you feel the need to use a packaged phonics program, perhaps the incorporation of the principles we share in the book will help you, as the child's teacher, to avoid these pitfalls and to emphasize fluency and comprehension.

Another potential negative by-product of an intensive, packaged approach is the tendency for these approaches to be boring, and to give the child the impression that "reading" is only about memorizing rules and sounding out words. So, if a grandparent asks the child "Do you like to read?" the child may respond with an enthusiastic "NO!" because s/he associates reading with endless memorization drills and meaningless robotic exercises.


A child who learns to read using a balanced approach incorporating lots of enjoyable children's literature will, most likely, love the learning to read process.
Regarding the older child, it never hurts, and is always helpful, to incorporate great children's literature in the form of storybooks into the reading program. So, yes, I believe the older child will certainly benefit by the principles and resources we share in the book.

We wish you the best as you teach your children!


Will Your Child Say "I LOVE to Read!"?























Recently, I received an email from a mom who has just started reading Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books. Her child is currently in kindergarten at the local public school, and she explained what she is noticing:


"I have just started it and am finding it really insightful. I have been working with B. on reading, and I have noticed in school that what I think they are teaching is basically the phonics approach. I see their point, but am finding it taking away from the reading and understanding point for B. Right now she is okay learning and memorizing new words, but I can see the enthusiasm is waning for her. When we read at night she picks a book and we read it together. I find she likes it a lot better. Today I told B. when she got home from school that we had to go over her sight words and she said "I know, I know. We have to do them." She sounded like "Oh no, not again!" I think that is what you are talking about in the beginning of the book. I can see it and need to have her like this stuff again. She is learning to read and likes that."


I'll relate what this mom is saying to another school subject, science. It bothers me a lot when I hear students say "I HATE science!" No one hates science. We all are thrilled by the wonders we see around us each day, both in the created world of nature and in the man-made world. We love to take in the beauty, and we are amazed by the advances we see in technology. When students say they hate science, what they are really saying is they do not like the boring, uninspired, and shallow ways they've been taught the subject of science in school settings.


Do not let this happen with reading instruction!


There is no requirement that learning to read, by definition, has to be a process that is primarily one of sterile "drill and skill" rule memorization. Young children delight in learning when they can engage the process in ways that are rewarding, that take advantage of their built-in delight of language, and when being guided by someone who loves them and loves reading great books together. Instead of doing loads and loads of worksheets, read loads and loads of appropriately leveled books together (using the strategic methods we explain in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books. Your child will happily tell the world "I LOVE to read!"




Forming Letters Correctly

My kindergarten-age granddaughter is schooling at home, and I had the wonderful opportunity to help her all day with her schoolwork. As she was practicing writing her name on paper, I was reminded of a common problem that would be good for anyone helping a child learning to form letters correctly. 


Frequently a child will hold a single sheet of paper (with her non-writing hand) at the bottom of the sheet.  This can cause the child to make letter strokes from the bottom up instead of from the top down. If the child starts forming a down stroke from the top, and the paper is being held on the bottom, the paper will crumple or slide. Unless the child is instructed to hold the paper on the top instead of the bottom, she will naturally start making the strokes from the bottom up instead from the top down.


Break this unhelpful habit early on before the child becomes locked into forming all her letters incorrectly.