Parents & Teachers

On-the-Go Learning

Teachable moments are everywhere! You can often help your child sharpen important skills by integrating lessons with everyday activities. Walk down the sidewalk, peek into kitchen cupboards or see highway signs with fresh eyes. Check back often for new ideas.


Numbers All Around – Point out or ask your child to find numbers up to 100 at home, at a store, in a newspaper, or in a book. Have your child say the number and perhaps write it in a tablet. You might ask how the number is used. Expand your child’s experience with numbers by asking him or her to find numbers up to 999.

Bigger Numbers All Around – Point out or ask your child to find numbers in the thousands in newspapers or books. Large numbers are often associated with statistical information in reference books, such as almanacs or atlases. Have your child say the number and perhaps explain how great the number is in comparison to another number.

Face Facts – Write the numbers 0 through 9 on a set of ten index cards. Make another set of cards. Mix up the two sets of cards and place them facedown on a table. Ask your child to pick any two cards. Then ask them to give the sum of the numbers shown on the two cards to practice the addition facts for sums 0 through 18. To practice the multiplication facts for products less than 25, use only the cards numbered from 0 through 5.

Make and Compare – Help your child learn more about numbers by using number cards 0 through 9 to make and compare two-digit or three-digit numbers. Mix up the cards and place them facedown on a table. Direct your child to pick any two cards—for instance, 3 and 7. Show the numbers 37 and 73, and record them on a sheet of paper. Ask him or her which number is greater or less. Use three number cards to make and compare numbers in the hundreds. Up the challenge by asking them to show all the numbers that could possibly be created using one, two, or all three of the cards. Record the numbers. Ask which number is the least or the greatest. For a super challenge, ask your child to put them in order from least to greatest.


Poetry Partnership – Write a poem with your child. One fun way to do this is to think of a line and challenge your child to think of the next one. When the poem is finished, invite your child to illustrate it.

Tasting the Stories – When you and your child read a book that involves food as part of the plot, sample the food mentioned in the story. For example, if you read Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice or Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, follow up by making chicken soup with rice or munching on garden vegetables.

Multiplication Words – Words used in mathematics often have similar meanings as those used in real life. For example, several factors may make or contribute to something, a product may be the result of something that was made, or something may be repeated many times. Use the words factor, product, and times in conversations with your child other than learning or reviewing multiplication facts in order to expand his or her vocabulary and word usage.

I Want a Pet – Ask your child to imagine that he or she could have any pet in the world. What would your child choose? How would your child take care of it? Have your child write a paragraph and draw a picture of the chosen pet.

Time to Read – Establish a storytime with your child.

  • Choose books with rhyme, repetition, and simple vocabulary, as well as interesting stories and colorful illustrations. School Zone Start to Read!® books help beginning readers develop a lifetime love of reading.
  • Point to the words as you read them out loud. Read with expression, and change your voice to imitate characters.
  • Involve your child in the story by asking him or her to identify and count characters and objects, express his or her opinion, and repeat significant phrases. Your child can also help by selecting the book and turning the pages.

Science & Hands-on Experimentation

Food Groups – Ask your child to describe a food that has ingredients from different food groups. For instance, a cheeseburger can include a bun (grains), lettuce (vegetable), cheese (dairy), and hamburger (protein).

Keep on Trucking! – Watching trucks can be an economics lesson. See if your child can identify what is in each truck. Discuss where the trucks might be going and how much they can carry.

Hello, Heart! – Place a small ball of clay over the pulse point on your child’s wrist. Flatten the ball slightly, and stick a toothpick or matchstick into it. Rest your child’s arm on a table, and watch his or her heartbeat. Ask your child to count how many times the stick moves in a minute.

Sound Toss – Place a large metal can on the floor. Take turns tossing unbreakable objects into the can. Before tossing each one, ask your child to call out loud or soft to predict the sound the object will make. Some good objects to toss include crumpled paper, cotton balls, plastic toys, and bottle caps.

Out-of-This-World Invention – Encourage your child to invent a new kind of vehicle for traveling into outer space. Have them draw a picture of the vehicle and write a few sentences describing it.

Imagination/Focus/Critical Thinking

International Dinners – Plan an international night. Let your child help you plan the menu. Discuss the food and the culture that created it. You could try Mexican enchiladas, Chinese eggrolls, or Cajun jambalaya.

Learning About Our World – Provide your child with opportunities to learn about other people, customs, and countries of the world. Visit museums, attend cultural events, try new ethnic recipes, or visit websites or the library to select information and books on new topics. Talk with your child about these experiences, and look for opportunities to learn more.

Follow the Footprints! – Cut out colored footprints using blue, yellow, and red paper. Make a trail of footprints. Play music, and ask your child to walk only on the footprints. When the music stops, ask which color they are standing on.

Zookeepers – Give your child several plastic animals and blocks. Encourage your child to create a zoo by building fences with the blocks and counting the animals that go in each enclosure. After your child finishes the zoo, have them re-count the animals to make sure none of them “escaped.”

Rhyming Riddles – Make up riddles to challenge your child’s listening, thinking, and rhyming skills. Each riddle should tell the color of the object and a word that rhymes with it. For instance, “I’m thinking of something red. It rhymes with tall.” “It’s a ball!” could be their answer.

Recipes for Fun & Learning

Bird Watching – To attract birds and squirrels, sew a garland of popcorn, grain cereals, and dried fruits to hang in a tree. Or, smear peanut butter on pinecones and sprinkle with seeds.

Number Mobile – This one-of-a-kind mobile can help your child learn numbers.

You need: a hanger, string, paint, a pencil, 1 ½ cups flour, 1 cup cornstarch, ¼ cup baking soda, ¾ cup salt, 1 cup and 1 tbsp. water, liquid soap and wax paper.

Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In the center of the dry mixture, add the water and mix well. Place a few drops of liquid soap on your hands and then knead the dough on wax paper until the dough is soft and workable. Help your child roll it into thin strips. Shape the strips into the numbers from one to nine. Poke a hole at the top of each number with a pencil. Let the numbers dry on wax paper for a few days. Then paint them one side at a time. Cut string of varying lengths, one piece for each number. Thread a piece of string through the hole in each number and knot one end. Knot the other end of the string on the hanger. Hang the number mobile for others to enjoy.

Edible Pretzel Letters – Let your child help mix the ingredients for the dough. Help your child form letters with the dough. When the pretzels have cooled, share the snack with your child. Enjoy!

You need: 2 bowls, a spoon, measuring spoons, a fork, a cookie sheet, a pastry brush, an oven

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon yeast, ½ cup warm water, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon salt, salt in a shaker, 1 ½ cups flour, 1 egg

Directions: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In one bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Stir in the honey and salt. Add the flour. Mix and knead the dough until it is smooth. Break off pieces of the dough and roll them into strips. Form letters of the alphabet with each strip and place them on the cookie sheet. In the second bowl, beat the egg with the fork. Brush the egg mixture on the letters. Sprinkle the letters with salt. Bake for 10 minutes.

Rainbow Snack - Measuring is a good way to practice fractions.
Measure and mix these ingredients for a tasty snack:

  • 1 cup of fruit-flavored puffed cereal
  • 1 cup of fruit-flavored cereal shaped like Os
  • 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup of peanuts or mixed nuts
  • 1/2 cup of raisins and other dried fruits

Put all of the ingredients into a small plastic bag. Give the bag a good shake. Your snack is ready for travel!

Wind Chimes – Create a wind chime by forming thin squares of clay. Poke a hole at the top of each square, and let the clay dry. Put a hanger in a breezy area, and tie the square to it with different lengths of string.

Shadow Fun – Help your child make puppets by cutting outlines of people and animals out of cardboard or construction paper. Tape the puppets onto craft sticks. Hang a sheet across a doorway as a screen. Turn out the lights. Have your child hold the puppets while you shine a flashlight on them to cast a shadow on the sheet. Move the flashlight. Have your child observe that the nearer the flashlight is to the puppet, the bigger the puppet’s shadow becomes. This is because as the flashlight gets nearer the puppet, the puppet blocks more light and creates a bigger shadow.

Parents as Teachers

Parents are their child’s first teachers. Sure, it’s a big job, but you’re up for the challenge! Here, School Zone overviews subtopics describing your dual role as both parent and teacher. Preschool and kindergarten teachers can also pull ideas for parent newsletters or meetings.

Actually Teaching Reading

Pre-reading comes first.

He stumbles across the room on his 18-month-old legs and plops the truck book on your lap. For the fiftieth time this month it seems, you begin to read, emphasizing the rhyming words "The Big Rig". His eyes sparkle as he watches your lips and responds immediately to your request to point to the red truck. He can also point to the yellow earthmover and the big, green tractor.

He is listening to and learning books.

She sits prettily at her tiny desk, turning the pages of the A-B-C book, glancing up now and then as you do, the inflections on her nonsense words and sounds rising and falling from her now pursed lips, looking incredibly school-teacherish. "Point to the A," you request, and she smilingly touches an image on the page, not necessarily an A.

But she is pretend-reading, an essential first step. She is learning books.

You are teaching both of them reading. It is easy to learn if little ones can associate a word with a pleasant experience and a familiar object. By reading, reading, reading to the child, turning pages, and talking about what's on the page, you are teaching reading!

What is the work you've already done?

You have raised an intelligent child, nurtured him with a good diet and a good home environment. On an ongoing basis, you have named all the objects in that environment. You've built up a world of experience in your child's mind and been a good role model by reading in front of him or her. You have a positive attitude toward learning. You value it and the child picks that up and is eager to learn. Children like what their parents like.

Before you teach actual words and stories on paper, you can help children become perceptually ready to read by listening and practicing. Read stories to your kids. (Listening.) Label/name items or things: tree, glass, dog. Encourage plunking little things (like clothespins) into big things (like a milk carton). This develops eye-hand coordination, a prelude to writing something, such as A-B-Cs.

Reading doesn't start with words; it begins with seeing and labeling objects, hearing and using label-words, and performing hand-eye activities for small muscle development. School Zone then gives you pagework, the beginning steps or activities, such as pages on sound-alikes or rhyming words (hearing); same or different (visualizing); or mazes or pathfinding (eye-hand coordination and visualizing). The child does lots of pagework and enjoys it, and soon is ready to put those letters and rhyming families together and place them in a story, a tale with a beginning, middle, and end.

Now, you're on your own. You and your child have graduated from workbooks and pagework. School Zone has a beginning reading series called Start to Read, but you should also go to the library and find a book with 15 to 20 words, hopefully animal or object words, words that rhyme with picture clues. Read the book together. Have your child identify objects and animal words on the page, and soon he will read his first story by himself, then to grandpa, then to the dog, etc., etc.

Learning to read is the biggest and most important task in the first six years of life.

Animal and Object Words

Several key associations must occur before reading or writing words begins. Pictures of animals and objects, with the corresponding word nearby, is a frequent start. When we show a child a picture of a horse with the word "horse" under the picture, we are capturing the child with the picture. Gradually, the child also notices that line of "squiggles" forming the word under the picture. Children draw on both repetition and experience.

A child will know and be able to identify the object called bear long before recognizing the word bear. It's somewhat of a stimulus-response activity: Show a picture of a cat, name it, and the child instantly recognizes and relates it to the actual next-door cat. This word-picture naming is an important early reading step. You can do the same thing with words and pictures of Mom, Dad, Grandma, or bottle. Add puppy and kitten to cat and dog. Keep expanding vocabulary and concepts.

The child has watched television, played on the computer, leafed through picture books, and/or been to the zoo, so he or she can name many animals, such as cows or kangaroos. This experience then makes it easy to identify an animal illustrated in a workbook or on a flash card.

The same holds true for inanimate objects. A car is a familiar object, and so is a fire engine or train. The child knows many objects by name, such as ant, box, ball, jam, or queen. We are getting ready to move the child from the object word "box" to the rhyming/sound-alike animal word "fox." Once he knows the alphabet, he knows that words have different beginning letters. Soon the child can read "The fox on the box."

We are following a step-by-step procedure in which we can eventually begin a story with a combination of words. An example is Up Went the Goat; once the child learns the words "goat" and up, we add a picture clue of the goat going up the mountain.

Animal and object names are nouns. Other words are more challenging for children to learn because they represent a concept—words like "the" and "went." These words cannot be illustrated and must be learned through context, rhyme and memorization. Constant practice places in a child's mind, the association between those line squiggles (words) and the objects and concepts they represent. A simple story such as the following can increase the child's vocabulary with other rhyming or rhyming family words:

Up went the goat.
The goat saw a coat.
The coat was too big for the goat.
The goat saw a boat.
The goat was too big for the boat.
Down went the boat.
Down went the goat.

Note the use of rhyming words and short sentences. With repetition, the child will learn up, down, went, and the. Combined with object words, this begins to form a foundation for reading.

But What Comes First?

How does a child learn letters and words?
Do you work with the alphabet first?
On cards, in a book, or a workbook?
Do you do picture alphabet books first?
Do you mix block-stacking with finger plays or rhyming words?

The answer is yes to all the above! Some learning is sequential, just as you crawl before walking. However, learning words and letters is kind of chaotic, as words are spoken before the alphabet is learned.

Remember, you are a presenter, not the learner. Your child's mind will see and listen, and then that mind, during rest, orders the learning. The mind will mentally practice a skill, going over and over it, getting better and better, so it can guide the hand more accurately the next day. In other words, nighttime is as important as lesson time to order and reinforce yesterday's learning.

You can start with an alphabet picture book, reading to the child, familiarizing him or her with the sounds and objects represented by those funny little symbols. The child's mind will slowly begin to understand. After alphabet picture books, it is a good idea to take your child to a library, bookstore, or department store to look at other picture books. You will see your child make choices—the truck book vs. Snow White. Please realize how critical this phase is; your child is learning books. At home, if books are available and adults value them, many children will begin to carry books around about the time they learn to walk. Your child can learn reading, counting, and a variety of other skills at the same time.

Colors, Shapes, and More

Research indicates children learn sounds first, such as recognizing mother's voice. Forms are next, as in the unique appearance of mother or the forms called bed, tree, or table. Forms and shapes are easy for children to recognize and process. Soon, they will see and recognize similar patterns in words. For example, the letter A looks like a triangle and a circle forms the letter O.

The child is also seeing the colors of objects. The intensity, boldness, and variety of colors in the home, clothing and other surroundings place color words high in the hierarchy of words the child desires to learn. Children will name the color red about six months to a year before learning the actual word.

Play and practice help pull together essential concepts. For example, with Colors, Shapes & More flash cards, little learners "see it and say it." You experience their joy in learning the basic shapes, colors, and numbers as they identify, pair together, count, rhyme, match, and more. The cards offer a picture on one side with the associated word on the other.

Similarly, with our app of the same name, your preschooler will begin identifying and counting numbers 1-12 and recognizing colors, shapes, go-togethers, positional and rhyming words and much more.

Feeding The Learning Machine!

On a typical day, kids sleep on average, 10 to 12 hours and spend the remaining hours seeing, feeling, touching, discovering, banging, talking, running, dropping, poking, singing, rummaging, breaking, and interacting.

Think of a child as a learning machine. You, as a parent, can feed materials into this machine!

For example, read to your child daily. Many teachers read a chapter a day or every other day to their class. You can do the same with Swiss Family Robinson or Charlotte's Web, or read a smaller board book in its entirety.

You can also sit your child at the kitchen table for 15-20 minutes to do a School Zone workbook page or two. Kids enjoy these colorful activities. They love the ABCs and counting and are actually excited to be able to write their name, learn their telephone number, or read to Daddy. We use the word ready; the child is ready for readiness activities that will get him or her ready for school.

Make this time special. Have a treat ready for a reward, or simply say, "Good job."

You can do the same page later for reinforcement. You will find that your child looks forward to school, and gets used to the idea of it. When school begins, your child will be eager and ready.

Mix media as you teach. Do page work one day, then switch to or incorporate flash cards and games. Be creative. After a work page or flash card session, get out the paint and brush, or scissors and glue. A coloring session never hurts; besides being fun, it develops creativity and eye-hand coordination.

Allow for physical time. Use the school term "field trip," and go outside and collect seeds, acorns, leaves, etc. Or try and find as many of "this or that" as possible.

And last, don't forget nap time and snack time. Give yourself a rest or bite too!

First Grade Reading Strategies

Reading Strategies from Sue Leary's first grade classroom at Peach Plains Elementary School, Grand Haven, MI

  1. Get ready to read! Take a picture walk before you read the book. Look at the pictures carefully and predict what the book will be about. Make a list of words you think you might see in the story.
  2. Look at the pictures for clues about words you don’t know.
  3. Look at the beginning letter and the ending letter in the word you don’t know. Make the sounds of those letters…do you know the word?
  4. Is there a small word inside the big word that you know? Example: There’s an “at” in sat.
  5. A vowel letter can have a long sound. When a vowel is long it says its own name. A short vowel sounds different than a long vowel. Example: A short “i” makes the sound you make when you don’t like your mom’s cooking. A short “o” makes the sound your mom makes when she puts you to bed, as in, “AHHHHHHH!!!”
  6. If the word has one vowel in it, the vowel is USUALLY short!
  7. Does the word have a CVCV (consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel) pattern? If it does, the first vowel you come to talks and the second vowel walks. When a vowel talks it says its own name and when a vowel walks it says nothing at all!
  8. When a word ends with an “e” the “e” usually says nothing. The “e” is silent, but deadly.
  9. When a word has two vowels standing next to each other, USUALLY the first vowel talks and the second vowel walks.
    Example: rain
    The first vowel “a” talks (says its own name) and the second vowel “i” walks or says nothing at all.
  10. If you don’t know the word a good strategy is to skip it and read the rest of the sentence. Can you make sense of the sentence without knowing the word? Try to think of a word that would make sense in the sentence.
  11. Does the word you are stuck on look like another word you know? For example, if you know the word “car” could you figure out this word: “star”? Change the beginning sound and see if you know this word!
  12. Think about the word you are stuck on. If you come to a word you don’t know, read all the words you do know! What word would make sense?
  13. Pull the word you don’t know apart. Say the sounds in the word in S-L-O-W M-O-T-I-O-N. Speed it up…what is the word?
  14. Look for a chunk in the word. We call chunks consonant clusters. Some consonant clusters we know about are: th, sh, and ch. Teachers don’t like th because when a student makes the sound a th makes, the student can stick their tongue out at the teacher! Teachers love sh because when a student makes the sound a sh makes, the student says “Shhhhhh!”. And when a student makes the sound a ch makes, the student makes the sound a train makes!
  15. Can you retell the story? A good reader can tell what happened in the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story.
  16. Is the book you are reading a “just right” book for you? If you are stuck on five words on a single page, this book is not a “just right” book for you…yet!
  17. Phone a friend. If all the strategies you try don’t help you, this it the last strategy you can try. Ask a friend for help!

Manuscript and Cursive Writing

The transition to cursive writing occurs at about the third grade level. Manuscript is begun in kindergarten. Researchers have discovered that second- and third-graders make a smoother transition from printing to cursive writing than older children. Cursive is easier for many children because each word consists of one continuous line where all elements flow together. It is a combination of slanting lines, curves, and check-like strikes.

Practice is what helps a child adapt the fine motor skills required in both manuscript and cursive writing. A good teacher will help the child position the paper. The slant of the paper affects the slant of each cursive letter. Completely mastering manuscript is not necessary. The thought is that cursive can be learned when the child is ready. A note from grandpa, written in cursive, when grandpa knows the child can read, may trigger the cursive learning. Children see it as grown-up writing. Some educators recommend a curved manuscript form of writing, but this approach has not been widely accepted in elementary schools.

Writing is important, and many adults attain a stylized pattern of writing that has blends of both. Encourage your child to master writing before the ever-present computer and printer starts to gain his or her attention.

Math after Reading

When you hear the word "math" associated with preschool and early grades, you probably think of one number written over another, with a plus or minus term. In your child's world, however, many math terms and processes have begun before equations and symbols appear. You have been working on grouping objects by saying, "Put the two trucks away." He or she also knows what a penny is. You have said, "Put them together" or "Take one away," and your child has discovered the concepts of whole and half.

Let us begin with two (2) pennies to show the depth and dimension of what the child learns. The first penny in a gum ball machine establishes one (1) coin and one (1) candy. The child recognizes money and the number one, but three other concepts are going to emerge in his number skills learning when you go beyond one to two pennies.

  1. The child matches two objects (pennies) to the numeral 2.
  2. When the child hears the number 2, he should be able to pick out the written numeral 2.
  3. When the child sees the number 2, he should be able to say the number 2.
  4. Eventually, he should be able to write the numeral 2.

Reciting will come next as the child is able to count to ten through practice and memorization. Then we move to numerating, where the child counts a number of objects, i.e.: 5 pennies, 1-2-3-4-5, laying down a penny at each spoken numeration.

Very importantly, the child learns that numbers are used for everyday things such as age, address, and telephone number.

We first show, in the Counting 1-10 workbook, the numeral 1 and one apple, and continue with numerals and pictures to 10. Then we show the number 1 and 1 dog, and have the child interact by circling 1 bone (with 2 and 3 bones also depicted). We then circle 1 more thing and have the child trace and write 1. We've done these matching exercises for you and carry these double-page spreads through the number 10.

In Numbers 1-12, a transition book, we introduce the written word for the number and proceed with more grouping and counting.

School Zone's sequential learning products lead the child up to and all through addition and subtraction, then on to the challenge of multiplication and division.

Positional and Relationship Words, Classifying and Sequencing

We'll go over this so you understand, so you can get it beside you, so you get on top of these words first and not last. Your child will have begun to develop concepts such as around, through, first, last, some, all, empty, full, and others in daily conversations and activities with you. Now you can reinforce this learning with on-page activities. We call these positional words, as they help a child see the relationship between himself and the environment. For example, I am in the house.

School Zone puts these same concepts on paper, such as "Help the bear get to the honey at the top of the maze." We have little learners follow paths to the left and right and go up or down the hill. The airplane is high, the submarine is low or below, and we help the child mark over or under the bridge. Other relationship words are empty, full, last and next. I am big and that is little. These, in turn, provide foundations for skills such as sequencing, comparing, and categorizing.

Classifying objects into categories is something the mind enjoys, and it plays an important role in expanding both language and math skills. This is an easy on-paper activity, but we throw in extras; for example, the child identifies object categories by drawing a line under or between clothes and sweater, apple and fruit, or dog and animal. You have probably unconsciously done this at home by saying, "Put the toys in the toy box." Sorting and classifying go hand in hand, as you ask the child "Is the tree big?" or "Can a bush and a tree have fruit?"

Classification is an essential thinking tool. We then have the child understand, with direction and examples, the meaning of underline, circle, connect to, and draw a line, in most activities. Sequencing is taught as a child puts acts or ideas in 1-2-3 order. 1) Boy picks up bat, 2) Boy hits ball, and 3) Boy breaks window. Putting activities in first, next, last, or 1-2-3 sequence is seeing relationships and considering logic. We also throw in a little cause-and-effect reasoning, with "Why is the boy upset?"

The easiest first words for your child to learn (besides his or her name) are animal or familiar object words. Combining these first words with positional words and sequencing reinforces what a child already knows. These are all important steps to get the child ready to read, and you will soon see that the child is not only ready, but eager and excited!

Rhyming Words and Families

Now we get to a fun area: the rhythm of our language. Children begin to understand the reading process and the concept of words as they recognize different beginning and ending sounds and letters.

Kids may not be jumping rope as much as they once did, but it's been re-popularized a bit in TV and film in recent years. Jump rope rhymes are great for getting your child ready to read! Here's an example:

Here's Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed up in black, black, black!

Also try a finger play or two:

Here is the church (hands form a box), and here is the steeple (fingers form that); look inside and see all the people! (Open hands and arms.)
Itsy, bitsy spider is very good here, also.

Along with rhyming play, pagework is easy and important. King, sing, and ring can be easily illustrated. Your child has time to look at the picture and silently say the word. Let the mind work to make connections. Verbal rhyming helps, but there's nothing to look at. Looking at the page is important here, and School Zone workbooks carefully sequence the more simple rhyming families for you and your child. Many of the School Zone P-2 workbooks include rhyming work; plus, our Word Families Flash Cards also offer practice in rhyming and letter-sound association.

Initial blends should come after work with rhyming families. We use short, familiar words, such as frog, dog, hog, and log; or bat, hat, and sat. We do mix in some blends such as bl-ack, cr-ack, and tr-ack with Jack, tack, and back, or cl-ock and bl-ock with rock, lock, and dock.

We sequence rhyming families carefully, as recognizing them is an essential step in reading.

The Alphabet!

The English-speaking world has a great alphabet, only 26 letters that are mostly distinct from each other, plus, a long tradition of songs and rhymes behind the consonants and vowels that make up the alphabet.

The mind of the child learns the form of things, such as a tree or a house, by looking around. Adults help form the word for house or tree. The child learns thousands of these nuances, forms, things, patterns, and shapes, and we help with a spoken name/label. The alphabet, with its rhyming aspects, is almost easy for the child after that. The A-B-C song, a pleasing tune, also helps the child learn the alphabet. Tracing the letters in the many A-B-C workbooks School Zone produces or using our flash cards, clinches the learning of the alphabet.

The rather interesting point is that a child can learn a whole word made up of alphabet letters just as easily as he or she can learn the alphabet. The alphabet, with its single-letter sounds, seems to easily fit into the child's mind. But that will require some stretching. You only teach the long sound of each letter in running through the alphabet. As an example, poor "Bart" learns to spell his name after learning the long-sound alphabet, but when he speaks his name, the B is not Bee, but Buh, A is not Ay, but Ah, and it is an r-controlled vowel. Fortunately, r and t are sounded in his name as in the alphabet, leaving Bart only half confused.

Start with A-B-C, not all 26 letters; repetition is how he or she learns and you teach. Go around the house labeling with certain letters (A may be hard unless you have an attic, but repetition is the way). Hold up the alphabet card in the child's view the first time, for an extended time, then faster and faster.

Tracing also helps. Have your child trace letters with his or her index finger. The mind will then practice that during sleep time. The next day, we bet the response will be faster. Letter blocks help, and writing the letters with a big pencil and focused concentration is also good. Soon, the lightbulb pops on, and your child proudly zips off the alphabet to Grandpa's delight.

The Best Procedure for Remedial Work

Structure helps give direction and security to a child. Early on, close structure may be necessary. Gradually, as his or her tolerance allows, the structure may be reduced and eventually removed. This helps the child develop confidence in himself and become aware of his own growth. Structure should be practiced in every phase of the work rather than relegated to specific tasks. For example:

  • Give short assignments in a series, one at a time, and to completion; in the beginning, try for no more than 1 workbook page per day.
  • Block out with a marker the specific short section of work to be done.
  • Alternate short work sessions with breaks of a different type of activity, gradually increasing the length of the work sessions.
  • Use color clues to indicate places to begin and stop (green for GO and red for STOP).
  • Avoid complicated systems to follow in doing an assignment.
  • Reread prior workbook pages before beginning new ones.
  • Don't cover up picture clues to test if your child can really read.
  • Break down directions into short parts, giving only one part at a time.
  • Separate material for younger children into small units to avoid frustration.
  • Keep the environment free from distracting stimulation.
  • Sit close to the child to help him keep himself in control.
  • Keep the emotional climate of the sessions calm and definite.
  • Avoid pressure, but do maintain a wholesome respect for work and an attitude conducive to good work habits.
  • Verbal praise works as a reward with homework. A big smile, along with a simple "well done" or a praising clap or cheer is enough.

Give them as much help as they seem to need. Don't do the work for them, but show them some of the best ways to complete the task. Teach your child how to use resources such as the library and, with close supervision, the computer. If you don't know the answer to something, don't worry. Find people and places that can help both of you find the information you need.

Let your child complete the assignment, then review it and make constructive suggestions. With your child, discuss the best time and place to do homework.

Children must take responsibility for their own behavior. Help them understand the values and benefits of accomplishment. Don't bribe, threaten, nag, or punish. Help them understand the consequences of incomplete assignments. By working with your child at home, you are doing more than teaching reading and math. You are building your child's confidence, imagination, and love of learning.

The Teaching Steps

We have taken the critical first steps by designing and organizing the program. It is not formless or haphazard. We spent years putting together certain common American objectives. We sequenced these in terms of children's developmental needs. Then we took the hardest step of all- translating these educational objectives into educational experiences, the on-page lesson, the pagework we refer to. It is one thing to say a child should learn something, and quite another to design a paper and pencil activity that will cause him to learn it. All you have to do is put it before the child.

By saying we've taken the first steps, we are not minimizing your role as a teacher. You have the child, we have the program. You must bring them together.

Where: in your kitchen or other non-distracting place away from the T.V.
When: when the child is most eager—not tired, not hungry, but at a regular, scheduled time.
How: as thoughtfully as possible.

You may have guessed that number three is critical. You must capitalize upon the child's natural desire to learn, or help that desire grow. Here again, the program helps. The characters motivate. The exercises are as unique and as much fun as we could make them. Let's discuss your role more thoroughly.

See if your child is ready for this level of book. Try a sample activity or two, preferably a maze or dot-to-dot. If your child is puzzled and cannot proceed, try another activity. If he still can't do it, go back to simple coloring or physical activities, such as stacking pots and pans.

Plan the learning experience with your child. Which book will we work in today? Do you have your desk ready? Do you remember what you did yesterday?

Do this at a particular time of the day. How about just before snack time? Can you put the snack in a lunch box, just like sister's? The child at home is in school; this is their school, and you are the teacher. Today I am a teacher, and you are the learner!

Preview the page yourself before explaining it to your child. Make sure you know it. Make sure all materials are ready. Make sure your child understands the words you use. Read to him the consistent directions that explain what he is to do.

Motivate! Laugh! Use your happy voice! Put on your brightest face and lead a discussion about the illustrations. Look at Bumblebear! What is he doing? What will he be doing next? Let your child wonder and speak. Pre-kindergarteners and many first grade children should be guided into a discussion of the picture or activity, developing visual, listening, and speaking skills. The meaning behind spoken words needs to be developed. As children discuss everything about the picture, have them pronounce words and discuss the meaning behind those words. OK, does mouse rhyme with house? Tell your child that rhyme means sound alike, such as mother and brother.

Can your child share with a friend? It is fun to work together. Perhaps a doll or favorite bear sits with you or at another table.

Expect errors. We learn more from mistakes than success. Psychologists state, errors are necessary in new learning. Just because schools and teachers may make red check marks and add them up at the top of the page and then do nothing further to help the child learn doesn't mean we have to! An error is where we happily begin. Don't pounce on it, but explain and correct. Don't even call it an error. Let's do that again.

See if what your child has completed leads you to new activities. OK, you say. Let's go out and find a leaf like the one you just colored.

Mark the paper with a reward sticker when the task is complete.

Go over what your child has done. Have him explain what he has done. This helps your child retain the learning in the activity.

If your child doesn't feel like working on a particular day, don't force him. In turn, if your child wants to do more than one activity, let him. Don't let him rush through activities, though.

Develop in your child the habit of putting his work away, and the book back on the bookshelf.

Older children can often give directions if you are busy, or if you want siblings to work together now and then.

Games and game cards are different media and help the different neurons to form so that I Know It® occurs. Sometimes, pagework can be reinforced (locked in place) with lotto or bingo games that teach from a different perspective or media. It adds a fun game dimension. After every third or fourth day of pagework, it can be game time, which gives your child a recess break. Games are still very effective teaching tools.

The Value of Hidden Pictures, Dot-to-Dots, and Mazes

Hidden pictures are pure perceptual training. They are all about seeing a form within a form (or the absence of a form).

The value of dot-to-dots is that in addition to learning and reinforcing numbers or letters, the child also creates a picture, fine-turnes eye-hand coordination, and experiences the accomplishment of completing a task.

In mazes, a child can solve a mystery, while having the perceptual fun of following a path. All kids learn and practice important perceptual skills; however, even children who have a perceptual deficit are helped to recover or catch up with path work, or following onscreen moving objects. In a maze exercise, kids are practicing eye-hand control, visualizing a path, anticipating outcomes, solving a problem, and completing a task.

The Value of Same or Different

What is important or significant about same or different? The eye-brain connection is able to perceive a word (all those humps, squiggles, and ups and downs that mean different things), analyze it, and see it as a word. Same or different exercises train the child in scanning, for example, seeing the like or different attributes of two bunnies or birds, or being able to see the idea of difference in ball-ball-pan. That scanning can later be applied to books, seeing the differences between letters or words. This is also important for understanding and using transitional or joining words such as the, or, and and, which are neither object words nor positional words and must be learned by shape and/or sound. Since every word is different, you are training the child to visually trace those differences. Or, with same, you are also teaching visually tracing the picture to see same or nearly the same, important later on in teaching rhyming words or word families.

Similarly, in what's missing exercises, the child must decide if the cowboy's chaps are incomplete, or if the cat lost his tail. Those neural pathways in your child's eyes are scanning and looking for what's missing, an ability important later in seeing differences between Ms and Ws, or Ds and Qs.

Five Easy Ideas for Getting Toddlers Ready to Read

Listening, observing, and imitating—all important to reading readiness—begin in the first year of life and accelerate. In the second year, between 18 and 24 months, a child’s vocabulary will increase from 50 simple words to more than 300.

Many of the activities we tend to think of as “classic” playtime activities with infants and toddlers, such as peek-a-boo, are also developing sensory and motor skills important for reading. Here are some basic activities and materials for developing toddlers’ reading readiness skills.

Plan a regular time each day to read to and “with” your child. It’s no surprise or news to any parent that little ones enjoy hearing the same story read over and over. But there is a good reason. Repeated phrases make it possible for young children to participate by “reading” the repetitive part with an adult.

Show books (paper and electronic) and magazines to babies/toddlers as early as their first year. Sure, they may not be interested for more than two minutes, but that’s fine. Their focus will grow. Let them also see you reading.

Call your toddler’s attention to sounds, and then show or explain what made them. Things like engines running, trucks braking, dogs barking, leaves rustling, birds singing, and wind blowing, are all good examples. Also call out sounds around the house: vacuum cleaner, electric razor, mixer, furnace, footsteps, the cat’s purr. Connecting animals and animal pictures with the sounds they make is both time-tested fun and a great pre-reading activity. Starting in the second year, try “listening hunts.” Go to another room and imitate the sound of a dog barking or cat meowing. Say, “Find the dog (or cat).” Stay there until your little one crawls or walks to your location.

Just before the age of one, a child can follow simple dressing directions. “Put your arm in the sleeve,” or “put on your hat.” This can be expanded into dress-up games such as “Let’s put grandma’s shoes on Jenny’s feet.” The child is having fun, learning body parts, and following directions.

Play Show Me, Where, and Give. Ask “Where is the ___ (ball, table, bed, door, stroller),” “Show me the __ (scissors, cat, dog, stove, window),” and “Give me the ___ (bottle, apple, diaper, block, cup.) As the child grows and learns, expand this by adding other commands and varying the directions: Where is your mouth? Where is your hand? Stamp your foot. Raise your arms. Turn the pages of the book. Stand next to the chair. Games like Simon Says achieve similar results, and usually a few giggles, too. Learning materials that build focus, fine motor skills, and the ability to follow directions also contribute to reading readiness.

Three Easy Play-Anywhere Games to Build Skills

The three simple yet creative games below (Clap!, the Sequence Game, and Ping-Pong Pairs) are easy to play anytime, anywhere. They are especially fun and helpful for younger kids, but older ones—and even adults—can benefit, too. The games build focus, memory, and listening skills.

Clap! This activity promotes good listening and the abilities to classify and follow directions. Feel free to edit the activity to fit your child’s experience and ability.

Say, “Today you will clap your hands when you hear the name of a food, stomp your foot when you hear the name of something that flies, and snap your fingers when you hear a number.” (It is probably best to do only ten of the following associations per day!)

corn – seagull
bee – potato
broccoli – 10
2 – beans
moth – 6
4 – 11
squash – mosquito
airplane – wasp
14 – carrot
kite – zero
lettuce – cucumber
10 – peas
pickle – bluejay
7 – helicopter
jet – cauliflower
onion – 4
parrot – carrot
hummingbird – cabbage
asparagus – rice
ladybug – kite
celery – hornet
5 – butterfly
10 – peas
spinach – sparrow
cardinal – 7
9 – 1
parakeet – canary
bat – beets
squash – 7

clap – stomp
stomp – clap
clap – snap
snap – clap
stomp – snap
snap – snap
clap – stomp
stomp – stomp
snap – clap
stomp – snap
clap – clap
snap – clap
clap – stomp
snap – stomp
stomp – clap
clap – snap
stomp – clap
stomp – clap
clap – clap
stomp – stomp
clap – stomp
snap – stomp
snap – clap
clap – stomp
stomp – snap
snap – snap
stomp – stomp
stomp – clap
clap – snap

Sequence Game. This activity will increase your child’s ability to recall a sequential pattern. It is probably best to do only a few of the associations per day.

Say, “I am going to do four things in a certain order. You do what I do.”

1. Touch head, back, hips, knees.
2. Turn around, raise arms over head, snap fingers, stomp right foot.
3. Touch elbows together, stomp left foot, snap fingers, clap hands.
4. Pull nose, turn around, lift left foot, put right hand on head.
5. Touch hips, knees, toes, head.
6. Touch nose, eyes, ear, toes.
7. Snap fingers, hold arms up, clap, turn around.
8. Stomp right foot, touch ears, wink, jump.
9. Clap, snap fingers, touch knees, stomp left foot.
10. Turn around, touch floor, snap fingers, touch ears.
11. Kick right foot, yawn, touch eyes, clap.
12. Wink, touch floor, touch ears, turn around.

Ping-Pong Pairs. This activity will increase your child’s ability to listen and recognize synonyms and antonyms, and it develops vocabulary. Edit the activity to reflect your child’s ability.

Say “We’re going to play a game called ‘Ping-Pong.’ I’ll give you a pair of words – if they mean pretty much the same thing you say ‘Ping’; if the words have opposite meanings, say “Pong.’”

huge – large Ping
little – big Pong
lift – raise Ping
late – early Pong
fasten – close Ping
damp – wet Ping
clean – dirty Pong
grunt – groan Ping
always – never Pong
heavy – light Pong
loud – soft Pong
still – quiet Ping
gather – collect Ping
maybe – perhaps Ping
ceiling – floor Pong
rough – smooth Pong
shout – yell Ping
most – least Pong
few – many Pong
whisper – scream Pong
hard – solid Ping
pull – push Pong
rapid – fast Ping
joyful – happy Ping
listen – talk Pong
mad – angry Ping
hop – jump Ping
quick – slow Pong
even – odd Pong
flat – smooth Ping
distant – far Ping
hide – find Pong
soiled – dirty Ping
kind – gentle Ping
pull – drag Ping
gather – spread Pong
bad – good Pong
soft – hard Pong
ill – sick Ping

Using Workbooks With Your Child

Open a School Zone workbook.

First, look at the directions at the top of the page. Then note the consistency from page to page. Notice what we call the white space. Many publishers think that parents see value in more on a page versus less. Not so. Children are easily frustrated by a page filled with tons of work. White space gives the child a more restful feeling. The characters put the child at ease, too. Pleasant, smiling, funny, absurd—they're like family. We want the book to have a pleasant personality. We want the child to look forward to working on each page.

We know this about parents. They know instantly whether their child can do the page. We have also watched children examine our products, making those "This is for babies" faces, or suddenly wrinkling their foreheads in alert attention, as if to say, "This could be interesting."

So look at the first page and decide. Can your child do it? You could even show it nonchalantly to your child and ask, "Does this look like fun?"

In the inside-cover parent guides, we call attention to our careful sequencing and grade level parallels. We also suggest ways and times to work with your child. We discuss the particular way we use color if it has an educational purpose. You might choose Big Preschool, Same or Different, or ABC Dot-to-Dots, among many others, as your child's first school book. Or select Shop, Explore Our Workbooks, and then Preschool from the School Zone home page to see more offerings. All have value as a starting place and as a pre-reading experience.

What is the School Zone Curriculum?

When a child has learned to walk and talk, has social skills, can jump and balance, and is secure with his physical skills, he is ready for school. Today, however, schools want kids really ready. Children used to enter kindergarten and be taught skills such as A-B-Cs, counting to 10 and colors and shapes. Schools now expect to see these readiness skills at school admission time. Otherwise, the child is placed in developmental kindergarten.

What can page work do for a child?
How are workbooks used by parents?

They teach the skill;
They are used as a test to make sure the child learned the skill in school;
They are used as reinforcement during the summer to keep skills sharply tuned;
They are used as a first-class ticket to the new skill or grade level.

Workbooks have their place even in today's digital environment, as do flash cards. Along with games and apps, they can be used with equal learning value. One is used with paper and pencil, the other two—one by hand and one onscreen—enhance visual perception and eye-hand coordination, as well as learning or practicing specific skills. The most important factors in choosing workbooks are clarity of instructions and sequencing of skills relevant to the school's curriculum. Adults can use the workbooks in the same way. Adults with minimal math and reading skills have taught themselves basic skills with School Zone books.

School Zone products give parents and others tools to help with teaching at home. We not only cover the school curriculum in our books and other products, but mix the media.

Your Daily Teaching Tasks

Let's think about parents as teachers. A typical parent might frown, fondly recalling his or her own absolutely perfect first or second grade teacher and think, "I can't teach like Mrs. Grabell."

The comparison comes too late! You may not feel like a teacher, but after having one-syllable conversations with your child all day, you have taught, taught, taught. You are a one-room school teacher, with that room being your kitchen, dining room, den, or car. Your role is also little different than that of the classroom teacher, who sometimes desperately flees to the coffee lounge after a day of one-syllable interaction with six-year-olds. The teacher teaches reading words, addition, and subtraction. You have taught your child to speak, along with numbering things and counting. You have taught values, beliefs, and skills. Your child, at 5, has a spoken vocabulary of hundreds of words.

"Debby, go get another spoon for the table." See, you have already been instrumental in teaching words, pronunciations, and tasks described by words. You have taught all these words with difficult inflections, pronunciations, and meanings. You have taught how to put words together to communicate, a multi-step task. A classroom teacher shows your child how to work with words on paper. But you can also help with that. The transition from spoken words to written words is less difficult to learn than the initial language skills you have introduced to your child.

You have already been teaching for 5 years when your child reaches school age. Whether you choose to homeschool or send your child to school, you are well-prepared and well-qualified to teach and/or reinforce school lessons.

Parents teach with words, gestures and expressions, as well as by acceptance or rejection of the child's behavior. From birth, you, grandparents, and others have taught the child hundreds of thousands of speech patterns, ideas, facts, concepts, values, behaviors, and skills. However, a parent carries the earliest and greatest teaching burden.

Following a mother to the grocery store with her child, we catalog the values, attitudes, and skills that are taught. Driving there, she fastens the child in the car seat. "Oh, let's make you safe." Safety is an important concept, a value. En route, she hums. The child learns that shopping is an enjoyable experience. "See the truck! Can you say tr-u-ck?" mom asks. This introduces the Tr blend and teaches language and word development. Pause. "Good. You tried," she says. "Very good. You are a smart boy." Her attitude suggests that learning is a good thing.

"Oh, red light! We stop!" Another safety lesson. "My, the parking lot is full. We'll have to walk a long way. Good thing it isn't raining." Here, Mom teaches capacity, distance, and weather.

She straps her little one in the shopping cart. Safety again. "So, is this the visit where you buy something?" (Once every five trips to the store, the child gets a nickel to spend. That way he isn't begging every visit.) "Or is it only four?" She holds up four fingers, counting days and numbers. "Next time you get to spend." Next is a positional word.

The child is also working on memory. He had one more visit to go until the fifth trip. Mom reassures, "Well, you can look today. Let's go to cereal first. What was it we decided to buy?" That's another memory exercise. "Oh, here we are at cereals, and jam is right across the aisle." This is practice in categorizing. "Should we get the big box? Oh, there's the orange box. Does it feel full?"

You just never stop teaching. But here's a caution—two things you must remember. One is that there will be days when you and your child are tired at the same time, or catching a cold at the same time or being grouchy at the same time. There will be times that you will not be patient or attentive. Second, know when to turn teaching off, or you will find yourself saying to your husband or wife, "Oh, did you have a long trip home? Did you make one or two stops?"

Plan a quiet time for yourself, a time to listen to music or sit on the porch thinking. Maybe do this when your child naps. It will help recharge your battery and patience.

And when your child is ready for pagework, School Zone materials sequence skills carefully, easy before difficult. We give simple and consistent directions you can repeat. We give examples you can lead your child through, and we put just soooo much on a page. We give the child white space and a friendly character to keep her company as the activity is completed.

Aren't you glad you met us?

Freebies for Parents and Teachers

Are your children doing great work? Show them you know it! A Certificate of Achievement from School Zone is a super way to help young superstars show off their accomplishments — in the classroom or at home. Also select a free activity page! And there’s more to come! Visit us to find word searches, dot-to-dots, crosswords, and other free page downloads. They’re great for bell-ringers in the classroom or any-time treats at home. Watch your children have fun while they sharpen important learning skills! Click a link below. When the image you want loads, right click it and save it to your computer so you can print it.

"Great Job" Certificate

Happy Birthday Activity

Easter Hidden Pictures

Make Your Own Valentine

Valentine's Day Activity

Free on School Zone