Developing #Listening & Speaking Skills – Syllable Awareness & Counting (Word Play)

At about the age of 4 years old children start to develop an understanding that words can be split into sound parts (syllables) and that these parts give the word its rhythm.  A syllable is the largest phonological unit (one or a group of sounds) of a word and is like the rhythmic beat of the word.

They should be able to orally blend syllables together to form words and segment words into syllables.

A fun activity to help develop syllable understanding:

How Many Syllables?     

Children love to clap out the number of syllables in a word. It is important to say the word at a normal speed rather than really slowly as this can distort the word and make it difficult to hear the syllables. To start with a child just needs to be able to recognize them by clapping, stamping or jumping for each syllable of a word; they don’t need to be able to count them. It is thought that only about 50% of children can count out the syllables by the age of 4, so you can do the counting for them.

Spoken syllables are organised around the vowel sounds, making counting them easy; as the jaw drops when the vowel sound is spoken in the syllable. Try placing your hand under your jaw with your mouth closed before you say a word. Start with ‘cat’ you will notice the jaw drops once; this is because it is a one syllable (monosyllabic) word.

Most children will find it easier to identify syllables in compound words to start with. A compound word is formed by two words (root words) put together such as: sunset, hotdog, snowman and postman. They find it easier because the jaw tends to drop quite distinctly as we say the vowel sound in each of the root words and because we tend to say these words slowly.

Developing #Listening Skills – Music Fun

These games are designed to help a child learn about the different levels of sound, pitch, tone and volume.

Music Fun

  • Skittle Band – Use, or make, a drum stick (wooden spoons are good for this) and explore with your child the different sounds the drum stick makes against objects made of different materials, such as steel saucepan, another wooden spoon, plastic bottles etc. Choose items that are safe and you are happy for them to play with. You could photograph the objects, record the sounds they make, or video (on your phone), to play back and talk about later on. Try moving the activity outside for a different sound quality experience.
  • Orchestral Conductor – Once your child is happy and enjoys playing and making sounds, with different objects and instruments, try the conductor game. You can use your hands or a baton to point and encourage them to play certain sounds just like an orchestral conductor does, but make sure you have a clear stop gesture which your child will understand (you may need to say stop at the same time as the gesture to begin with, but they will soon get the idea). Then swap places and you become the musician and they the conductor; it may not be a classic you create but it is great fun. As your child develops their skills you can add new elements and hand gestures to make the sound louder or softer.
  • Musical Bottles – Use plastic bottles with different amounts of water/sand in them and different things as a beater. Talk about how:
    • Low/deep or high pitched a sound is compared with another.
    • Using different beaters can change the quality of the sound when used on the same bottle.
    • Using different amounts of pressure to hit the bottle makes the sound louder (harsher) or quieter (softer).

Try organizing the bottles in order of pitch to create a musical instrument and using this as part of the Orchestral Conductor game. You could number each bottle or use a different picture on the bottle as a way of encouraging your child to play the bottles in different orders (making music).

Developing #Listening Skills – Sound Screen/Barrier Games

Last week we explained the three things required for good listening skills:

  • To pay attention – being able to focus on a particular voice or sound by filtering out other voices and ambient noises.
  • To concentrate on the voice or sounds to take in the information, building the stamina needed to listen for extended periods of time.
  • To interpret that information to gain meaning – comprehension.

Here are some games to help build these skills.

These games are designed to help a child learn how to block out ambient noises so that they focus and concentrate on one particular sound.

Create a barrier between you and your child so that they cannot see the object you are going to use to make noises with and see if they can guess the object. Try to use objects that make sounds that occur around them a lot of the time, for example keys rattling together or wooden blocks being knocked together. There are many variations of the game that can be played but you need to make sure your child has the opportunity to experience the sounds with the relevant object beforehand so they don’t get frustrated by the game.

  • Mrs Blog has a box… To the tune of Old Macdonald changing the name as best fits the situation. Place a box, on its side with a number of objects inside that make a noise (choose items your child is familiar with the sound of), between you and your child so they can’t see what is in the box. Start singing “My mummy has a box ee, i, ee, i, o and in that box she has…” Stop and gesture to encourage your child to listen (maybe a cupped hand to your ear) then pick one of the objects and make a sound; your child then tries to guess what it is. Continue to sing but imitating the sound of the object you played, which your child can now see. If it was a bunch of keys for example; “with a jingle, jangle here and a jingle jangle there, my mummy has a box ee, i, ee, i, o.” Swap places so your child can choose an object in the box, change the song so you are using their name, for example “My James has a box…”
  • Same or Different?  Place a barrier between you and your child so they cannot see which object you will use to make a sound and that you duck behind so they cannot see your face when you make vocal sounds.  This can be played at different levels. At the basic level using animal noises such as baa, moo, woof etc. A more complex level would be to use shakers with different size things inside to make different shaking sounds. Plastic containers or bags of the same size and type can be used to make the shakers with different small items in such as dried pea, rice, sand or small coins, pebbles or small Lego bricks. Make the noise once and then repeat either with the same noise or a different one. The child then says if they were the same or different.
  • Copy Cat!  Place a barrier between you and your child so they cannot see which object you will use to make a sound and that you duck behind so they cannot see your face when you make vocal sounds.  You will need two set of the same objects, a set for you and one for your child. The aim of the game is for you to make a noise with either an object or your voice and for your child to copy that sound choosing the correct object in front of them or using their voice as you did. The game can become more complicated as you mix a number of sounds using objects and your voice. Swap roles so that your child becomes the leader of the game and you have to copy them.

Have Fun! N.B. Be careful of small objects, especially those escaping from shakers, as these can be a choke hazard.

How to encourage your child to keep talking!

Learning to the conventions of conversation start from birth, as parents we do not really think about it in this way but it is what we tend to do naturally.

Sometime though we all need a few pointers to help us, so here are some ideas to help you develop and encourage your child to talking skills:

From Birth to 1 Years Old

  • To encourage cooing and babbling. Get yourselves comfortable in a face-to-face interaction position, babies often like lying on their back or on your lap looking up at you.
  • Start by talking to your child while gently tickling their tummy or neck.
  • Anytime they make a sound you imitate or match the sound as best you can. It is best to wait until they have finished before you try (one of the conventions of conversation).
  • Try changing or adding a new sound to the one your child has made, so if they say ‘ah’ you might say ‘ah-ooh’, this will help to keep the game interesting.
  • Show that you are excited by the sound they make – smile and laugh, if you are enjoying the interaction, they will be excited by it too.
  • Vocal play works best when it occurs naturally, such as playing with farm animals, for instance sheep go baa, baa or cows make a moo, moo sound.

1 to 2 Years Old

  • Talk directly to your baby/toddler so they can see your facial expressions and how your lips move, as this is the beginnings of learning the conventions of communicating, listening and responding (something they cannot get from the TV, iPad or overheard conversations – indirect talk).
  • Talk through everyday events, such as getting dressed; what is happening, where you are going and what the plan is for the day.
  • Use your body language, expressions and gestures to help reinforce and develop your child’s neurological pathways to support understanding and comprehension.
  • Share books with your baby/toddler, they may not understand what you are saying to begin with but they will be listening to the different sounds that the words make. By reading aloud you are probably using words that will introduce new sounds that your child may not be picking up from your normal day to day conversations. As they get older you are developing and increasing the range of their vocabulary.
  • Babies and young children love to hear you singing and saying rhymes, this is because the language is slowed down, allowing them to hear the small units of sounds and patterns which are often repeated several times in a short time lapse. Again, the language used is often different from your day-to-day talk.
  • To encourage and help your child to generate and play with sound, repeat the sounds that they make.
  • Using familiar objects and toys make the noises associated with them for example a toy car, broom, broom or a toy bumble bee buzz, buzz.
  • When you are out and about talk about what you can see and about the sounds they make, a cat goes meow or a train Choo, Choo, for example.
  • You can use other onomatopoeic words to describe sounds, such as wooden spoons on saucepans could be bang, bang or blocks being knocked together could be click, clack.

2 to 5 Years Old

  • When playing, talking and sharing new words it is important to get down to your child’s level so they can see your face and how your mouth and lips move to form the words or sounds being explored.
  • Remember toddlers learn to listen best when they are taking an active role in what they are doing, especially when you or others join in eagerly with them to play the games.
  • Give your child thinking and response time, this may seem like a long pause but it is worth waiting, be sure your child has finished what they wanted to say before you respond.
  • Try not to finish off your child’s sentence, yes sometimes it may be quicker but just give them a little moment longer and they will get there. If it is clear they cannot think of the word they want then that is of course different.
  • Before a child can really take part in meaningful interactions with others, they need to learn how to take turns. It is one of the basic elements of communication, when we are talking to someone, we leave a gap/pause so that the other person has the opportunity to respond, taking turns. Turn taking skills need to be modelled and taught to help your child develop and understand this element of communicating with others.
  • To encourage your child to keep talking try nodding, smiling and using comments such as; wow, really or acknowledging something they have said by repeating rather than always asking them questions.
  • We are all guilty of half-listening, especially when we are busy trying to cook dinner for example. If it is obvious that what your child wants to tell you is really important then make it clear that you are interested by saying “Just let me finish this and then I can listen to you more carefully.”

Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey – Week 6

Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge is understanding;

  • That the same letter can look different, for example, a lower-case letter ‘b’ looks different from a capital letter ‘B’. Letters will also look different depending on which font type is being used or if it is handwritten, for example, an Arial font letter ‘g’ looks different from a Calibri font ‘g’.
  • That letters have names and the same name is used for that letter even when they look different, so the lower-case letter ‘a’ and its capital letter form ‘A’ are both called ‘ay’.
  • That letters (graphemes) are used to represent sounds (phonemes) in words. Teaching the unique letter names of the alphabet is an important pre-phonics skill. A letter or combination of letters can represent more than one sound and so the only way of identifying alphabet letters when we talk about them is to use their unique names.

Developing Letter Knowledge:

Through Play:

  • Sorting and Matching Games- use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards; can they group all the lower-case letters together, or all the capital letters or all the different letter ‘ay’s’ together.
  • Kim’s Games – use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards. Using a few letters at a time, place 5 to 10 on a tray and let your child look at them and talk through which letters are there. Cover with a tea towel and ask your child to look away, then remove 1 or 2 of the letters. Then ask your child to look back and remove the tea towel. Can they spot which letters are missing.
  • Detective Games– focus on identifying individual letters of the alphabet and naming them, this can be played at home or when out and about.
  • Leap Frog – use the letters of the alphabet on home-made paper lily pads. Use the letter names to identify the target lily pad for your child to either jump onto or to throw a bean bag/soft toy on to.
  • Skittles and Throwing Games – use letters of the alphabet on the targets and use the letter names as a way of identifying which of the targets your child is aiming for.

Through Drawing/Writing:

  • Making lists of things to do or a shopping list. Their version of the list may be just squiggles and dots (so don’t rely on this for your shopping trip) but it is the beginning. I would keep the list and get them to tick off things done or items purchased as part of the experience so that it has a genuine purpose (children really like this).
  • Making and drawing their own story book.
  • Learning to write letters correctly (see our Teach Handwriting Website: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI)

Through Songs/Nursery Rhymes:

  • Singing Alphabet Songs, try singing it to different tunes.
  • Make up Your Own Rap – point to the letters as the rap is said.

Through Talk:

  • Talk about letters as being shapes made up of straight, curves and diagonal lines.
  • Look at the letters in your child’s name, talk about the fact that the first letter in their name is always a capital letter and that normally the other letters are lower-case letters.
  • Point out, especially for slightly older children, that lower-case letters are about half the size of the capital letters.
  • Compare letters looking at what is the same and different about them.
  • When taking about letters use the letter name as well as the sound it is making in the word, remember a letter is often used to represent more than one sound. The letter ‘a’ can be used to represent different sounds in the following words: ant, apron, was, and any (just 4 of the eight sounds it is used to represent).

Through Book Sharing:

What books to choose?

  • Books with shapes
  • Books where you have to find things (like I spy)
  • Alphabet books
  • Books which use different font styles in the pictures and text.

Book Sharing Tips:

  • Alphabet books do not need to be read from cover to cover. Let your child choose which letters they want to look at.
  • Trace the letters with your finger or let your child trace it (make sure you trace the letter using the correct formation orientation, encourage your child to do the same).
  • Talk about the pictures in alphabet books before focusing on the letter, its name and the sound it can make.
  • Show your child the first letter in their name and then look for that letter in the book.
  • Show and talk about how some letters are in their capital form and others in their lower-case form. Can they find other examples of the letters?
  • Choose two letters to talk about: How do they look alike? How do they look different? What shapes/line styles are they made up of?

Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey – Week 2

Phonological Awareness Games and Book Sharing Ideas

Phonological awareness relates to our sensitivity and understanding of the sound structures of our oral language. It enables us to progress from our awareness of large sound units (words in sentences) to smaller sound units (phonemes in words).

Our phonological awareness develops over time and the depth of that awareness is based on the range of experiences we have. Research suggests that our phonological awareness begins in the womb at about 24 weeks and is continually built upon throughout our lives. We tend to think of children going through ten distinct phonological stages; the later stages being related to phonics. 

Children are taught to read in schools through phonics; the association between sounds (phonemes) to written alphabet letters (graphemes).

Phonics reading is the process of firstly segmenting the written word into letters, or letter combinations, then associating known sounds to those letters and finally blending the sounds together to form words (decoding). If a child is weak in any of the phonological awareness stages before those relating to phonics, then they will struggle with learning to read.

Because of the nature of how we develop our phonological awareness games and activities cannot easily be split into categories. Playing, drawing, writing, singing and book sharing all require you to talk with your child highlighting sounds, words and rhythms of language.

Here are some games and activities to help you:

  • Singing and sharing nursery rhymes is a great way to help children hear sounds in words because the words are drawn out and the sounds highlighted or exaggerated.
  • Clapping, bouncing or tapping to songs and rhymes helps to highlight the syllables of the words. A syllable is the largest phonological unit (one or a group of sounds) of a word and is like the rhythmic beat of the word.
  • Pointing out the sounds you hear, such as animal or environmental noises, and explaining what is making that noise.
  • Playing games or singing songs where you and your child can make noises such as animal sounds (Old MacDonald had a farm) or vehicle noises (The Wheels on the Bus).
  • Drawing animals or other everyday objects that have a distinct sound, naming them and making the sound they produce.

Book Sharing

What books should you choose?

  • Books with sounds of animals and other objects that make sounds
  • Nursery Rhymes
  • Books formatted from songs
  • Books with rhyme and alliteration
  • Poetry books
  • Any book really, remember your local library can help you to choose a good range of books to share with your child if you are not sure.

Book Sharing Tips

  • Don’t be shy, make animal and object noises. If you are self-conscious about it your child will pick up on this. No one thinks twice about an adult making what may appear to be strange noises if they are sharing them with a child (it’s when you forget they are not with you and you do it that they tend to look at a you a bit funny).
  • Talk about whether the words in a book rhyme or not. Point out the rhyming words, make up other rhyming words for any of the words in the book. Remember they do not have to be real words they can be silly funny words that pick up the rhyming sounds in the original word.
  • It is important to remember for some children saying a word that rhymes with one you have given can be very difficult, if not impossible. So, don’t stress them out with this, it is often easier for them to recognise a rhyme than to make one. You could ask them to tell you if two words you give rhyme or not. If they find this easy try giving them three words with only two that rhyme and ask them to identify the rhyming words.
  • After sharing the book pick out words that you can clap out the syllables for. You could make this into a jumping or hopping game instead. With older children ask then to tell you how many syllables the word has and then to check their answer by counting the number of claps or jumps they make.
  • Play an ‘I Spy’ game using the pictures in the book looking for rhyming words for instance by giving clues such as; “It is red and rhymes with the word sock.” The answer is clock.

Why Poor Eye Tracking and Spatial Awareness Skills Affect #Reading

Eye tracking is the ability to control and coordinate the fine eye movements that allows us to:

  • Read a line of print by moving our eyes from left to right, without moving the head.
  • To focus and move the eyes to follow an object, without moving the head, in all directions.
  • To track/follow objects near and far.
  • To focus on one object without moving the eyes.

Eye tracking difficulties can have a dramatic effect on a child’s ability to read fluently and with ease due to the fact that they do not see the print in the same way as people with good eye tracking skills.

Typical problems due to poor eye tracking skills:

  • They lose their place, skip words or transpose them.
  • They use a finger to help keep their place.
  • Some will turn their head sideways to read or write.
  • Others may cover one eye to read.
  • They hold their head close to the table when looking at things, reading, writing and drawing.

Good spatial awareness enables us to be aware of the space around us and our position in that space, as well as the relationship between ourselves and objects. This also includes our ability to see and understand the spacing of text and pictures on a page, to distinguish between paragraphs, sentences, words and individual letters.

Spatial awareness difficulties can have a dramatic effect on a child’s ability to read fluently and with ease due to the fact that they do not see the print in the same way as people with good spatial awareness skills.

Typical problems due to poor spatial awareness skills:

  • They lose their place, skip lines and words or transpose them.
  • They use a finger to help keep their place.
  • Comprehension can be difficult as text is mis-read.

For more information on how to identify eye tracking and spatial awareness difficulties as well as activities to help support and develop these skills use these links (they will take you to the relevant pages on our Teach Handwriting website):

The Impact of Poor Visual Memory Skills on #Reading

Good visual memory skills enable us to recall information that has been previously visually presented.

Visual memory difficulties can hinder a child’s ability to read fluently and with ease due to the fact that they cannot always remember what the word looks like, even though it may be a very common sight word which has been taught to them many times before.

 Typical problems due to poor visual memory skills:

  • Difficulty in recognising some letters and numbers, especially those they may not use very often, for example some of the capital letters.
  • Have problems learning sight words, or remembering what a word is, from one page to another.
  • Reading is slow and stilted, making comprehension difficult.

For more information on how to identify visual memory difficulties see our Other Physical Skills Assessment from our Teach Handwriting website: http://bit.ly/2P5jS44

For games and activities to help support and develop visual memory skills use this links: http://bit.ly/2M350S1

Games to Develop Listening Skills – Part 7 – Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is our ability to split words into their smallest sound units (individual phonemes) and to manipulate these sounds through segmentation, blending, substitution and deletion. This is based on what we hear and say, not the written word.

These games are great for playing in the car or when waiting in queues and hopefully soon when out and about with other friends and family.

We usually introduce this concept to children using one syllable CVC words, a word that has a Consonant followed by a Vowel and then another Consonant, such as cat, dog, sit, peg and sun.

Play, ‘I hear with my little ear…’

This is based on the game I spy with my little eye. In this version you say;

 “I hear with my little ear the words (for example) cat, cake, key and kite. What sound do these words begin with?” The answer is they begin with the sound ‘k’ remember it is about what they hear not the spelling or letter names.

  • To begin with focus on helping your child to identify the first sound in words, remember it is about what you hear not the spelling, so shop, ship, and chef all start with the same first sound ‘sh’; fish, photo, fog would also have the same initial ‘f’ sound. Try not to correct your child based on spelling conventions, as it is sounds you are working on – spelling comes later.
  • Next help your child to listen and identify the last sound in a word such as ‘t’ in cat, sit and hat.
  • Then focus on the medial, or middle, sound in the word such as ‘a’ in mat, lap and tap.

Once your child can identify the initial, medial and final sounds in a word the next step is to playing with the words through oral phoneme segmentation and oral phoneme blending. You are probably doing this already with your child without really realising it.

  • Segmentation – being able to split words into their individual sounds, for example ‘cat’ into c-a-t.

Play, ‘How many sounds (phonemes) can you hear?’

This is a simple oral segmentation game just ask; “How many sounds (phonemes) can you hear in the word ‘hat’? The answer is 3. If your child can not count, they can show you using their fingers. The important thing is for them to hear and pick out the individual sounds in the word not the number of letters used to spell the word.

  • Blending – being able to blend individual sounds together to say a word, for example d-o-g into dog. This is achieved by saying the sounds over and over again getting quicker until it sounds and can be identified as the word (a tricky skills to learn).

Play, ‘I’m thinking of a word and it has the sounds (phonemes)… What is the word?’

This oral blending game seems easy but can be very trick skill for some children to master, so do not be surprised if they find it hard to begin with. Use CVC words to begin with, but do keep trying as it is a very important skill to learn; be patient and over time they will get there.

Say “I’m thinking of a word and it has the sounds (phonemes) l-o-g what is the word?” The answer is log.

Important Tips

We often slow down our pronunciation of the word and over exaggerate them, thinking we are helping our children to hear these sounds. This can be useful to start with, but be careful not to do it all the time. The aim is for your child to pick out the sounds in normal speech patterns, as these can be different from the way that words are spelt.

The most important thing to remember when modelling this, and when playing games to help develop these skills, is to make sure you are making the sounds correctly. It can be very easy to pollute a sound by adding an extra ‘uh’ sound to it, so ‘k’ becomes ‘kuh’ which makes it very difficult for children then to blend sounds.

When your child feels comfortable using and playing with sounds in CVC words move on to CCVC words such as stop, clop and flop, following the same steps of identifying the initial and last sound in the word and then the vowel sound rather than the middle sound. Then play oral phoneme segmentation and blending games.

Spring/Easter Drawing Activity Ideas – Supporting Language & Pre-handwriting Pattern Development

The Easter holiday break is upon us!

We have put together some quick step by step Easter drawing ideas for you to try, using basic shapes such as circles, rectangles and triangles. It is amazing how, by using these simple shapes, you and your child can create fantastic Spring/Easter: cards, pictures mobiles or bunting: http://bit.ly/2kyeo3w

Drawing pictures is a great way to help your child develop their pre-handwriting strokes and shape forming skills. As well as supporting shape, colour, pattern and language development.