Is My Child Ready to Read? How to Tell and How to Get There!

Sometimes the hardest part of teaching a child to read is determining if they’re even ready. We don’t want them left behind, but we don’t want to create frustration by pushing reading too soon. What to do?

The most crucial skill for reading readiness is “phonemic awareness,” the ability to hear the separate sounds that make up a word. Reading instruction connects the sounds of spoken language to symbols, and that can be difficult or impossible if your child doesn’t recognize those sounds to begin with. A child with poor phonemic awareness will mix up letter sounds while trying to read, and this will be frustrating for everyone involved.

Here’s an easy diagnostic to evaluate your child’s phonemic awareness:

Can your child:

  • Hear rhyming words? When listening to a group of words, can your child pick out the words that rhyme?
  • Make up rhyming words? (e.g., “Tell me a word that rhymes with hat.”)
  • Separate a word into sounds? (e.g., “The three sounds in cat are /c/ /a/ /t/. What are the three sounds in Sam?)
  • Listen to a group of words and recognize words that begin or end with a certain sound? (e.g., “Tell me two words that begin with /s/”)
  • Blend two sounds together.

If these tasks are difficult, work on developing phonemic awareness.

5 Ways to Focus on Phonemic Awareness:

1. Emphasize the sounds of the letters rather than the names of the letters. This approach is used by Montessori schools, and it produces superior results with young children who are beginning to read. For example, if you are doing a writing exercise, just say the sound and ask your child to write the letter. Avoid naming the letter until after they attempt the task. Then say the name of the letter and immediately pair it with the sound. To make the writing exercise fun, fill a shallow tray with shaving cream or a combination of glitter and sand.

Reading By Design>Methods>Multisensory Activities

  2. Combine phonics practice with active games such as the Stuffed Animal Game and Toy Car Game.

Stuffed Animal Game: 

Incorporate one of your child’s toys into a game. ReadingbyDesign.net>Methods>WordGames2

Materials: letter cards, stuffed animal

Directions: Spread several letter cards apart on the floor, facing the same way. Start with just a couple cards and gradually add more.

Instructions: When I point to a card, say the sound with me. Then throw your toy to the letter. The sound is[say sound]. Your child says the sound with you (or immediately after you) and tosses a beanbag or stuffed animal to the correct letter. If your child has trouble with the directions, participate in the game and throw a toy as you say the sound. This activity can also be done with words once your child has progressed to blending letters to form words.

Optional: Use a phonics phone (explained below) while practicing the sound. Review cards at the end of game.

Game with Toy Cars:

Follow directions for the Stuffed Animal Game above. Instead of throwing a toy, your child pushes a car from letter to letter. This is popular with both boys and girls. For more game ideas:



The games at the above links are intended for children who are already reading short words, but they can be adapted for an emergent reader. Just substitute sounds/letters for words.

3. Use a phonics phone during practice. The phone is a device that amplifies the child’s speech and feeds it directly into their ear. This leads to a dramatic increase in auditory stimulation and accurate processing of sounds. Attention focused on sound/letter correlation will promote steady growth in reading skills.

 The phone can be purchased online from different companies or assembled from materials readily available at your local hardware store. Making your own phonics phone is easy.


4. Incorporate apps designed to teach phonemic awareness into your lessons.

Phonics Island, Letter Sounds: App by 22learn: App for preschoolers based on Montessori approach to teaching phonics. Excellent!

Montessori Letter Soundsby Edoki: One of the best apps for young children.

Reading Raven 1 by Early Ascent, LLC: For beginning readers,  this app reviews letter sounds and teaches sound blending.

Starfall: This free website is a great resource for all young children learning their sounds and beginning to readers.

Reading Eggs: An excellent online program for young children learning to read. Your child moves seamlessly from learning letters/sounds into words and stories. There is a large library of books and audio materials.

5. Use Explode the Code workbooks to give extra structure to your daily phonics practice.

Explode the Code Workbooks:

Get Ready for the Code, Book A Consonants b, f, k, m, r, t

   Get Set for the Code, Book B Consonants d, h, j, n, p, s

   Go for the Code, Book C: Consonants c, g, l, q, v, w, x, y and z

   Explode the Code Books 1: Consonant & Short Vowels Review

A child who is ready to read

When a child knows some sounds very well and can blend the sounds they know, it is time to start creating words. For example, if a child knows the letters t, a, c, s, m, p, they could blend them to form at, am, as, cap, Sam, cat, map, sat, pat. Start by blending two sounds at a time. The third sound can be added in later lessons.

A child who is not ready to read

Some children have a generalized problem hearing sounds. They are not able to consistently identify sounds in words or produce the correct sounds when shown individual letters. This skill should develop before formal reading instruction begins. Play rhyming games, read aloud, do art and music activities with words that have similar patterns. Play computer games (in moderation) designed for preschoolers and Kindergartners. Hold off on reading words until progress is made with recognizing sounds. Your child’s preschool or kindergarten teacher should be able to advise you on your child’s progress in this area.

Cathy Pelzmann, M.S., is a certified reading specialist with a Master’s degree in special education and 20 years experience helping learners excel. For more information on setting up a home reading program, her book, Teach Your Child to Read: What to Do When Your Child Is Struggling, will be available for purchase on Amazon in January. She offers sessions over Zoom and can be contacted at pelzmann@advantagetutoring.net

By |December 30th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

If you’re not inside a classroom, why stick with classroom limitations?

In this blog we look at three ways you can take your reading instruction into the great outdoors; not by turning the outdoors into a copy of the classroom, but by using the wide-open spaces for inspiration.

Idea 1: Use Nature for Sensory Letter Practice

Small hands might not be ready to write, but tracing letters in dirt or forming them with rocks and sticks can be fun! For extra impact, trace the letters in sand, mud, shaving cream or another rich texture. Practice by slowly saying the sound while forming or tracing the letter. When working on new words, say the sounds separately while forming letters, and then blend the letters together at the end. If there is any mess from sand, mud, sticks or whatever, just get out the hose.

Idea 2: Incorporate Physical Activities with Decoding Practice

Often, a child who is reluctant to practice words will find new energy when movement is involved; throwing hacky sacks, shooting targets, or even just running to a tree and back between words can keep minds sharp and spirits up.

Print the letters or sight words on individual sheets of paper, and spread them around the outdoor space. Mount them on walls or trees to shoot with foam darts or water guns, or spread them on the ground to hit with hacky sacks or thrown stuffed animals. More confident readers can try to hit the word or letter as you call it out; beginners can hit a word and then tell you what it is before they retrieve their ammunition to try for the next one.

Idea 3: Jump to words

For small children, print words large on individual sheets of paper, and spread them out. Have your child jump, hop, or run to the words and bring them back to read aloud. Bonus points if you make it a multisensory activity, such as tracing the words in sand, mud, shaving cream or any other sensory material after the word is retrieved.

The possibilities for outdoor reading instruction are limitless. You can make a trail of words and turn your yard into a giant board game. Or simply sprawl in the grass together with a great book. As a reading specialist, helping parents and children succeed, one of the first barriers we overcome is the struggle to make home learning “like school.” Adapting instruction to your child’s needs and interests can turn what might have been an indoor power struggle into the perfect afternoon outdoors.


If you think you and your child may benefit from outside help, Cathy Pelzmann is a certified reading specialist with a master’s degree in special education and has been working with parents and teachers to create individualized home learning programs and help children overcome reading delays inside and outside the classroom for over 20 years. She does sessions over Zoom and can be contacted at pelzmann@advantagetutoring.net.

By |September 26th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments


Does Your Child Need a Reading Specialist? 6 Ways to Help Your Child at Home, and 5 Signs You Need Back-up!

Reading problems in young children are not unusual, but they shouldn’t be ignored. There are easy strategies that can help a parent and child get off to the right start.  Sometimes just a few consultations with a specialist can give you the guidance you need. Here are things to consider when planning or evaluating your own home reading time:

  • Make reading practice a part of every day. The reason schools recommend at least 20 minutes of reading a night is that this type of practice is vital to success. Any reading teacher can tell you which students are reading consistently at home, and which ones aren’t. Your involvement as a parent can make a big difference!
  • Use reading materials that are on the child’s current level. Perhaps you are trying to get your child to read daily, but are frustrated by what’s coming home from school. Assignments that are too difficult can create frustration and destroy a positive atmosphere, but material that’s too easy won’t help either! Talk to your child’s teacher to find out their current level, or look up the level of a book they can read somewhat easily. Accelerated Reader Bookfinder is an excellent resource (https://www.arbookfind.com/).
  • Introduce new words before reading. If a child is struggling, the simple step of introducing the vocabulary beforehand (ideally with multisensory practice and games) can help them start reading with confidence.
  • Make corrections fast and painless! Don’t let a child struggle with a difficult word. Help them sound it out quickly, and then write it down to work on later together. This one step can make a huge difference in a child’s level of frustration vs. motivation, and improve comprehension in leaps and bounds.
  • Discuss the passage while you read. Don’t wait until the end of a passage to check your child’s comprehension. You may be surprised that your child doesn’t understand a common word, or is so focused on getting the words right that they’re missing the story! Ask questions, laugh together, and make discussion fun.
  • Practice difficult words and patterns with games. Younger and older children benefit from practicing difficult words in a game format. For a demonstration of 5 easy games for reading practice, check out http://readingbydesign.net/?page_id=13512 Make sure you vary your activities day to day, and personalize motivational strategies for your child.

Even when reading time is positive and productive, a child’s progress may be slower than optimal, because of an underlying problem. Some children need specialized materials and specific types of instruction. Here are some of the problems to look out for:

  • Your child struggles to sound out words that have been carefully introduced.
  • Reading is very slow and choppy.
  • Comprehension is consistently poor.
  • Spelling is very poor, accompanied by reading difficulties.
  • Your child has developed a resistance to reading.

If you have attempted to improve reading time but are still seeing any of the above problems, it’s time to ask for help. The good news is that your child can be helped! Children with dyslexia and a wide variety of other problems can become proficient readers who enjoy books; the key is to get help as soon as you recognize the problem is more than you can handle alone.

Quality reading time doesn’t just happen; it takes planning and practice.  If you try these methods and have trouble implementing them, find a qualified specialist! It’s a lot easier to correct reading problems with a young child than to help a child who’s become discouraged and resistant to reading. Sometimes only one or two consultations with a specialist can give you the guidance you need to get your reader back on track.

Cathy Pelzmann, M.S., is a certified reading specialist with a Master’s in special education and 20 years of experience helping gifted, challenged and ESL learners excel. For more information on giving your reader every advantage, her book, How to Teach Your Child to Read: Help When the School Program Doesn’t Work, will be available for purchase on Amazon soon.

By |May 5th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

3 Cheap, Fun, and Highly Beneficial Hobbies for Your Screen-Addicted Kid
If you’re like most parents, the battle to get your child to put down the phone and pick up anything else is never ending. Although there are some educational games and apps with truly beneficial properties out there, most kids would benefit from a fun, educational hobby that doesn’t involve a screen. Here are some that won’t break the bank.
Let Your Kid Play the Guitar
There are few hobbies more beneficial than learning to play a musical instrument.  If your child is committed to becoming proficient at reading music and translating that to an instrument, they will reap lifelong benefits. While professionals pay thousands for an instrument, finding one for a child doesn’t have to be expensive. Check for special sales, coupons and online offers before you head over to Amazon. Try free online-lessons (there are many) before transitioning to professional in-person instruction.
Turn Them Into a Budding Scientist
The benefits of developing a scientific mind at an early age are widely noted. Learning about science piques a child’s curiosity and opens up a whole new world! Once they pick their own educational pathway, STEM fields produce some of the greatest rewards in terms of career choices. Fortunately for you, it’s cheap, easy, and a lot of fun to get your child involved in at-home experimentation. Buying things like telescopes, microscopes, and chemistry sets can become expensive unless you scout for weekly savings and promotions at retailers like Target. You should also look into science starter kits, which will allow your budding scientist to begin their adventure without breaking the bank.
Let Them Play Chef
In the hobby world, it doesn’t get much more convenient and cheap than turning something you already have to do into a fun, educational experience. The family has to eat, and you know that cooking is healthier than ordering take-out. Teaching your kids to cook and/or bake not only gives them a lifetime hobby, but also keeps them fit and healthy.
Make sure you get your kid a great age-appropriate cookbook, or simply look online for free, easy recipes for them to try. If you decide to try cookbooks, you can save some money by using coupons and deals to find great books appropriate for your child. However, if you’re not that much of a chef yourself, one smart way to make cooking fun and easy at the beginning is to invest in a meal kit delivery service like Blue Apron. Your child will receive specific instructions alongside with pre-packaged ingredients. It’s great for the novice chef.
And as the New York Times points out, cooking with your kids has the added benefits of helping to bring you closer together. You share in the successes as well as the failures. Very few things in life are more enjoyable than eating a delicious bite of food that you prepared yourself, and experiencing life’s most pleasant moments with your child is relationship-building.
These hobbies will not only get your kid out from in front of that iPhone or computer screen for a few hours a day, they will also help them learn and practice a skill that will benefit their childhood development and give them something beneficial to do for the rest of their lives.

Jenny Wise created Special Home Educator as a forum for sharing her adventures in homeschooling and connecting with other homeschooling families. She enjoys providing advice to parents who are considering homeschooling their kids.


By |November 11th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments


Educational tips for engaging kids when the weather turns south

If rainy days typically turn outdoor playtime into an indoor television session, it’s time you educate yourself with the various ways to amuse your kids online — social media not included. There are several ways your kids can use technology to their advantage that are as fun as they are educational — for example, a science lesson disguised as a entertaining experiment. It’s a good idea to keep an arsenal of activities on hand for days when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating — especially during a school break when kids have more spare time on their little hands.

Learn How To Code Like A Pro

 Computer programing is a fun yet valuable skill that can potentially aid your child in the future since the tech industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds. There are several online coding courses that teach kids the basics via interactive games and lesson plans to simplify the process and make the information more age appropriate.

Pick Up A Foreign Language

Most European nations have a foreign language requirement in school. Here, we don’t always have that requirement, but that shouldn’t stop you from encouraging your kids to educate themselves at home. Online language courses teach everything from the basics (objects, colors, numbers, food, etc.) to more complex sentence structure. Most lessons provide the opportunity for your child to practice speaking so tone and accent can be corrected. Learning a foreign language can be beneficial in the future from both a career and leisure travel standpoint.

Brush Up On Your History

Statistics prove that American students aren’t grasping history — which is one of the reasons why it can be difficult to have rational discussions about world events. There are several online history courses that cover key historical events throughout the world. Most are geared towards a beginner or intermediate level, so slightly older children and teens are more apt to benefit from these lessons.

Learn To Chill Out With Yoga

 Yoga isn’t reserved for parents alone. In fact, since kids are susceptible to stress from school work and peer pressure, the practice can be helpful in terms of relaxation and stress-reduction — it might even help them sleep better at night. Online, kid-friendly yoga classes teach poses in a way that little ones can understand while making the experience engaging in the process.

Take A Digital Art Class

 Give the crayons and paint brush a rest and enlighten your kids with the myriad of creative possibilities that come with taking a digital art class online, or via an app. Activities include everything from digital-based finger painting, paper doll construction and museum gallery curation.

Enhance Skill Set With A Career-Based Course

 While your kids may be too young to know what career they want to choose, it’s never too early to start learning the various skills associated with different jobs in fields such as medicine, law, and real estate. Not only will they learn about different job functions, but they’ll also pick up valuable life skills in the process. “Real estate is a complex field that requires skills in math, science, English, social studies and home economics,” explains brokerage firm Redfin. By incorporating real estate-based lessons into your curriculum, you can help students gain valuable skills in practical math application, presentation giving, forming a persuasive argument, earth science and so much more.

Staying indoors doesn’t have to be a waste of time. Thanks to technology, finding exciting educational activities is easier. Try mixing things up once in a while so that your kids have a more well-rounded experience.

Jenny Wise created Special Home Educator as a forum for sharing her adventures in homeschooling and connecting with other homeschooling families. She enjoys providing advice to parents who are considering homeschooling their kids.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

By |July 31st, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Beat the Summer Slump: 3 Activities to Help Your Child Read This Coming School Year

Summer is a time of family bonding, celebration, and losing hard-won progress in school. But it doesn’t have to be! Establish summer-fun traditions and routines that help your new reader gain ground instead of losing it. Do some family bonding while reading!

  • Shared Reading.

Pick a book that will interest your child at a reading level they can keep up with, and as you read, enlist their “help” by having them track the text with their finger. Then, stop, and let them take a turn reading to you. Switch back and forth. If a word is difficult, tell them the word and write it down. You can include it in a game later.

This “shared reading” builds fluency and confidence with the written word and helps make time reading together constructive and enjoyable. 

  • Create a movement game.

Children learn better when their bodies, as well as their minds, are engaged. To practice new words and letter patterns, print words in big letters on sheets of paper. Then make a game where your child jumps to the word, or throws a bean bag onto the word as you call it out. Take the time to practice that word in a multi-sensory manner, sounding it out as you trace the letters that stand for each sound or, for words that don’t follow phonics rules, clapping as you spell it.

  • Celebrate progress in a big, visual way.

Create a large chart of the words your child has learned, decorated with pictures of their favorite superhero, cartoon or sports figure. Make a bar graph of how many books you’ve read together. Create a paper-chain with new words, so together you can watch progress as the snake moves across the house all summer long.

Do something so your child can see, in a big, visual way their progress toward becoming a stronger reader. Big, visual reminders are great for pulling in the whole family, and for reminding you that it’s time to read!

Summer never has to be a slump for your reader. If you need more support in helping your child catch up with their peers or pull ahead of the pack this summer, contact Advantage Tutoring. With more than 20 years experience creating effective home learning programs, we’re confident that together we can design a system that empowers your learner to finish this summer stronger than they started.

Cathy Pelzmann is a certified reading specialist with a Master’s degree in Special Education. Her undergraduate degree is in elementary education and she has completed additional graduate work in teaching reading.

By |July 30th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

5 Ways to Help Your Struggling Reader: A Reading Specialist Speaks on Parental Involvement and Strategies for Success

Struggles with reading can cause frustration throughout a child’s school experience, and classroom teachers are often overworked and ill-equipped to help children who are falling below grade-level. As a parent, you are in a unique position to reduce your child’s frustration and provide the support they need.

Here are 5 ways you can help your child overcome reading struggles and become an excellent reader.

Step 1: Find the right materials for your child to read aloud with you. 

Frustration can mount quickly when a child tries to read material that is too difficult. Taking time to struggle and “sound out” words can interrupt the flow of the story. This can demoralize a child and they might not remember what they’re reading about.

How to do it: Make sure the materials you use for practice are at your child’s current reading level. If you’re not sure what that is, talk to their teacher, find a simple online assessment, or check the reading level of a book you know they can already read. It’s easy to check the grade level of a book at www.arbookfind.com.

Quick Tip: When your child stumbles on a word, give them the first sound, or give them the word and let them move on! You can work on sounding out words in games and multi-sensory activities.

Step 2. Use multi-sensory activities to practice decoding. 

Decoding is the ability to look at an unfamiliar word and use phonics (an understanding of the sounds letters stand for) to figure it out.

When you use multi-sensory techniques to practice sounding out a word, you engage more of your child’s brain for deeper understanding and easier memorization of the word—not to mention it’s a lot more fun!

How to do it: Basic multi-sensory practice involves tracing the letters that make up a word while slowly saying each sound. (Tip: make sure not to add extra sounds! For instance, avoid saying “caw” for the letter C instead of just the “ck” sound.) For visual and tactile stimulation, your child could write the words in shaving cream, glitter, rice, or on a screen board! Otherwise, brightly colored markers work well. If you have an iPad or tablet, write the words with the Glow Draw app.

Step 3: Use audio books to increase fluency and inspire a love of reading!

How to do it: Take the time to obtain both the printed and the audio version of a book at or slightly above your child’s reading level—audio books can be somewhat higher than a child’s current reading level because of the support they provide.  Select a story on a topic your child will like.

Play the audio book, and have your child follow along with their finger on the printed version while listening to the narrator. After several paragraphs, stop the audio recording, and have them read back a short passage they just heard. You will hear a much more enthusiastic and fluent version of your child reading!

This list of audio books is arranged by grade level and most are available through your public library: http://readingbydesign.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Appendix-3-3.pdf

Step 4: Use games to constantly vary activities.

Practicing the same, simple words over and over can be dull, so vary the practice day to day with new games to make practice fun. This could be as simple as writing the words on pieces of paper and scattering them on the floor; then have your child jump to them before doing the multi-sensory practice. You can even create a board game to practice with your child!  For directions on creating 6 games: http://readingbydesign.net/?page_id=13512

Work with your child’s interests, and almost anything can become a game: bingo, shoot a basket, play a memory game, do a karate kick. The key is to vary activities, and keep your reading practice as a special, fun time you share together.

Step 5: Is practice a chore? Create a rewards program.
Some children have been struggling with reading for a long time, and a negative attitude has already developed. To create a positive atmosphere for your reading time together, create a rewards program tailored to your child. Finish a page? Get a sticker. Practice your words? Earn points. Tally up points that they can use to get something they want!

The key is to create a positive mood and avoid frustration, so make goals easy to reach. Small rewards can be earned daily. A larger reward can be earned with the point system. Just keep the time frame reasonable. A week is a long time for a child!

As a reading specialist, I work with parents every day to develop individualized programs so they can help their own children in overcoming their challenges and learning to read. From dyslexia to auditory processing disorders to the simpler challenges of childhood, I’ve watched parents make all the difference in helping their children attain reading mastery. You are the number one predictor of reading success. What their teachers and their classroom cannot provide, you can.

By reducing frustration, finding the perfect materials to build mastery, engaging more of the brain and building a positive atmosphere, you can make the difference that lets your child love reading.

Cathy Pelzmann is a certified reading specialist with a Master’s degree in Special Education. Her undergraduate degree is in elementary education and she has completed additional graduate work in teaching reading. Her experience includes over twenty years of teaching students with learning problems and helping families tutor their children at home. 

By |May 27th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments