Reading and phonics

Phonological awareness, that is the ability to match letters and sounds, is something that my son has failed to grasp in his three years of schooling. He excels in other areas of literacy: he has no problem with comprehension and when he has spelling words from school, he mentally “takes a picture” and reads it back in his minds eye to spell it.

My husband is exactly the same. When he comes across a word he doesn’t know he works it out by either shape or context. It has never held him back academically: he graduated with a Physics bachelor degree with honours. This knowledge led me to ask, is there another way to teach my son to read?

My teacher at university, who has extensive experience in special education, told us that some children never learn to break words down into their sounds, that they just memorise them. This was echoed almost word for word by my son’s psychologist.

So should I be teaching him sight words? I figure that school will be teaching the phonics side of things, so it would do no harm to complement this by giving him an arsenal of sight words, right?

Mem Fox, in her book ‘Reading Magic‘ doesn’t think so. She says “It’s more difficult for anyone – especially confused children who are learning to read – to read lists of random words than to read those same words in normal sentences. It’s misguided to ask children to identify lists of random unconnected words.”

So what can we do? A psychology student once told me about a technique called “Paired Reading” (this is also known as “Shared Reading” and is similar to “Whisper Reading“). The main aim of this technique is to read along out loud with the child, and if a child struggles with a word for more than four seconds, you pronounce that word loudly and clearly. There are also comprehension building strategies involved in this technique. This document describes the technique in depth: http://menlons.scoilnet.ie/blog/files/2011/02/Paired-Reading1.pdf

Mem Fox seems to be in agreement. She says “astonishing and ‘soft’ as this may seem, we should tell children many of the words that they can’t read… We need to hurry them along so that their memory isn’t overloaded, so that they can use all the information they’ve picked up so far in the story, as well as using their understanding of print, language and the world to get accurate meaning as they read along. Anything that slows them down is a bad thing.” She also goes on to say, “we need to help beginning readers make rapid progress through a story so that they are able to remember what they’re reading. They’ll then relax, make more sense of the print and eventually, begin to enjoy the story. They will rely less on the single avenue of painfully sounding out words and will make informed guesses more quickly. Finally, they’ll be reading. Eureka! And perhaps for the first time in their lives they will realise that reading has fabulous, real rewards.”

This technique also has the added benefit of bonding time with your child, something that Mem Fox extols fervently.

In Grade 1 my son didn’t even want to touch a book. This technique is reigniting the love of books he had as a toddler and young child, when we used to read together every night. It has increased his self-esteem and confidence, and now he is wanting to attempt more difficult books on his own such as Captain Underpants.

For more information on Paired Reading see http://www.readwritethink.org/professional-development/strategy-guides/using-paired-reading-increase-30952.html


Relaxation Techniques for children

My son’s psychologist recommended a few simple techniques for helping him to relax, which I shall share here.

Hug for 20 seconds, Hugging releases a hormone called oxytocin, often called the “love hormone” which has been “linked to a sense of calmness and wellbeing”*

Deep or slow “belly breathing“. You and your child lie down on your backs with a cushion under your heads, and tell your child to breathe in deeply through their nose until they can feel their belly going up. Then you both breathe out through your mouths, almost blowing the air out in one long breath. They could blow a feather or windmill (pinwheel). See breathing techniques for children for more information. Do this several times building up to five minutes. You or your child may feel a little dizzy or lightheaded after this so make sure you are lying down. Alternatively, if they find this difficult teach them to hold their breath for five seconds and let it out through their mouth as before. Relaxing music may help them slow down and get into the right frame of mind.

For muscle relaxation pretend to be a ragdoll and make your bodies go all limp, or “shake like a dog”, pretending to be a dog and shake as a wet dog would to get dry, shaking all over.

Further reading:



*Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spectrum-theory/201306/the-trust-hormone-how-oxytocin-can-help-treat-autism


Engage becomes EngageKids

Engage is undergoing a slight restructure. It is becoming clear to me in my work in a primary school, that many of the subjects I am writing about, for example executive function, attention, working memory and emotional regulation, can apply to all children as these skills and abilities develop throughout childhood. So I am broadening the scope of the blog beyond just those with autism and ADHD. I shall still be covering subjects relating to ASD and ADHD, such as social, communication, sensory issues, and alertness in addition to the topics mentioned above, as well as sharing strategies.

This blog is now known as EngageKids: a Learning and Wellbeing blog.


For a dedicated ADHD resource see www.engageadhd.org


Why we should focus on children’s emotional intelligence not IQ


English: freedom of expression, Expression of ...

Having a good set of exam results does open doors for many children but it is not the most important thing. Research shows that people high in emotional intelligence do better in the workplace and are happier in their romantic relationships. Some children are born better able to control their emotions than others but that does not mean that you can’t improve your child’s ability to manage their emotions.

So how can you teach your child emotional intelligence?

You can help your child to understand that the way they think about things can change the way they feel. For example, if your child comes home from school and says that George would not play with them today, you might ask them why they think this was. If they say, that they think it is because George doesn’t like them anymore, you can then ask them to think of other possible…

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Feeling is Thinking Group

Engage ADHD

For children who experience difficulty in expressing their strong feelings. This is an initiative of the Royal Children’s Hospital Mental Health Service.

This FREE group aims to provide a safe environment for children to understand, express and manage strong feelings.

For children 8-11.

Every Tuesday during school term 4.00-5.30pm, at Hampton Park Community House, 16-20 Stuart Avenue, Hampton Park VIC 3976.

Bookings essential. Please contact Wayne Lucas 9799 0708 or Heidi Jagd 5945 5000.

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KMG – Kids Mentoring Group

Engage ADHD

Helping kids to enhance their social and emotional wellbeing through a mentoring program. Children can be both individually mentored and/or in a group setting.

This program is designed for children who are in need of friendship and/or support from a special person outside of the family on a regular basis.

Contact Wayne Lucas at wayne@hamptonparkch.com.au or 9799 0708 for more information.

This FREE group is ongoing. For children 6-16.

At Hampton Park Community House, 16-20 Stuart Avenue, Hampton Park VIC 3976.

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