Summer Learning Together

Image Credit: Today’s Parent

A fantastic way to help your child build the background knowledge and vocabulary they need to succeed as a reader is to learn together.  As a family, you can use the summer months to explore your child’s interests more deeply than you might be able to during the rush of the school year.  Here are some places we look for inspiration:

Podcasts are our kids’ favorite ways to learn more when we are on the go!  Check out these podcasts that will engage and inform your child.  Brains On! from American Public Media is great for the curious family.  With episodes about science, nature, and history there is something for everyone.  Adults and children love Brains On!  If you are looking for something bite-sized, try their new spin-off, Moment of Um.  If your family is interested in history, check out Forever Ago.  I can’t wait to listen to the latest episode, Mac and Cheese: From “What’s in these?” to “Yes, please!”

Wonderopolis provides a Wonder of the Day.  Today’s Wonder #1009  Do Starfish Glow in the Dark?  includes written text that can be accessed using the Immersive Reader link.  There is also a writing prompt, a craft, and a link to a National Geographic video Sunflower Seastar.  Wonderopolis is searchable by topic so that you can find Wonders of interest to your family.  I will provide a link to the Wonder of the Day on my website, so check back often.

The Who Was Show on Netflix is great for older kids.  This live action comedy sketch show brings famous names from world history to life including Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Louis Armstrong, and others.  Giving children a peek into topics they will be exposed to in the future can be really powerful.

Audiobooks from your local library or Audible can be a parent’s best friend when traveling by car, train, or plane.  They are a great bridge to grade-level (and beyond) content learning for striving readers, too.  Check out audiobooks set in the place you are headed or around summer themes such as the beach or sea animals to add to learn about your destination.  A great choice if you are heading to the beach is the Mary Alice Monroe series The Islanders and Search for Treasure.  We have a family book club using The Islanders this summer. Nonfiction series I recommend are the National Geographic Readers Series available on Epic! with a Read to Me feature, or at your local library in hard copy or as eBooks.  I haven’t found anything else of this quality in all the years I have been teaching!

Did you know that many eBooks have an Immersive Reading feature?  Your child can read the book while listening if the book has this function.  This can be especially engaging on the Kindle Fire using an Audible book and the companion eBook.  Be sure to download eBooks with the Whispersync feature. Read more here: Whispersync for Kindle.

It is really a challenge to identify books for the earliest readers that are about “real” things.  One wonderful source is Half-Pint Readers, a free source for online books grouped by decoding skills.  Each skill has a theme, such as Forest Fun or Digging Up Dinosaurs. These simple books are wonderful practice for striving readers.  I would recommend reading each theme in order to build background knowledge sequentially.

Remember, building background knowledge and vocabulary is essential for our striving readers to progress.  Conversations about what your child is reading and learning can flow naturally during your summer adventures.  Enjoy the journey with your readers!

Learning to Read Is an Equity Issue

As NYC Mayor Eric Adams has shared publicly, he struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia until he was in college. He was the “D for dumb” student whose mother encouraged his efforts but had no idea of the nature of his struggles.

(Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Now, as Mayor, Mr. Adams has championed dyslexia screening for nearly all NYC students. The mayor’s plan calls for all district reading instruction in grades K-2 to be phonics-based, explicitly teaching the 44 unique sounds in the English language known as phonemes. It also calls for providing additional reading instruction to any students identified in the screening as having a reading disability. Other states, such as Mississipi and Tennessee, have already moved to require phonics instruction. See more about Mayor Adams’ story in this New York Times article: How Eric Adams’s Struggle with Dyslexia is Shaping His Mayoralty.

The movement to teach ALL students with a phonics-based approach is one of equity. Why not use the approach that we know is effective for 95% of children rather than let up to half of our students fall behind in reading by Grade 3, as in New York?

Please join a local movement such as your state chapter of the International Dyslexia Association to make your voice heard. And if your child has fallen behind in reading, don’t wait to catch them up! Contact me for more information about private tutoring, which has been shown to improve students’ reading by one grade level (or more) in 12 weeks. Click the link below now!

We Put Relationships First!

Great teachers not only meet students’ educational needs. By building positive relationships with students, teachers also meet students’ needs for safety, security, love, and belonging. Students whose needs are met in these areas develop positive self-esteem and grow as learners and community members.

Do you know of a teacher who puts relationships first? Please take a moment at the close of this school year to let them know how much you appreciate them and encourage your child to do so too!

Are you looking for a tutor for summer or fall? At Sand Dollar Tutoring, we put relationships first!

Prevent the Summer Slide!

Even just 2-3 hours a week of quality instruction can prevent the Summer Slide! Evidence-based reading instruction using Orton-Gillingham or Reading Simplified methods can not only prevent the summer slide, but they can accelerate your child’s growth over the summer months. The key is to connect with an instructor who is well-qualified and who also is a good fit for your child. Looking for someone who is experienced, compassionate, and committed to helping your child accelerate their learning over the summer? To find out more, click below.

Structured Literacy or Balanced Literacy?

classroom reading group
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

I am a nerd! For fun I read about The Science of Reading. Seriously!?!

Today I spent an hour with Comparing Reading Research to Program Design: An Examination of Teachers College Units of Study. In graduate school, we were all about Lucy Calkins Units of Study (see this New York Times article) and exposing kids to great books and getting them to LOVE reading. But how many kids weren’t learning to read? More than half in my district, and even more as I moved to a special education classroom.

The article discusses what we know about how students learn to read based on the Science of Reading. The authors argue that this widely used reading program fails to give our students the skills they need to make meaning of what they read. Especially lacking is explicit instruction and practice in systematic phonics instruction including phonemic awareness and letter-sound correspondence.

Don’t misunderstand me … I love sharing good books with children! But my job is to teach students how to make meaning of these books on their own. By providing quality instruction using programs based on the Science of Reading – such as IMSE Orton Gillingham or Reading Simplified – and supporting students’ accuracy, fluency, and vocabulary development, I can help your child to become a successful, independent reader.

The Science of Reading is Real!

Brain Activity During Reading,

We now know so much about how children learn to read that we didn’t know when we were in school! Using brain imaging, scientists can see what parts of a child’s brain are activated when reading. Children who learn to read easily build pathways for memory of sounds, letters, words, and comprehension. Children who struggle to read have a more difficult time building these pathways. Researchers have shown that children can train their brains for reading success when teachers use Structured Literacy methods.

What’s the best way to teach kids with dyslexia how to read? The most helpful approach is called structured literacy. This way of teaching reading is:

Systematic: Reading skills are taught in a logical order. Kids have to master the basics before moving on to more complex skills.

Explicit: Teaching is clear and direct. There’s no guesswork.

Diagnostic: Teachers constantly assess students to make sure they’re mastering concepts before moving on. Instruction is individualized.

You can help your child succeed by engaging with a tutor trained in Structured Literacy using a quality method such as Orton-Gillingham or Reading Simplified. Be sure to ask what training your tutor has had, how the sessions will be structured, and how your child’s progress will be measured!