Wednesday, March 1, 2017

BUILDING CONFIDENT READERS {a week of lesson ideas}

I wish it wasn't so, but the truth is learning to read just doesn't come easily to everyone.

For all my older kids, the book 100 Easy Lessons worked pretty well.  It was just a matter of eliminating distractions, putting in about 15 or 20 minutes a day and viola!  Out came a reader.

For my youngest; however, that just wasn't the case.  After spinning my wheels for a while, I realized I needed help.   

I turned to the only reading expert I know, my sister, Dale.  Dale has a lot of practice implementing programs to bring under level readers to level in the classroom; was nominated for Teacher of the Year and now both trains teachers and establishes new schools.  Yep, she's a real smart cookie!   

Dale is the super smart looking one on the right!

Her approach allowed us to make real progress, build confidence and cemented the phonograms I could not previously get to stick. 


Right away when Dale assessed Hailey she let me know that struggling to read has nothing to do with laziness.  When we are frustrated and our kids are frustrated, that can be pretty encouraging to realize. 

The truth is, all of their guesses are real effort, but somewhere along the way something didn't click.  And it was time to get clicking.


With Dale's help we came up with a new plan.  Dale encouraged me to slooooow down.  I don't know about you, but when I feel behind I start rowing faster.  Rowing faster is not what Hailey needed. 

Dale said instead we were going to focus on one sound/ word family/ phonogram sound a week.  And over the year, that slow work has really added up! 

She had me subscribe to Reading A-Z which provides both slowly incrementing Decodable books along with lesson plans and activities. 

This is what one of the books look like printed.  Mine are usually in black and white, this in color business was kind of a fluke, but it looks pretty if you have the ink. 

We've worked our way through from the very earliest books.  I think we started at book two or three.  And they increment very slowly which helps emerging readers.

There are instructions for book assembly at Reading A-Z, but basically you cut the cover and back page, fold the inside pages, staple together and tape over the staples.

Tada.  This weeks book along with the lesson plan and provided cards to reinforce our new sound /x/.


1.  Introduce New Sound

One of the first things on my list is to introduce the new sound and elicit words from my student that have that sound.  Sometimes I help her or give her a 'rhymes with' word, then I write the words we come up with on a white board she can see.

Often the lesson plans from Reading A-Z will also have a list of words, some with the new sound you are working on and some without, and as you read them you can ask your student to listen for the /x/ sound and clap or give a thumbs up if they hear the new sound in the words. 

You could always Google "Word Family -at" for example and do this on your own. 

My sloppy writing.  Some of the words for this sound were from the word cards provided from Reading A-Z.  X is a tough one!  Sometimes I Google Word family and the family we are working on for help.

This is also a great time to do a word family sort.  The cards below are from Reading A-Z and was a printable with the book we are working on.  This activity helps the students to differentiate between the words with the sounds they are learning that day from other word sounds.  

Again, you can create this same thing using 3x5 cards and a Google word search.  If you are working on -at sounds that week, you could Google that word family ("Word Family -at") and "Word Family -op" for example.  You want them to look different enough that sorting the cards won't be too difficult.  Here is a Word Family Chart, but they are easy to find. 

2.  Use manipulatives to make words using the new sound

Each week I type up a homemade Spelling with Stickers worksheet using eight new words and sometimes words from a previous week so that Hailey can use letter stickers to make the words herself.  I usually get these words from the new book or the word cards Reading A-Z provides.  It only takes a few minutes to make but keeps her busy for a while.  Worth it.     

A quick custom worksheet made in Word.  It's not fancy but it works.  Behind my worksheet a Reading A-Z worksheet.

Stickers from the Walmart craft area and letter sorter purchased in the Walmart jewelry department.  Sorting letters is the kind of job I do at night, but you could solicit an older kiddo to do it.  

While Hailey works on Spelling with Stickers  I can cut out the other resources for the week and tuck them in my reading box. 

Once Hailey is done, we read the sticker words together.  Then I save the sticker words for a later activity (Rainbow Roll).    

Next, I will have her go through her new book and underline words with the new sound.

3.  Read the Book

At the earliest levels, I might read the book to Hailey for the first go through and talk with her about the pictures.  As her reading got stronger, I would read the first sentence on the page and she would read the next. 

And that is the end of day 1. 

The plan for Days 2-4 are basically the same steps, but if you are like me, I want to see photos of how each step is done.  Once you read day 2 you can skip ahead to the printable cheat sheet and resource links at the end of this post or you can hang in for the nitty-gritty details!

1.  Reinforce the New Sound using Manipulatives

One of the first things I do on day two is to work with the new sound to reinforce it.  Usually there is a learning mat and letters to print with each lesson (remember the cutting out on day 1?).  Using these along with the word cards or the words from the Spelling with Stickers sheet used the day before, Hailey can create new words.

You could easily use magnetic letters, Banagram letters or other letters you have on hand to try this. 

I have her spell the words from the word cards and then we sound each one out. 

The Learning mat and related letter cards are usually with each new decodable book at Reading A-Z.

2.  Reinforce the New Sound using a Word Work Activity

I choose another Word Work Activity to reinforce the new sound.  If I have at least two Spelling with Stickers pages done (these have 8 words each), I can choose to have Hailey work on Rainbow Roll (which has 16 slots).  Worksheets can be purchased along with the entire Word Work package I use at Teachers Pay Teachers. 

If you want to make your own activities, the book Words Their Way has a lot of ideas for games and other ways to Work with Words.  You can also search "Words Their Way" on the Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) site.  I started with Words Their Way and was making my own board games, but over time I fell into using things already created for speed (shown below). 

Using Rainbow Roll, students roll a dice, then write their word in the color they roll.  You could chose to have them write the words in lowercase, but I'm ok with doing some of both.

My Rainbow Roll supplies tucked into a $1 Pencil holder from Dollar Tree and in the Word Work May Do Box.

My Word Work boxes.  I love, love, love these locking boxes from Walmart.  They are just $3.88 and keep all of my reading tools handy and compact.

 3.  Read the Book

 Usually on day 2, Hailey will slowly read through the book herself.  If that seems too much you could try reading the first sentence on the page and letting your student read the next. 

And that is the end of day 2. 


1.  Reinforce the New Sound using Manipulatives

This is where you can choose to do something your kiddo enjoys.  Some options would include the Reading A-Z word mat with letters pictured above, Banagram letters, Magnetic letters, listening for their new sound in a poem or string of words and clapping- the choice is yours!

Using magnet letters, salt box writing, pipe cleaner letters, play-doh letter cut outs, letter beads- you name it.  Choose a hands on activity to reinforce their new sound and words. 

2.  Reinforce the New Sound using another Word Work Activity

This is another easy to prep Word Work activity, called Squiggle Spelling (again, these are all in one very inexpensive, printable package at TPT) which I keep tucked in my "May Do" box for the week. 

It's a little hard to see, but we are getting more milage from the Reading A-Z word cards for the week.  Hailey uses them to fill in a new word for each shape. 

 3.  Read the Book Independently

By day 2 or 3 the student usually feels confident to read the book independently.  It may be slow but it will continue to speed up each day.

And that is the end of day 3. 


1.  Reinforce the New Sound using Manipulatives



2.  Reinforce the New Sound using another Word Work Activity

The title ghost words is silly but the fun of this activity is the kids write their words using a white crayon, then colors over it with a marker.  The same technique as paint resist applies here. 

3.  Read the Book Independently

And that is the end of day 4. 


Read, Read, Read!  This is the day we read the weekly book, then pull a book or two we have mastered and read those to Mama or a sibling.  Kids earn tickets if they read to a sibling-  the reader gets a ticket and the patient listener get a ticket because I want to encourage that process!  And see how I just bought myself some time?    


Hailey's school cart has an "I Can Read" section filled with books she's mastered!  I plan to show you the kids school drawers again soon so you can see what we are using for the youngers.

Pep Talk
Chances are if you have a struggling reader, they are a bit emotionally exhausted with trying.  And just as likely, you are too.  When we are feeling blah about school work I often talk to my kiddos about stamina.  I remind them that people don't buy running shoes then go sign up for a 10K race, but if they work little by little the hard will get easier and easier because they are building stamina.  I encourage them that reading is the same way, if we work, what's hard today won't be hard later! 

Pros and Cons of Reading A-Z

  • The books increase in difficulty very slowly so the student feels successful (finally!  Even leveled library books jump too fast, right?)
  • The pictures relate to the words which is really helpful for emerging readers
  • Each new sound and book comes with a lesson plan and activities so you are not trying to come up with lesson plans yourself-  hooray!
  • There are actually a ton of other books for all level of students available with a subscription.  We are about to move into the leveled books (I'll keep you posted) and they are all right there!   

  • The subscription is $100. for the year.  It's expensive but honestly I was desperate enough to fork over the money and I feel like it was totally worth it.  Because it's really geared for a classroom (20+ students per license), I'd feel fine about families going in together or you could plan to print and binder all the lessons and use them again and again with the kiddos that will come afterward.  A big binder filled with lots of page protectors and dividers (just  found them for 47 cents a package at Walmart) and you've created your own reading program you can use for multiple kids.   
  • You need to print resources and assemble the books- this wasn't a huge issue for me but for some people it might feel like it's a negative


Resource Links
Reading A-Z Decodable Books (with Lesson Plans)
Word Work Activities from Teachers Pay Teachers
Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT Store)- tons of lessons and activities at inexpensive prices made by teachers. 

As always, Leading Little Hearts Home does not take funds from vendors or sponsors.

Printable Cheat Sheet
Here is a link for a one page summary of the sequence we are following.  I love having a cheat sheet close by.   

Reading Sequence

What's working for you?  Want to see more Word Work activities or hear about how to assess readers?  Let me know!


Rebecca Jones is a believer on Christ, passionate about God's Word and applying it to life.  She and her High School sweetheart have been married for 25 years and have 5 daughters (yes 5!).  Rebecca has a degree in Marketing, has been home educating for 15 years and writing since 2008.  Her oldest daughter is presently attending a Christian college while the other 4 daughters continue to school at home. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS! {read aloud time}

Who doesn't love reading aloud as a part of their Language Arts program?  While you could certainly find the research to prove the benefits of reading aloud-- such as increased vocabulary, increased attention span and child to parent bonding the truth is, it's also just plain fun

The shared experience of reading aloud allows parents to help their child grapple with difficult issues in an engaging and meaningful way.  I mean you could lecture someone on peer pressure or you could share a story that demonstrates the consequences of peer pressure and talk it through.  Of course, parents are the best judges of when and what content is appropriate for their child so please filter any book recommendation (here or anywhere) through your own grid of what is right for you. 

One of our most recent read alouds was
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell.  It's a fun story about a group of boys that come up with a bet that puts Billy in the uncomfortable position of having to eat fifteen worms in fifteen days (yuck!).  The worms are supplied by his opponent, whose motto is "The bigger and juicier, the better!" At first Billy's problem is whether or not he can swallow the worm placed before him, but later when it looks as if Billy will win, his opponents try to utilize other tactics to keep Billy from success.  You are in suspense until the end, never knowing if Billy will make it through this gastronomical ordeal!   

Some of the topics the story brought up:  Telling your parents when you are in a tough spot, peer pressure and making bets, fairness, cheating and more.   

And I just couldn't resist feeding the girls "dirt and worms" while we read this one!  Too fun.     

What are some of your favorite read alouds?


Rebecca Jones is a believer on Christ, passionate about God's Word and applying it to life.  She and her High School sweetheart have been married for 25 years and have 5 daughters (yes 5!).  Rebecca has a degree in Marketing, has been home educating for 15 years and writing since 2008.  Her oldest daughter is presently attending a Christian college while the other 4 daughters continue to school at home. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


I love using tangibles when teaching, so when I came across this persuasive writing assignment using Oreos, I knew it was one I wanted to do with the kids and share it with you!

This is not an original idea, so you will find a lot of free helps with this lesson simply by searching "oreo persuasive writing" but here's what I did.  

First, I started by explaining why we use persuasive writing to my kiddos and sharing how OREO can help us clearly structure an opinion essay.  I just typed up the following for myself in Publisher to be ready to explain the idea. 

I also made a super quick poster board for a visual to have on our school table.  Remember that as a homeschool mom tri fold poster boards are your friends!  I am a huge investor in poster boards (Walmart, white foam $7). 

Visuals (maps, timelines, new lessons) are incredibly helpful tools, but at the end of the day or the week I don't want to live in a classroom, so poster boards are my thing.  I can set up my classroom visuals in minutes and then tuck them away when I don't need them.  I even take lessons off of the poster boards and reuse them.  They are my temporary walls and truly keep me sane.  A small price to pay!

Ok, so back to the lesson.  The idea is this: 

OREO-  The two O's stand for your opinion stated at the beginning and end sandwiching the R's and E's (Reason and Example "stuff" inside).  

I found this premade Opinion writing form that I thought was great and I just copied it into a document and printed a copy for each kid. 

What I love about this fill in form is that the kids can use this to lay out their opinion and supporting arguments with very little work and then when they bring it to me it is all right there so we can discuss if their thoughts need a little adjusting before they write out their essay.  I was looking for clear statements at the beginning of each paragraph (their R- Reason) and then that their  supporting sentences (their E- Examples) really tied to the idea they had stated (provided the "stuff"). 

Below is a super sloppy working outline to show how we used the fill in form. We wrote down ideas, crossed some out, moved others to places where they better supported their subject sentence and so on before they wrote their essays.   

It really tightened up their writing and made them far more articulate than if I had just assigned them the task of writing an essay without this step.   


Let's face it, writing is practically impossible if you don't know what to write about and I didn't want to see the kids staring out into space for 20 minutes, so I decided to have the kids pick a famous American that we already read about for their subject and explain why they felt they had played an important role in history.  They could go back and look at their books to grab some of their reasons.  Easy peasy.   

Just as a side note, I love these "Who Was" books.  They are a great length and provide just enough information about a person of interest to be engaging for all ages.  This year we have read a stack of these and have more in the wings that we are going to tackle.  They are pretty fast so they make a great once a week read aloud during the morning.  We usually tackle a Famous American each Monday.  Older kids who have had their appetites whetted can grab more books on this person during our weekly library trip.    

I loved that this lesson can be easily adjusted for any age.  While High schoolers will write longer and meatier essays, the format is the same for everyone. 

Once the outlines were done, the kids wrote out their essays.  You can always make this a multiple day lesson and have students type out their essays (a great skill for anyone above 3rd grade) but I was happy with the handwritten content for now.  

Elementary (5th Grade) sample with corrections.  The paper is still not perfect but has met my objectives for our lesson.   

Overall the kids had fun eating Oreos and working with these tools.  And I was happy with the outcome.

Hope you enjoy!


Rebecca Jones is a believer on Christ, passionate about God's Word and applying it to life.  She and her High School sweetheart have been married for 25 years and have 5 daughters (yes 5!).  Rebecca has a degree in Marketing, has been home educating for 15 years and writing since 2008.  Her oldest daughter is presently attending a Christian college while the other 4 daughters continue to school at home. 


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

CHOOSING JOY {and kicking worry to the curb}

Joy is the serious business of heaven.
  ~ C. S. Lewis  

Joy may be the serious business of heaven, but it's also the serious business of kids. 
Children have this amazing tunnel vision, like blinders on a horse, that block so much of what could be heavy from their sight. 
This December Tom's business brought us down south to Los Angeles and Santa Monica the week before Christmas (crazy timing!).  And I have to say that what made our time so enjoyable was watching our children experience joy.   
While they were excitedly putting their hands in the handprints of Bing Crosby in front of Grumman's Chinese Theater, I was of course panicking on the inside about germs and kidnappers.  And while they were being tussled and splashed by waves at the beach, I was counting heads, fretting about drowning and sharks (don't worry, it was a dolphin!).  Ya, I'm a real blast at parties too.  
As moms some worry is just going to be carried on our shoulders so our kids can be kids- and that's a good thing, but studies have shown that most of our worries are simply baseless. 
The truth is, where people wrote down their worries over a two week period, not only did the things people worry about not happen, but 85% of the time what actually happened was positive instead!
In other words, we worry most about things that won't ever be a problem.  And that can be a problem.  Worry is a joy stealer.  It's time to pay attention to when we worry and if it's not productive stuff, kick it to the curb!   
We worry about the news, the elections, what will happen now that the elections are over, what people think of us and so on only to arrive later to find that none of the terrible things we fretted about happened at all but we had wasted moments that could have been joyful. 
God says worry won't change a thing- at least it won't change things for the good (Psalm 37:1-11).

But joy.  Joy is an amazing force.  Joy comes from focusing on what God has done and is doing.  It's being grateful for the specific things God has sovereignly placed in our journey (writing them down is a great idea!).  Joy comes from keeping our eyes on Christ and trusting Him for the future.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.  -John 15:11
That doesn't mean we will always feel joyful- it can be a real job to analyze and refocus our thoughts!  But making joy the business of our homes will help us to experience little slivers of heaven here on earth.  Cultivating joy is like taping the fountain of youth.  I can only imagine how it makes our Heavenly Father feel to see us resting in His care and doing cartwheels in our hearts over the blessings He has given us.      
In our home we have tried different things to encourage our hearts toward joy.  One thing we did last winter was create a big "Gratitude Attitude" poster board where we each wrote down one thing a day we were grateful for.  People remember what they do (write, say etc.) so this was a good way to choose joy and kick worry to the curb for us.  I think I'm ready to do this again!  What are some ways you choose joy in your home? 
It's the simple stuff that we sometimes forget: "...warm air in our home, Lydia's help finding puppy, humor, a mom and dad that love us, sunshine, our church, sleep..."
I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds.  -Psalm 77:12 

Rebecca Jones is a believer on Christ, passionate about God's Word and applying it to life.  She and her High School sweetheart have been married for 25 years and have 5 daughters (yes 5!).  Rebecca has a degree in Marketing, has been home educating for 15 years and writing since 2008.  Her oldest daughter is presently attending a Christian college while the other 4 daughters continue to school at home. 



Tuesday, January 3, 2017


While searching for our snow clothes last week, I bumped into our old house plans.  We’ve lived in the home my husband built for 10 years now, but until we got here these plans were the only indication that this flat land surrounded by eucalyptus trees was going to sprout a house someday.  

I remember those plans being rolled and unrolled over and over as my husband would talk to my uncles about the home he was going to build for us.  Having built homes before my uncles had a much better vision of the future house than I did.  They talked through the details and I poured the coffee but the plans always just looked like blue lines and an almost impossible amount of work to me. 

And it was a crazy amount of work.  Even while we were framing or installing insulation into what would someday be walls, the house didn’t take shape for me.  It still seemed like just a small box and I had no real sense of the size or wall height. 

But we had a kind of faith we worked by.  We believed two things.  First, we believed we were called to this place.  We had prayed and felt God lead us to this land.  That really helped us to keep going when the road got hard.  And secondly, we believed that that if we stuck to the plan, regardless of how painful, in the end we would move into our new home.  Which I guess was really a faith in the architect since we had never built a house before.   

For me, 2016 was a tough year.  There were stresses and discouragements that I really didn’t want to go through and as the new year approached I had a secret hope that trials know to follow calendar years and will now vamoose!  But through the difficulty, God keeps reminding me of this verse:       

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11

Can’t you almost imagine God rolling and unrolling His blueprint for your future when He says this?  He is the Master Architect.  And even though we’ve never done this life thing before, He has.  He knows the plans He has for us and they are good!  His plans are to prosper you and to give you a future and a hope. 

So how do we walk by faith in the hard times?  First, if we’ve prayed and allowed God to lead us to where we are, we have to hang on to that truth.  It will get us through the rough spots.  So many times when we hit a hard patch in our marriages, finances, relationships and so on we think that if things are hard, we must be on the wrong road!  But that just isn’t biblical (check out how Paul felt in 2 Cor. 7:5-6!)  If you don’t think you have prayed and been led to where you are, pray now and ask for wisdom.  God loves that and He will lead you.         

And secondly, we hang onto faith in the Architect.  He has a plan.  As we live in His Word and trust Him through the difficulties that come to all of us, we endure.  And while “just endure it” isn’t going to be the top slogan for Nike or companies that value self-achievement anytime soon, enduring has its place in the lives of God’s people.  It’s the grit of real that holds still and doesn’t lose ground.   Jesus despised the shame of the cross but He endured it (Hebrews 12:2).     

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”  James 1:12

God has a plan for whatever is happening today.  Regardless of how it feels, the Master Architect is right there doing a good work in you! 


Rebecca Jones is a believer on Christ, passionate about God's Word and applying it to life.  She and her High School sweetheart have been married for 25 years and have 5 daughters (yes 5!).  Rebecca has a degree in Marketing, has been home educating for 15 years and writing since 2008.  Her oldest daughter is presently attending a Christian college while the other 4 daughters continue to school at home.