hands-on history: ancient mesopotamia – sumer

As we wade through history, I’m doing my best at a regional/chronological progression—a bit like a mastery-spiral approach.  I’m attempting to spend several lessons exploring one particular period of a culture, then circling around to see what surrounding cultures were doing at the same time.  After we circle around a region for a while, touching on the same cultures again and again over time, we can take a break to jump to far-flung regions of the world and see how they were developing during the same time span.  It sounds logical, right?  Well, we’ll see how it goes.

After learning about prehistoric humans and the transition to farming and city life, we moved on to study ancient Sumer.  Here were the highlights of our study:

  • Overview
    • We got an overview of Sumerian life and historic contributions by reading in our Usborne Ancient History Encyclopedia.  This University of Chicago interactive website also provides a fun look at life in Ancient Mesopotamia and how archaeologists work.
    • We did some map work and pondered the many contributions of Sumerians using this mom-made worksheet: First Civilization -Sumer.
    • We read Ludmila Zeman’s illustrated version of Gilgamesh to get a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of folks in ancient Sumer.
  • Ziggurats
    Our ziggurats were very colorful!

    Our ziggurats were very colorful!

    • We did some ziggurat research and reading, primarily by wandering around this website.
    • We pondered ziggurat construction using wooden blocks to show how a ziggurat looked.  We also talked about how cities gradually became raised tells (or tels, as I always saw it before now).
    • We made our own ziggurats out of card stock. If you want to do the same, you’ll need some graduated squares.  (I used my paper cutter to make squares of 8, 6, 4, and 2 inches.  You’ll need to use two sheets of standard-size paper.)  Your budding ruler-user can make a line ¾ inch from the edge of each side.  You’ll slit each corner and fold on the lines to make a ¾ inch high square platform.  (You may want to make your top layer only ½ inch high–like the one on the left–to make the folding easier.)  My kids chose to decorate their papers first—colorful ziggurats are much more exciting.  We simply used tape to hold the corners together and secure one layer to the next.  If you wanted to be really detailed you could add a pair of stair-stringers–only upside-down, fitted into the steps of the ziggurat–with a piece across them to create a ramp on which to draw a gazillion tiny steps going up the side.
  • Cuneiform
    • We read about cuneiform. I did a bunch of cuneiform research and condensed my findings into kid-sized bites.  (You can enjoy the fruit of my labor via the link below this section.)  For our first round, we read about cuneiform and inspected the examples of how it changed over time.
    • The kids thought it was pretty fun to translate the cuneiform message.

      The kids thought it was pretty fun to translate the cuneiform message.

      We translated cuneiform. I used a cuneiform-style alphabet I found online (on this teacher’s blog) to make a page for the kids to decode.  (This is also included in the PDF packet linked below.  The message reads: “Cuneiform means wedge shaped.  The Sumerians invented writing.”)  To make this a bit simpler because my kids are young, I had each of them decode half of the message.  They thought they were pretty cool, “translating” cuneiform symbols to read the message.

    • We wrote our own cuneiform. Using the cuneiform alphabet sheet from the last activity, each of the kids wrote their name in cuneiform.  Then I had each of them pick three words to depict, creating their own cuneiform-style symbols.  They drew a simple image for each word, changed it to all lines and wedges, turned it sideways, and further simplified it, imitating the real changes to cuneiform writing.  (The worksheet we used is also included in the link below.)
    • Our finished clay tablets and our very-authentic-looking stylus

      Our finished clay tablets and our very-authentic-looking stylus

      We made clay tablets. I was going to have the kids dig up clay in the yard for uber-authenticity, but it happened to be thunderstorming when we got to this lesson, so thankfully I had air-dry clay as a backup.  Since we were also unable to look for sticks to use as styluses, I substituted those no-roll triangle-shaped crayons, which worked respectably.  Each kid chose one or two cuneiform symbols to inscribe on their clay tablet.  It’s harder than it looks to get those lines and wedges—the kids had a hard time remembering to make sure the point of the crayon was down rather than the flat side and understanding how to press the crayon down to make a line without squashing the whole crayon into the clay.  They practiced once or twice before making the final product.

Here’s a PDF of my packet for Cuneiform–background reading, translation, and invention.


how i became an accidental homeschooler

I homeschool my kids.  I still cringe to say it, still word it as “teaching them myself” or grimace apologetically when people ask where my kids go to school.  The area in which I grew up–where we lived until recently–was NOT a homeschool-friendly community.  Despite having been homeschooled myself in third and eighth grade (and loving it–though my mom didn’t dare do it long-term), I still shared that negative view of “weird homeschoolers.”  And then I became one.

How, you may wonder, does one unsuspectingly turn into a homeschooler?  Well, here’s our story, for what it’s worth.

The agony began early, when Peatie was three and folks started questioning why he wasn’t in preschool.  (He has a fall birthday and he’s tall, so people thought he should have been in school before he actually could have been.)  At that point, we took the time to peruse preschool options, ultimately deciding to invest no more than a year in preschool.  You can read about that agony in this post from 2012.

Just after his fourth birthday, Peatie was standing in the laundry room while I loaded the washer.  “Mommy, what’s wol?” he asked, pointing to the word “low” on the dryer–which he had just sounded out, backwards, but completely unprompted.  In addition, Peatie was very curious about numbers, and he had begun making up his own simple story problems in play.  At that point, a new conversation arrived in our household: what do we do with a child who’s developing basic reading and number skills all on his own a year-and-a-half before kindergarten?

At the same time, I began hearing stories from parents of the first wave of full-day kindergarteners.  Their kids were coming home tired and cranky.  They needed alone time and play time, but they were given an hour of homework each night.  Teachers informed the parents, “Your child WILL read by Thanksgiving!” without regard for individual readiness.  Children who had begun reading and loving it were quickly burnt out by the boring required reading they were assigned.  Classrooms had no toys, and children spent most of the day doing seatwork; the only recess was combined with lunchtime.

Still, the parents encouraged me to put my kids in preschool.  “If your child doesn’t know how to sit quietly and work on worksheets, he’s not going to do well.  They’ll make him sit out of the special classes like gym and art.”

I began to have misgivings.  Peatie showed every indication of sharing his father’s inattentive-type ADHD; potential academic boredom mixed with a full day of seatwork surrounded by over-stimulating decorations and two dozen wiggling peers would probably not produce a positive experience for him.

In the midst of this mental agony, I had a couple moms approach me and say, “So, I hear you’re homeschooling.”  They took me completely by surprise, and I denied the accusation.  I was in no way homeschooling; I was merely not sending my kids to preschool.  We did nothing remotely resembling schooling at our home.

But the seed was planted.  As ‘Love and I continued to agonize, the idea of homeschooling kept coming up.  I checked out several homeschooling books from the library and began looking for information online.  After a lot of reading and researching and pondering, I was sold on the idea–at least for the younger years.  ‘Love was still unconvinced.  Having never experienced homeschooling himself, he had no positive associations to combat the negative ones.  He did agree, however, that we could see how the kids progressed during Peatie’s final “preschool” year and even do a trial year of homeschool in kindergarten.

That was two years ago.  At this point, Peatie would be finishing public kindergarten and Goobie would be ending her preschool career.  In the past two years, ‘Love has become wholeheartedly enthusiastic about homeschooling.  That’s not to say we will never consider sending our kids to school, but for our family at this time, homeschooling is definitely proving to be the best option.

In the past two years, I’ve added dozens of other reasons for loving homeschooling to my once-short list.  Those, however, I’ll save for another day.

waves of uncertainty

Do you ever worry that you’re messing your kids up for life?  You do?  All the time?  Oh, good–then I’m not alone.

Parenting, I feel, is a tenuous balancing act: loving a child where they’re at while encouraging them to continue growing.  Finding areas where growth is necessary is easy; finding the balance between loving and leading is the tough part of this neverending task.

My three-year-old is a shouter.  I’m not sure if it’s because he’s a youngest and he had to be loud to get my attention as a tot, or if it’s just something in his genes.  He’s also strong-willed, temperamental, and the world’s pickiest eater.  How do I choose my battles?  (And how do I stay consistent when it is absolutely exhausting to say, “No, we don’t shout at people.  How can you say that nicely?” three hundred fifty gazillion times a day.)

My five-year-old is a pest.  She can be sweet and generous, but she often prefers to push her brothers’ buttons, test any boundaries I set, and feign ignorance when confronted with her poor choices.  She’s also a “box-checker”, enjoying the feeling of having completed something no matter how poorly it was done–no matter whether the task is one she chooses and enjoys or one she is assigned.  Scribbled a stick figure?  Picture done.  Ran the rag over one corner of the table?  Table wiped.

My six-year-old is the king of excuses and cluelessness.  He’s never at fault for anything that goes wrong (“I can’t help it that he walked past when I was swinging that truck around in the living room!”), he always has a reason why he can’t do as you ask, and his absentminded craziness is enough to drive anyone insane.  (Me: “For the third time, would you QUIT threading pepperoni on your fingers and just EAT YOUR PIZZA!”  Peatie: [looking surprisedly at his fingers] “Huh?”)

The other problem with this balancing act is that it’s never-ending.  If we’ve finally found a way to help our children gain ground on one of their weak points, another ugly habit rears its head.  We move from phases of tantrums to back-talk, public muteness to public rudeness, picky eating to disgusting eating.  Anyone?  And I wonder, “What have I done wrong?  Are my children always going to move from one poor behavior to the next?  Will they ever turn out to be capable, responsible, compassionate adults?”  What’s a parent to do?

No answers this time.  I just pray hard and try to get to bed earlier so I have more patience.  (Not that it’s working so well…)

hands-on prehistory

In studying history with my young kids, I decided to start with the earliest people.  Stone Age people offered lots of opportunities for hands-on study, which is just what I wanted for history in the early elementary years.  In case you’re looking for ideas, here are our highlights:


  • Introduction and Overview
    I generated my own 11-page Wall Timeline for the longest wall I had available in our work area. Though I would love to have all years equal in order to show a more accurate perspective on time, it just isn’t practical.  To highlight my scale changes, I used different colors on my timeline for each period.  I then explained to my kids that studying history is like studying the world around us:  things that are near us look much bigger and more detailed than those that are far away, even though we know that if we were to go far away, things would have the same dimensions and level of detail.
  • Timelines and Scales
    We made a few of our own timelines—for our day, for our week, for our lives—in order to see how and why you would change the scale of your timeline, and how the scale and scope also determine the types of events you would include.
  • Learning about the Past
    Pondering timelines led to a discussion of how we know about history, why we know more about recent years than the ancient past, and what sorts of things we know about the past. At this point, we were ready to dive in…

Art History: Cave Paintings

  • Part 1: Ponder and copy images. Try to recreate the way in which animals were drawn primarily using one long curving stroke from the nose all the way to the hind foot.  Look at a map to see where cave paintings have been found.
  • CavePaintings

    The mud-paint was not only less disgusting to create and work with, it also resulted in a bolder and brighter image.

    Part 2: Consider how paints were made. Folks in the know believe that ancient humans may have first tried paints made of berries and other biomass; when these were found to fade and disintegrate with time, alternatives were sought.  Try making your own paint.  We tried chewing and spitting strawberries and blueberries (yuck!) and also mixed our spit with some red dirt we’d collected.  (My husband questioned this, but I argued that it was a less disgusting binder than urine and less messy than animal fat.)  The saliva worked really well to make a sticky paint—and it seems to last!  We tried the spitting technique to make handprints (both directly from our mouths and from straws dipped in our “paint”) but that didn’t work for us.  We had more success with our fingers and with makeshift stick-paintbrushes.

  • Part 3: Try your technique in a cave. This part was most exciting for us.  I used various plastic totes, pieces of cardboard, and furniture—all covered with blankets—to turn our master bedroom into a maze-like cave.  (After all, many cave paintings have been found in hard-to-reach locations deep inside caves.)  The kids had to crawl behind the loveseat, squeeze through the shelves of a bookshelf, slither under the bed, and finally climb over a half-wall and wade through a flooded cavern (our garden tub with an inch of water in the bottom), encountering obstacles and dead-ends along the way.  They ended in our candlelit master closet, in which I’d taped crumpled paper bags on the walls as cave-canvasses.  I provided CrayPas for them to draw with; they seemed a relatively authentic medium without being over messy.  (I certainly didn’t want clumps of spitty sand on my carpet, and I thought even chalk might be a bit too messy.)  While the candlelight art part of this was fun, the highlight was definitely the cave.  The kids crawled around in my room for a long time, eventually rearranging the cave walls.

Hunter-Gatherer Life

  • We made "tooth and bone" necklaces and hunter-gatherer sacks.

    We made “tooth and bone” necklaces and hunter-gatherer sacks.

    Craft Project: A Gathering Bag
    I purchased animal-print felt at a local craft store for this project. We talked about how folks had to scrape skins, stretch them, and even chew them to make them workable.  Then we discussed how sewing helped people make better clothes and other useful items.  One of our books talked about using a sharp tool to pierce the skin to make sewing easier.  (I used a scissors!)  The kids used yarn to sew their little gathering sack together.

  • Craft Project: A Hunter-Gatherer Necklace
    Even hunter-gatherers liked jewelry, apparently, because archaeologists have found quite a few necklaces made of bones and teeth. Make your own using yarn, string, or leather cord with corks, straws, beads, noodles, or anything else you can find that looks somewhat bone- or tooth-like.
  • Field Trip: Hunter-Gatherer Diet
    We happen to live near a slew of pecan trees, which made this portion of the lesson simple to execute, though going to an orchard or a you-pick farm could also have worked as an experiential example of the effort needed to keep your family fed.
  • Cooking: A Hunter-Gatherer Meal
    Make a meal that a hunter-gatherer might have been able to eat. We used our pecans to top a spinach-and-strawberry salad and paired it with a soup of carrots, lentils, onions, and peppers flavored with chicken bouillon.  While this may not be the most authentic hunter-gatherer meal, you get the general idea—and so did the kids. (Though perhaps I should have done something more bland—all pecans, everyone?—or less filling to make a more accurate point…but at this age, I still wanted full tummies and excitement rather than whining.  This was a more fun meal to prepare.)

Construction Projects

  • Stone Age Shelters
    While many folks lived at the mouths of caves, there were other types of dwellings used when caves weren’t available. I sent the kids into the yard to make a Little-sized shelter using whatever materials they could find.  Goobie tried a leaf-and-mud hut and one made of sticks.  Peatie spent a long time testing different building methods with sticks and mud.  He tried to make a mud wall between upright stick posts, attempted to mud-glue sticks upright beside each other, and finally settled on crafting a teepee-style structure made of sticks glued together with mud.
  • Stone Age Travel
    Having read about coracles in a couple different places, I asked the kids if they’d like to make one. Instead, they preferred to craft their own water-travel solutions.  They discovered several solutions for water transit using natural materials (blocks of wood) or stand-ins (a plastic bag in lieu of an animal skin).

Transition to Farming

  • Research: Catal Huyuk (and Jericho)
    I intended to do some wandering around on the Science Museum of Minnesota’s page on the ancient city of Catal Huyuk; unfortunately, I couldn’t for the life of me get the site to work the night before I was going to teach it (though I could pull up random parts of the site through the Wayback Machine). Instead, I did some quick research on Catal Huyuk and Jericho and did my own nonfiction summary for comprehension work.  (Then, of course, my printer wouldn’t work, so we all gathered around the computer to read it the next day. You can use my last-minute work here, if you’d like: The First Towns)
  • Project: Clay Balls
    Archaeologists at Catal Huyuk have found scads of clay balls, and they have no idea what they were for. We read about them, guessed what they might have been used for, and then used this opportunity to make our own clay balls.  We gathered two different types of soil, and each child made four balls: one was set in the sun, one was left in the shade, one was baked at a low temperature, and one was baked at a high temperature.  The method of drying didn’t seem to have as much effect on our clay as the soil itself.  We’re hoping to use this knowledge to make some tiny clay bricks for future building projects.
  • Map Work and Reporting
    To complete this portion of our learning, I created a regional map for the kids to fill in and included space for them to record why folks first started settling in towns and what they had learned about Jericho and Catal Huyuk. This worked better than the more open-ended, write-whatever-you-learned approach I’d used for science.  Having a few specific important details to recall and then having space to record what was most striking to them gave us a more concise, complete, and comprehensible page for our learning books.  (This was the page I created: First Towns and Cities)

Books We Used

  • Adventures in the Ice Age (Linda Bailey)
  • Hands-On History: Stone Age (Charlotte Hurdman)
  • A Little History of the World (EH Gombrich)
  • Mammoths on the Move (Lisa Wheeler)
  • Usborne Book of Living Long Ago

30 pre-reading activities for young children

Encouraging your child in their love of letters?  Wanting to make sure your child has the tools they’ll need to learn to read?  These activities are a great way to start!  I’ve divided them into four main categories: Initial Letter Recognition, Capital/Lower Case Matching, Alphabetical Order, and Beginning Phonics.

Initial Letter Recognition: Whether you teach letter names initially or introduce your child to each letter’s primary sound, helping your child to recognize the shape of each letter is one of the first hurdles to overcome in the journey to reading.

  1. ABC coloring pages – A quick internet search will turn up dozens of these free printables.
  2. Alphabet crafts – Whole Pinterest boards have been devoted to this topic.  Find your favorites and go to it!
  3. Alphabet tracing pages –  I’m partial to Getty-Dubay Italic, which isn’t something you can find lots of freebies for, but if you’re not quite so picky, there are lots of free tracing pages for early learners to work on the sound and shape of the letter in tandem.
  4. Sandpaper letters – Purchase some pre-made letters or make your own.  You can use sandpaper, glitter glue, glue sprinkled with sand…  Look for tutorials for this tactile learning tool, and you’ll find plenty of options.
  5. Playdoh letter mats – These consist of a laminated letter outline for your children to cover with PlayDoh.  Look for free printables online.
  6. Cuisenaire rod letter patterns – Somewhere out there on the interweb is an entire book of Cuisenaire patterns for each letter (including pictures that go with the letter).  I did find it once after seeing it mentioned, but I don’t have the link for it at the moment.
  7. Letter building with straight lines and curves, HWOT style – Have you seen the Handwriting Without Tears letter building supplies?  They consist of short and long lines and big and small curves.  You can purchase theirs, look for a template (I printed a template and traced it onto foam sheets), or design your own.
  8. Letter magnets – The Leap Frog variety come with a magnetic holder that sings each letter’s sound, but plain ol’ letters abound and can be used with equal success.
  9. Alphabet puzzles (also useful for learning alphabetical order) – Take your pick.  We own the Melissa and Doug Alphabet Train one and a small cardboard-frame one that my mom purchased long ago, but there are tons available.
  10. Adding a toy car or truck to the letter hunt can keep the activity fun and playful.

    Adding a toy car or truck to the letter hunt can keep the activity fun and playful.

    Letter hunt – Neatly print letters on index cards (I used half-cards, since I wanted something compact.) or use a deck of pre-printed letter cards.  Spread them across the floor and have your child hunt for a particular letter.  This can be made more fun by driving a dump truck around the room to collect the desired letter or handing your kid a shopping bag and asking them to “shop” for a certain letter for Alphabet Soup.  For beginners, printing only a few letters several times each can make this game more fulfilling and less frustrating.

  11. Letter Wall – A little like a Word Wall used in schools, this is simply a place on the wall where you post the letters you’re learning. Some kids are very visual, and having the letters visible during their day-to-day activities will cause the letters to stick in their minds more.  My kids seem to stand and ponder anything I post in their line of sight.
  12. Spontaneous Letter ID – Using your posted letters above to reinforce letter learning throughout the day. At random points when walking past the letters on the wall, shout, “Child-of-Mine, quick!  Can you tell me what this is?”whilst pointing to a letter at random.  Hamming it up for dramatic effect will make this fun rather than tedious.
  13. Alphabet booksDr. Seuss’s ABC and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom are two of the most popular, but there are dozens—perhaps hundreds—of other options.
  14. Starfall.com – This website has animations for each letter, reinforcing the letter sound and emphasizing the lower case version of each letter. Many of the letters have a quick game at the end—a matching game, letter sorting, etc.  (The learn-to-read content of this site is free; there is a great deal of other content available—colors, numbers, math games—for a nominal fee.)
  15. Leapfrog Letter Factory video – Many people love this video as a way to get the letter sounds to stick in their children’s minds. Cute animated letters demonstrate their sounds multiple times in this musical adventure story.  Appealing for kids from 2-5ish.
  16. Letter matching – Help your child work on visually distinguishing between letters by providing a collection of letter cards for them to sort. This can be done before your child even learns letter names or sounds, simply allowing the child to become familiar with the shapes of various letters.  Use ONLY one type of letter—capital or lower case—and one font, to avoid confusion.
  17. Letter roadmaps – create your own little roadmap. (I made one using Paint.) Add a letter road name to each block of each road, and see if your kiddo can follow directions to drive their car around town.  (“Start by the green house and drive down “a” street.  Turn onto “g” and stop when you get to “d”.  What building are you near?”  Or, if you are working on one or two letters, use only those letters to name the blocks, and ask your child to get from one point to another using only roads with a certain sound.)

Capital/Lower Case Letter Matching – Our language forces your child to learn each letter not once, but twice!  (Well, with the exception of a few easy ones like O and C…)  Here are some ways to help your child make those connections.

  1. Big and Little Matching – As your child learns the pesky fact that each letter has both a large and a small version, they can familiarize themselves with both versions by matching. School Zone makes a deck of letter cards with matching adult/baby animals to help those children who are just learning to match large and small letters.  (This also adds a storyline to your game, if your child is one for whom “Help each Mommy letter find its lost baby” would make the activity more appealing.)
  2. Letter Go Fish! – The deck of cards from School Zone mentioned above is actually intended to be used as a Go Fish! Style matching game. Try using the cards as intended.
  3. Big and Little Memory – Need to spice things up or focus on just a few difficult large/small letter pairs? Try using letter cards memory-style.  Select several large/small letter pairs , turn them upside-down, and arrange them in rows.  Have your child turn over two at a time to try to find a match.

Alphabetical Order – This is a surprisingly useful skill in education (need to use the library?  look for a topic in an index?  find your name on a roster?), but one that’s often taught later or not at all.  An early familiarity with ABC order can make later usage a breeze.

  1. Alphabet Maze – Print out an alphabet maze for your child. They can continue working on recognition of letters while also reinforcing alphabetical order.
  2. Alphabet Cards – Use your alphabet cards from one of the matching games above and have your children put them in ABC order. This can be done with only one set of letters or with both the large and small ones together—though that many cards can be overwhelming initially, forcing a child to balance letter matching with remembering alphabetical order and thus making the activity twice as hard.  It’s best to start with one set of alphabet cards and add the other later if extra challenge is desired.
  3. ABC Dot-to-Dots –For some reason, my kids never liked these as well as their numerical counterparts, but they are a wonderful way to reinforce both letter recognition and alphabetical order.

Beginning Phonics – Did you know that phonics work starts before reading?  Early phonics is merely an understanding that words are made of sounds and the ability to distinguish what those sounds are.  These activities will help prepare your child for blending sounds into words as they learn to read and for breaking words into sounds as they begin to write and spell.

Make sure your child can easily identify each picture, or this game will quickly become frustrating.

Make sure your child can easily identify each picture, or this game will quickly become frustrating.

  1. Sound Matching – Collect a variety of objects, either real or in pictures. Ask your child to name each object.  If you are focusing on a specific sound, have them label only objects with that sound.  (For example, when you work on /a/, an apple, an abacus, and an ant would each receive an “a” label.)  Alternately, you can provide phoneme cards that match the first sound of each object and ask your child to match each card to its appropriate object.
  2. Match My Sound – Great for those sitting-around-waiting sorts of times—like car rides, restaurant visits, and checkout lines—this game consists entirely of picking a sound and seeing how many words you can think of that start with that sound.  If your child suggests “watermelon” as a /s/ word, simply repeat the word slowly, emphasizing the sounds, and say, “That was a good guess, but wwww-atermelon starts with a /w/ sound.  We’re trying to think of things that start with /s/.  Can you think of any?”  It may take a long time listening to your modeling, but eventually your child will get the hang of this pre-reading/spelling skill.
  3. Phonogram Bingo – Create a simple bingo card with one letter in each square, and prepare a matching set of letter cards. For a straightforward game, make the sound that corresponds with the card you draw, and have your child cover the correct letter.  To add challenge, you can say a word that begins with the appropriate sound and see if your child can determine the correct letter to cover.
  4. Rhyme Time—Another verbal sitting-around-waiting activity, this game is played like Match My Sound except with rhyming words. Start with short and simple words with common endings (-at, -ad, -ip).  Again, if your child suggests a word that doesn’t rhyme, try to emphasize the sounds in the word to help them hear the difference between its ending and the target ending.
  5. Modified Rhyme Time – For an alternate version (or if your child struggles to generate their own rhymes), try this: Think of two or three rhyming words and one that does not rhyme.  Say the words in any order and see if your child can identify which word is not like the others.  This will help them train their ears to hear the sounds in words.
  6. Mr. Fast and Mr. Slow – Tell your child that you are Mr. (or Miss) Slow. Mr. Slow speaks very slowly.  Your child will be Mr. (or Miss) Fast.  Their job is to say the same word quickly.  You as Mr. Slow will slow a word down to emphasize its individual sounds.  Your child will blend those sounds together to say the word at regular (fast) speed.  So, for example, if you said, “/m/-/a/-/d/,” your child should respond, “Mad!”  (Do you recognize this skill?  It’s what a child does as they learn to sound out words!)  If your child seems to grasp this concept, they may derive even more glee from the game if you pretend that Mr. Slow is trying to think of words they’ll never figure out, lamenting exaggeratedly every time they succeed.  My children were in fits of giggles over my silly over-acting and their success at thwarting Mr. Slow.
  7. Mr. Fast and Mr. Slow Reboot – Switch roles. Now instead of you saying the word slowly and your child blending it together and saying it at regular speed, see if they can be Mr. Slow, breaking the word into its individual sounds for you to reassemble and say speedily.  (Guess who’s working on foundational spelling skills!)

If your child is solid on these pre-reading skills, he might be ready to move on.  Check out some next-step activity options in my post 12 DIY activities for emerging readers (plus three free online resources!)

You may also want to check out my posts on fine motor development and math activities for young kids.