Teaching reading and spelling with vowel sounds

Maybe you’ve seen it. You begin reading with your child and the tears begin to flow. Your frustrated child can’t put the sounds together; can’t pronounce the words. It’s understandable. Out of the 26 letters in the alphabet, 5 of them are vowels. Those 5 vowels create 19 different sounds depending on the letter combination used in a given word.

Here are a few things to consider when teaching the short vowel sound:

  1. Introduce each vowel sound. Here is a video with short vowel sounds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQwQ7FWL4MM
  • short /a/ as in bat
  • short /e/ as in bet
  • short /i/ as in bit
  • short /o/ as in bot
  • short /u/ as in but
  1. For each short vowel sound teach a gesture or hand movement to go with it.
  • Short A – put your hand under your chin. Remind your student that when you say /ă/ your chin drops. Say, “Short a says, /ă/.”
  • Short E – Hold three fingers out horizontally. Say, “Short e says, /ĕ/.”
  • Short I – Touch your finger to your nose like you are dotting an i. Say, “Short i says, /ĭ/”.
  • Short O – Form your mouth in the shape of an o. Say, “Short o says, /ŏ/”.
  • Short U – /ŏ/”.Put your hands together and use your thumbs to form a u. Say, “Short u says /ŭ/”.

Remind students to do these gestures each day when they say the short vowel sounds.

You can also use these gestures when segmenting words for accurate spelling. For example, after you dictate the word rat, the student can say each sound in isolation. /r/ / ă / /t/.

 spell trek3. The game, Spell Trek, uses visuals for the vowels and reinforces vowel recognition, phonics, and spelling. During this game, players draw vowel tiles and use them to complete words. Scoring is based on the length of the word spelled, with a bonus point for more complex words.

Here is a video tutorial that parent can watch and receive additional tips on how to play Spell Trek as well as how the game can reinforce spelling and phonics.

I became a SimplyFun Playologist because I truly believe in providing children with multiple ways to learn and succeed in school. Academic game play is fun and effective. Please browse my SimplyFun web page for games and toys designed to help your child play, grow, and learn.

Please visit my SimplyFun web page today https://www.simplyfun.com/pws/gamestogrow/tabs/playologist-home.aspx

Back-to-school: planning healthy snacks and meals

20150204_133130James and I have added a new dimension to our 2015-2016 home school program: We will begin serving our students breakfast, lunch, and snacks. For the past five years, our students brought their own lunches. Now, preparing and providing healthy meals and snacks are our responsibility. Our goal is to enhance the educational experience by teaching our students the importance of healthy eating. We will lead by example.

We turned to several resources that would teach us how to prepare and provide healthy meals that children would actually eat and enjoy. First, we turned to ChooseMyPlate.gov where we discovered a vast array of games, activity sheets, videos and songs, and healthy recipes from children around the world.

ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information for individuals, health professionals, nutrition educators, and the food industry to help consumers build healthier diets with resources and tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and other user-friendly nutrition information. On their website they say, “Americans are experiencing epidemic rates of overweight and obesity, the online resources and tools can empower people to make healthier food choices for themselves, their families, and their children.”Family eating at a table

They suggest the following food tips on helping children develop healthy eating habits:

  1. Set a good example.
  2. Offer a variety of foods
  3. Start small with portions
  4. Help them know when they’ve had enough
  5. Follow a meal and snack schedule
  6. Make mealtime a family time
  7. Cope with a picky eater
  8. Help them try new foods
  9. Make food fun

MyPlate illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet using a familiar image – a place setting for a meal. Before you eat, think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl.


ChooseMyPlate has a variety of posters and and other and other tools that parents and students can download. My favorite is this race car made of broccoli, carrots, blueberries, celery, and more. 

fruit and veggie race car poster

In In addition, the  site offers curriculum resources for the following grade levels:

The USDA Department of Agriculture has a great meal planning worksheet that parents and other food providers can print and use to plan weekly menus that meet the requirements for various age groups.


James and I also took an online course called Creating Healthy Lunchrooms offered by Cornell University. They suggested some basic principles for creating a positive lunchroom environment. Those principles are:

Bento Boxes make mealtime fun
  • Manage portion sizes.  In other words, avoid buffet style food service that allows children to serve themselves.
  • Increase convenience. Make it easy for them to select healthier options by simply removing the unhealthy options. Rather than have cookies and chips to choose from, allow them to choose between apple slices or orange slices. In other words, if the unhealthy option isn’t available, there’s no discussion.
  • Improve visibility. While we may not have time to assemble the creative rice pandas (photo above) on daily basis, we can use tools-such as cookie cutters-to create heart-shaped sandwiches, put grapes or carrots in colorful cupcake papers, or top a sandwich with a cheese smile and quinoa freckles.
  • Enhance taste expectations with flavorful dips, such as honey-mustard or yogurt.

Another way to make lunchtime healthy and fun is to find ways to keep mealtimes interesting and fun.  Offer a small amount of many different foods in a variety of colorful bento-style containers. Pick a theme that will tap into your student’s creative sides. Here’s a few ideas.

  • Mexican food Mondays can be days that students can build their own burritos or top their own nachos with chopped lettuce, olives, and tomatoes,
  • Do da dip! Cut a baked chicken breast into strips. Serve alongside a small bowl of honey mustard or bar-b-que sauce for dipping. Add carrots and broccoli or kiwi and strawberries to dip in a honey-yogurt dressing.
Inside Out
Inside Out
  • Inside out: Make Inside Out place mats and use them to serve inside out sandwiches such as turkey lettuce wraps.
  • Cut sandwiches into fun shapes, add colorful fruits and vegetables in different sizes, and pack yummy dips such as fat-free or low-fat yogurt or hummus. Hummus is packed with nutrition and easy to prepare. There are also many store bought varieties.

Salad bar BOOM! Keep fresh vegetables, fruits, and grains available as a main course option.

My favorite hummus recipe 


  • 4 clove garlic
  • 1 large lemon
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 2 tbsp. tahini
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Pinch ground red pepper (cayenne)
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • Pita bread wedges
  • Assorted fresh vegetables


  1. In 1-quart saucepan, heat 2 cups water to boiling over high heat. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes to blanch; drain.
  2. From lemon, grate 1 teaspoon peel and squeeze 3 tablespoons juice. In food processor with knife blade attached, combine beans, tahini, garlic, lemon peel and juice, oil, water, salt, and ground red pepper. Puree until smooth. Transfer to platter; cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours. To serve, sprinkle with paprika and cilantro, if using. Serve with pita bread wedges and fresh vegetables.

Benefits of outdoor classrooms

Khloe is making a hummingbird feeder

Whether you add an outdoor learning center, a project-based station such as a vegetable garden, a natural art center, or an area for reflection and writing, an outdoor classroom can be a valuable teaching tool for all students.  Outdoor classrooms provide stimuli that enhance indoor lessons. Science lessons take on a whole new meaning when students are able to touch, observe, collect datas, and experiment.

Relevant classes include both natural materials -like dirt, trees, and stones- along with man-made materials like bird houses and tables. An outdoor classroom provides opportunities for a student to learn in ways not possible in a traditional indoor classroom.  Students can examine the soil, inspect water samples, analyze machinery to see how simple devices unite to make more complex ones, track real-time cloud patterns, and see how human activities can affect the world around us—for better or worse. As they record and study data for themselves, students will learn skills of observation, analysis and prediction that will benefit them long after their classroom years are over.

Neighborhood pavilion provides a shady place for outdoor reading.
Neighborhood pavilion provides a shady place for outdoor reading.

Outdoor learning opportunities have something for every grade level:


  • Take a walking tour through an ecosystem.
  • Activate the 5 senses: TOUCH the grass, SMELL the flowers, SEE the clouds, TASTE the strawberries, and HEAR the birds.
  • Plant-seeds & plant parts. Plant an herb garden.

1st grade

  • Observe  the weather, temperatures, and cloud patterns.
  • Discuss living things-living vs. non-living, plants & animals.
  • Collect and classify insects.

20150525_0942472nd grade

  • Observe and study insects-life cycles & insect anatomy.
  • Observe and study plants, seed parts, leaf & seed comparison, leaf measurement & leaf rubbings.
  • Observe and study habitats-prairie land, forest & wetland comparisons.

3rd grade

  • Follow the water cycle. Learn more about evaporation, condensation, precipitation & temperatures.
  • Study plants and plant parts, leaf shapes & seed dispersal.
  • Compare ecosystems such as forests & wetlands.
Simple machines
Simple machines

4th grade

  • Study and observe plant and animal adaptations.
  • Study ecosystems & Soil-habitat, niche, producer, consumers, decomposers, soil & temperatures comparisons.

5th grade

  • Plants-monocot/dicot, roots, tree rings, bark & leaf rubbings.
  • Build and observe sophisticated weather instruments.
  • Observe and study erosion & runoff.
  • Build soil and erosion labs.
  • Use metric measurements in science.
Native tree
Native tree

6th grade

Ecology- using microscopes with pond water, ecosystem & temperature comparisons (wetland, forest and prairie), insect collecting & food chain.


Researchers of The Natural Learning Initiative recognize that today’s children and families have limited opportunities to connect with the natural environment. They spend more time watching TV or playing video games on their computers than they do in active physical activity.  They spend less and less time outdoors breathing the fresh air. That’s unfortunate because the developmental benefits are endless.


Outdoor classrooms also include places where children can move around, exercise, and even ask questions about equipment design.  The benefits of daily exercise help children in many ways. Exercise makes our lungs and heart stronger for increased energy and endurance. That means children can play, walk, or jog longer without feeling tired. Exercise strengthens and stretches muscles and builds strong bones,

Because exercise gets our blood flowing,  more oxygen reaches our brains. This means children can think better, stay more alert,  improve test scores, and get better grades. Exercise affects chemicals in our brains. And these chemicals can affect how we feel.

Exercise can:

  • Give us energy so we feel good and can do things we want to do like sports, dance, play an instrument, or read.
  • Make us feel better during stressful times.
  •  Help calm students down when they have to give a class presentation.

20150407_090433     20150422_125640     20150320_131637

Whether you plan daily lessons in your backyard or the neighborhood park, your home schoolers will benefit from spending time outdoors.


Panda Bear, what do you see? I see an adjective looking at me…


This week, my homeschoolers and I recreated the animals in the book, Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? and used them to discuss nouns  (person, place, thing, or idea) and adjectives (word or words that modify a noun). 

Sea Lion
Sea Lion

The animals in the book are colorful and easy to trace. The students used googly eyes for the eyes, yarn for the whiskers, construction paper for the body parts, and crayons to color in the accents. As we made each animal, we identified the noun first. Afterwards, the kiddos identified the adjectives. They are as follows (adjective is in italics):


  • Panda bear 
  • bald eagle
  • water buffalo
  • spider monkey
  • green sea turtle
  • macaroni penguin
  • sea lion
  • red wolf
  • Whooping crane


  • black panther
  • dreaming child

To help them identify and remember the two parts of speech, the children wrote across the body of each animal. They wrote every adective in blue and every noun in black.

20150626_132702They strung their animals together and created a colorful window hanging.

Want more?

Like us on Facebook: TAMS and ED or visit our website: http://www.tamsanded.com

Sailing Angels

Transporting John from the car to his wheelchair.

Teaching children how to respect people with disabilities is as important to us as teaching them the Pythagorean Theorem. Earlier this school year, our home schoolers met John Fair III, an after-schooler who comes to us twice a week for reading tutorials.  John has Williams Syndrome, (WS) “…a genetic condition that is characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning disabilities.  These often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music,” learn more.   John has also been paralyzed since he was 12, when a procedure to correct his Scoliosis (which is an unnatural curvature of the spine) went terribly wrong.  

Heading to the dock. About to sail away
Heading to the dock. About to sail away


Thanks to the generosity of an angel named Captain Dave McCabe and his organization, called Sailing Angels, we were able to take John on a sailing trip from Kemah and Seabrook, TX.  Sailingangels.org is a non-profit organization, located in the greater Houston area, that provides a unique sailing opportunity for children with special needs. During the two and a half sail, those who are able, help raise the sails, learn a bit about knot tying, and steer the boat.

Captain Dave & John

To prepare for this field trip, the students began with a lesson about people with special needs. Specific to John, we visited his website John Fair III.org and read his story. Then the children and I memorized a post from his web site titled Wheelchair Etiquette. 

Here’s what it says:

  • Be prepared to offer assistance to people with limited use of their hands, wrists or arms.
  • Ask for permission to touch a person’s wheelchair, it’s part of their personal space.
  • Keep the ramps and wheelchair-accessible doors and parking spaces unlocked and unblocked.
  • Wheelchair users are not equipment, do not use their wheelchairs for personal use.
  • Always speak directly to the person with a disability.
  • Do not exclude wheelchair users from activities.
Chase and John headed to the boat.
Chase and John headed to the  boat.

We also learned a few nautical terms:

1. Aft – The back of a ship. If something is located aft, it is at the back of the sailboat. The aft is also known as the stern.

2. Bow – The front of the ship is called the bow. Knowing the location of the bow is important for defining two of the other most common sailing terms: port (left of the bow) and starboard (right of the bow).

3. Port – Port is always the left-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow. Because “right” and “left” can become confusing sailing terms when used out in the open waters, port is used to define the left-hand side of the boat as it relates to the bow, or front.

4. Starboard – Starboard is always the right-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow. Because “right” and “left” can become confusing sailing terms when used out in the open waters, starboard is used to define the right-hand side of the boat as it relates to the bow, or front.

5. Leeward – Also known as lee, leeward is the direction opposite to the way the wind is currently blowing (windward).

6. Windward – The direction in which the wind is currently blowing. Windward is the opposite of leeward (the opposite direction of the wind). Sailboats tend to move with the wind, making the windward direction an important sailing term to know.

7. Boom – The boom is the horizontal pole which extends from the bottom of the mast. Adjusting the boom towards the direction of the wind is how the sailboat is able to harness wind power in order to move forward or backwards.

8. Rudder – Located beneath the boat, the rudder is a flat piece of wood, fiberglass, or metal that is used to steer the ship. Larger sailboats control the rudder via a wheel, while smaller sailboats will have a steering mechanism directly aft.

9. Tacking – The opposite of jibing, this basic sailing maneuver refers to turning the bow of the boat through the wind so that the wind changes from one side of the boat to the other side. The boom of a boat will always shift from one side to the other when performing a tack or a jibe.

10. Jibing – The opposite of tacking, this basic sailing maneuver refers to turning the stern of the boat through the wind so that the wind changes from one side of the boat to the other side. The boom of a boat will always shift from one side to the other when performing a tack or a jibe. Jibing is a less common technique than tacking, since it involves turning a boat directly into the wind.

During our sail, Captain Dave taught James and the older boys how to set the sails and how to steer the boat.

20150520_125746 20150520_130446    20150520_125458As for me, I just relaxed and had fun.


After the sail, Capt. Dave presented the students with wristbands, medals, and a Certificate of Sailing.

20150520_141330     20150520_141352   20150520_131343  20150520_123513

It was a day that none of us will soon forget.  For more information about TAMS and ED Homeschool, visit us at www.tamsanded.com. We teach tolerance and diversity with hands-on and real-world activities. Our home school is for students who thrive in smaller classroom settings. We teach. We challenge. They learn.   For our students, the world is their classroom.

Abilene Christian University: Home school admissions policy

Abilene Christian

abilene christian wildcats                     

While considering future college and university options, parents and students should take a number of important factors into consideration including cost, course selections, location, and, of course, the school’s admission policies. Abilene Christian University (ACU), located in Abilene, Texas, touts a favorable admission policy for home schooled students. A quick glance at the university’s web site reveals, “If you come from a home-school background you may be looking for a university with an intimate learning environment, a campus community that feels more like a family and a culture that fosters authentic spiritual development. We believe you’ll find these things – a close-knit, Christ-centered atmosphere for your growth – at ACU.”

ACU offers merit based scholarships, which are often related to academic performance, class rank, and SAT/ACT scores,  but can also be given to a candidate displaying artistic or athletic excellence and even a combination of both. According to Scholarships.com, students [including home-schooled students] have a fair chance at winning scholarships if grades and test scores are high. Says the good folks at ACU, “For home-school students, we have a formula that translates your GPA into a traditional class rank. ACU will calculate class rank after a student has completed his/her admissions file. Students may increase their merit-based scholarships until May 1 of their enrolling year by testing higher on the SAT/ACT or resubmitting their senior transcripts.”

ACU offers transcript and credit tips and a free GPA calculator to help students calculate their high school GPA. According to ACU, “High school curriculum often comes from multiple sources. Your transcript should combine these sources into one document listing the courses you’ve taken (organized by academic year), the grade you earned in each course, and the number of credits assigned to each course. Your transcript should also state your high school GPA on a four-point scale (do not include work completed prior to high school).”

Dual credit is another option for home schooled students. Make sure all AP courses are listed on your hihj school transcript. If your home school curriculum was exceptionally rigorous, you may wish to earn credit by exam through the College level examination program.

TAMS and ED Homeschool offers AP and CLEP courses. By passing a CLEP test, you earn credit for an ACU course within the general education curriculum including math, science, social science, English, foreign language, etc.). CLEP tests are administered through ACU’s University Testing Center.

For more information bout TAMS and Ed Home school, visit us at www.tamsanded.com. We teach tolerance and diversity with hands-on and real-world activities, our home school is for students who thrive in smaller classroom settings. We teach. We challenge. They learn.   For our students, the world is their classroom.

Texas Laws Regarding Home school


Many home school parents get the heebie jeebies when they consider the legal implications of home school. Relax. Home school in the State of Texas is completely legal as long as you follow three state law requirements:

  • The instruction must be bona fide (i.e., not a sham).
  • The curriculum must be in visual form (e.g., books, workbooks, video monitor).
  • The curriculum must include the five basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship.

The Texas Education Code states, “Home schooled students are exempt from compulsory attendance according to Section 25.086(a)(1) of the Texas education Code because home schools have been determined by Texas courts to be private schools for the purpose of compulsory attendance.” In other words, parents need not worry about visits from the truancy officer as long as they can prove that their school-age children are being legitimately educated.

We want our TAMS and ED to feel comfortable about their decision to home school. We keep meticulous records of your child’s progress while enrolled in our program. From Day 1, we instruct our students to write name, date, and descriptive title on all notes and on every worksheet and lesson they complete. Moreover, all online assignments also keep track of our student’s work and progress.

We applaud the great state of Texas and its willingness to allow parents to make the best academic choice for their children.   If you have questions about our home school program, feel free to contact us by completing the form below. For more detailed information about home schooling your child in Texas visit the Texas Home School Coalition. 

for more informationabout TAMS and Ed Home school, visit us at www.tamsanded.com. We teach tolerance and diversity with hands-on and real-world activities. Our home school is for students who thrive in smaller classroom settings. We teach. We challenge. They learn.   For our students, the world is their classroom.