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

DIY: Africa wall map that’s dry-erase friendly

I needed a  large map of the continent of Africa that was durable enough for students to roll up, take home, and complete homework assignments; and big enough for them to write on, label each country, color and label the surrounding water bodies, highlight the major biomes, and draw the animals that dominate the various regions. I couldn’t find on that fit all of my needs, so I made my own.  Here’s how:


First, I put two 11″ x 17″ poster boards side by side and taped taped them taped them together vertically, along the back seam. I centered a large puzzle of Africa on top of the two pieces (see photo above). I traced each piece in pencil and then traced over the pencil with a Sharpie.


I taped the two pieces together and used my computer to print the title, “The Continent of Africa.” My hubby laminated it it for me. It works great! Students can write and erase with no problem.


Homeschool cooking: Rainbow salad… nutritional benefits, lesson plans, and recipes to encourage healthier kids

Examples of Fruit and Vegetable Fact SheetsFirst, the freebies:

  • The University of Nebraska has a great FREE resource of fruit and vegetable fact sheets that parents and teachers can download and share with their children.
  • SuperKids Nutrition Inc. in partnership with the American Institute for Cancer Research, has a great lesson that focuses on the benefits of eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
    Students will discuss the health benefits of different colored fruits and vegetables to better understand how they help them to grow strong and healthy. Students will have the opportunity to prepare a Carrot Slaw with Pineapple, Apples and Almonds and learn how a salad made of fruits and vegetables can help them fight off disease.
  • Care connection has some great resources including puzzles, and games such as Vegetable bingo. Seriously, if you teach Health and Nutrition to children, download this resource. It’s called, Colors of Food.


As for today’s lunch at the TAMS and ED home front, we taught our students that just like that wonderful pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, a Rainbow salad leads to a gold mine of healthy eating options for them. Rainbow salads generate fun and excitement. They provide us with a great way to introduce kids to new fruits and vegetables. And, because every color of fruit and vegetable contains a different set of phytonutrients, Rainbow salads should be a regular on your lunch and dinner lineup. It’s important to eat from every color of the rainbow to get a broad spectrum of nutrition.


Whenever my students build their Rainbow salads, I have one rule: Try something in every color. Today’s salad bar consisted of purple cabbage, blueberries, green lettuce, celery, and cucumbers, yellow squash, orange carrots and cantaloupe, red radishes and tomatoes. I also allowed them to top off with a dollop of tuna salad. Here is the nutritional breakdown of those fruits and veggies:


  • PURPLE CABBAGE: Purple cabbage is high in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. A 1-cup serving of chopped purple cabbage provides 2 grams of fiber, or 8 percent of the 25-gram daily value as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration. The potassium content in 1 cup of chopped purple cabbage is 216 milligrams. Potassium keeps your body’s fluid level from fluctuating to unhealthy volumes, and the Institute of Medicine recommends consuming 4.700 milligrams a day to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Potassium also prevents heart muscle stress by supporting the contraction that fuels your heartbeat.


  • BLUEBERRIES: Blueberries help promote urinary tract health, protect against aging-related eye problems, helps keep memory sharp, and being rich in fiber, is also beneficial for constipation and digestion.


  • CELERY is a rich source of folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin-C, which are essential for optimum metabolism.  It’s also an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps increase bone mass by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bones.
  • LETTUCE: Vitamins in lettuce are varied and plentiful. It’s an excellent source of several Vitamin A and beta carotene.  Vitamin A is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin, and is also essential for vision. Beta carotene aids the process. Lettuce is also a rich source of vitamin K, which is essential to the development of bone mass.
  • CUCUMBERS: Cucumbers are high in potassium. They contain unique anti-oxidant compounds that help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals.  Because of their high water content, cucumbers also have mild diuretic property, which helps in checking weight gain and high blood pressure.  Last, they have a high amount of vitamin K, which has been found to have a potential role in promoting bone mass and strength.


  • Yellow squash is an excellent source of vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin A , fiber, folate, copper, riboflavin and phosphorus. It is also abundant in potassium, which is a key electrolyte in the balance of fluids and also provides muscle energy.  It’s also high in manganese, a mineral which helps the body process fats, carbohydrates, and glucose.


  • Carrots are root plants that are rich in carotenes that convert into vitamin A in the liver cells. Beta-carotene is the major carotene present in these roots. Beta carotene is one of the powerful natural anti-oxidant that helps protect human body from harmful oxygen-free radical injury. In addition, it also carries out all the functions of vitamin-A such as maintaining good eye health, reproduction (sperm production), maintenance of epithelial integrity, growth and development.


  • This sweet melon is fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free, packed with vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin A. Nuff said. 


  • Radishes are cruciferous root vegetables that are rich in anti-oxidents. A word of advice. Once you bring your radishes home, cut off the green tops as they rob the radish of essential vitamins and minersals.


  • Tomatoes are in the fruit family, but they are served and prepared as a vegetable. They are one of the most popular vegetables eaten by Americans. They can be eaten raw or cooked (baked, stewed, grilled or stir-fried). They are wonderful to eat alone. Many Americans add tomatoes to salads and sandwiches. soups, salsas and sauces. Tomato sauce is used in many pasta dishes such as spaghetti and on pizza. Ketchup is made from tomatoes. They are fat free, cholesterol free, and a good source of vitamins A and C.


A super fun way to introduce Spanish to elementary-aged kiddos

Feliz, feliz en tu dia means “Be happy on your day.” Today is my granddaughter’s 5th birthday.  I turned her special day into an afternoon of fun with new Spanish words, songs, and phrases. We celebrated God’s gift of life to Khloe, had lots of fun, and explored a new language along the way.

Teaching Spanish to young children is nearly as easy as soaking up water with a sponge. Their minds are like little learning machines that can easily process a second language, especially when creative games and activities are a part of the fun.


There are many simple ways to introduce Spanish to to children.  I used a birthday theme to make today’s hands-on Spanish lesson a memorable one. First, I asked my students, “What do you think of when you hear the words, ‘birthday party'”? They yelled out, “Cake! Balloons! Presents!” We celebrated with a few of the exact things that they yelled out.

balloons - los globos

gave the kiddos several balloons in a variety of colors. I turned to my trusty white board and wrote the name of each color in English and in Spanish. The girls did the same on their balloons of corresponding colors including the following:

  • green – verde
  • yellow-amarillo
  • red-rojo
  • pink – rosa
  • purple-morado
  • white-blanco
  • blue-azul

butterflies - las mariposas Next, I gave them a simple craft that would would reinforce learning the new color words. They each got four (cuatro) butterflies (Las mariposas) and wrote the name of of the corresponding color word on on each one.

Feliz cumpleanos

We then moved on to birthday cards for Khloe. While they decorated their cards, cards I taught them the Happy birthday song in Spanish. It is sang in the same tune as the traditional English version. It goes like this:

Feliz cumpleanos a ti,                                     Feliz cumpleanos a ti,                                   Feliz cumpleanos a ____________ (name), Feliz cumpleanos a ti.


Our next project was to have them write name strips to put by their stuff. I wrote, “Me llamo______” on the board and asked them to write the same and then fill in the blank with their own names. “Me llamo,” means “My name is.”

Me llamo/ My name is...


Las formas

  • circle / el circulo
  • triangle/  el triangulo
  • square / cuadrado
  • rectangle / rectangulo

Since this was a part of of our half-day homeschool program, I had to come up with a way to include some math in our day. I gave the girls a simple coloring page and and had them write the name of each shape in Spanish. Las formas

Teaching chessboard math to children as young as 6

Look at a chessboard.  What math lessons do you see? I see lessons in basic math, algebra, and geometry. I see all of the primary operations including: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  I see numerous ways to teach math to children as young as 6 years old. Take a look.


addition In the photo above, you can see 8 horizontal rows (called ranks) numbered 1- 8. There are 8 rows with 8 squares each.  Add row 1 to row 2, you get 8 + 8 =16. Add rows 1 & 2 to rows 3 & 4, you 16 + 16 = 32, and so on, up to 64 squares.


subtraction Once we  position all of  the chess pieces on the first row, we see 7 empty rows left. 8 – 1 = 7. Add another row and we get 8 – 2 = 6. Set up the whole board and get 8 – 4 = 4 empty rows.


multiplication: My 3rd-grade homeschooler loves practicing her 8s on the chessboard. Again, the board has 8 rows of 8 squares.  Each rank is numbered 1- 8. Thus she can “read” the board and count the squares on each row: 8 × 1= 8, 8 × 2= 16, and so on.

division 16 ÷ 2 = 8 or 24 ÷ 8 = 3 the opposite of multiplication.

fractions simplify 16/2 = 8. That’s equal to 2 rows  divided in half.  Or 8/8 = 1 whole board. Or 4/8 = 1/2.

It touches my heart as I watch my younger students connect all of these mathematical ideas: 4 is half of 8; 8 × 4 = 32, and since 32 is half of 64, my 2nd and 3rd graders can process the idea that when you double the numbers, 8 × 8 = 64. I am especially reminded of a specific student of mine, a 3rd grader who struggles with her 2 times tables. She gets frustrated and cries. Well, as she and I play chess together she beams with pride.

We started with the 8s and she totally gets it. After two days, she has the 8s memorized through 8 × 12. Clearly, this game of chess is not only fun, but also there are many math concepts that are being reinforced at the same time. 

geometry:  A chessboard is a perfect square.  A square is a polygon with four equal sides. To help my 3rd grader understand this concept, I allowed her to use a measuring tape to measure the four sides.  Then, I showed her a rectangular Cheerios box (which would later become her Chess storage kit) and asked her to measure the four sides. She could then tell me the difference between a square, with four equal sides, and a rectangle with two long sides and two short sides.

exponents: A chessboard has 8 rows with 8 squares in each row. Thus, the exponent 8 squared, or 8 × 8 = 64, which is the number of squares on a chessboard.


  • straight line: pawns move in a straight line.
  • diagonal: pawns must move in a diagonal direction to capture.

patterns: My students have to make their own chessboards, which are made up of 8 rows of 8 squares arranged in alternating light/dark square patterns. This hands-on board making activity reinforces a basic 2nd grade math concept.

As your child begins to learn how to play chess, take every opportunity to discuss the various math concepts you encounter. There are patterns and symmetry. There are moves that create right angles, acute angles, and obtuse angles. There are moves that run parallel and perpendicular.

A great exercise is to have your students draw their possible chess moves and then trace over the lines to reveal the angles that each move creates. Research shows that chess is the perfect game to help increase your student’s overall academic performance. It helps students develop stronger analytical skills. It helps them with logic and reasoning. My students love it and so do I.

Chess activities for kids 2nd grade and up


Chess provides excellent learning opportunities for children. It teaches strategic thinking, logic and it’s downright fun too. Not only that, according to Wendi Fischer Scholastic Director of America’s Foundation for Chess and faculty contributor at John Hopkins University, it’s about “…quadrants and coordinates, thinking strategically and foreseeing consequences. It’s about lines and angles, weighing options and making decisions.” In addition, she adds, “Chess might just be the perfect teaching and learning tool.”

Large cereal boxes are great for storing chess crafts and activities.
Large cereal boxes are great for storing chess crafts and activities.

There are many great (and free) resources that you can create to involve students as young as six in the great game of chess. Our students made chess kits out of large cereal boxes. They covered their boxes with white construction paper and then cut the top flaps off to create a convenient opening.

“My chess book” includes coloring pages, rules, and activities for students in 2nd grade and up.

Our students also made their own chess activity books complete with a coloring page for each chess piece, strategy boards, and rules of the game. The books, with covers made from a large sheet of construction paper folded in half, fit perfectly inside their activity kits.

Flash cards describe the role of each chess piece.

Flash cards help introduce strategies (See above). Flash cards can also be used to teach vocabulary words such as: diagonal, equalize, fortress, horizontal, repetition, simplify, strategy, symmetry, tempo, triangulation, variation, vertical, and more.

Wooden chess board
Wooden chess board

Students also make their own practice boards and game pieces. They arrange 64 squares in alternating patterns of dark and light.

Want more? 

Activity Village has a kid-friendly PDF, titled, Chess for Kids, with rules and details about the game.  It’s a great resource to add to your arsenal of chess play activities.

Chess 101: setting up the board

In yesterday’s blog, I discussed the cognitive benefits of teaching your child how to play chess. Today, I’ve been teaching my 6-year-old grandson the names of the chess pieces and how set up the board.  I set up one side of one board and asked him to set up the other side. Then, I gave him a blank board and asked him to set up both sides by himself. I watched him compare pieces and count the 8 pawns. He did great.

Now, let’s you and I go over this together.

First, the pieces:

rooks - look like little castles
rooks – look like little castles
knights - look like little horse heads
knights – look like little horse heads
bishop - taller than the knight; shorter than the queen.
bishop – taller than the knight; shorter than the queen.
queen - taller than bishop; shorter than the king
queen – taller than bishop; shorter than the king
king - tallest piece
king – tallest piece
pawns - little guys that take up the whole second row
pawns – little guys that take up the whole second row

Now, let’s set the board correctly: Look at the square in the lower right-hand corner for each player.  The light-colored square should be to the far right with with the board facing each player. An easy way to remember this rule is the phrase “white on right.” Look at the photo below.

White on right
White on right


  1. Put the rooks on the outer corners.
  2. Place the knights (which usually look like a horse’s head) next to the rooks of the same color.
  3. The bishops are placed next to the knights of the same color.
  4. The queen is usually the second tallest piece in a chess set. It should be placed center square of its color. In other words, the white queen is placed on the lighter center square and the black queen is place on the darker center square. A good way of remembering this is “queen on color.”If your board has coordinates, both queens should be on the d-file.
  5. The king is usually the tallest piece in a chess set, and typically has a cross on its head. Each king should be placed should be on the e-file.
  6. The pawns are the shortest and most numerous pieces in a chess set. You should have eight pawns of each color. These pawns should go in each square in the row in front of the other pieces of the same color. If your board has coordinates, the white pawns should be on the second rank, and the black pawns should be on the seventh rank.
Finished set up.
Finished set up.