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Teach Your Monster to Read is a free online game for beginning readers. It starts with individual letter sounds, first consonants, then vowels, and then blending into words. Kids who are drawn to learning on the computer will likely enjoy the game. Each player creates his or her own monster who crash lands his space ship in a land of islands. Each island king helps to repair a part of the space ship if the monster can find the king’s missing letters.

Things that work well:

  • Graphics and sounds are fun and colorful without being obnoxious or overwhelming.
  • Tasks are fairly intuitive if you have played any other computer games.
  • You can stop and start the game; it will re-start you where you last stopped.
  • If a child makes a mistake, the game allows him or her to repeat the activity until it is correct.

Things that didn’t work so well:

  • Many of the letters sounds demonstrated were too soft even though other sounds were plenty loud enough.
  • I didn’t work all the way through the game but I did make it to the second island. The routine and the activities were getting a bit repetitive. You seven year old’s mileage might vary.
  • The prizes were on the odd side–clothing pieces for your monster, oh-kay, but underwear? And I really have a thing against good as prizes even if it’s pretend molded jello. 😉
  • And some child (read–boy) is probably going to point out to great hilarity all around that the monsters seem to “poop” their stars. (Play, you’ll see what I mean. Or maybe it’s just me!) Not a prob at home but if you had your whole classroom playing, this observation could lead to a bit of a class management struggle!

It’s hard to find really excellent computer games and Teach Your Monster to Read is certainly not a bad one–but neither is it an outstanding one. It won’t really teach a child to read but it is free and it may help some children who need a bit more practice and need it in a novel format.

If you try it with your children, post here and let us know what you think.


Leave it to the BBC to post a treasure trove of resources for early learning! Rhymes, audio, video, lyrics & pictures! What more could you ask for! It’s called School Radio, and it’s all free. The website is a little tricky to navigate (I’ll walk you through, though), some items are posted only for a limited time, and of course, some materials might not be as applicable for you depending on cultural differences (like accents).

The good parts, though, are very, very good.  🙂 Here’s a brief tour of what I found, liked, and will use myself.

Opening the link, you’ll find a menu list on the left. Clicking on Early Learning, you’ll see five choices.  The best are Nursery Rhymes and Stimulus Sounds. I’ve actually linked you (above) to the Nursery Rhymes page so it’s already open for  you. Rhymes are mid-screen and grouped alphabetically. Click on “Baa, baa black sheep” for starters, and take a listen. Pretty snazzy, huh? (I’ll be using this one at the SLV Fiber Fest in July!). Scroll down and you can click on a link to print out the photo and the lyrics.

If you are in the U.S. like me, some of the rhymes will be unfamiliar–but that can be a nice way to freshen up your storytimes. Most of the songs and rhymes are repeated twice, always a nice feature. I found that the British accents were not overwhelming in the nursery rhymes but were probably too much in the “Listen and Play” and “Playtime” story links for early learners here in the U.S.

Finally, if you select the “Stimulus Sounds” link, you’ll find audio files for sounds that children can listen to and then identify. Hearing individual sounds is absolutely key to being able to read later. It is one of the two skills (the other is vocabulary) that is almost always missing in elementary aged children who are struggling to read. (Want to know more? Click on the “phonological awareness” tag in the left column on my site.) So this is a great resource especially on days when you can’t get outdoors to listen for “real” sounds. And kids think this is really fun! Be patient though. It is a skill that has to be learned and it takes time so give lots of encouragement and keep it fun.

Have fun exploring!


This is the most important research report I have read this summer, perhaps even this year.

Got it? The most important. Read it here: Study Sheds Light on Auditory Role in Dyslexia.

It’s extremely hard to find just one quote to highlight. The article is chock full of outstanding points. Here’s one though:

“Dr. Gabrieli said the findings underscored a critical problem for dyslexic children learning to read: the ability of a child hearing, say, a parent or teacher speak to connect the auditory bits that make up words, called phonemes, with the sight of written words. If a child has trouble grasping the sounds that make up language, he said, acquiring reading skills will be harder.”

Isn’t that just so cool? If you’re a children’s librarian, and especially if you are one that’s worked with Every Child Ready to Read over the years, you are jumping up and down just like I am.

They are talking about phonological awareness, that mouthful of a skill that we encourage every time we sing, say a rhyme, or do a fingerplay with kids. Every time we talk, sing, and play with language with kids, we help them develop the ability to hear individual sounds and pieces of words.

Just think about singing, “Down by the station, early in the morning.” The words “station,” “early,” and “morning” are broken apart and each part gets its own musical note. To sing the song, you have to hear each part. Sing it enough, and say enough rhymes with ending “ing’s,” and you can read it years later because you can connect those squiggles on the page with the sound the teacher says and the sound you have heard and know.

It’s the beginning of a new school year. Go forth with confidence, knowing the silliness you do has a tremendous influence on a child’s ability to learn to read later and therefore, his or her future.

Sing on,


Bears, horses, and sausages! Oh my! But it’s what I’ve been doing in storytime the last few weeks, and it’s immensely satisfying to see how much the kids enjoy this mix.

After our opening song, I read The Three Bears. I prefer the Barton version. It’s simply told and the pictures are clear and colorful. The Three Bears is a magical story. I’ve never had a group of kids (from toddlers up through age eight) that weren’t just enthralled with it.

I then tell them we are all going to tell the story again, a different way! That’s when we do the fingerplay, The Three Bears (click here). Because The Three Bears relies so much on sequence, it’s a great story for reinforcing narrative skills. So the second time through the fingerplay, I reinforce it even more by letting the kids “remember” what comes next (bowls, chairs, beds, and bears).

Next book up–Bear Wants More by Wilson followed by more food: Ten Fat Sausages (click here). Bear Wants More is in rhyme so it builds phonological awareness as does Sausages with its rhythm and alliteration. I do it as a chant with the kids clapping on the beat. I hold up my handy-dandy flannel board stand-in (a whiteboard with pieces stuck on with double-sided tape) during the chant.

On it is a frying pan, complements of free clip art, and ten sausages, also from clip art. I print the pictures off, trim them to shape, and add the tape to their backs. The sausages won’t all actually fit in the pan so I fan them across the space above the pan in two groups of five.

We clap, we chant, and on POP, I remove one sausage and on BAM, I remove another. Then I pause and count the sausages and we start again till we get to zero sausages. I always do it a second time (sometimes a third, the kids love it) and when I place the sausages back on the board, I also count aloud.

Finally, I tell the kids I’ve got one more puzzle for them (because the sausages have been a puzzle; you can just see their little wheels a-turnin’ during it). Then we read Are You A Horse by Rash. I try to get straight through this one the first time without too many questions so they can get as much of the flow as possible. And I always quietly hold the last page up for many, many seconds until someone finally gets it and the giggles begin.

It’s not your traditional springtime storytime (except for Bear Wants More) but the kids enjoy it sooooo much.

Hope you do too!


Winters are long here in the San Luis Valley. We get lots of cold weather but not much snow (it’s actually a desert up here at 7600 feet). So storytimes on winter, the cold, animals, and the exciting times when we do get snow tie right into a child’s daily experience here.

Here’s what I’m currently doing for wintertime storytime. The kids and I are enjoying it!

Books we are reading include:

  • Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
  • Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep by Maureen Wright
  • Here Comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara

Before I start reading Tacky, I show the kids my penguin stick puppet. He’s simply made out of black and white foam with a yellow beak (some kids love pointing out that he has no eyes). We talk about his colors and what he is covered with–fur? feathers? scales? hair? Once we’ve figured out penguins have feathers, we can talk about other animals that have feathers–birds! And then we can talk about birds that fly–and birds that swim like penguins!

Lots of talking happening, and of course, only for as long as the kids are interested. It’s easy talking, though, and easy for the kids to join in with their thinking and ideas and words.

Then my puppet acts out this rhyme (pardon the bullet points, WordPress inserts double spacing otherwise):

  • Little penguin black and white,
  • On the ice, what a sight!
  • See them waddle, see them glide.
  • Watch them as they slip and slide.
  • Little penguins black and white,
  • On the ice, what a sight!

Then we read Tacky with lots and lots of expression! After Tacky we talk about what other animals do in the winter and bears and sleeping come up. Before reading Big Bear, though, I tell the kids I’m going to tell the same story two different ways (a great way to build narrative skills, btw).

First I do this rhyme to the tune of  “Up on the Housetop.” As a sing through it, I place first a picture of a brown bear, then of a blue cloud with a face drawn on it (like Old Winter in Big Bear), and finally a bear sleeping in a cave onto my makeshift flannel board (I use pictures printed in color from MS Publisher and place them on a white memo board with double sided tape).

  • There once was a bear who love to play (Put up brown bear)
  • In the woods most every day.
  • But then the winds began to blow (Put up winter wind picture)
  • And soon the ground was covered with snow.
  • Oh, oh, oh, ice and snow,
  • Oh, oh, oh, I better go-o
  • Into my cave to sleep all day (Put up bear in cave picture)
  • Until the cold winter winds go away.  Jean Warren

I’m amazed at how much the kids love this! Then on to the Big Bear book. We follow it with some snow fingerplays (see the left hand side bar for those) and wrap it up with Jack Frost. Don’t let this book fool you though! It looks far too simple to hold a bunch of squirmy kids attention but it works like a charm. And they love puzzling out the ending!

There you go, lots of conversation, vocabulary, print awareness (especially in the final pages of Big Bear, narrative skills,  and phonological awareness through rhymes. All wrapped up in one winter package.

Stay warm,


This article by Dr. Perri Klass is so chock full of information on early language development that I would like to just string quote after quote after quote together here.  If you have a small child, if you work with small children, please take the time to read it carefully, all the way to the end. Paragraph after paragraph holds a gem.

Klass begins with, “If a baby isn’t babbling normally, something may be interrupting what should be a critical chain: not enough words being said to the baby, a problem preventing the baby from hearing what’s said, or from processing those words. Something wrong in the home, in the hearing or perhaps in the brain.”

Babies need to be talked with, back and forth, by human beings, conversationally. Not enough talking happening with baby, not just around baby? Babbling will not happen. This is why that, in addition to encouraging reading with babies, we must also encourage talking with them. And with lower literacy parents and parents in poverty, we may actually have to teach talking with babies.

Another  important idea is that babbling comes in two stages: first, the “noises” stage and then the adding consonants stage. If a child older than 7 months is not making consonant sounds, asking why not needs to happen.

Notice how much the article then talks about the physicality of learning to babble consonant sounds. I have been struck over the years at what seems to be the growing number of children needing speech therapy as preschoolers and kindergartners.

Two factors can contribute to this:

One is mentioned in the article: “Babies have to hear real language from real people to learn these skills. Television doesn’t do it, and neither do educational videos…”

Why do TV and video not help with language development? Because while baby or young child may be able to respond to the TV, the TV will not respond to the baby or child. The interaction is at best only one way. It is not true interaction. There also is not the chance for the child to see and even touch what is going on with the mouth and face that is making those sounds. Learning speech, learning consonants especially, is a physical activity.

So that leads to my next point: Pull the plugs. Babies and toddlers cannot be physical with their mouths when they are plugged with a pacifier. The two are incompatible. If a child uses it to get to sleep, that may be one thing (they aren’t listening to speech and responding), or there may be special circumstances like with TV (watching when sick). But overall pacifier use does more harm than good. (Not only can they slow this mouth muscle experimentation and development, they also affect tongue thrust which affects speech.)

Enough from me though! Scroll back up, read Dr. Klass, and think how the info contained can be applied to your storytimes and to your parenting. Your children will benefit!

Cheers for babbling!


I don’t like rap. Never have. Before last week I would have said never will.

My mother always said, “Never say never.”

Take a look and listen here to what Lin-Manuel Miranda has done with what could be a dry as dust history lesson about the US’s first Secretary of the Treasury. A four and a half minute rap about an economist? All we usually remember about him is his death–he was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel.

You’ll remember much more about him after you give Miranda a listen. You may even find yourself (along with your kids) wanting to know more.

So why am I posting this on a literacy blog? Here’s a few reasons:

  • It involves language, lots of it, well chosen and carefully put together. Writing, communication, and creative expression don’t get much finer than this.
  • It’s well done. It’s so well done, it looks easy. But what he has created here is difficult to do. Kids need to see and hear the good stuff.
  • It demonstrates how the brain loves story. You learned most of this in school. How much did you remember before listening to Miranda? And how much do you remember now, now that you’ve heard about Hamilton through a narrative story, told in rhyme and rhythm? Quiz yourself in a few days. You’ll be surprised. Stories help us remember.

It’s an easy, fun history lesson as well. 😉

Watch it more than once. It actually gets better with each viewing.



Who would have ever imagined that two of the pillars of children’s books would have both struggled with reading and school? And that the two of them would become such a team over the decades?

I’m not a big fan of interviews, but there’s so much in this one with Eric Carle–including an interesting connection with phonological awareness. 😉 See if you can find it!



I just received a terrific new board book! It’s Happy Baby, edited by Fiona Watts, and it would be great to add to your early literacy collection. Here’s why:

  • Most of the rhymes are “new” ones that you probably don’t know.
  • Each double page spread includes the words and directions for bouncing and playing with baby during the rhyme.
  • There’s a CD included so no worries about the ones you don’t know.
  • Each rhyme builds phonological awareness and fun times shared with this book will build print motivation as well.
  • Babies and parents are multicultural–AND there’s a daddy included!
  • The last two pages give a developmental guide to playing, dancing, and moving with baby.

This will check out well in any children’s collection, but it would also be a marvelous book to give to new parents and to parents who are not quite sure what to do with baby and how to play with them.

Happy Bouncing!


The Best of my March book order goes to:

Waiting Out the Storm by Macken: I don’t know which I like better, the writing or the illustrations. They are both lovely. A little girl is frightened of the storm blowing in. Her mother’s descriptions of what’s happening reframe and reassure without minimizing the child’s feelings.

“It’s too loud! I’m afraid!” the little girl cries. “Oh, it’s only a sound. Thunder stomps. Thunder stumbles and bumbles around,” her mother replies.

The vocabulary rhymes soothingly, the colors emphasize the spring-ness of the rain, and both fit together to build a cozy, if wet, wonder of a world.

Runner-up goes to Pink Me Up by Harper. I’m not a “girl book” kind of gal. I wasn’t much of one when I was a child and then I raised two boys. So I can name on just my two hands probably, the “girl books” that I am comfortable with and enjoy recommending (Princess Grace, Ladybug Girl, Fancy Nancy, and the Prydain Chronicles top my list).

Pink Me Up sounds silly to me. Mama and daughter’s “pink day” arrives but Mama is sick. So Daddy fills in–but he’s not pink enough! What to do?! Well, make him pinker, of course!

For me, silly or not, the book works because it captures the emotions of a disappointed preschooler so well. The spread where she falls flat on the floor (literally, face down) with the exclamation, “Today is the worst day EVER!” rings so very true. Then she goes through problem solving mode of who can take Mama’s place–but she never dreams of Dad. Why? “I tell Daddy something very important: Daddy! You’re a boy!…Boys are NOT pink!” Again, spot on for a preschooler’s mind (they are trying to sort out what is a boy, what is a girl–and things like clothes and colors and mommy- and daddy-ness are very important markers for figuring this out).

But Dad pulls out his pink tie and the wheels start spinning.

I won’t give the ending away but all ends well. 😉 I like that with a little encouragement from both parents, she becomes the problem solver and that, while she definitely associates pink with girls, it has nothing to do with being pretty. It’s just pink!

Have fun!


If you’re happy and you know it–speak your first word in Toddler Time! Oh my, what a moment! We were all singing and had reached the “Hooray!” point–when out of the blue, a just barely walking kiddo said, “Hap-py!”  I’m not making this up. 🙂

We read Choo Choo Clickety-Clack by Mayo and we all got louder and louder and louder. So many great sounds to make in that book! So good for phonological awareness! So fun!

And Ring Around the Rosies was a winner as well. Lots and lots of giggles. And when the little boy with some social struggles grabbed his dad’s hand to join in–well, we did it again! We do Rosies with two verses (scroll down the column on the left to listen) and today there were children anticipating what comes next! Another name for “what comes next” is anticipation, which leads to making predictions and later reading comprehension, and sequencing, which leads to understanding how letters go together to make words (and that was the early literacy TIP for the day).

Betcha didn’t know you could have all that in twenty minutes of fingerplays and singing and a dash of reading!

Nothing but awesomeness!


Here’s one of my favorite indoor winter games for kids. It really burns off the energy, leads to lots of giggles, and requires nothing but up and down movement! They’ll even build a bit of phonological awareness in the process.

First, show a “B b” letter and remind kids of the sound.

Then, teach them the song, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”

Next, while they are all sitting, tell them when they hear a “b” sound to stand up if they are sitting and to sit down if they are standing. Now start singing!

It sounds simple but it is hysterically difficult even for older kids!

Have fun!


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