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Zoom Fatigue Part II

Thanks to quarantining and social distancing, we now have a new term to describe the effects of continuous online interaction. Zoom fatigue, as we discussed in part I of this series, is a very real condition, despite its silly name. With nearly 100% of teaching and learning now occurring primarily on online platforms, such as Zoom, the fatigue associated with these digital conferencing tools has become an important consideration for children, parents, and educators alike.

 

How to combat Zoom fatigue

  • If possible, limit Zoom meetings to 1-2 per day. If parents are finding that their children are attending Zoom meetings consistently throughout the day, it’s time to step in. As a guideline, teachers have been instructed to provide 1-2 hours of “live instruction,” aka Zoom meetings consisting of instructional content, per week. This means that I personally am “live teaching” for two, 30-minute sessions per week. If teachers follow this expectation, students will be spending more time with hands-on, experiential learning as suggested, and less time honed in on a screen or video chat.
  • Parents who notice that Zoom meetings are occurring back-to-back or for prolonged periods of time should reach out directly to teachers and copy administration if necessary.
  • Parents can also suggest that their child only spend as much time as necessary in the Zoom meeting to gain clarity, ask questions, and receive feedback.
  • Similarly, teachers should set the expectation that Zoom participation, while strongly encouraged, is not required for the entire session. This means that students should feel comfortable signing in and logging out as they please.
  • A good suggestion for teachers to make every so often during a Zoom meeting is to remind students that, if they don’t have any questions about the assignment or content being discussed, they shouldn’t feel as though they have to stay in the Zoom meeting. Keeping things fluid allows students to advocate for their needs, while ensuring that time on digital platforms is minimized when possible.
  • To spur engagement during Zoom instruction, teachers should suggest that students take free-flowing, unstructured notes while the teacher is reviewing material or answering questions. These notes, in the form of free writing, have several benefits:
    • Note-taking ensures that students are actively listening and grasping important concepts.
    • Note-taking also helps solidify important information into memory.
    • Students are able to hold themselves accountable with their notes; if the page is bare, they know that they weren’t paying attention.
    • Jotting down rough thoughts or questions during an instructional session allows students to keep track of questions that they want to ask or concepts that require more clarity.

Teachers and tutors can also encourage engagement by enlisting an old classroom technique—random calling. Just as we would in the classroom, teachers can reach out for student comments and responses throughout the session to keep students on their toes and to check for understanding. Teachers should be sure to provide wait time for student answers and then open the question up to the group if a student falls silent. The point of random calling is to get and hold students’ attention, not to embarrass anyone or put them on the spot with a tricky question.

Self-care for Children

There has been a great deal of talk about the importance of self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of stress, worry, and unease for all of us. What we don’t hear enough about, however, is how crucial self-care can be for children’s well-being. During this time that adults need to preserve their own mental health and well-being, they must also tend to their children who require the same, if not more, self-care. Like general hygiene routines, children must be instructed on how to take care of themselves—this includes emotional care, too!

 

Youngsters may initially find it difficult to actually place their feelings into a category. This is especially true in the heat of the moment. Instead of clearly articulating their feelings, kids may just lash out, cry, or shut down. When this happens, parents typically scurry to diffuse the situation quickly—rightfully so—rather than attempting an in-depth conversation about recognizing feelings before they erupt. Yet there are proactive measures that can be taken. To ease future emotional moments, try the following:

 

  • Parents can help little ones recognize and verbalize their feelings by explaining the difference between a situation that might make one angry versus scared or upset.
  • Use scenarios that relate to your child’s age and interests and speak about these experiences hypothetically. Use the word “pretend” as your term to signify each scenario as strictly practice for identifying future feelings/emotions.
  • For children that have specific social needs, visuals are helpful when teaching and discussing abstract concepts such as frustration, loneliness, etc. Consider using cartoons or emojis to help children visualize and conceptualize scenarios with particular emotions and facial expressions.
  • Parents can also encourage kids to clarify the level of emotion that they are experiencing with a rating scale of some sort. For instance, a “1” would indicate a mild level of joy, anger, sorrow, etc., while a “5” would signify an extreme level of feelings.
  • As kids get older, parents can encourage more advanced forms of expression, such as journaling, drawing, painting, photography, meditating, etc.
  • For many kids, expressing and expelling pent up emotions comes with physical activities. When children are struggling with stress, frustration, anger, etc., parents can prompt activities such as jogging, roller blading, juggling a soccer ball, kickboxing, dancing, golf, and any other sport or physical activity to release energy, center one’s focus, and mediate aggression.

 

In addition to recognizing emotional triggers, part of self-care involves removal from situations that could be emotionally toxic. Like all social-emotional skills, this comes with practice. For children, it can be especially difficult to speak up and advocate for themselves when they need a break or a breather, but this can be greatly beneficial for mental health and well-being.

 

Therefore, in addition to recognizing one’s feelings, parents will want to encourage children to speak up when they are reaching the emotional threshold. Strategies could include:

 

  • Asking teachers or other adults for a “brain break” when frustration hits. This could be as simple as taking a short walk in the hallway or getting a sip of water to cool down.
  • Creating a hand signal or code word for children who are hesitant to voice their feelings. When kids say this word or give the specific signal, parents know then that he/she needs a moment to himself.
  • Explaining to children that everyone, no matter how social or friendly they are, needs a break from the crowd sometimes. Make them feel comfortable taking that time for themselves to calm down, collect their thoughts, or just be alone for a moment.
  • Similarly, in times of stress, children can find comfort in positive self-talk. But again, this is a learned practice—parents will want to model positive self-talk to demonstrate how it works. If a child is feeling anxious about a competition or test, practice soothing self-talk strategies to boost confidence and lower anxiety. Silent mantras such as, “You will do your best!” “You worked really hard for this!” “Everyone is already proud of your accomplishments!” go a long way when pepping children up.

Distance Learning with Multiple Children at Home

Distance learning is tedious enough. Between the emails, Zoom meetings, various portals teachers utilize, and workloads from each class, juggling at-home learning during this new “virtual school day” can be a tall order. Even more difficult, though, is this juggling act when there is more than one school-aged child in the home. How can parents possibly manage distance learning for two or more kids? Obviously, this is new territory for everyone. To ease the stress and confusion, we’ve compiled suggestions and strategies to assist families who are learning at home with multiple school-aged children.

 

Designated work areas

One major hurdle when it comes to remote teaching and learning is organization. It should come as no shock that organizing a learning space is paramount to ensuring continuity of learning now that the usual classroom routines and structures have been thrown out the window. Students need to have a designated quiet place to focus, read, correspond, and create. While this seems obvious, many families are struggling to get children to focus on their remote classwork simply because the environment is not conducive for concentration. While the kitchen counter or a child’s bedroom may have previously been the homework area of choice, times have certainly changed—we’re no longer talking about rushed homework tasks in between soccer practice and dinner time.

 

If teachers and parents expect children to sit and focus for an extended amount of time, they need to provide a comfortable space, free of distractions. When siblings are working in close proximity, distractions are bound to emerge. Therefore, it is important that each child has his or her own private work space, equipped with comfortable seating, a laptop or other device, necessary school materials, and some form of desk or surface on which to work. If space is an issue, parents should consider lap desks as an alternative to bulky furniture desks.

 

Headphones 

Headphones are a true lifesaver when it comes to remote learning. Since many teachers are utilizing Zoom calls and other video tools to conduct teaching and learning, students would benefit from noise-cancelling headphones that allow them to focus solely on the instruction. Headphones also spare other house members the headache of trying to block out the instructional videos and video chats.

 

Individual check-in times

Many parents are finding that, on top of their own jobs working from home, they have now suddenly become homeschool teachers of multiple grades levels and content areas—as if everyone doesn’t have enough to deal with right now! To avoid being stretched too thin, parents should consider designating certain time(s) of the day for each child to check-in, seek help, review work, etc. Limit this form of “parental assistance” to a half hour per child if possible. If parents find that a child needs more support, they should communicate with the school and specific teachers about classes and assignments that are becoming unmanageable. To stick to the 30-minute check-in period, children should be encouraged to jot down their necessary questions ahead of time and be prepared to articulate where and how they need assistance. Set a timer so that children know that they are “on the clock” for only a specific amount of time. Whatever questions or issues that they are still having after check-in time has expired should be directed to their teacher.

 

Coordinate brain breaks and snack times

With multiple kids in the house, coordination is key to productive distance learning. Depending on each child’s age and learning needs, siblings may need more or less time for movement, screen-free learning, “brain breaks,” etc. As much as possible, try to establish universal times throughout the day when children break from learning to keep motivation, focus, and energy levels up and running.

 

It is important to move, converse, socialize, play, and create throughout the day to interrupt the monotony of virtual learning; however, if one child is playing outside while the other is concentrating on school work, parents may want to rethink the learning schedule. Allowing simultaneous break times ensures that kids aren’t being distracted by siblings during work sessions. There is no jealousy or “unfairness” factor if siblings are getting a break at the same time. Be consistent with breaks as much as possible; use a timer if necessary to set limits for learning versus playing.

Building Resilience in Trying Times

The current Coronavirus pandemic is like nothing we have seen before. We as a society are essentially constructing the track as this train barrels along, which can be unnerving, to say the least. For families with children, the burden may fall even harder in the midst of this global crisis. One tinge of a silver lining, however, is the resilience that will come as a result of persevering through these difficult circumstances.

 

Instead of ruminating on the issues…

Try free writing for 10-15 minutes every day. This form of expression is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety, much like meditation. Expressive writing gives us the opportunity to sit with our thoughts and work through our emotions on paper. Additionally, this process encourages us to work through a difficult time by reclaiming some sense of power—writing allows us to feel a sense of control over how we choose to react in written form.

 

Expressive writing is also a platform for reflection. Through writing, we are able to take time to come to grips with the struggles around us and consider how we can enact change, even if it’s just change within our own attitude or outlook. Finally, expressive writing provides a record of trials and tribulations—later on, if another crisis arises, it provides a resource of strength for us to refer back to for guidance.

 

Instead of wallowing in despair or perseverating over what we’re missing…

Acknowledge the current circumstances and practice acceptance of what we cannot control. It is easy for children and teens to feel as though this health crisis is single handedly ruining many aspects of their lives—socially, emotionally, academically, romantically, psychologically, etc. They may feel as though life is on hold during this pandemic. However, resilience comes from confronting and overcoming hardships. Therefore, learning to accept the hardships or obstacles is the first step in building this level of grit and resilience. As the saying goes, “We must accept the things we cannot change and find courage to change whatever is within our control.”

 

Instead of focusing on the negative…

Help children build resilience by emphasizing gratitude. It is easy to become bogged down in trying times, especially when an unparalleled global crisis is occurring. However, by prioritizing the positive and examining all of the good happening around us, we begin to recognize our strength.

 

Are playdates out of the question? Yes. Is graduation up in the air? Yes. Is prom likely cancelled? Yes. But is your family taken care of? Do you have your immediate needs met? Are you healthy? Are there other people suffering more right now? YES. Resilience and gratitude tend to go hand in hand because, through this crisis, we will learn that we’re stronger than we thought, and we have this strength to be thankful for.

 

Instead of falling into a rut…

Use this difficult time as an opportunity to do things there was not time for in the past. Parents can help bolster a new sense of discovery for their children by encouraging new or abandoned hobbies. Learn a new language, help work on the car, explore which vegetables would thrive in the yard, write poetry, watch cooking competitions, pick up an old guitar, foster a pet. The list continues as far as we can imagine. It is up to parents to encourage new ways of learning, engaging, and experiencing the world during this time of great uncertainty. Resilience can be cultivated by keeping busy—but it is up to us to choose how we use this time.

 

Remote Learning: Making Use of Time at Home During School Closures, Part II

As discussed in part one, the COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing today’s younger generation has ever experienced. Mass school closures may initially seem like a cause for celebration for many students. Yet the fact is that this pandemic, now deemed a national emergency, will have lasting effects. This is especially true for school-aged children and teens, who will now be missing out on hours upon hours of instruction and learning. In addition to setting up routines at home to maintain some semblance of normalcy, families will want to get creative when it comes to in-home learning as well.

 

Foreign language study

Just because schools are closed, that doesn’t mean that students’ language acquisition should hault indefinitely. Apps like Duolingo allow students to brush up on their foreign language skills, or begin to learn a new language altogether. The app is free and easy to use due to intuitive, game-like format.

Parents can also help bolster foreign language acquisition by selecting age-appropriate foreign films or movies with subtitles for the family to watch together.

Want to ditch the screens? Plan a bilingual scavenger hunt around the house using post-it notes. Label household items incorrectly and challenge your kids to correctly place the post-its using their language skills. For instance, if el baño is posted on the basement door, kids would need to move it to the bathroom door before moving onto the next sticky note.

 

Social studies 

For obvious reasons, many spring field trips have had to be cancelled, leaving students disappointed. One possible solution to these cancellations is to try virtual tours of the museums, galleries, landmarks, etc. Of course, the experience will not be entirely the same, but the sense of learning through exploration is still there. In addition, many locations utilize interactive platforms for students to truly immerse themselves in the information. Engaging options include Guggenheim Museum, The MoMA, The Louvre, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, The NASA Space Center in Houston, a moon tour via Google Earth, and any number of zoo cams around the world.

 

Now is also a great time for indulging in some documentaries for additional explorative learning. Beyond the content itself, which will undoubtedly provide information, older children and teens can identify and discuss persuasive techniques and other specific documentary film tactics. It may be beneficial to discuss the subjectivity that often emerges within the genre and how that impacts us, the viewers.

 

Science at home

Simple science experiments help to pass the time while introducing kids to the many engaging aspects of science.

  • Add heavy cream to a jar, tightly seal, and shake vigorously (for a span of 10-30 minutes) until butter begins to form. Kids will be amazed to watch as the cream solidifies. They can also flavor their homemade butter with sea salt or a drizzle of honey!
  • Create your own invisible ink using lemon juice and a q-tip. Kids will be amazed to see their secret messages when they hold a paper up to a lightbulb or other heat source.
  • Take a blind taste test, but with a tricky twist! Ask your child to hold his or her nose while tasting the everyday items, such as peanut butter, honey, salsa, chocolate chips, yogurt, etc. They will be amazed at how difficult it is to identify some of their favorite foods when their sense of smell is impaired!

Remote Learning: Making Use of Time at Home During School Closures, Part I

State-wide school closures for an extended amount of time due to a worldwide pandemic is truly unprecedented. Families, school systems, and entire communities are now in a position like we have never known before. Aside from the logistics involving everything from last-minute childcare to methods for providing meals to local FARMS (free and reduced-price meals system) populations, many folks are left wondering about the academic ramifications of these indefinite school closures. Similar to “summer slide,” when students are known to experience academic regression while out of school for the summer months, these sudden weeks without instruction could undoubtedly pose academic issues for students. Some districts are utilizing online platforms to deliver content digitally to students at home, while others are rushing to provide supplemental course packets that students can complete at their own pace during the extended closure. Whatever the case, families will want to ensure that certain steps are taken so that learning continues, even when school is not in session.

Set up a routine

Many students (and teachers) view this sudden shutdown as an excuse to go into vacation mode. Tempting as that is, stopping everything to “hibernate” at home is ill-advised, even during this time when we have been instructed to practice “social distancing.” Being stuck at home should not necessarily mean that children and teens grow accustomed to day-long Netflix binging in pajamas on the couch. Parents should set the expectation early on that some of this time out of school is still going to be used for learning. Some suggestions include the following:

 

  • Maintain the expectation that certain times of the day should be “screen-free,” meaning no smartphones, video games, television, iPads, or computer use.
  • As an alternative to technology, encourage kids to try a different hobby, like reading, journaling, coloring, yoga, knitting, baking, gardening, etc. Teen and adult coloring books, Legos, paint-by-number and toy model kits are all solid options for quiet, screen-free entertainment. In addition to revving one’s creativity, these activities help to develop fine motor skills, dexterity, patience, focus, and attention to detail.
  • Suggest that children help out with meal time and/or the cleanup after dinner. Seeing as everyone’s schedule has likely opened up, with regard to school, sports, and extracurricular activities, now is a great time to set up a routine for family meal times.
  • Imbed some physical activity into everyone’s daily routines as well. Obviously, the gym and fitness classes are ill-advised due to suggestions to practice “social distancing.” However, families can take evening strolls around the neighborhood, walk the dog each morning, jump on the trampoline, mow the lawn, etc.
  • To stave off the eventual boredom, families will want to think about organizing evening routines and activities as well. Maybe try Monday movie nights, take-out Tuesday, speed walking Wednesday, etc. The key is to have something to look forward to each day, especially since many fun events for kids, like field trips, weekend excursions, birthday gatherings, sleepovers, and team sports have been cancelled.

Gender Distinctions on the Spectrum

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys are diagnosed with autism at a much higher rate than girls. In fact, for every four boys diagnosed, only one girl will be diagnosed. There are many theories as to why this is the case, but one claim that is agreed upon by experts is that girls’ symptoms tend to be much more subtle and are therefore disregarded or overlooked. Instead of seeing certain tendencies and behaviors as potential symptoms of autism, parents often consider these behaviors to be minor “quirks” which their daughter may outgrow. While every child is different and autism presents in a variety of ways regardless of gender, there are known commonalities that specifically present in girls on the autism spectrum.

For girls, autism symptoms tend to revolve more around communication and socialization, as opposed to boys, who often present with more obvious symptoms related to impulsivity and repetitive outbursts. Furthermore, typical gender norms indicate that girls are often more content to play by themselves or engage in sustained quiet time on their own, as opposed to boys who prefer camaraderie and peer play. That said, a boy who withdraws from peers and fails to meet standard social benchmarks would draw more attention than a girl with the same social impediments simply due to society’s expectations of gender norms. Again, this is why many experts believe that autism diagnoses in girls are delayed or sometimes overlooked completely.

Similarly, since girls tend to mature earlier than their male counterparts, their level of self-awareness and social cues tend to be further developed as well. Because of this, girls on the autism spectrum may be more inclined to study others’ behaviors and react accordingly, almost learning how to mask their social struggles by observing others. Meanwhile, boys may miss cues altogether and therefore receive a diagnosis earlier on.

An additional concern for girls with autism is the fact that they can be especially naive to the world around them. They may experience difficulties in social situations or misread social cues, which often leads to instances of bullying or harassment. This naïveté can make it difficult to discern another’s tone or intentions and can cause them to become even more isolated from their peer group. A girl on the autism spectrum may not realize that her interests are not shared by other girls, but will insist on driving the conversation or focus to her specific interest. Again, this can cause friction with peers since the child may not fully understand why others are rolling their eyes, ignoring her, or outright dismissing her.

Finally, girls with autism may experience specific “obsessions” just as boys do; however, with age, parents might notice that her interests do not evolve as would be expected. Often times, an obsession becomes more noticeable as the child gets older because the interest is markedly different from the typical girls her age. For instance, instead of developing an interest in nail polish or drawing, a girl with autism might obsess over toy horses or stickers even as she begins to go through puberty. These seemingly immature interests can also contribute to social issues at school, such as bullying or isolation by peers.

Management Strategies for Noncompliance

Strong-willed children bring character, fierce energy, and clear opinions into the classroom, which are all positive attributes that help to stimulate engagement and learning. However, when fervid determination crosses the threshold of acceptable behavior, teachers are often left in a sticky situation when deciding how to proceed with a defiant student.

Keep a level head

When given an instruction or directive, such as, “Please sit in your assigned seat,” students are generally expected to oblige or at least attempt to follow the request. You may be met with an eye-roll or exasperated retort, but 9 times out of 10, the request will be a non-issue. However, when a student is outright noncompliant, it is important that the teacher consider the potential catalyst of the defiant response. Often, this type of isolated obstinance, especially when it occurs out of nowhere, is a response to some unknown frustration or concern. The frustration may not even be related to this particular class or the directive. Because the trigger is typically unknown, teachers can assuage the emotions by considering how to de-escalate the situation before reacting. This is easier said than done, but suggestions might include:

  • Walk away to provide the student with a moment on his own to consider the request or directive; this also allows you to take a breath before asking again.
  • Provide the student with a reasonable alternative, such as sitting in his assigned seat or sitting up front away from other students.
  • Calmly rephrase the directive in a soft manner that is only audible to the individual child. Too often, non-compliance arises from a public power struggle, so a defiant student is less likely to comply when he feels as though he is performing as “the rebel” for an audience of peers.

Consider the individual personality involved

When confronted with what could be considered defiance or task-refusal, teachers should pause to consider whether the student is actively defying the command, or if there is a misunderstanding. For instance, a student who struggles with auditory processing may fail to respond immediately. On the outside, she may appear to be ignoring you, but in actuality, she is simply interpreting the request at a slower rate. Similarly, a student with ADHD may also need a few additional moments or some repetition to grasp the directive—this isn’t defiance. Students with autism may also present as noncompliant at times. Typically, this refusal is linked to a lapse in social cues and/or a need for further clarification. It is not unusual for students on the spectrum to require an explanation of why they are being asked to do something. Again, this is not meant as a defiant remark. The “why” question is quite literally asked as a means of gaining further explanation in order to meaningfully invest in the task.

 

Provide alternatives, but hold your ground

When a student has dug his heels in, another option is for the teacher to present opportunities for student choice. This doesn’t mean going back on your word. If a student is refusing to complete an assignment, provide him with the choice to complete it now or at lunch. If a student is hesitant to read aloud, give her the choice of which passage she’d prefer to read. A student who is demanding to go to the bathroom can go, but only after he’s completed the front of the worksheet. These options allow students to negotiate, but only on the teacher’s terms. In essence, you’re giving an inch without permitting the student to take a mile.

Combating School Refusal Fact vs. Fiction

Whining and groaning about going to school is bound to happen from time to time. Children will undoubtedly have a few instances when they beg to stay home from school for one reason or another. Other students may skip the parental piece altogether and skip school without adult permission. While both of these issues can be problematic, they do not fall under the more severe issue of school refusal.

Fact: Experts estimate that anywhere from 2-5% of school-age children develop this level of refusal because of deeper emotional issues at play. This non-compliant behavior can develop out of depression and/or anxiety, and sometimes a combination of both disorders.

Fiction: Some people believe that school refusal encompasses any case where a child refuses to attend school; however, it is more complicated than that. School refusal is not the same thing as truancy, where students decide to skip certain classes or ditch school altogether without their parents’ knowledge. A student who is routinely truant is avoiding school in favor of some other desired alternative. Whereas a student who is refusing to go to school is doing so out of emotional distress associated with being in school. Similarly, a child who feigns illness to avoid a math test, for instance, does not fall under the same category as a student who adamantly refuses to attend school because of unexplained dread or apprehension.

Fact: School refusal is a response to or an attempt to alleviate or avoid the trigger—school—by refusing to attend. For students with social anxiety, separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, or depressive disorders, the school environment can exacerbate symptoms and create added distress. Incidents of bullying, the desire to be the perfect student, negative peer influences, and other emotional trauma associated with the school environment can also contribute to school refusal, but it does not happen overnight. School refusal is often a last resort or “breaking point” for children who have been experiencing pent up anxiety and/or depression for an extended period of time. When other strategies and methods for managing stress have failed, their last resort is to avoid stressors altogether by staying home from school.

Fiction: Contrary to popular opinion, school refusal does not occur out of nowhere in one fell swoop. There are known behaviors or signs leading up to outright refusal that occur systematically beforehand. It is important for parents to recognize these patterns and intervene early:

  • Children may begin by intentionally oversleeping several days or weeks in a row to prolong their time at home before leaving for school.
  • They may make numerous trips to the nurse with complaints about chronic, unexplained pain or injuries that are not visible, such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, muscle strains, or heart palpitations. Often times these ailments, while they may seem fictional or feigned, are actual physical responses to the anxiety that the child is experiencing—they are not necessarily “faking” the symptoms.
  • Children may also continuously call or text parents from school asking to be picked up for early dismissal. Often times they will claim that they are too sick to finish out the day. While this may be true on occasion, the likelihood is that the anxiety/depression has reached a threshold where the child feels that escaping from school will be the only solution.

Unfortunately, caving to these requests for partial school days will only create further issues with school avoidance. Intervention is required to address the core triggers and help these children to cope with their feelings of anxiety and depression within the school environment.

Look for strategies for intervening and managing behaviors related to school refusal in part II!

Spicing Up Phonics: Tips for Parents Pt. II

Phonics instruction can be quite tedious, as we have established in part one. However, it doesn’t have to be! Parents can employ the use of different games and challenges to help children build their phonics knowledge at home. Beginning with basic sounds, then corresponding letters, vowel patterns, and so on, children are able to garner more knowledge of phonics and language without the droning, repetitive instruction that we usually associate with phonics lessons in the classroom. See more strategies and activities below!

Rhymes in the car

To help children with rhyming patterns inconspicuously, parents can challenge them to a “rhyme off” to fill the time during a long car ride.

  • Allow children to choose a word; sight words are great for beginning the rhyme off as well!
  • Going back and forth, each participant must come up with a new word that rhymes with the original word.
  • If the original word is chair, participants will continue with hair, fair, pair, etc.
  • Since you are just working with sounds, allow for any and all vowel patterns that rhyme with the original word, like dare, care, bear, etc.
  • Then later on, to extend the activity, parents can show how some of the rhyming words followed a different vowel pattern of spelling.

Guess the digraph

Simply put, a digraph is a combination of two letters (di-) that make one sound. Examples are vast, but some include: ch, sh, wh, ay, th, ph, etc.

  • Parents will simply say a word that includes a digraph, such as phone.
  • The child will then say the letters that make up that digraph and isolate the sound; “phone is ph; ph says fff—.”
  • To extend the activity, challenge your child to come up with another word that includes the same digraph, such as “phony.”
  • Want even more of a challenge? Write out a word that includes a digraph and ask your child to identify the two letters that create that one sound.
  • For instance, if parents write down “chocolate,” the child would identify ch as the digraph.
  • Parents should explain that, on their own, the letter C makes its own sound; same thing with the letter H. However, in combination, the two letters create a new sound.

The new name game

This is another phonics challenge that is great for long car rides.

  • Essentially, participants follow the letters of the alphabet coming up with real people’s names for each letter.
  • It can look like this: Alex, Brennan, Creighton, David, Ethan, Felicity, Gail, etc.
  • If you want to add even more of a challenge, parents can say that names have to alternate genders, or perhaps you have to try the entire alphabet using names that are typically considered “girl names.” Amy, Brooke, Courtney, Dana, etc.

You can also modify the game for children who have not quite mastered the alphabet by simplifying the rules. Instead of going through the alphabet, choose one letter and take turns coming up with names that start with that letter.