Ten Fun (and Educational) Road Trip Word Games

Road Tripping this Summer?

10 ways to eliminate the “I’m Bored,” chorus from the backseat.

Ten Fun (and Educational) Road Trip Word Games

Whether you’re traveling cross country or logging time running errands around town, put your car time to good use this summer with these 10 fun road trip word games. Shhhh — don’t tell the kids that you are reinforcing language skills while they are having fun.

1. Graffiti

Let the kids write on the windows with dry erase markers.  Older kids can play hangman and younger children can practice their name and alphabet. Make sure to have a roll of paper towels on hand!

2. License Plate News

Call out the letters on the license plate in front of you and have your kids develop a wacky newspaper headline using the letters as the start of each word.  For instance, MEW could be “Man Eats Walrus,” and BDH could be “Boy Develops Hovercraft.”  For younger kids, simply have them think of a word for each letter.

3. Sound String

Create a string of words by listening for the beginning and ending sounds! Say a word and have your child repeat it slowly, emphasizing the ending sound.  Ask your child to think of another word that begins with the ending sound of the first word.  For instance, if you say “cat,” your child could say, “top.”  Take turns forming a string of words. Note: use the words’ ending sounds, not their ending letters (so if someone says “happy,” the next word could be “eagle,” but NOT “yellow”).

4. ABC Scrapbook Page

Ten Fun (and Educational) Road Trip Word GamesWhile traveling home from vacation, have your children write the letters A – Z down the left hand side of a piece of notebook paper.  Have them think of a word from your trip that starts with each letter.  Be creative.  For instance, a trip to Disney World might yield a list that starts like this, “Ariel, Belle, Carousel, Dad, Everybody was happy, Florida, and so on.” Your children may either write or illustrate their word if it is too difficult to spell. This idea was submitted by a parent who regularly plays this game with her kids and saves the results as a trip memento.

5. Mad LibsTM

Play Mad LibsTM with a twist!  Buy a Mad LibsTM tablet, download the Mad LibsTM App, or download pages by searching the internet for “free Mad Libs printables.”  Have an adult (non-driving, please!!) call out the word-type needed, but with an added twist.  For instance, “I need a verb that starts with /p/,” or “Give me a three-syllable noun.”

6. Travelogue

Ten Fun (and Educational) Road Trip Word GamesFor older kids with internet access: have your child Google the towns you pass through and ask them to find and read aloud three interesting facts about that town.  If you are in no-man’s land, have them research your destination and tell you about some of the landmarks you will see there.

7. Story Building

Have one family member develop the first sentence of a story.  Take turns adding a sentence.  You won’t believe the plot twists that ensue!

8. Unfortunately/Fortunately

Similar to Story Building, you will create a story one sentence at a time.  However, the beginning word of each sentence must alternate between “unfortunately” and “fortunately.”

This is how your story might unfold: “Unfortunately, on the way to Grandma’s house, Mom took a wrong turn. Fortunately, the road led to an amusement park.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  Fortunately, the gate was unlocked.  Unfortunately, a guard dog blocked the entrance.”  And so on…

9.  Grocery List

Build an imaginary grocery list one item at a time in alphabetical order.  The trick is remembering each item on the list as it grows.  For example, the first person might say, “I went to the grocery store and I bought artichokes.” The next person might say, “I went to the grocery store and I bought artichokes and Band-Aids.”  Create any kind of list you want — items to take to the beach, things found in Aunt Betty’s house, etc.

10.  Audiobooks

Ten Fun (and Educational) Road Trip Word GamesDid you know listening to books can help build your children’s vocabulary and make them better readers?

Often there is more than one way to sound out a word.  If your child has heard a wide variety of words in literature, she will be better able to access her decoding skills and read more fluently because it is easier to read words you have heard before. Audiobooks also improve listening comprehension. While traveling this summer, consider listening to audio books in the car instead of listening to the radio or watching a DVD. Follow along with the written book, or sit back and enjoy the scenery.  Either way is beneficial.

Share Your Ideas

Have an idea of your own?  Email us and we’ll include it in a future blog post!

Fun Summer Learning Activities

Summer provides an excellent opportunity to work with your kids to boost their skills and prevent the dreaded (and very real) summer slide. But mention summer learning, and most parents envision grumbling kids and workbooks at the kitchen table — enough to make them call it quits before even beginning.

We know that learning is most effective when it is enjoyable, when it engages the senses (i.e. when it’s multisensory) and when it involves new and unique experiences. So get your kids moving this summer and promote learning while they are having fun. They’ll never even realize they are doing their “summer work!”

Note: we have geared these activities toward reading/writing and phonemic awareness, but you can easily adapt many of them to other concepts you are reinforcing.

1. Sand Writing

Have your child practice sounds or high frequency words in sand. Writing in different textures makes writing a multisensory activity and helps kids retain what they learn. Plus, it’s fun!

2. Beach Ball Toss

Toss and Teach Beach Ball makes learning fun and effective.

With a permanent marker, write sounds, words, or nonsense words on a beach ball. Toss the ball to your child and have them read the words closest to their thumbs. For advanced students, cover the ball with blends, vowel teams, roots, examples of syllable types, etc.  For a beach ball that doesn’t become obsolete once your child masters the concepts you are practicing, check out the Toss & Teach Beach Ball, which features reusable pockets ideal for flash cards or cards from our card decks.

3. Scavenger Hunt

Send your kids outside on a scavenger hunt in search of the sounds they are learning (or for objects that have the sounds in the middle or end of their names). If your kids are old enough to use a camera or phone, have them photograph what they find and review their photos and sounds with you. You can make this more challenging for advanced kids by asking them to find objects with a certain number of syllables or with certain syllable types in their names.

4. Paint the House (Yikes!)

Multisensory outdoor learning activities

Give the kids a bucket of water and paint brushes. Have them write sounds, words, or even a whole story on the house, driveway, deck, etc. Watch as the writing evaporates and fades away.

5. Graffiti

Let the kids write on the windows with dry erase markers or dry erase crayons.  Older kids can play Tic-Tac-Toe with sounds and younger children can practice their name and alphabet. Make sure to have a roll of paper towels on hand!

6. Sound String

Say a word and have your child repeat it slowly, emphasizing the ending sound.  Ask your child to think of another word that begins with the ending sound of the first word.  For instance, if you say “cat,” your child could say, “top.”  Take turns…forming a string of words. Note: use the words’ ending sounds, not their ending letters (so if someone says “happy,” the next word could be “eagle,” but NOT “yellow”).

7. Mad LibsTM

Play Mad LibsTM with a twist!  Buy a Mad LibsTM tablet, download the Mad LibsTM App, or download pages by searching the internet for “free Mad Libs printables.”  Have an adult (non-driving, please!!) call out the word-type needed, but with an added twist.  For instance, “I need a verb that starts with /p/,” or “Give me a three-syllable noun.”

8. Story Building

Have one family member develop the first sentence of a story.  Take turns adding a sentence.  You won’t believe the plot twists that ensue!

9. Unfortunately/Fortunately

Similar to Story Building, you will create a story one sentence at a time.  However, the beginning word of each sentence must alternate between “unfortunately” and “fortunately.”

This is how your story might unfold: “Unfortunately, on the way to Grandma’s house, Mom took a wrong turn. Fortunately, the road led to an amusement park.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  Fortunately, the gate was unlocked.  Unfortunately, a guard dog blocked the entrance.”  And so on…

10.  Audiobooks

Ten Fun (and Educational) Road Trip Word GamesDid you know listening to books can help build your children’s vocabulary and make them better readers?

Often there is more than one way to sound out a word.  If your child has heard a wide variety of words in literature, she will be better able to access her decoding skills and read more fluently because it is easier to read words you have heard before. Audiobooks also improve listening comprehension. Follow along with the written book, or sit back and enjoy the scenery.  Either way is beneficial.

Share Your Ideas

Have an idea of your own?  Email us and we’ll include it in a future blog post!

Make Significant Strides With Summer Tutoring

During the school year, students squeeze tutoring into a schedule packed with school, sports, homework, and other afterschool commitments. Summer frees up not only time, but also brain bandwidth — making summer tutoring at Syllables extremely productive.

Don’t miss the chance to help fill in any learning gaps and prepare your child to succeed next school year!

How Syllables Can Help

  • Intensive Tutoring:  Speed up your time with us by increasing tutoring frequency or scheduling two-hour sessions. Students who complete “intensive summer tutoring” make remarkable strides and dramatically shorten the time they need to spend with us during the school year. Because our therapists are experts at keeping students engaged and active, double sessions are extremely productive.
  • Brush-Up for Syllables Alumni: If your child has graduated from Syllables’ reading program, they are welcome to come in for a free retest. We will determine if your child has retained their skills and kept up with their peers. If we see any deficits, summer is a good time to fill in gaps.
  • Study Skills: Did you know that we are experts in teaching kids study skills? Summer tutoring is an excellent way to develop these skills without the pressure of daily schoolwork. Learn More
  • Work at Home: Parents who work with their child at home decrease their child’s time at Syllables. Make sure to complete the practice your therapist recommends between sessions. You can also visit our YouTube channel to watch demonstrations of games you can play and activities you can do at home.
  • Attend a Training Session: Parents are welcome to attend our teacher training sessions (offered through our sister company, Kendore Learning). You’ll learn our proven method of teaching reading and you will leave prepared to help your child at home more than you ever thought possible! Parents of currently-enrolled Syllables students receive 40% off of Kendore Kingdom training.  View Our Training Schedule
  • Sibling Screenings: Dyslexia and other learning disabilities run in families. If you have a current Syllables student and are concerned about their sibling(s), bring them in for a complimentary one-hour reading assessment. If there is an issue, we can help you make a plan.

Not sure how to structure your child’s summer at Syllables? Give us a call at 770-752-1724. We are experts at assessing students and helping you make the most of your child’s time with us.

Choosing the Right Reading Material for Your Child

Choosing the right reading material for your child can be tricky. Most experts agree that a child is reading at the appropriate level when they can decode 95% of the words on the page. Any less than that, and comprehension, fluency, and confidence suffer. If you find that your child is not able to read accurately and fluently, the book they are reading is probably too difficult.

So what do you do if you are at the library or bookstore and you need to quickly assess whether the book your child picks up is one that they can handle? Have them take the Five Finger Test!

The Five Finger Test makes Choosing the Right Reading Material a Snap!Five Finger Test

  • Tell your child to open their hand and extend their fingers.
  • Open the book to a random page and have your child start reading.
  • Each time they miss a word, have them fold down one finger.
  • If all five fingers are down by the time they reach the end of the page, the book is too challenging.

In general, the most appropriate books will leave your child with two to three fingers remaining at the end of the page. If they can easily read all of the words on the page, the book may be too easy.

Ask yourself the following additional questions as your child is reading:

  • Do they understand what they are reading?
  • When they read aloud, do they read smoothly?
  • Does the topic interest them? (Remember, the goal is not only to teach your child to read, but to teach them to LOVE to read!).

Support Your Child if They Want to Read a Book That’s Too Difficult

Reading Aloud helps expand vocabularyIf your child picks up a book that’s too difficult for them, don’t despair. Read the book aloud to them or let them listen to the book in audio format. Contrary to popular belief, having a child listen to a book is not “cheating!”

When a child hears a new word read aloud their vocabulary expands and they are better equipped to decode that word when they eventually encounter it in writing (because it’s a lot easier to decode a word you’ve heard before than one you’ve never encountered). Introducing new words auditorily will significantly improve your child’s reading, and is particularly important in keeping struggling readers from falling further behind their peers.  Audio “reading” also enables struggling readers to stay current with the books their peers are reading and discussing.

Don’t stop reading aloud to your child when they are able to begin decoding for themselves. You can read aloud with your child well into their middle school years.

Making the Most of Reading Time

One last tip — if your child is reading material that is challenging for them, rethink the bedtime routine! Many parents save nightly reading time for bedtime, when the child is tired. This is often the worst time to read independently. Encourage your child to read earlier in the day when they are fresh, or reserve nighttime reading to a book you read to them.

Make Your Child a Stronger Reader

Want to help make your child a stronger reader and a better critical thinker? Learn to ask the right questions!

When your child is reading (either alone or with you), engage in discussions that will stretch their imagination and inference skills. For instance, if your child is reading Harry Potter, you could ask them the following questions:

  • Would you rather be a wizard or a muggle?  Why?
  • What do you think it would feel like to see Hogwarts for the first time?  Describe what you see in your mind’s eye.
  • If you could invent potions or spells, what would you create?

Books vs. Movies

Make your child a stronger reader - book before movie.When a book is also a movie, encourage your child to read the book first.  If your child has not seen the movie, their imagination will create their own visual. Once the movie has been seen, the mind’s eye can only conjure scenes from the movie.
If your child is a reluctant reader, you can use movies as a reading incentive: “Once you’re done reading Harry Potter, we are going to have a movie marathon.” Then, ask your child questions about how the movie compared to the “movie” they had already directed in their imagination.

Behind the Scenes at Syllables

Jennifer conducts a training class for Syllables Learning Center Therapists.

You probably have a good idea what goes on during your child’s time at Syllables. No doubt you’ve heard about the games we play, our trip through the Vowel Valley, and how cool it is to write in shaving cream. But do you know what goes on when your child is not at Syllables? We are guessing it’s more than you realize! Between your child’s sessions, we think about them, prepare for them, and monitor their progress. Our therapists are also continually deepening their knowledge and skills through collaboration and training.

Ms. Emma and Ms. Kathleen learn new ways to work with students.

By design, most of our students see more than one therapist. This is because experience has shown us that two heads are better than one! Behind the scenes, your child’s therapists compare notes — sharing strategies and brainstorming the best ways to work with your unique child. Our leadership team is involved in this process too. This collaboration leads to insights that result in more efficient and effective tutoring sessions.

Ms. Jennifer and Ms. Eileen review a student’s progress.

Our program is diagnostic in nature. For instance, your child may think that they are simply trying to “beat the clock” with a fluency drill without realizing that we are actually tracking their progress and assessing their mastery of concepts. Though we are not able to formally re-screen students as frequently as parents would like (because too much familiarity with the screening invalidates the results), our ongoing in-session assessments are monitored by our leadership team and form the basis of the progress reports we send home each month. If we see that a child is not making the progress we expect, we put our heads together and pull new strategies from our extensive toolbox.

Ms. Kathleen and Ms. Britanie review student progress and brainstorm the most effective ways to help students succeed.

All Syllables therapists complete rigorous and ongoing training and observations. This professional development is led by our Founder and Executive Director, Jennifer Hasser, an internationally recognized expert in dyslexia who has trained thousands of teachers worldwide and is sought after as a speaker at reading and dyslexia conferences. Jennifer and her team at Syllables keep up with the latest research and teaching methods and pass this information along to our therapists. Our training program is accredited by the International Dyslexia Association and the Multisensory Structured Language Education Counsel, who set a very high standard for our teacher training.

We appreciate your trust in us and we are honored to be on your child’s team. If you have any questions about our program or your child’s progress, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

The Importance of Nonsense Words

Let’s talk nonsense!

We are frequently asked why we use nonsense words with students. Parents and teachers worry that nonsense words will confuse their children and will interfere with learning new words. While we wholeheartedly agree that students need to work with real words, we also know that nonsense words play an important role in effectively teaching students how to read and spell.

Many young children have excellent memories and are able to memorize one syllable words without understanding how the words’ sounds connect with their letters. When these students eventually are introduced to multisyllabic words that do not contain memorized words, the child is lost.

If a student has been given a strong foundation in the alphabetic principle (connecting sounds with letters) through real and nonsense words, more advanced words won’t deter them in the future. For example, if we ask a student to sound out the nonsense word “lat,” we are reinforcing the sounds /l/, /a/, and /t/. Students who have learned to decode (read) and encode (spell) using letter sounds will not be deterred if the words they encounter are unfamiliar or as they increase in difficulty. They will not have to resort to memorization of large words because they will possess the tools they need to decode. Later, as the child is exposed to more advanced words, they will see words like “latitude” and “bilateral.”  They will learn that roots like “lat” are not necessarily nonsense after all —  “lat” is a Latin root that means “side.”

Working with nonsense words will not confuse a child in terms of vocabulary because if a word is not assigned a meaning, the child will not use it. For instance, the student who decoded the word “lat,” in school will not come home and say, “Mom, can we have lat for dinner?” or “I really would like a new pet lat.” Since the word has no meaning, it will not interfere with the child’s growing vocabulary. On the other hand, it will help with their reading and spelling for years to come.

Watch Video

Rethinking Bedtime Reading

Bedtime reading is a treat for natural readers. But for kids with dyslexia or other learning issues, curling up with a good book at bedtime is not the best way to end the day. It is important not to pair frustration and struggle with the act of reading, and if your child is tired, they will become frustrated quickly. If you have a child who finds reading challenging, it’s time to rethink the bedtime routine!

Click on the video below for helpful suggestions.

What is Working Memory and Why is it Important?

Working memory is the brain’s system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension.

Children with poor working memory typically have difficulty remembering multi-step tasks and instructions. They also may have issues with impulse control, because their brain cannot hold the thought of both an action and its consequence at the same time.

Working memory has a profound impact on reading because sounding out words requires that a child hold each sound in working memory before putting those sounds together. For instance, a child with a working memory deficit may sound out /b/, /a/, /t/, and then go back to say the word, only to find that they have forgotten the sounds they just decoded. The child will then guess by saying “butter” or “bite.”

One of the best ways to help a struggling reader who has working memory deficits is to help reading become automatic. Teaching good decoding strategies creates automaticity, which frees up working memory space.

Learn more about working memory by watching the video below:

Effective Strategies for Teaching High-Frequency Words

In general, high-frequency words are considered to be the most frequently occurring words in text. Students need to be able to recognize these words instantly in order to read fluently!

High-Frequency Word Facts

  • Only 100 words account for approximately 50% of the words in print. These words include the, of, to, was, for and if.
  • The most frequent 300 words make up 65% of all printed text.
  • Students should know the first 300 words by the 3rd grade.

Phonetic vs. Non-Phonetic “Discovery” Words

Many of the most frequent words are completely phonetic, allowing for students to decode their meanings efficiently and with ease. For example, that, with, and not are all phonetic words and can be decoded.

Other high-frequency words cannot be decoded or sounded-out. For example, of, was, and some are non-phonetic words requiring memorization. We call these words “Discovery Words”  since we must “keep digging” to discover which part of the word is not saying what we expect.

Some words must temporarily be treated as non-phonetic words requiring memorization until classroom instruction covers the rules they follow. For example, the word have follows the rule that English words should not end in ‘v’; therefore an ‘e’ is added. Most students will have to memorize have before that rule is introduced.

Most high-frequency word lists do not distinguish between phonetic and non-phonetic words. Students are required to memorize hundreds of high-frequency words — even those that follow standard, decodable patterns. This can be overwhelming for any student, but it can be particularly daunting for a struggling reader or a student with dyslexia.

At Syllables and Kendore, we simplify things by dividing high-frequency words into two categories: phonetic and non-phonetic. This dramatically lessens required memorization because students who have learned phonics rules can decode phonetic words efficiently and with ease.

For non-phonetic “Discovery Words,” the color red is associated with memorization so that words can be easily discernable at the time of instruction. Students will come to know that they must memorize words that are written in red. Commonly confused words like ‘saw’ and ‘was’ are not as confusing when students see the phonetic pattern in ‘saw’ and learn ‘was’ as a “Discovery Word.”

Teaching Tools for High-Frequency Word Instruction

The Discovery Dig Card Deck makes high-frequency word instruction fun and memorable! The Discovery Dig features over 100 of the most frequent sight words, explanation and instruction cards, and additional cards you’ll need to play War, Grab, and more. Play your way to reading and spelling success!

With our Discovery Word Book Set, students investigate non-phonetic sight words to figure out where the word has a spelling they have yet to discover. Use this bound book of reproducible masters to reinforce “Discovery Words” — non-phonetic high-frequency words.

Students will enjoy learning about non-phonetic high-frequency words with the Discovery Word Quicksand Kendore Kit. This kit comes with 36 high-frequency words printed on double-sided cards. Choose the non-phonetic word you wish to reinforce, and your student will see, spell, say, and shape the word with red clay.

Use the Discovery Word Wall to display and reinforce the most frequent non-phonetic sight words after you have introduced them. These “Discovery Words” do not follow basic phonics rules, yet students need to have these words orthographically mapped for basic reading and sentence construction!