Writing with phonics: Short vowel 'a'.

SAT (short vowel ‘a’)

Today’s word is brought to you by Miss 5 and the colour pink!

Learning to read and spell with phonics

Classrooms around the world take all kinds of different approaches to learning to read, write, and spell. In New Zealand, research studies (McNeill & Kirk, 2014) found that most teachers did not teach their students phonemes, how to spell phonologically, sound-letter relationships, or spelling patterns. Understanding how to decode language is especially important for children with special learning needs, such as dyslexia and auditory processing disorder, as they require an explicit understanding of these topics (exposure to print media and general literacy is not enough to create an implicit understanding or ‘osmosis’ effect).

It is important to teach a phonological awareness of each alphabet sound (what ‘sound’ does the letter make). A good place to start can be putting a light coating of shaving foam in a flat tray and tracing the upper case letter with your finger while making the accompanying sound. After modelling, encourage the student to make 3-5 attempts. Speculate together what words might start with that sound. Tip: If dyslexia is indicated or they are struggling to distinguish letters, focus on capital letters as these are easier to differentiate visually.

When moving onto words, a good place to start is with short vowel ‘a’ as several phonics words families can be taught together. It’s common to start with CVC words [consonant-vowel-consonant].

When teaching an explicit awareness of phonemic awareness, ‘SAT’ is composed of: 3 letters, 1 syllable, and 3 phonemes. Within the -at phonically decodable word family are multiple words that have the same onset-rime.

Syllable: A unit of sequential speech sounds containing a vowel and any consonants preceding or following that vowel. (Henry, 2010. p.314)

Phoneme: The smallest unit of sound that conveys a distinction in meaning. (Henry, 2010, p.312).

Onset-rime: The onset is the initial consonant or consonants within a syllable. The rime is the vowel and any consonant that follows, within the syllable. (Nicholson & Dymock, 2015.p.87)

-at words

  • cat
  • fat
  • sat
  • hat
  • mat
  • rat
  • bat

-an words

  • can
  • fan
  • man
  • ran
  • van
  • tan
  • pan

-ap words

  • tap
  • cap
  • gap
  • lap
  • nap
  • map
  • zap

-am words

  • jam
  • ham
  • Sam

High frequency words

  • a
  • can
  • and
  • I
  • see

Activities to try

Playdough letters

Make or buy laminated upper case letter mats. Ask the student to help you make each of the letters needed to make one of the CVC words above. While making the letter, explain that there is a sound that matches the letter and model making it,

When the word is complete, show how to sound out the letters to make the word.

Silly Spelling

Using toys, containers, or pictures drawn on paper, create a ‘treasure chest’ for real words and a ‘rubbish bin’ for fake words.

Use 3D letters to make one of the words above; let’s use CAT as an example. Demonstrate how to sound out the letters. Ask the student if they think it is a real word or fake word. Write CAT on a strip of paper and place it in the treasure chest.

Ask the student to remove the first sound [C] and swap it for a different one. Let’s say they add ‘L’. Ask the student if they think LAT is a real word or fake word. Write LAT on a strip of paper and place it in the rubbish bin.

Explicitly discuss how the end sound (-at) is staying the same and ask if they can think of any words that rhyme with CAT. Demonstrate with another word such as HAT.

Jumbled Words

For some learners, it can be difficult to focus on ‘flat’ worksheets and working with kinaesthetic 3D letters can be more helpful. If the entire alphabet is placed in front of them and they are asked to spell RAT this may be visually overwhelming. Try scaffolding the activity:

Level 1: Have the word (and a picture) on a card in front of you. Model spelling the word with the 3D letters and sounding out each letter. Point out that you are matching the letters with the order on the card.

Level 2: Place on the letters that are needed in front of you. Explain to the student that you were trying to write [MAT] but the letters got muddled. Sound out the letters in the word and ask the student if they can put the letters in the right order to match the sounds.

Level 3: Place five letters in front of you. Advise the student that you feel they know the word [MAT] so you have a game that is a little harder. Explain that three of the letters are needed to spell the word and two of the letters are tricks. Sound out the letters in the word and ask the student if they can put the letters in the right order to match the sounds.

You might find that they identify the correct letters but place them in the wrong order. Praise them for finding the right letters and help place them in the correct order. Teach them that there is a pattern that they can learn for this phonic word family. Show them how the -at words they have been learning all have -at at the end and only change the beginning letter.

Phonics Strips

Create your own sliding phonics strips. These are a great visual activity for showing how changing a phoneme can alter the word.

Phoneme Boxes

Show students how to chunk words into their individual phonemes by using phoneme boxes. Explicitly discuss the difference between the number of letters that a word has and the number of sounds that a word has.

Students are likely to begin with CVC words where there are three letters and three sounds. The English language is full of all kinds of oddities (with its blend of Anglo-Saxon, Romance languages, and Greek roots). They will go on to encounter words like M|OO|N which has 4 letters / 3 phonemes; or CL|O|CK which has 5 letters / 3 phonemes.

It can be helpful to pick up a visual phoneme chart that shows all 44 sounds of spoken English and gives examples of their use.

Easy Christmas Gifts for Kids to make

Upcycled tin cans can make all kinds of things!

Upcycling tin cans is a great way to get kids involved in Christmas gift giving (and it’s cheap!). They can be filled with craft projects, candy canes, coins, colouring pencils or pens, or seeds for the spring!

Whether you’re homeschooling, or just enjoy learning with the kids, it’s easy to integrate S.T.E.A.M. into this project. Skip to the end for ideas!

Materials

  • 420g tin can (15oz), empty, washed, and dried.
  • Scrapbooking paper
  • Measuring tape (dressmakers)
    • OR string.
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • PVA glue (white glue)
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Prepare your tin can. Tip: Choose one where your can opener left smooth edges! Remove the old label (warm water can help).
  2. Select your scrapbooking paper.
  3. Use a flexible dressmakers tape to measure the circumference and height of your can (or a piece of string which you can lie against a ruler).
  4. Once you have your measurements, mark out a rectangle on your paper. I like to add several centimetres (an inch) to the length and height of what I’m going to cut out as this allows a margin of error and means you can do a pretty fold at the top.
  5. Wrap the paper around the tin can and make sure the pattern will align correctly with how you plan to orient the tin. When you’re ready do a vertical line of PVA glue (the residue of the old glue will give you an idea of how wide you want to spread your glue). Wrap the paper around and smooth it down. Add more glue where the end of the paper meets and overlaps the start of the paper.
  6. If you’ve allowed an overlap at the top, cut a vertical slit (to the metal edging) at the four compass points. Apply glue to the inside of the paper and then fold down smoothly into the can.
  7. Once the glue is dry, you can fill it with all kinds of things!

Learning through play

Maths

  • 3D Shapes: Cylinders can both stack and roll. Compare this with other 3D shapes like a sphere (ball) or a cube (dice).
  • Measurement: Curved surfaces can be more challenging to measure – we can use a flexible piece of string to wrap around the cylinder and then lie it flat against a ruler or piece of paper. The curved face of the cylinder will transform into a rectangle when it’s drawn.

Fine Motor Skills

School skills are being practised with cutting and gluing. A fun way to practice fine motor skills is to fill the finished can with pom-poms and then fish them out with mini-tongs.

Creativity

As well as choosing pretty scrapbooking paper, you could use a hot glue gun to add ribbons, lace, colourful buttons, and all kinds of things to your creation! Googly eyes and a marker pen make an easy face and then stand pipe cleaners / chenille sticks in the tin as hair.

Home Science: Make a colour changing magic potion!

These colour changing molecules can be changed from indigo to brilliant blue or bright pink with a few simple experiments!

Pigments are molecules that contain colour and the ones in red cabbage juice ( anthocyanin ) are pretty special. By adding a base or acid, we can both change their shape and their colour! The pigments are easy to collect and the basis for two easy home experiments: Colour Changing Magic Potions and Making Litmus Paper.

First, you will need to collect some magic molecules from a red cabbage: click here to find out how.

Materials

Change your purple cabbage juice to blue by adding a base and to red/pink by adding an acid.

Directions

  1. Pour your prepared red cabbage juice into two clear glasses or small bowls.
  2. Into one glass, stir 1 tsp of baking soda. Watch the solution turn blue – indicating that the pH has turned basic.
  3. Into the second glass, stir 3 Tbsp of white vinegar. Watch the solution turn red/pink – indicating that the pH has turned acidic.
  4. For fun, pour the glass containing vinegar into the glass containing baking soda and watch them foam! Tip: for less mess, pour both solutions into a big bowl!
Foaming magic potion fun!

Home Science: Making Litmus Paper

Make your litmus paper to test acids and bases – it’s easy!

You don’t need expensive chemistry kits containing dangerous chemicals to have fun doing science at home. This simple (and colourful) experiment will help you make you own litmus paper so that you can test acids and bases using simple household ingredients. You can also test these by making a colour changing magic potion!

First, you will need to collect some magic molecules from a red cabbage: click here to find out how.

Materials

  • Red cabbage juice
  • Paper towels
  • Water
  • Dishwashing Liquid
  • Lemon juice
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • Vinegar
Making home made litmus paper
Home-made Litmus Paper

Directions – Part 1

  1. You will need your red cabbage juice (cooled and strained) and some paper towels. I folded mine twice to make thick squares.
  2. Quickly dip / submerge the paper towels into the red cabbage juice. Don’t hold them under for too long as you want them to collect the colour pigments but not get so soggy that they fall apart. It’s a little like candle dipping – you may need to do a couple of dips to get a good colour.
  3. Place the purple paper towels on a clean tray (that won’t stain) and put them somewhere warm (like the hot water cupboard) to dry until the next day.
  4. You now have litmus paper! Cut them into strips for easy dipping.
Testing Acids and Bases

Directions – Part 2

  1. Using glasses or small bowls prepare the solutions that you want to test. Your litmus paper will stay purple in ph neutral solutions, turn red-pink in acidic solutions, and turn blue in basic solutions.
  2. Dip away!

We used:

Bases: soapy water, baking soda, baking powder.

Acids: vinegar, lemon juice.

Don’t worry if your experiment doesn’t go perfectly (ours didn’t!); simply use it as a talking point to discuss why things didn’t turn out as expected. In our case, the detergent and baking powder didn’t dissolve properly which meant that out litmus paper stayed purple (recognising the ph neutral water). For more ideas on common acids and bases: click here.

Home Science: Making Magic Molecules

These colour changing molecules can be changed from indigo to brilliant blue or bright pink with a few simple experiments!

Pigments are molecules that contain colour and the ones in red cabbage juice ( anthocyanin ) are pretty special. By adding a base or acid, we can both change their shape and their colour! The pigments are easy to collect and the basis for two easy home experiments: Colour Changing Magic Potions and Making Litmus Paper.

Materials

  • 1/2 red cabbage
  • Hot water
  • A food processor (or a big pot)
  • Bowl
  • Fine colander or flour sieve
Simply blending the red cabbage in boiling water produces amazing bubbles!

Directions

  1. Shred or coarsely chop the red cabbage.
  2. You can then choose whether to boil or blend. I chose blending and it’s meant to result in slightly better colour.
    • Boil: Pop in a pot with enough water to cover the cabbage and boil for 15 minutes.
    • Blend: Pop in a food processor with about 3 cups of boiling / hot water. Blend until the cabbage is finely processed and then leave to soak for 15 minutes.
  3. Allow the cabbage mixture to cool and then strain the juice into a bowl. Tip: The juice will stain so glass is great if you have it. I used a flour sieve to strain mine into a glass pyrex jug.

You now have the cabbage juice you need for your two science experiments!

Added Extras

You can also freeze leftover juice in ice cube trays to make all natural coloured icing for birthday cakes or cupcakes!

Caramel Crunch Cookies

Caramel Crunch Cookies

These delicious crunchy cookies are also a great opportunity to discuss science in the kitchen! STEM discussion points follow after the recipe 🙂

Ingredients

  • 125 butter
  • 1/2 brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup or golden syrup
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Allergies: soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Start the oven preheating to 180’C / 350’F.
  2. Have a grown up mix the butter, sugar, maple syrup, and milk in a pot. Heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is almost boiling – you’ll be able to see the surface tension change as it begins to think about bubbling. Make sure that you stir constantly so that it doesn’t stick or burn.
  3. Remove from heat and allow the caramel to cool to lukewarm.
  4. Sift the flour and baking soda into the pot and mix into the caramel.
  5. Stir well and it will turn into a caramel coloured cookie dough.
  6. Roll the cookie dough into balls and flatten on a baking tray (either greased or lined with baking paper).
  7. Bake for 10-15 mins or until golden brown.

Science in the Kitchen (STEM)

  1. Gravity & Weight: When you’re using kitchen scales to measure out the butter, take a few moments to talk about why things have weight and why we weigh them. That butter would weigh about 20g on the Moon and about 315g on Jupiter.
  2. Solids, Liquids, Gas: It’s a good idea to have a grown up do the stirring with the caramel mixture as it gets very hot; keep young helpers interested by helping them to safely view the way the ingredients change. Ask them if the butter and sugar going into the pot are liquids or solids (the latter); then show them what happens when heat is applied (becomes liquid); as the mixture cools and is combined with the flour it’s state changes again (solid).
  3. Gassy Bubbles: Ask young helpers what’s different about the ingredients in this recipe. The answer is that it uses baking soda rather than baking soda. The baking soda causes small carbon dioxide gas bubbles in the cookie mix causing it to rise when it goes into the hot oven. Tip: Get the cookies in the oven quickly as the longer the mix is left at room temperature, the less the cookies will rise.
  4. Sweet Surprise: A great way to see baking soda in action is to make a candy version of these cookies. Have a go at making Hokey Pokey!

The Invisible Tasks of Food Allergy Parents

woman holding baby while sitting on fur bean bag

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

The often invisible cognitive load of food allergy families involves both time and heartache.
 
It’s needing to educate staff at childcare or schooling facilities that although lunchbox items may look similar to what other kids eat that varied allergies and intolerances haven’t magically gone away.
 
There are hours spent at home and with medical support staff planning nutritional intake (and addressing deficits). Special allergy free brands are researched and sought (often involving a substantially higher cost and extra driving time to that one special location that stocks a particular item but nothing else on your allergy list – meaning multiple item specific trips). Hours can be spent researching not just allergy free recipes but in needing to substitute ingredient (x), is there a risk of cross-reactivity from ingredient (y), in which case do you start all over again looking at a different ingredient or consider ingredient (z) as a back up?
 
Then there’s the extra time spent milling special flours from scratch because it’s too expensive to buy them pre-milled when you’re juggling multiple allergies/intolerances. There’s the time spent cooking and pureeing fruits and vegetables (not to mention washing up afterwards) so that you can make your own customized smoothie pops or home baking that incorporates ‘safe’ foods and ‘safe’ textures. There is the time spent agonizing over whether to make one allergy free meal for everyone or to make multiple meals each night. There is needing to pack food every time you leave the house because you can’t buy anything safe and easy to eat when out.
 
There is the heart ache of seeing your child sad because their friends have foods that they can’t have; of needing to take a packed lunchbox every time there’s a shared food event at their education facility or church or playdate or birthday party etc… There is the anxiety over trusting food that someone else has made (especially when you find yourself having to quite literally pull that awesome looking food item out of your child’s hands because someone has rushed over in the realization that they gave you the wrong information). For those with anaphylaxis, there is the ongoing anxiety around epi-pens, emergency hospital visits, and the daily concern of how easy it would be for a fatal accident to occur.
There is the emotional distress of wanting your child to find joy in food and knowing that instead there may be an invisible ribbon of anxiety. There is the heart ache every time you have to deny your child something because it will simply make them sick. There’s also the challenge of trying to explain to them why the doctor’s want them to have a tiny little bit of something but only every now and then (i.e. once every four days) and why it’s not ok for them to have more or to eat it when they’re not specifically being given it by mummy or daddy (or whomever their primary carer is).
There is the extra anxiety and tears and restricted eating because someone said something thoughtless in front of them about their food and now they are scared to eat.
There is wanting to wrap them up in your arms; to have them know just how much they are loved and that you would put in these invisible hours for them a thousand times over to ease their way just a little bit.

Apple Cake

Apple Cake

Apple Cake

Miss 4 and I have been reading a series of picture books, the latest of which is “The Wolf who visited the land of Fairy Tales.” The wolf goes on a quest to collect a recipe and ingredients to make apple cake. The book has a recipe at the back which inspired me to invent our own version; it has more protein and added micro-nutrients than a traditional recipe. This is a light thin apple cake that reminds me a little of  Tarte Tatin.

If you have young children, this is great for school lunches. Alternatively, read the book during the school holidays (or anything that features baking, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ would work just as well) and then tie in the real world application with the story. Add in some dress-ups for acting out the story and that’s your morning filled!

Apple Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Nuttelex (or dairy-free spread, or butter)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 fresh eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup flour, sifted
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 Tbsp ground linseed
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup rice milk (or alternative)
  • 3 large apples, peeled and diced into small pieces.

 

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180’C / 350’F. Grease the sides and bottom of a round cake tin.
  2. Cream the Nuttelex (or butter) and sugar. Add the beaten eggs and mix.
  3. Gently fold in the baking powder, flour, wheat germ, ground linseed, and ground cinnamon.
  4. Gently stir in the apple pieces and fresh ginger.
  5. Stir in a little rice milk until the batter is smooth.
  6. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 40 mins.

 

Alternatives

You can change the flavour profile in a variety of ways:

  • Add a splash of freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice.
  • Switch fresh ginger for ground ginger for a milder ginger flavour.
  • Increase the cinnamon to 1 tsp and add 1/4 tsp all spice + pinch nutmeg.

If your child is adverse to the apple being in chunks, consider experimenting with stewed apple or apple sauce. Keep an eye on your dry/wet ratios as this will have an impact.

Scones with Extra Goodness: Autism Mom

Enriched scones

Enriched scones

Miss 3 has a range of food allergies, intolerances, and sensory issues with food. To my great surprise, these scones were a massive hit with her. She will eat two of them for breakfast (or lunch) and prefers them without any kind of topping. They are light, fluffy, and tasty with only minimal amounts of sugar (so much healthier than store bought cake).

Her soy allergy means I have to do all our baking myself and she is now intolerant to  drinking milk but seems to cope okay if it’s baked or altered by probiotics (like yoghurt). She needs lots of calcium for her growing bones which is why this recipe is packed with dairy. The wheat germ helps to provide added protein (and is also a secret ingredient for bread and baking to help provide a soft, fluffy feel). The spelt and rice flour can be replaced by normal flour but for me it’s part of overall measures to have her on (a) a reduced gluten diet, (b) to have her grains as varied as possible, (c) to introduce as wide a range of macro and micro nutrients to her diet as possible.  Sometimes with autistic kids it’s about reinforcing the goodness in what they will eat rather than despairing about what they won’t eat!

Ingredients

DRY INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups plain flour (strong flour also works)
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup superfine white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 2 Tbsp ground linseed (or LSA)
  • 6 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, or maple syrup)

WET INGREDIENTS

  • 50-70g chilled butter
  • 1/2 cup (or 150g) natural or greek yoghurt
  • 1 cup water

Allergies: soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 200’C.
  • Sift the dry ingredients (the wheatgerm and linseed will mostly remain in the sifter and can then be poured in).
  • Grate in the chilled butter and rub the mixture till it resembles breadcrumbs.
    • Note: Grating is most important when making dumplings as the butter remains intact and melts during cooking; I do find it rubs in very quickly this way when making scones.
  • Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add yoghurt. Mix gently.
  • Add the milk (about 1/2 cup at a time) and mix. Add a little water if necessary.
  • Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Use hands to gently roll and pat the scones.
    • Note: I find it immensely helpful to have a little bowl of rice bran oil to dip my fingers in so that the mix doesn’t stick to my hands. It also allows for a smoother finish to the scones.
  • Bake for 10 minutes @ 200’C. Check the scones; bake for up to another 5 minutes.
  • Allow to cool on a rack.

 

Variations

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Butterfly scones

Butterflies, stars, cars, dinosaurs – whatever interests your child! Large plastic cookie cutters (i.e. the size of an adult’s palm) make wonderfully shaped scones that can help make these more appealing.

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and Cream Cheese scones

Add 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries and add wedges of firm cream cheese to the middle of the scone. (Miss 3 objected strongly to me combining ‘approved’ foods but I thought these were delicious!).

Feijoa Scones

Add 1/2 cup of thoroughly mashed feijoa pulp. Test the moisture / stickiness of the scones and add less milk if necessary.

Passionfruit Scones

Use passionfruit yoghurt (a good quality thick yoghurt like Puhoi or Piako). Consider drizzling passionfruit sauce or syrup on top.

Maple Syrup and Walnuts

Maple syrup has quite a mild taste so swap (and increase) the brown sugar for 5-6 Tbsp of maple syrup. Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup crushed walnuts. Consider adding a coffee icing.

Note: (1) Potential for nut allergy. (2) Great for adults but may not be suitable for toddlers (due to choking risk). (3) May not suit ASD kids due to the textural contrasts.

 

Stories still to come

I was so thrilled to have two of my seasonal pieces published by Spinoff Parenting in the lead up to Christmas. They were about tips and strategies to help ease the pressure and navigate the challenges of Christmas  for kids with autism and kids in general. I’m aware the website has been fairly quiet since (although the Facebook page is still ticking along) and it’s not due to a lack of ideas when it comes to writing. If I could have some telepathic decoder capture the articles I write while driving the car that would be brilliant!

During the school term I have 3-6 hours per week away from Miss 3 (who has a variety of special needs) and although that time is mainly spent running errands or undertaking domestic tasks that cause her sensory distress, sometimes I can squeeze in some writing as well. Those precious hours are also a much needed pressure valve to release some of the tension from being constantly with a little person who studies my every facial expression,  who is incredibly sensitive to emotional undercurrents and needs me to project happy calm 16 hours per day, and requires enormous amounts of support for everything from emotional self-regulation, to being comfortable in her body, OT work, communication, self-care, and play.

During the school holidays this turns into no hours per week and her anxiety being hugely escalated by the disruption to our routines. The summer holidays mean that not only is kindy on holiday but so are all of our other support staff (from occupational therapist to doctors). Events like severe summer storms can cause massive sensory distress and trigger several days of almost constant dysregulation that is exhausting for both of us. She sleeps in my bed because it gives her a sense of stability and security.  We use a lot of social stories and visual communication to talk about our plans for the day. There’s an increase in alternative communication: selective mutism, echolalia, and needing repetitive (and repeatable) scripted dialogue exchanges.

It all adds up to is me investing my energies into my daughter and storing story ideas (like nuts for the winter) for when I have more time. What I want to write about this year is the importance of embracing the new year with a growth mindset, how to encourage and develop character (rather than content) in our young children, how the Danish / Scandanavian parenting and schooling model compares to the NZ / UK / USA model and why we should consider adopting it. I also want to write more gardening and cooking pieces. I’m particularly interested this summer in the exploring the economies of a kitchen garden as well as taking a look at making use of vegetable parts that sometimes end up on the compost (like carrot greens, radish leaves, and squash blossoms).