Making it fun to learn those spelling words

After sailing through Year 1, 2, 3 and 4 with son #1 it has been a very different journey with son#2.  For #1 it all came easily and we had to spend very little time revising sight words and then spelling words.  He just seemed to acquire it through osmosis.  But for #2 we have had to really work hard with him, first to master the Year 1 sight words and now to learn spelling words in Year 2.  We sort of realised what we were in for when he came after his first spelling test with 4/10.  I didn’t want him to continue on this path for the sake of his self-esteem and I wanted him to really learn these words to help him with his writing.  And speaking of writing, he has to write out his spelling words each night of the week and he will do that but after that he is very reluctant to do any other task that requires writing.  So in the past few weeks I’ve been searching for and trying out ways to learn the ten words each week without writing them more than once.

So far I have tried:

Scrabble tiles – When we bring home his friend on a Tuesday afternoon I try to play a few games with them and hunt the letters with the scrabble tiles has proven popular.  It  has also occurred to me that I could set up the words myself but scramble the letters and have them unscramble them.  I wonder if you can buy cheap scrabble tiles anywhere?

Jump on the letter – 26 half pages of paper with a letter of the alphabet on each and spread out on the rug in our living area.  Dh enjoys this one so he calls out the words and #2 jumps on each letter of the word.  I could do nice letters on the computer and get them laminated I suppose.  I might do that or I might not.

Pipe cleaners – This week I had him make the letters he needed for his words out of pipe cleaners.  He needed some help initially but quite enjoyed it and it had the added bonus of giving him the chance to see when he reversed letters and to be able to correct them far more easily than if they were written.

Spelling – This site is a great resource that you can pay for but has plenty of activities available for free.  I can just type in his words and then he can choose from a wide range of activities.  His favourite is the word search and he has actually asked me to make him a word search this weekend with the words he learned for Friday’s test – go Daniel!

Some things I would like to try:

Play dough – I have to make the play dough of course but I think he will enjoy making his letters out of play dough “sausages”

Sidewalk chalk – I’m sure Vera (our adopted blue cattle dog) would enjoy helping him write his words out on the driveway!

Sandy words – I’d like to dust off/de-grass the sandpit and have him “write” the words with a stick

Nerf bullets – This would take some preparation but I thought I could put each word four times on a sheet of  paper – spelt correctly once and incorrectly three times.  Then I’d put them behind some plastic and have him bring out his trusty nerf gun to shoot at the correct words.

Swing and spell –  I got this from – #2 son sits on the swing and I call out word.  he then has to say one letter each time he swings towards me.  I think we could easily come up with a trampoline version of this too!

Crazy words – a Year 2 boy, a tray, a spelling list and shaving cream!

Ransom words – Write your words by cutting out letters in a newspaper or magazine and glue them on a paper.

Secret Agent Words – Number the alphabet from 1 to 26, then convert your words to a number code.

Before retiring for bed, write your child’s spelling words on separate pieces of paper. Hide them in different places in your child’s bedroom (i.e.; under their pillow, in their medicine cabinet, where they keep their toothbrush, and etc.) When they find any of the pieces of paper they must give the paper to you and spell the word correctly that is written on the paper. If they can spell it, they get to keep the paper. If not, they must let you hide it in another place the next evening. The object is to collect all the words (papers) before the end of the week.


Organizing for Homework

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was MORTIFIED last year when both boys came home with report cards that had unfavourable comments about homework and personal organization.

Things had really fallen apart with routines and homework to the extent that it was all too hard for all of us.  So I resolved to start this year with better routines and habits and needed a dedicated space for homework.  In our small, overcrowded house that was a big ask.  Until the end of last year the boys did their homework at the dining table and if they weren’t finished by dinnertime it got shoved aside into what was already a blazing hot spot (to use FlyLady terminology).  Then things got lost and homework wasn’t done and we slipped right out of our good routines.

When I looked at this year realistically, I could see that we were likely to repeat the same patterns if something didn’t change.  We would still have irregular hours at times until I am back in full time work and this meant that the boys would be getting home and starting homework right on dinner time.  They needed to be able to get up and leave it and then come back and find things as they had left them.

So I’ve surrendered the use of the two desks in the main bedroom to the boys for that part of the day that they need to do homework.  This has multiple benefits.  It forces me to keep my desk reasonably clear.  The room is air-conditioned.  There is easy access to a computer if I allow it.  I can be in there dealing with laundry and/or ironing at the same time and there are far fewer distractions.

The boys thought the homework space looked great and Eric has put it to good use this week.  We’re still waiting for the big Year 2 boy to come home with homework and then it will really be put to the test!


The Learning Environment

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about the Montessori approach to education in the past day or so and these words have stuck with me as I mulled it over,

The classroom itself will typically be beautiful and enticing. Great care has been taken to create a learning environment that will reinforce the child’s independence and natural urge toward self-development. This is achieved in three ways: beauty, order and accessibility.

Beauty. Order. Accessibility.  These seem to be great words to live by in setting up a classroom environment and a home environment for children which is another educational environment when it is all said and done.


I’ve been scanning photos from my high school days to share on Facebook (much to the horror of some of my old classmates) and I noticed the framed prints on the walls of the hall.  In Montessori classrooms the walls are not filled with children’s artworks so that no wall can be seen.  Items to be displayed are chosen carefully and may include student work but also other art works and beautiful things.  The room is bright, warm and inviting to students and parents.  I’ve been in many classrooms that are certainly bright and engaging but are also overwhelming for a child because of the sheer amount of things on display in them.  I think an over-decorated classroom/learning environment can cause a certain amount of sensory overload and make it difficult for  a child to concentrate.  Quality rather than quantity seems to be the message here.  There is a lot of beauty in nature that can of course be introduced to the classroom environment.  I know my boys are entranced by the fish tanks in a few places in their school and potted plants and even flowers really “lift” a room and soften the hard lines of what is usually quite utilitarian construction.  At home I often find the “beauty” obscured by clutter.  As I write this I have two special items on my desk –  a terra-cotta pot decorated by Daniel with “decoupaged” and differently coloured images of himself and one of our best wedding photos.  Unfortunately I can’t actually see either of them because of everything else on the desk.  Fortunately the living areas of our house usually look a bit better but the clutter frequently takes over there as well.


I’ve had the experience now of arriving in many different classrooms for a day of work.  It is a much better experience when I arrive to a clear desk with everything laid out for me to use.  I know this is not always possible because teachers are often away from work unexpectedly but it is really helpful in getting off to a good start with a class.  I’m sure that as a relief teacher, that if you can appear to be “on top of things” as early as possible in the day you are better off.  Some classrooms I’ve been in have been so ordered that I was a bit worried about being able to leave everything in the same state that I found it.  However when I get to spend a bit more time in these rooms I can see how the “order” in classroom materials and books actually helps the day to run more smoothly.  Even very young students know where to get things, where to put them away and this enables them to be more self-directed and self-sufficient.  They can work at their own pace and this helps everyone to be more relaxed.  Having experienced such wonderful “order” in several classrooms has made me determined to have a lot more order in whatever work environment I find myself in next.  When I arrive to a desk strewn with different materials I have been known to put it all in a pile to one side especially if I’m going to be there for than a day.  That seems to immediately make it easier for me to think through what I’m going to do with the class.  For me, order in the home has a lot to do with routines.  Knowing that there is a designated time for homework and that every other activity will have to wait makes it much easier to focus on homework for all of us.  The other thing that helps is having all the equipment necessary – pencils, erasers, colours, scissors, glue etc – in a tote box that can be shifted to wherever we are working means that the flow of work is not interrupted in order to hunt for things.  I have especially found this year that when trying to get  certain 6 year old to focus on his sight words that every second is precious!  Of course a bit more order around here would make life much less stressful.  I’m sure that a certain 9 year old who raced around the house yesterday afternoon searching for his hockey mouthguard that had to be worn for training would agree with this!


Every student deserves a desk and chair that fits!  It is good if students can lift lids of desks or access tote boxes without affecting others.  Large storage for individuals does not generally work well because things are too easily lost.  I’ve seen magazine file boxes used for student books and smaller tote boxes that work well.  Having the bare minimum of gear in a student’s desk and distributing what is needed when it is needed seems to work well with younger students and some older ones who get distracted by having too many things out at once.  I think teachers deserve to be comfortable too!  I have loved working in classrooms that have an armchair for the teacher to sit in when the students are on the floor because I can be close to students without having to be on the floor.  Ideally students should be able to get to as much equipment as possible themselves without having to rely on someone to open cupboards to get things down from high shelves.  Being able to access and then put away resources that they need empowers students to become more independent as learners.  Children can become more independent in the home when they have access to what they need.  We can’t have everything that the boys need at their level in the kitchen but we keep a step stool here to help.  I’m also in the process of re-organising some of my cupboards with tupperware so that they can get to breakfast cereal themselves.  This small thing could be life changing in terms of parents getting to sleep in.  I’ve also solved some of my own accessibility issues with my craft storage area.  Being able to grab something out of a sliding tote means more precious minutes of crafting time!

There is only a small chance that I will end up as a Montessori teacher and I’m far from being a Montessori “purist” but I do think there are things to be gleaned from this approach that will help in all environments in which learning takes place.

Keep Reading

I love the videos I see from time to time of flash mobs.  While this one is very rehearsed, it does have a great message.  Keep on Reading.  I’ve read some really good books over the past few weeks in between more relief teaching and applying for teaching jobs here there and everywhere.  Highlights have been The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson, The Slap by Christos Tsiolakis and Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult.  I had stopped reading Jodi Picoult books for some reason and as I read this last one I wondered why.  I’ve reserved a copy of her new book House Rules at the library – can’t afford to buy books at book shops these days!

In the midst of this, Eric is beavering along reading everything in sight including The Rangers Apprentice books, Emily Rodda. Pokemon (cringe) and an old book about Vikings that I found at a fete.  We’ve also reserved the book How To Train Your Dragon after seeing the movie last week with Daniel’s best buddy Jed.  Eric just learned to read at the end of his second year of pre-school (he repeated the year) and has been devouring books ever since.  he came home form year 1 knowing all his sight words already and has just cruised through.

Not so with Daniel.  We’re learning sight words and reading school reading books and it is hard work.  We’ve learned two lists of 20 sight words so far and are supposed to have started List 3.  Poor old Daniel hasn’t “embraced” the whole concept of homework.  We hear things like, “What do you mean I have to read a book to you tonight?  I read one to you last night!”  We’ve bought “prizes” for learning each list successfully and the other night we spent a good hour or so finishing the second list of words so that he could take possession of a National Geographic bag of stretchy, sticky bugs.  It was hard work!  His teacher has sent me an enlarged version of the words so I had them printed out and cut up.  We wrote them, jumped on them, hit them with the fly swatter, hid them around the house for Daniel to find and Eric even made him a PowerPoint of his words.  It is taking a  lot of energy which Daniel and I can both find lacking at the end of a long school day.  So during this Easter break Daniel and I are going to work on the third list and we may even get really ambitious and start on the fourth.

Shops With Boys

With dh working full time and playing Bowls twice a week and myself working more and more often it gets harder and harder to avoid doing grocery shopping with the boys.  This is a fairly stressful activity because the boys really don’t like shopping unless it involves either Lego, DS games or Wii games.  But the time had to come.  Both boys have Ian Lillico style homework grids and shopping is generally one of the featured activities.  I always look at it and cringe before looking at something else.  Today I had to bite the bullet and take them with me.  This is how I made it work:

  • Each of us had a list.  Daniel’s list is pictured with my crude pictures to help him with the reading.  Eric’s list involved him going to the deli counter and asking for stuff.  Daniel was very eager to get what was on his list and get out of there and wasn’t all that interested in waiting for Eric and I.
  • We ate first. No one shops well on an empty stomach.
  • We weren’t getting a huge amount of groceries.  I wasn’t game to test them out for too long.
  • I let go of some of the control. Daniel got the bread that we wouldn’t normally get and threw apples and tomatoes into bags with more gusto than what we usually use. Eric pushed the trolley all the way from the shop to the car without hitting any pedestrians or fixtures. And it was ok.

Next time:

  • Longer lists for the boys
  • Have boys involved in writing lists – especially Eric
  • Some “rules” about moving around the shop – running at top speed tends to endanger other shoppers!

But I will do it again now that they have proven themselves somewhat.

Back to Routine

School begins for me tomorrow with a Pupil Free Day and it may as well be beginning for the boys because they have to be out the door with me at the same time to be minded by my parents. A and I have had big discussions tonight and one of the topics was the need for a regular routine rather than taking each day as it comes. So I went back to a routine I planned the the start of the year, tweaked it and we’ll give it another go. It means I only get one longer afternoon at school which is difficult but I need to get the boys home to do homework regularly – even D is going to have home readers this term so the trade off may have to be some weekend work and sticking rigidly to the early mornings especially when the boys have before school care.
The other big ticket items on my agenda are a regular sleep routine and getting to the gym regularly so we’ve got gym times in the routine. I’ll report back here so people can cheer me on when I get to the gym, and cheer me on even more when I lose weight!
So here’s the plan for school weeks in the McNamara household:

Mondays – Before School Care, Drop boys to Grandma and go to gym
Tuesdays – Afternoon tea at the shopping centre and library visit/small grocery shop
Wednesdays – After School Care/Staff Meeting, Gym
Thursdays – A picks up boys, Weight Watchers, Hockey Training (for the boys)
Fridays – Leave school at 3:30pm – good day for play dates!
Saturdays – Hockey at 8:30am (for the boys), Gym

Wish me luck for getting up early in the morning!

Homework Time

The school holidays are drawing to a close which means that for me, life gets very busy again very soon. One of the things we’ve found difficult over the past 2.5 years that E has been getting homework is the organising of the supplies.
Even though I preach to parents at school about the need for a good consistent daily homework routine I don’t always achieve that with E. Part of the reason is that he is coping very well with his school work and can race through his homework fairly easily at this stage so it is pretty easy to just do the written stuff on a Monday and then hurriedly finish filling out the reading log on a Thursday night. E doesn’t read to us at night anymore because he’s well and truly into chapter books. Now that I’ve done the First Steps Reading In-Service at school I can see a need for him to read more complex texts to me and that is something else I am going to work on. Another reason that we dont stop and do table top tasks every day is the actual table. A few years ago we hada table that seated four and always stayed fairly clear because it had to. Now we have a table that seats six and one end is always covered with “stuff” including stray pens, pencils, erasers, scissors and all the things possibly needed for homework.
One of the points raised in the parent teacher interview for D was that he needs to practice forming his numbers and letters before he needs to put more of his thinking on paper when he starts Year 1 next year. I though being able to find a pencil and an eraser wasa good start!
So I wanted all the supplies in one spot and I wanted plenty of them. I already had a basket but it was in great disarray with everything everywhere so I dumped it all out and started again with some extra supplies we bought with our groceries today.
The final photo is a closer peek into our basket where we’ve got good supplies of glue, sticky tape and scissors and a laminated card with Queensland Beginners Alphabet for D and a Macquarie personal dictionary which E used at school in year 1 and 2 and I continue to use with him now at home.
So we’re all organised and will now have to work on our weekly routine so that there is a bit of time spent around the homework table every night if possible.