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Celebrating 20 Years of Evidence-Based Education and SpellRead

Britt P. Curran

Britt joined the Halifax Learning team in 2013. With a degree in English and journalism, and a certificate in pastry, she prides herself on being creative, compassionate, and keen. Britt is impressed by learners every day as they gain confidence and overcome academic hurdles, and believes—like her literary hero, Miss Honey ("Matilda")—that "there is little point in teaching anything backwards. The whole object of life... is to go forwards." Her hobbies include thrifting, snail mail, community theatre, puzzles, baking, and working on "Poppy Lou and Who?" (a children’s series inspired by her four nieces). She also has a black cat named Wednesday, who is her classroom's unofficial mascot.

Recent Posts

Bundles of Joy

By Britt P. Curran on Sun, Jan 19, 2020 @ 12:55 PM

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We entrust individual tool-kits made for emergencies to ensure preparedness in times of need or against the elements.

First Aid: rife with bandages, alcohol swabs, and tweezers. Car gear: brimming with vice grips, jumper cables, and a handheld GPS. Survival sets: jam-packed with the likes of granola bars, matches, and a rescue blanket.

But safety needn't be the only motivator for compiling personal provisions. Last decade—which sounds like LIGHT-YEARS ago—spawned a shopping boom of moderately customized subscription boxes. From beauty and pets to accessories and meal prep, these deliveries introduced consumers to new products and new ways to simplify or enhance day-to-day.

Learning kits are no different. Tailoring a go-to bundle for your learner means no fumbling for a sharpened pencil or humming and hawing over a book choice: everything is already prepped in a designated box, basket, or bin!

Herewith, two 10-item educational packs to have on-hand during homework, a holiday weekend, or yes, even a hurricane!




MATH MIX

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CALCULATOR
For checking, not completing, work!
LARGE, FOAM DICE
Your favourite dollar, craft, or game store might carry a variety of oversized dice. To use, have your learner roll two at a time and either add, subtract, or multiply the numbers, depending on skill level. Take turns challenging each other, or both roll two dice at a time and total your set to see who has the highest number!
1-100 FLASH CARDS
Helpful for familiarity and distinguishing high numbers, flash cards are a tried-and-true method for studying and recall. Battle it out by shuffling the card deck and splitting into two even piles. Flip your pile's top card at the same time as your learner: the highest number wins both cards! Count your pile at the end to see who reigns victorious.
BASIC OPERATIONS FLASH CARDS
Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division cards foster learner engagement and automaticity. Timed readings also fuel speed and accuracy, and tackling single questions at a time promote focus. For example, if the card reads 4 x 5, the learner concentrates on just this; it isn't jumbled together on a page full of equations, which can be overwhelming.
PENCILS + SMALL SHARPENER
Have at least four writing utensils primed for problem-solving, and a sidekick sharpener for the inevitable broken lead.
GRAPH PAPER
Large, grid paper helps keep numbers aligned and work neat. Grab a stack at your local stationery or office supplies store, or print at no cost from this fuss-free site!
WORKSHEETS
A workbook on par with your learner's grade or skill level helps reinforce fundamental skills (e.g. mental math) and could effectively advance fluency. Digital inventories are often organized by concepts (decimals, order of operations, fractions, etc.) and offer thousands of printable activities. Math-Drills.com even features a holiday section, like Valentine's Day sheets, aimed at incorporating seasonal festivities into numerical practice.
RULER + PROTRACTOR
Make taking measurements and identifying angles easier by supplying the right tools. Opt for a clear ruler so learners can see work or lines underneath!
BUTTONS
Basic operations are strengthened through tactile and visual work. Seek out 50-100 buttons of any colour and size. Place all buttons on a table and ask your learner to isolate a designated amount, like 20 buttons, then regroup into fives. Discuss how four groups of five are created from 20 buttons. Ask them to rework the buttons into groups of four. Discuss how 5 x 4 = 20 AND 4 x 5 = 20. Reconfigure the 20 buttons again, asking your learner to make two groups of 10. Discuss how 2 x 10 = 20another way 20 can be divided. Continue with varying scenarios and operations.
WALL CLOCK
Manipulate the hands on a clock and ask your learner to write down the time displayed. Additionally, set a time and ask them to move the clock ahead by one hour and ten minutes; see if they can correctly change the hands. Continue exercises with different times. Looking to get crafty? Create your own clocks from Instructables for endless practicing!



LITERARY LOT

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NEWS ARTICLES
TIME for Kids offers printable news stories organized by grade and feature a high standard of readability and interest.

NEW + KNOWN BOOKS
Have a few surefire favourites to give your reader a confidence boost. Contrast to the well-worn pages of a beloved book, fresh reads can spark a similar excitement. Find a topic, level, or work by a treasured author to present a new challenge. If helpful, co-read to share the load, and tackle the longer, more daunting pages.
BOOKMARK CRAFT
What's better than a personalized bookmark to complement your kit? Browse Pinterest for a bounty of ideas, or peruse this well-curated DIY collection!
TIMER
Swap out your oven clock or cell phone for the job: pick up a cheap kitchen timer (and batteries) to designate for speed-reading flash cards, blocking off an independent writing portion, etc.
PHONETIC FLASH CARDS
From vowel sounds to real words, handy flash cardslike those for mathemphasize repetition, practice, and comprehension.
POCKET DICTIONARY
Seek out a second-hand tangible copy and avoid using a laptop or technology for searches, which helps minimize screen time. Thumbing through a dictionary (or thesaurus!) flexes your learner's alphabetization muscle, and creates moments of success when a word is found, read, and understood. Your Dictionary also offers a litany of literary terms with a printable version for kids!
PENS, PENCILS + HIGHLIGHTERS
Writing utensils and accessories are invaluable. Stick with a trusty HB #2 or try these mechanical pencils designed for handwriting. Pen options can include glitter, felt, fine-tip: whatever motivates students to express themselves! If printing a story or article, encourage your learner to highlight words they like, don't know, or want to include in a summary but fear forgetting.
BLANK JOURNAL
Opt for lined notebooks to inspire neatness. Your learner can write down the book's main points; create brainstorms for future poems and projects; summarize the story; etc.
BOOK LIGHT

In case the power does go out! Handy clip-on lights illuminate pages at night, during an outage, or in dim reading environmentslike a tent while camping.
MAD LIBS
A popular literary pastime since 1953, Mad Libs create prime opportunities to supplement learning. Not only are parts of speech discussed (verbs! adjectives!) but the end producta silly story customized by your learneris sure to elicit laughs. These classic printable editions are great for class, home, on-the-go, or in the car!



While they might not provide shelter during a storm—or help home cooks decide which spices complement certain ingredients—these kits can offer unplugged entertainment and practice. The best part? Creating a kit is a bonus activity for you and your youngin at a one-time cost with the rare addition of surplus components.

Here's lookin' at you, kit.

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2020 Vision

By Britt P. Curran on Wed, Jan 01, 2020 @ 04:38 PM

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New Year's resolutions can make even the keenest of change-craving individuals squirm with anxiety. We might take the countdown to midnight as seriously as Cinderella, anticipating a wave of consequences if there isn't enough shift, shuffle, or progress.

But much like fashion's jelly sandals, steely resolutions are a thing of the past; the should and must and have-to dialogues are dated. To approach 2020 with plans, not pressure, allows both you and your learners alike to breathe easier, placing good intentions and realistic goals at the new year's forefront.

With 2019 in the rear-view mirror, here are four ways to make January—and a fresh decade!—sparkle with educational success.



CHECK (OUT), PLEASE!
Libraries rival It's a Wonderful Life for timelessness. While e-readers and downloadable novels are popular present-day preferences, little competes with the task of physically trekking to a library to peruse classics, new releases, or suggested reads. Before visiting, reflect on a recently beloved story and Google "books similar to (title here)." Browse names until one peaks your interest, then search the Halifax Public Library's online catalogue to check availability, put on hold for pick-up, or join a wait-list.
Once at your local branch, ask staff for recommendations. In July 2015, the now five-year-old Halifax Central Library housed more than 80,000 books alone—a statistic substantiating that you and your learners will surely find something fitting!

In an effort to re-welcome youth to their neighborhood site, HPL offers Read Away Your Fines: a program aimed to help individuals ages 5-17 quash outstanding account charges. Accompany your learner and chat with staff about starting. Every 15 minutes of on-location reading = a $2 decrease toward unpaid fees. It's a win-win-win: the library reduces its borrower debt; young persons have more opportunity to check-out items this year; and designated reading time encourages active, intentional literacy.

Similarly, to motivate community members back to public libraries, HPL hosted a "Go Fine-Free" initiative in December, 2019, to waive individuals' outstanding fees. As a limited-time opportunity, the mission hoped to alleviate borrower debt without judgement, question, or expectation. Stay tuned for news, events, and potential comparable offerings!


KEEP IT CHILL
What's cooler than magnetic poetry? From basic building pieces to a slew of novelty versions, your kitchen appliances will become a new canvas for learning, laughing, and wordplay silliness.

The original Magnetic Poetry brand features a vast selection of younger editions, including Story Maker, Kid Artist, and Opposites. Work together to create sentences and ridiculous poems, or leave your child to their own imaginative devices and see what transpires on the fridge! **IMPORTANT: Supervise website browsing, as other themed kits are named and geared for older audiences.

For younger learners, foam letters help foster alphabet familiarity. Woozles and Tattletales, two beloved local children's bookstores, offer varieties like Magnetic Wooden Letters by Melissa and Doug and Magnetic Learning Letters, respectively. Craft and discount stores also feature options, so see what budget, size, and style is most attractive!

GIVE ME A CLUE?
Group word activities nurture togetherness and teamwork, with a bonus focus on fine motor skills.

Crosswords are a tangible, challenging choice for family time. Kids Puzzles and Games promote free printable crosswords, as well as word scrambles, Sudoku, mazes, and much more.

Depending on the ages of your learner(s), find a topic and length that feels manageable and fun, not impossible. Reviewing the answers afterwards and filling in blanks can also be a helpful way to finish without frustration!

TAKE NOTE
In keeping with a pen-to-paper theme, source out stationery that suits your learner's likes, hobbies, and preferences. Try themed cards (forest animals, anyone?), Post-its, dollar store index cards, or whatever else inspires imagination.

Every weekend—or as often as doable—have your learner draw a name to see who's on his or her to-write list. Extend the recipient list beyond the immediate family! Maybe a cousin, coach, teacher, friend. Place as many names into a Mason jar as your little likes, and lead by creative example: fill your own jar, perhaps including your kids, siblings, boss, neighbour, favourite barista, whomever! Set aside 10-15 minutes together to scribe your own notes.

Seal and decorate with stickers, then hand-deliver (or mail) before the next time you draw! Eliminate the pressure for anyone to produce a flawless memo and write what comes to mind. Maybe a haiku? Recall a fun, shared memory. Tell your reader something new, or jot down a simple "thanks for being you!"



Halifax Learning believes in practices that focus on enjoyment and effort, not perfection. Need more ideas? Two posts from 2018 and 2019 highlight parallel exercises!

Go ahead: Spell "CHEERS" on the freezer door, too.

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Making the Grade

By Britt P. Curran on Sat, Dec 07, 2019 @ 04:29 PM

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December has swiftly approached like a quick-on-its-toes cat, ready to pounce on ribbons, bows, and dangling ornaments. Parents, students, and educators alike share in the end-of-calendar year anticipation as much as those same feisty felines await long, winter naps.

The academic weeks leading up to the holidays boast their own brand of busy. By now, mid-term reports are distributed, PT meetings completed, and, potentially, a new dialogue has emerged regarding your child's areas of concern.

First things first: let's retire the phrase "bad report card"; words implying disappointment are unlikely to inspire change. They also often overshadow the full picture: every child has strengths, but something isn't clicking. Look beyond the letter or number of struggling grades. Which of your child's skills have been well-developed? What's been progressing as hoped or expected? What needs work or improvement?

Take an in-depth look at the data. What could a "C" or "D" really mean? What's considered when tallying percentages? Perhaps he or she has strong organization skills and positive interactions with others, but the actual workassignments, comprehension, correctness—is where they might be fumbling, not failing.

Parent-teacher interviews may be short, but try to make those minutes matter. If you're feeling post-meeting uncertainties, contact your child's teacher or administration with specific questions for additional feedback. Furthermore, HRCE's website suggests the following four prompts to help guide the conversation (during a chat or after):

  • "What do you see as my child's unique strengths/challenges?"
  • "How can I help build on/support my child's learning strengths and challenges at home"?
  • "How is my child's progress evaluated?"
  • "What outcomes has my child met and what are the outcomes my child is working towards?"

Lower or worrisome grades can prompt a dip in self-esteem. Be mindful of changes in your child's mood or behaviour and reach out to the school, a healthcare professional, or trusted resource to help boost confidence and self-worth when a learner feels heavily impacted.

photo-1479091792771-cdb6e8b16ed6The emphasis on grades can obscure other positives and accomplishments. During the upcoming two-week break, consider creating a "ME JAR": a crafty project to highlight strengths, skills, and special qualities. Re-purpose a large Mason or candy jar (or snag a cheap dollar store or second-hand container) and help your child decorate as they please—stickers, paint, washi tape, photos, rhinestones.

Cut strips of colourful paper and scribe encouraging, descriptive words that encapsulate who they are. Steer away from too many physical adjectives, like PRETTY or TALL, and focus on character traits and internal worth: KIND, PATIENT, BRAVE, GENEROUS, ORGANIZED, TIDY, POLITE, CURIOUS... the list goes on and on—literally! Be more specific, too: SUPER AT LAUNDRY,  MAKES A YUMMY SMOOTHIE, HELPS YOUNGER BROTHER, etc.

Every day or once a week, pull out a piece together and read aloud while both offering evidence to hit the point home. (Psst: lead by example and make your own jar; self-love can be inherited, learned, and nourished.)

FUNNY
PARENT/GUARDIAN:
"You are funny because you tell your grandfather jokes."
CHILD:
"I am funny because I do silly impressions."

MULTIPLICATION MASTER
PARENT/GUARDIAN: "You are a multiplication master because you know your eight times tables."
CHILD: "I am a multiplication master because I try to help others in math class."


The potential adrenaline from finishing strong isn't a myth. While the school year is into its fourth month, there's still a substantial amount of time to make meaningful changes. Use long weekends and snow cancellations to incorporate learning. Co-read a story, offer a creative writing exercise, enjoy an educational board game, or try a math worksheet—like these customizable ones from Web Math Minute.

Little rewards for hard work go far, too, and they needn't be extravagant or even monetary. Stickers, a bookmark, cozy socks, five extra minutes on YouTube, colouring a printed page, Go Fish!, or a free or low-cost community event. Perhaps even start a fridge chart where children build towards a bigger goal, like a movie date, hosting a sleepover, or a snowy outdoor scavenger hunt.

The holidays come but once a year, but the gift of feeling strong and supported—academically, emotionally, mentally? That will guide your learner better than the best red-nosed reindeer.

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Happy Feat

By Britt P. Curran on Sun, Nov 17, 2019 @ 10:51 PM

photo-1532012197267-da84d127e765-1Starting anything new—school, a sport, saxophone—can feel equally exciting and intimidating. A first day is typically part introductory, part investigative, and our often natural response is to proceed with curiosity and caution.

Before SpellRead students begin, some steps are already complete: an initial assessment, a report of results, chatting with parents or guardians, and setting up a schedule. But it's the ins and outs of sessions and how the program works that best illustrate a learner's potential growth.

Halifax Learning instructors place emphasis on effort, not perfection. We want each individual to try, even if that means spelling words incorrectly, requiring several prompts during reading, or asking questions to recall story details. Errors allow learners to develop, recognize personal strengths, and focus on what needs work.

For more than 20 years, SpellRead teachers have helped students navigate the highly-structured, heavily-researched program. As classes unfold, the snowball effect of understanding, applying, and approaching literacy with greater ease and enthusiasm is common. When learners feels capable in their printing, pace, and practice, confidence comes. Below are just four examples of past and present success in action.

Nearly six years ago, a then seven-year-old boy began the program struggling to recognize the letters and sounds in his own name, but his dedication to trying gave small victories real impact. After nearly a year of attendance, he came across a long word during class and proceeded to analyze without so much as a pause: /str/ + /aw/ + /b/ + /_e_/ + /r/ + /r/ + /___y/. He then looked up and said: "STRAWBERRY." The progress was measurable, but his personal pride? Invaluable. He recognized the word—as a beloved flavour of ice cream, or what one might pick during the summerbut never before knew its "pieces." Now, however, he had the tools to tackle a myriad of foreign or confusing words.

Ava also had an "aha!" moment. Earlier this month, her mother shared inspired comments:

She has been reading "The One and Only Ivan" (by K. A. Applegate) A LOT lately. She said it’s her favourite book. I don’t even have to ask her to read because she takes it everywhere... and reads whenever she has time. She has never been that child to carry a book around and read for pleasure.

Ava began SpellRead in Grade 1 and finished the program's first hurdle, Phase A. This year, she returned as a Grade 5 student in Halifax ready to complete Phase B and C. Her mom couldn't be happier:

I definitely feel like things are clicking for Ava [and] I am thrilled!

Two Dartmouth students recently finished 120 hours together with impressive speed-read times, strengthened vowel and consonant recognition, and grade levels above where they started in September, 2018.

One of the duo began frequently overwhelmed with hefty paragraphs and 20-word spelling activities; his reluctance sprang from frustration and confusion. Nearer to his "graduation," he requested longer word lists. He anticipated the writing portion of class. He didn't blink at bigger paragraphs, knowing the instructor could help prompt, correct, or take over if necessary. But he didn't need much of a nudge: with the skills learned—and having just turned eight—he could approach vocabulary words like "between," "sprain," and "twinkly" with precision and minor guidance.

His classmate, another Grade 3 student, completed her registration reading challenging chapter books. From the start, she loved being creative through art and poetry. Her initial homework, however, was a bit challenging to understand; like many students, she often omitted vowels. She has now learned 18 primary and 12 secondary vowel sounds, allowing her writing to be clearer, more legible, and expressive. She's currently share-reading "The Bad Beginning" (the first in Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events") with her mom, taking turns tackling pages and already anticipates the second installment.

Stories (and even small moments) of success help reinforce why educators do what they do. They teach to see learners thrive, to boost self-esteem, to achieve an academic feat. And to help highlight the notion so poetically articulated by the historical orator, Frederick Douglass:

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."

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Got ESP?

By Britt P. Curran on Mon, Oct 14, 2019 @ 01:21 PM

While wafts of pumpkin spice-in-everything-nice fill the air, fall also brings a fresh batch of homework. At Halifax Learning, we know firsthand the importance of momentum. Reading requires practice; to take piano but not play a single key between lessons does little for progress. Reinforcement builds mastery and maintenance has purpose.

We also understand that homework can be daunting for both students and parents alike. A three-pronged approach (your other ESP!) can help learners conquer assignments with less tension and more confidence.

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WHAT IS ESP?

ENCOURAGEMENT

At the forefront of our initialism, encouragement fosters an environment of optimism. Although praise is important, it's deeper and different than a simple "you can do it!" If a child isn't feeling capable, being told they are might not successfully motivate. Slight rewording matters, and phrases like "I believe in you" and "I'm here to help" shift the emphasis from expectation to reassurance.

Guide your learner to say, "I would like to finish this task before bed" instead of "I must finish this task within an hour." Alleviating the pressure proffers the likelihood he or she will work harder or longer than intended⁠—or at least feel okay with what has been accomplished.

If your learner craves limits and goals, remember that wording matters here, too. For example, "try writing three sentences in the next 15 minutes" as opposed to "fill a page before supper." The key is realistic objectives followed by self-compassion if the task is not completed.

Similarly, encourage learners to swap phrases like "I should have been able to read by myself" for "I would like to read independently soon." Both sentences stem from the same notion: wanting to achieve. But speaking softer to oneself and othersboth in tone and verbiage—allows room for error and empathy.

A tangible record of success, like a reading chart or graph, can also fuel encouragement. Reading Rockets suggests parents or guardians "create a bingo card or passport where each space can be filled in by reading a mystery book, or a piece of non-fiction. Once the goal has been reached, reward your child with something... it doesn't have to be anything elaborate... just something that lets your child know how proud you are of his or her accomplishment."

SUPPORT

Sandwiched in the middle of ESP is support, which refers to action-oriented involvement and assistance.

Co-reading, even with older learners, can do wonders for literacy stress. Take turns reading pages and offer prompts when needed for that extra nudge. For longer books, chapters could range from 4-15 pages, so "sharing the load" helps. For shorter books, a page may only contain one sentence, but teamwork still allows text to feel less daunting.

To prompt, a sentence could say: "the string of lights made the street look brighter." Your learner might recognize the, of, made and look as sight words. For string, ask them to place their right pointer finger under the word while dragging it along. Help if needed by saying st, then str, then stri, etc. There's a chance they'll say string or something similar, like stripe (correct to string if they do). The goal is to recognize and apply this word on subsequent pages or in future books, and also understand the makeup of string (str + i + ng).

With mature and more challenging books, learners will likely come across several larger or unknown words. For example, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first chapter alone includes "cloaks," "seized," "persuade," "faltered," and "prodded"! Help pronounce or look up the definition together in a physical or online dictionary.

Jean Gross of Oxford Owl notes that "the important thing is to keep the flow going and keep your child interested and enjoying what they are doing." Furthermore, if confidence wavers, "notice what your child has done well and tell them... [also] react positively when your child is struggling or gets things wrong. You can make clear that mistakes are how we learn."

PATIENCE

Rounding out the approach is patience. Reading comes easier to those who can read. This may sound obvious, but imagine how challenging and discouraging learning a new language can be (even if the child's native tongue, it's still a language).

Gross also stresses that automaticity takes time: "You [may see] them read a word perfectly well one day, then forget it the next. But this is normal when we are learning a new skill. Our performance is always erratic to start with. We have to repeat something again and again before it sticks... tell your child this, and let them know that you know they are trying their best."

Effort, not perfection, is important. When learning barriers exist, it's common for individuals to hit emotional and mental walls. The adage "practice makes perfect" is dated and potentially detrimental. Instead of placing perfection on a pedestal, try "practice makes progress" and ensure learners know that language wizardry is a marathon, not a sprint. They can become stronger, they will gain self-compassion, and it is worth the effort.

As for total word domination? Leave that to Hermione.

 

BONUS: WRITING

jessica-lewis-4VobVY75Nas-unsplash-1If your learner struggles to summarize what's been read or seems defeated by the task, change it up! Give them a journal or lined stationery to start a running "vocab list." No pressure to write down every unknown word⁠—aim for two every five pages.

Alternatively, if they're truly reluctant and haven't been assigned specific compositions, have them jot down a few fun, detailed sentences about a personal topic (sports, school, best friends, holidays, etc.), so they begin associating writing with joy, not just frustration.

When spelling, students often want to copy directly from the book or ask adults how to write the words. There's a delicate balance to this request. If the child is really frustrated, offer the first or second sound as a start. Similarly, try to keep the book closed during writing so there isn't a temptation to peek. For slightly older students, offer to spell 3-5 words on paper or a whiteboard to jumpstart ideas.

REMIND THEM: "What's better than best? You tried the rest!"



Looking for more personalized insight? Contact us to help gauge your learner's skills:

Book an Assessment with SpellRead

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What's in a Word?

By Britt P. Curran on Tue, Sep 10, 2019 @ 02:08 PM

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While you welcome September with open, slightly chillier arms, back-to-school buzz rivals the hum of bees. A new academic year is equal parts transition and awareness: students need time to find their footing, but it's important to be proactive and persistent with learning struggles.

These nine terms shed light on the structure and sounds of words. Understanding the science behind phonetic practices—and gaining the ability to decode—helps nurture a fundamental formula: information + implementation = comprehension.

(We really like math, too!)


SYLLABLE [si·lə·bəl]
A whole or part of a word consisting of one vowel sound alongside one or more consonants; often thought of as a word's "beat." For example, remember has three syllables: /re/ + /mem/ + /ber/. The word chop has only one syllable; its single vowel sound /_o_/ is surrounded by the consonant sounds /ch/ and /p/.

PHONICS [fŏn·ĭks]
A teaching method for reading that focuses on correlating letters with phonetic sounds or values; the ability to hear, distinguish, and apply phonemes.

PHONEME [fō·nēm]
The smallest unit of sound that is combined to make words. The English language has only 26 letters but 44 phonemes, which can share the same sound function. For example, /k/ and /c/ (kite and cord), and the consonant /c/ also makes an /s/ sound (city).

GRAPHEME [gra·fēm]
A letter or group of letters (and all of its sound possibilities) that merge phonemes. For example, /m/, /sh/, and /tch/ (my, rush, and watch). Graphemes can also be represented differently but make the same sound (comb, machine, and future).

DIGRAPH [dī·ɡraf]
Two letters that make a single sound. Consonant digraphs include /ph/, /mb/, and /sh/ (phone, lamb, and shop); vowel digraphs include /ay/, /ow/, and /er/ (day, cow, and her).

TRIGRAPH [trī·ɡraf]
Three letters that makes a single sound. For example, /igh/, /dge/, and /tch/ (sight, fudge, and witch).

DIPHTHONG [dif·thäng]
A vowel sound created by combining two vowels. For example, /i_e/, /oa/, and /ee/ (nine, boat, and peek).

MORPHEME [môr·fēm]
The smallest meaningful unit in language. Different from a word, which can always stand alone, morphemes are either bound (cannot stand alone) or free (can stand alone). Bound examples include /-un/ (untie); /-ly/ (quickly); and /s/ (cats). Free morphemes include words that, when combined with other words, create new ones but itself cannot be further divided.  Examples include "dog" (doghouse); "book" (notebook); and "pick" (toothpick).

ALLOMORPH [al·ə·môrf]
A combination of two or more morphs that transform into a morpheme. For example, the plural morpheme /s/ has three or more allomorphs, including: /s/ (cats); /z/ (dogs); and /iz/ (pushes).



Feeling definition dizzy? We get it!
Contact us to discuss our practices, programming, and purpose—and to see if Halifax Learning is right for you, your child, or a family member.

In the meantime, peruse our active research on SpellRead's success while building your own vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day!

Doesn't language totally coruscate?

 

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Jot, Jot, Jot: Keeping Pen-to-Paper Practice Alive

By Britt P. Curran on Mon, Aug 12, 2019 @ 10:08 AM

 

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"Dear Diary" entries may feel antiquatedand cursive writing has been gradually phased out of Canadian curricula since 2013—but penmanship and legibility are still valuable skills. Incorporating use through inspired means could help your learner track thoughts and emotions; decrease anxiety and build confidence; brainstorm story lines and develop narratives; and even improve fine motor skills.

As August reaches its halfway mark, encourage your budding Aesop or Atwood to embrace handwriting before another academic year begins. Herewith, four ideas aimed at igniting creative fires! (S'mores optional.)


PROMPT JOURNAL
BREAKDOWN
Often organized like an agenda with a calendar or undated pages, prompt journals allow individuals to use suggestions, lists, and questions to spark thoughts: "describe a ladybug in detail"; "what's your favourite food and why?"; or "pretend you're allowed back in time for 24 hourswhere would you go?" Various formats exist for younger kids and teens, and many include sections for doodling or stickers. Vet a book first to ensure the subject matter and style suit the recipient!
BENEFITS
The focus is enjoyment and expression, not pressure or perfection. Prompts give a nudge when blank loose leaf can be intimidating, and any amount of time spent writing is the right amount! Who knows? A tiny, two-line suggestion could lead to a big, literary idea!
LOGS WE LOVE
✏️ Big Life Journals by Alexandra Eidens
✏️ One Question a Day for Kids by Aimee Chase
✏️ Go! My Adventure Journal by Wee Society


SPECIAL NOTEBOOK
BREAKDOWN
In theory, a scrap of paper should suffice! But a tailored-to-you journal feels better geared for greatness. Remember: personalized doesn't have to mean pricey. Dollar stores and online marketplaces offer a variety meeting many budgets, plus thrift stores and yard sales can uncover gently or never-used notebooks!
BENEFITS
Having a journal is empowering and encouraging. Whether it's long, poetic compositions or little observations, learners have a comforting outlet that's just their own⁠; a sacred space to express, create, vent, and reflect.
TIPS WE LOVE
✏️Special pens enhance their experience.
✏️Tailor the journal to your child's interests (e.g. sports, hobbies, TV show) or needs (lined pages for neatness; binding on the right side if left-handed; etc.).
✏️Resist the economical urge to buy for siblings in bulk; find a separate style for each child to emphasize individuality.


SENDING SUBMISSIONS
BREAKDOWN
Usually paired with a minimal "reading fee" (or none at all!), writing contests are typically categorized by age level, submission length, and/or style (poetry, short fiction, etc.) While creative writing is often beloved as a practice without constraints, boundaries can help kids take on challenges with limits or understand future academic expectations, like essays.
BENEFITS
For some, writing is a private, personal past-time. For others, a little competition can spark courage and confidence! If your learner is feeling inspired to compete, help facilitate and be his or her biggest cheerleader!
RESOURCES WE LOVE
✏️ A Guide to Writing Prizes for Young Canadians (CBC)
✏️ Where Young Authors Can Submit (Karen Krossing)
✏️ The Writing Corner (Teens Now Talk Magazine)


FAN MAIL
BREAKDOWN
Revive the joy of letter-writing by helping your child send their favourite athlete, actor, advocate, or artist a "hello!" When seeking contact information, use certified, legitimate websites (official URLs and company pages). If leery about providing a home address, opt to have replies redirected to your workplace, or ask your neighbourhood post office about holding mail for pickup.
BENEFITS
In an insta-reply world, the value of carving out time to scribe a note, physically send it in the mail, and (hopefully!) wait for a response promotes effort, patience, and can curb expectations. With fan letters, your child might not get one back. But that's OK—the joy is in sending, not receiving. If you'd prefer to foster a rapport, a pen pal service could work better!
IDEAS WE LOVE
✏️ Toronto Blue Jays
✏️ Pixar Animation Studios
✏️ Parliament Hill/The Prime Minister of Canada


Hoping to improve your learner's practical, grammatical skills? Our Writing Connections program can help! Contact a location director for more information and to book a free literacy skills assessment.

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Bask in Books!

By Britt P. Curran on Thu, Jul 25, 2019 @ 03:55 PM

 

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At Halifax Learning, we love to celebrate literacy all year round. Our camp is the perfect example, incorporating activities and adventure with academia! While there are benefits by the sand bucket for summer readinglike improving skills, developing interests, and fostering confidence—our practice pointers can also help maintain momentum!

Below are six recommendations (and a bonus!) for varying ages. So, let's make room for stories in backpacks, carry-ons, and beach bags, and be ready to read wherever the sunshine takes us!


BOARD BOOK

Maisy Goes Swimming by Lucy Cousins | Candlewick Press
Little hands can use the flaps and tabs to help beloved storybook mouse, Maisy, go from a wintertime wardrobe to poolside primed!
 

AGES 3-5
Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman and Scott Magoon | Scholastic Canada
Sharks get a bad rap for being toothy, terrifying tyrants, but maybe they're just misunderstood! Follow along as one shark navigates the murky waters between accusations and acceptance.

AGES 5-7 
And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner and Jaime Kim | Candlewick Press
Rife with vibrant imagery and nostalgic winks, embrace a sunny state of mind with this homage to all things summer (lemonade stands and lakeside campfires, anyone?) 

AGES 8-10
The Secret Treasures of Oak Island by J.J. Pritchard | Formac Publishing
This Canadian classic was originally published nearly 20 years ago! One summer, siblings Joel and Emma travel from British Columbia to Nova Scotia to help their Uncle Jake uncover a magical, mysterious island's gold, gems, and secrets.

JUNIOR NOVEL
The Season of Styx Malone
by Kekla Magoon | Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books
Aimed at preteen readers, brothers Caleb and Bobby set out for adventure in their small town. But their new neighbour, Styx, offers excitement and enterprise, which could lead to either cool victories or catastrophic consequences.

YOUNG ADULT
In a Perfect World by Trish Doller | Simon & Schuster
Caroline's summer plans in Ohio take swift zigzags when her mom accepts a job in Cairo, Egypt. But her anxieties about culture shock also make a 180; she begins to understand, appreciate, and love a world once so far off her personal map.

GRAPHIC NOVEL
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki | Macmillan Publishers
Rose is used to spending summers at the lake house with her parents, and hanging out with a local girl, Windy. But this year is different. Focusing on family, friendship, secrets, and danger, the book's illustrations help illuminate the highs and lows of finding your way.



When choosing books, remember that age doesn't always reflect current ability. If your preteen is reading at a lower level, find a less daunting option with an age-appropriate subject. If your Grade 2 is already craving the Harry Potter series, pick something to challenge and engage without anticipated barriers. Your local library and bookstores are wonderful ongoing resources for suggesting suitable stories—and see our past post for poetry-related recommendations!

Wondering about your child's reading level? Contact us to book a free, in-depth assessment.

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ADHD, LD, EF | What does it all mean?

By Britt P. Curran on Sat, Nov 24, 2018 @ 03:48 PM

halifax learning spellread adhd ld learning difference executive fundtion

Initialisms have long existed as a popular form of communication and classification: FBI, TGIF, DNA, ICYMI. In a world prone to shortened speak, condensed phrasing can be both puzzling and ambiguous. 

ADHD, LD, and EF are three unique initialisms that help categorize learning differences. Although they may have overlapping symptoms, these terms are not interchangeable.

So, how do we begin to decipher which one accurately defines an individual's needs? Let’s dissect!


ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, formerly ADD) is a neurobehavioural disorder affecting brain development and activity, which then alters a child's abilities, like sitting still or following instructions.

Most kids show attention challenges throughout childhood. An individual with ADHD, however, feels an even greater struggle to focus, and will likely display symptoms in three categories: inattention (e.g. distractions and concentration), hyperactivity (e.g. fidgeting and boredom), and impulsivity (e.g. interruptions and risky behaviour).

But struggling with areas such as focus, activity, and self-control doesn't equal an ADHD diagnosis. Instead, consider that the concern level should grow as children do. 

According to KidsHealth, "kids learn these skills with help from parents and teachers. But some kids don't get much better at paying attention, settling down, listening, or waiting. When these things continue and begin to cause problems at school, home, and with friends, it may be ADHD."

Theories surrounding the root of ADHD are complicated: genes, environmental toxins (e.g. pesticides), and prenatal substance abuse are likely contributors. It is important to also note what is not at the core: "the popular belief that eating too much sugar causes the condition has not held up in research... and 'poor parenting' is not to blame... but parenting styles and strategies can have an effect on children's self-regulating abilities. Children who are exposed to inconsistent discipline or who suffer from neglect may find it more challenging to rein in their impulses or direct their attention later on" (Psychology Today Canada).

LD
Learning Disabilities (LD)—including Dyslexia and Dysgraphia—stem from how our brains are pre-programmed and is not an indication of intelligence. The brain may struggle with reading, reasoning, or recall, but challenges can be curbed through tools and techniques. Furthermore, many children with LDs often excel in other areas, like music and sports.

At an early age, children may face challenges learning numbers, interacting with others, and be easily distracted. Once in school, common telltale signs include word confusion, reading and spelling mistakes, and a slowness to comprehend new skills. Nearing junior high, children may battle handwriting, fact recall, and avoid reading in front of others.

"Children with learning disabilities must be assured that they are not dumb or lazy. They are intelligent people who have trouble learning because their minds process words or information differently... it important to be honest and optimistic—explain to your child that they struggle with learning, but that they can learn. Focus on your child's talents and strengths" (LD Online).

EF
Executive function (EF) skills are cognitive—or brain-based—skills that affect one's ability to make plans, set goals, regulate emotions, etc.; the prefrontal cortex governs these skills. EFs are neuro-developmental, meaning they develop over time, but not necessarily in a linear fashion.

EFs commonly fall under one of these three skill groups: Working Memory, Cognitive Flexibility, and Inhibitory Control. Skills need to be nurtured prior to entering an academic setting, and children will feel better equipped for school with some control over managing thoughts, actions, and emotions.

EFs are described as delayed, not deficits, and there are likely to be accelerations and regressions; fluctuation is normal.

••• 

However your child’s learning journey unfolds, a support team for treatment—which can include doctors, therapists, parents, coaches, and teachers—will help him or her slow down, develop and hone skills, and gain confidence. Early awareness is key: check in with a clinician (even get a second or third opinion) and keep your child's team in the loop.

Being organized and informed can also make a world of difference in your child's progress.

Here are 5 tips to help manage information:

  1. STAY SORTED
    Create a binder to house relevant medical and educational documents, test results, forms, etc.
  2. HELP LINE
    Entrust and designate a family member, neighbour, or close friend to be a supportive resource for you and your child; it takes a village!
  3. SAVE SAMPLES
    Collect examples of schoolwork that highlight strengths and weaknesses; these tangible academic reminders will help remind you of successes and hitches.
  4. KEEP TRACK
    Maintain a running log of communication and correspondence with professionals.
  5. TAKE NOTES
    Scribe memos of your child's educational, social, and emotional highs and lows; keep a journal or phone note to have your personal observations on hand.


Halifax Learning can help individuals with an ADHD or LD brain. To learn more about how our program works, contact us for a free consultation. 

Book a Free Assessment

 

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Child's Play: Five Word Games for Kids

By Britt P. Curran on Fri, Nov 09, 2018 @ 01:26 PM

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Revered British writer, Roald Dahl (Boy, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), believed that "life is more fun if you play games." He also scribbed a character who thought "children should never have baths... it's a dangerous habit(The Witches). Certainly one of these things is true.

Word activities can be an exciting and engaging supplemental tool for encouraging your child to read. They can also trigger a volcanic eruption of frustration and anger if a child playing lacks the foundational skills required to participate in family or group fun. If a raging river of molten hot lava tends to overtake your kitchen table, expert intervention might be necessary. Contact us today for a free assessment!

If not, here are five board and card gamesfrom classic choices to contemporary conceptsto help reinforce spelling, strengthen word recognition, and fuel your little one's imagination. They might even forget they're learning... and it's sure to bring out the kid in you, too!

1. SCRABBLE JUNIOR

For 80 years, Scrabble has become one of the most popular games to grace shelves. Hasbro's newer offspring, Scrabble Junior, is suggested for ages 5 and up, and offers a dual board. The first side has permanent, predetermined vocabulary (like CHERRY, DOLPHIN, and SEA) and players match personal tiles to these words. An adult can help keep score with tokens, and when a player runs out of tiles, the individual with the most points wins. The second side is an advanced edition, so kids can build up to building their own words!

2. RORY'S STORY CUBES

Nearly 15 years ago, creativity trainer and coach, Rory Bamfylde, needed an innovative problem solving technique for adults; "as the brain thinks in pictures but communicates in words, having a visual aid... would be advantageous." So he created Story Cubes: a dice game to help nurture different ideas. To play, individuals take turns shaking up and rolling nine cubes, then generate sentences or scenes from what's revealed, ideally linking a story together from all the upturned images; a suggested prompt is "once upon a time." Story Cube versions feature actions, voyages, and specialized characters (like Batman), and are recommended for ages 6 and up. The best part? Winning isn't everything! The goal is to think fast, be creative, and avoid dwelling on perfect ideas; there are no wrong answers!

3. APPLES TO APPLES JUNIOR

Designed for ages 9 and up, this creative combination game encourages kids to talk their way to the top! With a whopping 576-card deck, all players begin by receiving an equal number of Red Apple cards, which feature a person, place, thing, or event (like GYMNASTICS or GETTING A HAIRCUT). Individuals take turns being the judge, who will read aloud a Green Apple card that states a description of a person, place, thing, or event (like CRUNCHY or MAGICAL). Players choose one of their own Red Apple cards they believe best corresponds with the Green Apple card, and tries to convince the judge it fits! Whoever's Red Apple card is chosen wins that round, and the first player to dominate four rounds, wins! The objective (aside from silliness) is to expand vocabulary; become more familiar with nouns, adjectives, and synonyms; and hone quick-thinking skills.

4. WORD ON THE STREET JUNIOR

Looking to develop vocabulary with a focus on teamwork? Intended for a younger demographic, Word on the Street Junior is recommended for ages 8 and up. To play, every player helps line up the 26 alphabet tiles onto the board's center spaces, then divides themselves into two teams. Team 1 begins by picking a category card (like A RED FOOD) and Team 2 flips over the 30-second timer; Team 1 has half a minute to choose the best answer/word (like TOMATO), then works as a unit to move corresponding tiles to their "side of the street." Now, Team 2 picks a new category card and has 30 seconds to choose the best response for moving tiles toward their side, ideally with a word including letters from Team 1's side to be "stolen." The first team to shimmy eight tiles off their side of the board, wins. Triple- or quadruple-letter words (like BUBBLE or REFEREE) move tiles to your team's side quicker! Having a parent or adult present helps to ensure words are spelled correctly and rules understood!

5. BANANAGRAMS

Available in several editionsincluding My First Bananagrams (ages 4 and up) and Classic Bananagrams (ages 7 and up)—this game challenges kids to reconfigure letters with an emphasis on proper spelling. To play the original version, 144 tiles (or THE BUNCH) are placed facedown on a table. Each player takes between 11-21 tiles, depending on how many people are playing. One person says "SPLIT!" and players flip over their own tiles and intersect letters to form a personal horizontal and vertical grid of words. When a player has used his or her last tile, they yell "PEEL!" and all players grab a new one from THE BUNCH. Don't like a letter in your lot? Say "DUMP!" at any time and exchange it for three new tiles. When the amount of letters in THE BUNCH is less than the amount of players, the first person to use all his or her own tiles yells "BANANAS!" and wins. Monkeying around never felt so educational!

Tips and Notes:

  • All links are to official brand sites, so scope out local or Canadian shops for availability and pricing.
  • Check your library's collection as an alternative to buying or a trial run before purchasing!
  • Invest in a holder for smaller hands or those who need extra help clutching cards, like Gamewright's Original Little Hands Playing Card Holder.

SpellRead loves word games, too! Students' card packs, which use pseudo-words to reinforce sounds, include either pairs to play Go Fish and Memory, or are perfect for the program's own beloved activities: Slam and Secret Seven!

Eager to learn more?

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