Sight word practice doesn’t need to be a boring chore. Here are some ways to liven it up while getting your kids moving, so you can get all those learning neurons fired up.
A big problem with modern education is that we sit kids down. Sitting is not healthy for their bodies or brains. Not only does it make it harder for kids to concentrate, but it also slows down neuronal growth. And you can’t learn without growing neurons.
What can we do about all the sitting?
First, we can make sure our kids are getting some good hard exercise on a daily basis. We can make sure that ‘outside time’ is write on their schedule, just like reading and math. Because it is that important.
But this isn’t always enough, especially with younger kids. Their brains are literally screaming at them for hours a day to move, and it we try to control instinct we create a slew of problems. Learning only happens when a child’s brain decides that it is safe and it’s primary needs are met. One of those needs is to wiggle and squirm. Hang upside down, roll around on the floor or ground, swing, run, jump, and tumble. Their brain needs these things just as much as it needs information, oxygen, and food. If we shut down the moving, we shut down the learning.
No more, sit down and learn.
Let’s get up and learn.
To help you do this with your younger kids in your homeschool here are seven ways you can have them practice sight words that involve getting up and moving around, instead of sitting down at a desk or table.
(Please note, big kids need to move to, but their brains are more developed and regulated, so it is easier for them to sit still during academic work, as long as they are getting complex, high heart-rate, exercise on a regular basis.)
1. Swat the word
Write sight words on sticky notes or static cling notes (those stick to the wall without anything sticky, so are ideal if you have a sensitive wall finish)
Tip: Don’t overwhelm kids with too many words. Print out a Dolch sight word list for their grade level, and have them read a few rows. Write down any words they don’t know right away. Stop once you get to five or ten words. Those will be your words for the week.
At the end of the week, have them read through the original list again, noting any of the practice words for the week that they are still struggling with, keep those on the wall for the next week, and take all the words mastered down. But keep those notes for adding in a later for review.
Place the words randomly on a wall.
Give your child a clean fly swatter, maybe you decorate this one up. (I mean, you can use a dirty one if you really want to but that is kinda gross.)
Say a word that is on the wall. As soon as your child finds the word, they swat it with the fly swatter. Put some just out of reach, so they have to jump a littler or get up on their tiptoes.
Play this game every day. It only takes a few minutes, and your child will likely look forward to it. Scramble the placement of the words on the wall every day, otherwise kids may just memorize the location of the word, and not actually practice reading it.
2. Jump to mom flashcards
Write the sight words on notecards in big, bold letters.
Place yourself across the room or across the yard from your child.
Hold up a card. If they can read it, they take a big jump toward you. If they can’t read it, help them, but they have to take a step or jump back. (They may take a much smaller step or jump when they have to travel backwards, it’s ok, let them have fun with it, learning does not need to be serious.)
When they get to you, they get a big hug and are done for the day.
Tip: Even if they didn’t get through all the cards, just start with the next one tomorrow. If they are getting to you too fast, just make them start farther away the next day, and congratulate them on their super-giant-jumping skills.
3. Throw the sight words
You can play this with the same note cards made in the previous game, or add some fine motor skills practice by having your child fold a paper airplane for each word, and writing the word on the wing.
Although writing can be a tedious process for younger kids, it is also a motor activity, opens the brain up for learning, and will help them learn the words faster. Just don’t make them write the words so often that they dread the process.
Adding a little novelty to the writing can get them engaged in the process. Writing on a paper airplane wing is definitely an added novelty.
- Word Writing Fun Box:
- Sidewalk chalk
- microwave puff paint
- writing invisible letters in the air
- writing with a stick in sand or dirt
Once you have your pile of cards or airplanes ready, have the child try to read each word. Any word they can read correctly without help, they get to throw the card or plane. (No, the cards don’t go far, but my little kids still thought it was delightful to throw them.)
If they are guessing, then tell them tomorrow they have to get the word correct on the first try if they want to throw it.
You can even add a little physics if you want by having a few different styles of airplanes and marking out the distance thrown for each plane. This can be especially helpful if you have older kids who need to brush up on some reading skills. They will find it more engaging if you tie the reading into other subjects.
Tip: Have them create a chart to record their findings, and instead of telling them to read the words, just make them write the word correctly on both the planes and the chart. This keeps them from feeling like they are doing little kid work, but they will have to write the words twice, and read the word both on the plane and the chart to record it correctly, so they are still getting practice.
Older kids may need you to pick just one word they struggle with and then use a few other words that are similar to force them to pay attention to the details of the word.
Collecting and cleaning up the words thrown is an important part of this gross motor activity, don’t do it for them. Save the planes or cards and reuse them daily or weekly, depending on if it is new material or just review.
4. Jump the sight words
If you have a smooth place outside and the weather is suitable, write the words in sidewalk chalk, scattered around, but close enough for your child to jump from one word to another.
Tip: You can get creative and draw circles around them, call them lily pads, and tell your child they are going to be a frog. Especially fun if you are reading the Frog and Toad books. Or make-up other simple themes that might fit things your child is learning, or characters they love.
If you need to stay inside, just use some wide masking tape to write the words and put them on the floor. (Or Frog tape, which is even easier to remove than masking tape.)
You call out words and your child jumps to them. This game is good for extra repetition. Placing the words in a circle pattern will make them easier to jump to. You can put a challenge word in the middle, since they will need to jump back to center often in order to reach other words.
Another way you set up this game is to create a path to some kind of little treasure (like a bottle of bubbles) and simply have the child read each word before they jump, helping them as needed. Let them play with the treasure when they get to the end of the path. (Try hiding the end of the path so the treasure is not in sight at the beginning to add a little mystery.)
5. Word hunt
No, I don’t mean sitting at a table with a word search, although those are great activities when they are designed with the correct difficulty level.
Write the words on cards and hide them around the house or the yard. As they find them, they can come turn the card in, telling you what word they found. Maybe they trade the card for a chocolate chip or raisin. If it is spring, you could write the words on strips and place them inside of plastic Easter eggs. (Just make sure they know ahead of time this is a word-hunt, not a candy hunt, or you will have some tears on your hands. Maybe they get to trade the word for a candy when they bring it to you.)
Take time to have fun with your kids while they practice sight words
Some of these activities take longer than others, and they all take a bit more effort than just having your child read through a list of words. But if we want learning to be relaxed and fun, we can’t rush from one thing to the next. We can’t constantly insist on cramming more into the day. We have to slow down and enjoy the process, the moments, and the silliness.
We have to quit treating learning like it is serious work, when it is, indeed, leisure. It is what human do when their basic needs are met. And our children are busy learning all the time, even when we aren’t looking.
Teaching is the art of showing our children new ways to play. So bring play and movement into the academic part of your day, and don’t worry if that means the academic part takes longer. It just means you are living and learning together, which I think is the whole point of this homeschool thing, anyway. Right?