Mom-to-Mom Support/My 4th and 2nd grader are struggling to blend simple sounds

My 4th and 2nd graders are struggling to blend simple sounds


I have a 4th grader and a 2nd grader who are desperately struggling with their reading. Please help! I have reread the manual for Little Stories for Little Folks multiple times but I still feel I am not doing something right. My 4th grader still struggles blending simple sounds. They both try to sound out each letter individually.

Dear Parent,

It sounds like you’re all working hard at reading!

Since the children are having difficulty making the leap from simple sounding out to fluency, let’s try a three-pronged approach:  practice with sound blends, recognition of word families, and reading practice itself.

Practice with sound blends
Sounding out words is an important and vital first step in recognizing the letter patterns and combinations on which a word is built, so you did make a good start!  However, the next step in reading fluency is to recognize that individual letters are very commonly paired into blends that “speed up” the reading process.  Recognizing those blends, and being aware of how those blends are paired with other word combinations, eventually leads to instantaneous recognition of whole words.

Create a list of sound blends such as the ones below—feel free to use the Little Stories for Little Folks series if you run out of ideas!  For example:

Examples of initial sound blends:
bl, cl, fl, gl, pl, sl
br, cr, dr, fr, gr, pr, tr
st, str

Examples of ending sound blends:
-ck, dge, nd, nt

Recognition of word families:
–ate, –ake, –ame, –ail, –ain, –are
–ock, –oat, –oak; –oke, –ome, –oil, –ore
–own, –awn

The blends and families listed are by no means a full list, but they will get you started.  As you read with your children, make note of any others that you see; these can be added to the lists for practice.

Now let’s put your lists to use!  On a dry-erase board (or sheet of paper), make columns headed by perhaps three different “word families.” Under each of these, write an initial consonant that, together with the word family, would create a complete word, as demonstrated in the Little Stories for Little Folks Name Game.  For example:

–ake  (bake, cake, fake, lake, make, rake, sake, take, wake)

–ate (date, fate, gate, hate, late, rate)

Sound out the very first word only.  Then remind the children that “we know that ‘-ake’ says ‘Ake,’ so we don’t need to sound it out any more on this list.  The only sound that will change on the list is the initial consonant.”  When you have exhausted the possible words using that ‘family,’ you have a complete list for practice.  (Be sure to save it for tomorrow!)  Now read through the entire list one last time.  There should be no sounding out at this point, other than emphasis on the initial consonant:  “B-ake: bake! c-ake:  cake!” etc.

In fact, for the sake of practice, the “words” don’t necessarily have to be words, as long as they follow the pattern:

–ate:  (bate, date, fate, gate, hate, kate, late, mate, nate, pate, rate, sate, tate, vate, wate, yate, zate)

Practice (and save) a new word family each day, being sure to practice the previous day’s word family, too.  As they quickly recognize word families from the previous days, drop those families that they have mastered and focus on those they have not.

When your students can quickly read words that follow the single initial consonant + word family, move on to sound blends such as bl, cl, fl, br, cr, dr, fr, etc.

Under those headings, add word families to create complete words.

For example:  Bl–bl-ock, cl-ock, fl-ock; br–own, crown, drown, frown, etc.

As you practice with these sound blends and word families, be sure to refer to and use the flash card blends and word patterns included in the Little Stories for Little Folks program. In addition, please tie together the day’s sound blends and “word families” with the Little Stories for Little Folks stories that practice those skills (for example, Level 4: “Badge Fudge” to practice the -ge and -dge ending blends).  (While it would be good to have the children re-read the stories, at minimum have them find the words that are the focus of the day’s study.)

Finally, set aside about twenty minutes each day for (mandatory) private, silent reading time on the couch.  From the public library, select a stack of easy readers to begin with; it is a good idea to check out about ten books per child so you have plenty for a week or two!  (Some of the books will catch their fancy more than others—having a choice encourages reading, too.)  For the 2nd grader, you might select books about horses, dogs, policemen, cars/trucks/machinery or anything else that might catch his/her fancy—but no chapter books.  Your 4th grader might be ready for chapter books but, again, start with a level that you know will be fairly easy reading.  The key is to practice their skills outside of school time.

Finally, be of good cheer!  Children do learn and progress at different rates; however, over time, relaxed practice and the gentle influence of such a dedicated mom will win the day.

May our good Jesus bless and guide you as you homeschool for eternity!

Nancy Nicholson

About Nancy Nicholson

Nancy Nicholson is one of the founding authors of Catholic Heritage Curricula. Equipped with an abundance of God-given talent, a major in Secondary Education–English, and years of experience homeschooling her own children, she has written over thirty educational titles, beginning with Little Stories for Little Folks. Her unique ability to develop programs and workbooks that “fit” both advanced and struggling students is due to her experience raising children of different ability levels and learning styles: two of her children are developmentally challenged, while another went on to graduate from Harvard and is now a college professor.