top of page

Something to Think About, Something to Do, Something to Love

Susan Franklin

July 15, 2019

One of education reformer Charlotte Mason’s standards was that every child should have three things every day: something to think about, something to do, and something to love. Here are some favorites that can provide these for more than just one day.

Something to Think About

The Frances Collection and A Bargain for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban. The gritty but warm dialogue and complex problem and solution portrayed in these books can be read and reread for understanding at increasingly complex levels. In A Bargain for Frances, Frances has to learn to recognize a friend’s deceit and manipulation, then respond to teach her a lesson. Then she shows surprising maturity when she forgives and restores the friendship. Not your average picture book.

Something to Do

The Draw Write Now series. Little hands can stay busy with manuscript print practice, drawing lessons, and coloring their own drawings. The pictures depict many important scenes such as the statue of liberty, a farm, the continents and weaves lessons in history, mathematics, creative writing and more into these non-consumable books. Companion consumable workbooks are available for students as well.

Something to Love

James Herriott’s Treasury for Children. James Herriott fans need no explanation for why this is included. But for the uninitiated, veterinarian James Herriott wrote a series of books recounting his humorous and heart-warming experiences caring for animals and sometimes their owners in Wales during the early 20th century. This book of children’s stories has exquisite artwork and rich vocabulary meant to be read aloud and enjoyed together.

Recommending these books is like sharing a precious secret. But it’s okay if you tell. 

Nourishing the Young Mind: An Antidote to Pop Culture

by Susan Franklin

July 13, 2019

Let’s be real. We are facing a decline in deep thought. Children are not being taught to master basic facts that should define how they see the world around them: phonics, spelling, geography, history, mathematics.  

What is a parent to do? The antidote to pop culture is implanting a higher level of thinking, above the norm of feel-good me-ism that is too common in literature and media of today.

Picture the mind like a sponge. Do we deliberately provide clean, challenging literature filled with high ideals or do we leave to chance what they will glean from the pop culture of the day?

We can provide food for the child’s soul by using the highest and best of literature to fill their minds with truth, beauty and goodness as opposed to easily accessed common, vulgar and often self-centered narratives flooding the market.

But how do we know what books to choose?

To keep things simple I found it helpful to have great book lists produced by trusted educators to build a home library filled with hard-to-find character-building and inspiring literature rather than trust the easily available books at the library. Here are some book lists to access:

The 1000 Good Books list at

But I know these can be overwhelming. So to simplify things even further I am sharing my top ten list of book series from trusted authors. These books are for emerging and young readers roughly in the order of reading level.

The quality of these varies, of course. But this list will keep your children busy reading and learning about places and times far removed from their own world and the side benefit of that is learning about history, geography, and so much more.

1. The Sugar Creek Gang series by Paul Hutchens. This is a series of Christian faith-building adventure stories. It is okay if your children outgrow them before they finish the one hundred books in this series. Simply written for younger readers, yet full of truth and character.

2. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Real history is drawn from the actual journals and memories of a pioneer girl of the late 1800s. Read all of these. Ignore the current negative press.

3. Childhood of Famous Americans. series  This is a great set of books that shows how famous and accomplished Americans overcame serious obstacles to achieve their dreams.

4. Hank the Cowdog series by John Erickson. This series is hands-down our favorite. With audiobooks that use original music and the author’s family musicians performing, this is a great antidote to taking life too seriously. The humor in these books appeals to all ages. Grandparents reading these will need to explain their amusement as it is often aimed at the boomer generation’s collective memory.  

5. Cornerstones of Freedom history reference books for children. With such important topics as The Story of Statue of Liberty, The Story of the Supreme Court, The Story of D-Day these picture books are a treasure trove of knowledge for young and old.

6. Great Illustrated Classics. These simplified abridged and illustrated editions of traditional classics for children by Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and the like will surely spark interest in young readers.

7. The Little Britches series by Ralph Moody. Like the Little House books, these were mined from the journals of Ralph Moody, who after his father's death, took over as the man of his family at age ten, working to help provide for his family. This book shows how a poor family used their own skills, worked and maintained their dignity throughout many struggles. Can’t say enough about this series. Read these aloud before your children can be tainted by the entitlement mentality around them.

8. Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths and biographies of Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, Pocahontas, George Washington, Leif the Lucky and Benjamin Franklin. This French and Swedish couple traveled widely to research these well-written picture books.

9. The Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans. If you can find a more exquisitely illustrated rhyming book of heart-warming, as well as hysterical stories, let me know! If possible buy Mad About Madeline, the anthology.

10. Paddle-to-the-Sea and others by Holling C. Holling. Learn about the past and geography plus so much more in these great stories filled with beautifully detailed diagrams and illustrations.

Honorable Mentions: These series are also fine and easier to find: The Boxcar Children, The Hardy Boys, Magic Treehouse, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, American Girl series.  

If you think I have forgotten, just know that The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbitand The Lord of The Rings Trilogy are not included above only because I think they should be an obvious must-read before age twelve.

Don’t have money to buy more books? Use Paperback Swap to earn credit from releasing old books to acquire new ones. You don't have old books?  Just pay a few cents for some at a thrift shop or yard sale and post those on Paperback Swap.  Just sign up at and start your new home library with no money!

With this start to your home library, you can be sure that every day your children will have something to do, something to think about, and something to love.

© 2019 Susan Franklin

Reading Comprehension: What Is It?

by Susan Franklin

"My child can read but has trouble with comprehension."   I have heard this many times from parents who are seeking help with their child's reading. Based on my experience this means that the literal comprehension foundation layer of reading has not been established. This foundation can be broken into components of decoding, word analysis, vocabulary, and grammar.

How can we break down "understanding" to teachable components? Well, we do this in layers or we lay a firm foundation first so that there is somethhing solid on which to build understanding.  Solid word analysis and English grammar skills are the key to building up vocabulary and then deeper levels of comprehension, all the way to critical thinking skills and logic.

First and foremost, automatic decoding of words using intensive phonics established very early in elementary school is the most important layer. Simply memorizing word lists is not adequate for many children as understanding the phonics and spelling principles of the language through direct instruction. Next, analyzing words by sound, syllable, and affixes (prefixes and suffixes) is necessary to find base words and their derivatives. Then there is the meaning behind every root word, suffix or prefix that needs to be taught for students to understand and comprehend the word and its nuanced meaning. Knowing the Greek and Latin roots of these is an integral component of word analysis and vocabulary. In addition, literal comprehension requires the knowledge of many words and their meanings, which comes from conversation, wide reading and, yes, direct teaching of words and their many forms and multiple meanings. Children who have limited daily exposure to adult conversation will have typically have vocabularies limited to words used conversations with peers. Finally, understanding English grammar, the parts of speech and how they are used to build a sentence, will give young readers the tools to break sentences down to find the intended meaning.

When these literal comprehension elements are in place, then deeper comprehension skills such as determining importance, synthesizing, and critical thinking development can begin. #struggling reader, #readingtutor, #readingteacher, #Englishteacher

Phonemic Awareness Games for Preschoolers

by Susan Franklin

With a solid start understanding the sounds of speech each phonogram represents, and a parent who enthusiastically reads aloud often, any child can go into the early elementary years with linguistic skills ready to learn and ultimately able to learn by reading in a short time. To make this a positive experience, games that include multiple senses will have the most profound impact on retaining those sounds and attaching them to the letters and letter groups, known as phonograms.

Research conducted warns that without direct instruction in phonemic awareness about 25% of first-graders from middle-class homes lack this skill, resulting in difficulty in learning to read and write. *

"Phonogram" similar to "phoneme" means a written symbol representing a sound. So the letter "a" represents three distinct sounds as in the words apple, ape, and wasp. But before learning phonogram sounds or even letter names, it is appropriate to simply learn to distinguish various sounds from one another. Here are a few beginning game ideas.

1. Any listening game, such as "Mother, May I?" can be used for this. Also, add training in attentiveness by playing "Whisper Me" where you whisper the child's name and if he comes to you the first time, he gets a special hug and kiss or a treat.

Move toward training the child in the ability to distinguish between sounds like tapping, clapping, snapping. After naming and demonstrating the sounds, ask the child to close her eyes and listen with the purpose of naming the sounds, then listen with the purpose of determining which sound is missing, listening for the sequence of sounds.

2. Rhyming games, poetry, rhyming stories. Fingerplays that rhymes that are easy to act out with your hands. Here are a few samples. One way to use these is to whisper the words that rhyme. Another variation is to omit the rhyming words after a few readings for repetition.

3. Words and Sentences. Differentiate between individual words of long and short length and various kinds of sentences as well. Build sentences using individual word cards. Count words in each sentence.

The next level of games include syllable awareness, phonograms or phonemes, then letter names and spellings.

A fabulous resource on this topic is the book Phonemic Awareness in Young Children by Marily Jager Adams, et. al.   

*Adams, M.J. (1990) Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambidge, MA: MIT Press.

What is Intensive Phonics?

by Susan Franklin

January 21, 2018

A few people may wonder why I made the move from teaching high school English and Theatre Arts to teaching reading recovery in the elementary grades. Here is why.

When a child says, "I don't know that word" he has obviously not been properly taught to read using phonics. Further, if there is not automaticity in decoding a word, how can one really think about the content that is being read? As a high school, English and Theatre Arts teacher I heard "I don't know that word" so many times, and it always made me cringe.

If direct instruction in phonics has taken place early in the school years, reading any word should be nearly subconscious because all of the sounds of each phonogram are taught early and simultaneously. For example, the phonogram "A" has three sounds: as in "cat," "bake" and "wasp." All of these are taught from the beginning; the brain can easily store these in the same location for easy retrieval.

Strategies to guess at the word would not be needed. Not only does this speed up the decoding, but as a bonus, it frees up the brain to think about the meaning of the text. We need more thinkers, don't we?

The English language has more than 500,000 words! Learning to read word by word is really impossible in that context. But English has only forty-five sounds written in seventy basic letter groups or phonograms. The one thousand most frequently used words can be sounded out with these seventy basic phonograms.

Further, combined with twenty-eight spelling rules and a few additional advanced phonograms the logic of English can be directly taught over time to preschool and early elementary-age students. This method, which focuses on simultaneous multi-sensory learning of the phonograms without pictures or gimmicks, has been used in the past successfully but is no longer in fashion in public education. Too often, only if a child has been failing in reading for years and tested to be dyslexic can he or she be taught using this proven method. I believe all children are deserving of the best we have to offer in reading instruction. What could be more important?

Variations of this method are known as Orton-Gillingham, Spalding, Spell to Write and Read, The Logic of English, and Riggs.

If all early elementary children were taught this way, almost no child would be in high school looking at a word on the page and saying, "I don't know that word."

Teach Your Baby to Read!

December 31, 2017

With my firstborn child on my hip I flipped through the parenting videos at our local library. Then I found it: "How to Teach Your Baby to Read." Curious, I brought it home and watched with rapt attention. Worth a try, I thought So I bought some posterboard and cut it into large flash cards and wrote in the required red marker on each one all the words I could fit onto that set of cards, including the recommended word, "refrigerator." So for weeks I held up and said each word in an excited tone and that baby boy smiled and enjoyed the show. 

But I learned later that I wasn't teaching him to read at all. Learning to read involves learning first of all to associate the sounds of speech (45 of them in English, to be exact) with the letter groups on the page that form the syllables of words.

Fast forward to my world today. When I hear a student say, "I don't know that word" I remember holding up those "words" in red in front of my son and realize that whole word instruction forms that habit of looking at a word as a static symbol, not syllables and sounds. This missing link happens all too often today due to common practices in language instruction.

For more detailed information on this problem, I recommend Wanda Sanseri's Senate Speech entitled "Literacy Today" What is Wrong and How Can we Fix it?

Welcome to My Blog!

December 31, 2017

Thank you for looking at my website.  Since my first workshop over a decade ago in how to use the Spalding method via Spell to Write and Read/The Wise Guide by Wanda Sanseri I have been passionate about bringing direct instruction in intensive phonics and the classics of children's literature to young learners.  My own children thrived under this and loved learning this way.  Visit often and please  share with your friends.  

Check out my other blog, Daily Chronological Bible Reading: God's Grand Story in Three Acts.

bottom of page