TeachMama Talks: What IS Reading?

Valerie is a Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador

This fun and educational activity is brought to you by Melissa & Doug, written by our Blog Ambassador, Amy Mascott. Learning can be fun!

With Maddy in second grade, Owen in Kindergarten, and Cora in pre-K, I’m finding more and more that our  time together after school is one of my favorite times of the day.  And rather than having my kids who don’t have homework sit in front of the television while the kids who do have homework plug away, I’ve always found it important that we all sit down together and make our ‘homework time’ as fun as possible.

And that could mean that while one kiddo is completing school work, another is painting or doing a puzzle, and another is finishing a word search or playing a game.

Last week, during homework time, Cora was playing with our See & Spell while Maddy was completing her math worksheet and while Owen was writing in his reading journal.

I was sitting between Owen and Cora, and as she was very carefully placing each letter into the correct spot, she and I were saying the letters together.  It was very simple: H, E, N.  Hen! You spelled ‘hen’!  Or Cora might say, B, b, b, b, where’s the little ‘b’? Here it is! B! Now I need the ‘u’. U, u, u, u, there’s the ‘u’!  Now I need an ‘s’.  Come on, ‘s’, where are you? Here’s my ‘s’! Bus! I spelled ‘bus’!

She was incredibly proud of the fact that she was recognizing the lowercase letters and that she was reading the words on the tiles.

Owen finally looked over and said, Mommy, I don’t think Cora’s actually reading. She’s just using the pictures, and that’s not reading.

Though I wanted to say a whole lot more to my big 6-year-old for his unkind comment towards his little sister, I took a deep breath and said, Owen, I know you may think that Cora’s not reading, because the pictures are right there on the puzzle, but reading is a whole lot more than just knowing what sounds the letters make when they’re put together.

Cora’s deflated face perked up. Yeah, Owen, I AM reading and so there!

I went on: Especially for newer readers, my friend, reading–and really understanding what you’re reading–is work.  It’s active, which I think is the really cool part about it. 

You may not realize this, but as you’re reading a book or a poster or the words on the cereal box, you’re putting a lot of things together.  You’re looking at the letters and using what you know about the sounds those letters make when they’re stuck together, and you’re looking at the pictures and using the clues from the pictures to understand how the words you read fit together.  And you’re also using what you already know in order have it all make sense.  

And that’s reading–how you–the reader, the text–the words on the page–and everything around it all work together to make sense.

So you know what? Cora is reading. And her puzzle is helping her.  Because all early readers are learning to be smart readers–they’re learning to use the pictures to help them figure out the words, just like you did when you were four.  They’d be silly not to use the pictures because the pictures are huge clues, right?

Cora said, That’s right, Owen. Here’s a bear, and I know these letters say, ‘bear’.

Cora’s been busy over here–looking for the letters and then reading the word.  Just like you’ve been busy doing your work and Maddy’s been busy doing hers. Comprende?

From Owen: Yeah, I got it, Mom. And after a long pause: Sorry Cora.  I guess you really are reading. I just didn’t know.

Ahhhh, a happy homework afternoon it was, and just like that, we were all on the same reading page.


Amy is the creator of teachmama.com, where her focus is to share the tools and resources parents need to be the best teachers for their children. She’s not a full-fledged homeschooling mom; rather, she capitalizes on learning opportunities in the every day and uses games and play to get her own children prepared for school and excited about the world around them. Amy is paving the way for a more modern ‘lifestyle of learning’, empowering all parents to take a stronger role in supporting their children’s education. In February 2010, Amy created ‘we teach’ as a forum for parents and teachers to connect, share ideas, and grow into better educators—no matter the classroom. ‘we teach’ has grown quickly into one of the most successful and highly-trafficked educational forums on the web, recently partnering with the incredible educational toy company, Melissa & Doug.


  1. Where can I get these puzzles?

  2. Mindy Roberts says:

    Where can you get these letter puzzles that are featured in this article?

    • Hi, Mindy! You can find the See & Spell Puzzles right here on the Melissa & Doug site! Here’s the link–http://www.melissaanddoug.com/see-and-spell-learning-game thanks so much for reading and HUGE thanks for writing, my friend!

  3. What a wonderful conversation you had with your little guys and what a lovely definition of reading-it is so broad, isn’t it!?

  4. Love it, Amy!

  5. I completely understand as I have a new reader in the house and picture reading vs word reading was discussed in our house recently!

    • Robin–Great timing, my friend! Thanks so much for reading–and writing. How did the discussion go in your house? Same ideas or different?

  6. Thalia in Jamaica says:

    teachmama – you totally rock. Been checking your site for a while now for ideas to help my new reader who happens to have autism, and occasionally to get inspiration for my *other* students who happen to be highschoolers.


    • thanks SO much, my friend!! totally appreciate your kind words and can’t thank you enough for taking the time to read–and share your feedback. YOU rock.


  1. […] on over to the Melissa & Doug blog to read a recent post I wrote: What IS reading? and let me know what you think! /* Pin It Cancel […]