Tag: reading fluency

Get Ready to Pod After School

Pod After School is an alternative to expensive Pod School programs, which can be organized by small family groups at virtually no cost. The benefits could be huge, provided that they can be done safely.

A Pod School Experience for All

Are your kids going to pod school? Not many are. In fact, there is grave concern that the pod school and micro-school trend taking off right now is going to dramatically expand the gap between the high and low performing students across the country. Yet with the current Covid-19 case counts at record levels, the threat of cold weather further escalating the situation in the fall, and the recent research published that shows how kids and schools are likely vectors of transmission, it’s more likely than not that if you have kids, your school’s doors are shut. While we all hope things reopen soon, a lot of us said that in NYC back in March.

So families need to act, and many are therefore organizing Pod Schools. Pod Schools are when a group of families comes together to hire a full-time teacher, so their children can continue with their education even while the crisis rages. Although many people can’t afford the top echelon $100k+ Pod School experience, there are a ton of benefits of pod-based learning, which is why we wanted to share the concept of Pod After School. It’s Pod School Light. Pod School for Everyone. And it could really help.

What is Pod After School?

Pods After School is a collection of families that care about their kids, and their safety, and come together to help create a positive learning environment that is a fixed part of the day. It is more than a play date, it’s time dedicated to learning and growing up. This doesn’t replace the virtual programming for your school, but adds to it in key ways that will help ensure your child makes as much progress as possible during this difficult time.

Who Needs a Pod After School?

First, let’s face it: virtual schooling for young kids just doesn’t work. We’ve gotten a lot better, but there is a reason that before the pandemic, schools were not rapidly becoming virtual. The needs of young learners are many: social, emotional, physical and mental, and on virtually every front, virtual schooling falls short. While every child could benefit from Pod After School time, it’s most important for parents of children that are 4 to 6 years old. Here’s why:

What do you do in Pod After School?

Some day in the distant future, Harvard will publish a list of the scientifically proven elements that work the best to make progress when kids are in a pandemic. But as parents, we need to act now. Our view of the research is that your best bet is to focus on just a few key fundamentals. The typical Pod After School should last for 2 hours and occur at least three times a week. Here is how to structure each session:

  • Meeting: Start off with a structured meeting and describe the plan for the afternoon. For some ideas, check out The Kindergarten Smorgasboard.
  • Reading: The most important skill to teach your kids is reading. Hands down. Without this, every other aspect of their education will be harder, both for them and for you. We highly suggest adopting our Home Curriculum as an easy way to have structured lessons related to literacy and reading each day, that can help you make tremendous progress.
  • Art: After some reading practice, it’s time to take a break and do some coloring. Give the kids some paper and materials (try to vary this up if you can, but a pencil and blank paper is really all they need) and draw! Try to draw objects around you or elements of the story you just read.
  • Math: Next, since we’ve warmed up our brains, shift gears to math and numbers. Khan Academy has fantastic resources to teach young kids everything they need to know and a ton more.
  • Open Play: Lastly, time for some open, imaginative play. Each day, a different child should take the lead and decide what to play. The wilder and crazier the better. Your job here is to run with it. To help the kids explore ideas, work together, and have some fun!

The goal is clear: don’t let our kids fall behind. Pod After School is a low-cost alternative to the expensive Pod Schools that can help you give the best possible path forward for your kids.

Who should be the teacher?

If you follow the structure above, Pod After School isn’t really hard to manage. While you could, of course, hire a teacher, here are some no-cost options and advice on how to Pod After School for free:

  • A Good Kid: When kids teach kids, everyone wins. Some of the best private schools in the US rely heavily on the idea that older students should work with and mentor the younger ones. The age gap between the two needs to be at least 5 years, and of course, there should be an adult nearby to help supervise, but with a small Pod After School, this can really work. The older child acts as the leader for at least a part of the session, taking the burden off the parent/grandparent to do it all by themselves. In the process, the older kids learn a lot of great skills too!
  • Rotated Parent Responsibility: This approach is a little harder to organize, but sometimes it’s necessary to split the role of teacher across at least two parents in a pod. The key is consistency. If you are rotating the Pod Leader role, be sure to be as consistent as you can with the other aspects of the Pod After School.
  • Dedicated Parent Leader: Many, many parents are now looking at this as an option for full Pod Schools, but with Pod After School it is possible for a single parent to manage 3-5 children quite easily. The Pod should be respectful of the effort and time required and find small ways to show support and appreciation for the effort.

Is Pod After School Safe?

Right now, the safest thing to do is to listen to your doctor and to the health leaders in our community, to social distance, and to wear a mask.

For those still reading, you know that doing all this has costs and benefits that only you can weigh. They are different for every family and different in different parts of the country. We wanted to talk about Pod After School because the costs of this pandemic are not just physical, they are also economic and social, with the impact on children’s education being high. We are not doctors or health professionals, but as you think about how to make your pod as safe as possible, please follow a few basic guidelines:

  • Wash Hands. On arrival, everyone should wash their hands
  • Go Outside. If inside, be sure to find a space big enough that you can social distance.
  • Wear Masks. On day one, every child should get a mask that is the same, which helps create a strong community around mask wearing, even among young kids.
  • Talk to Parents. Keep in close communication with the parents about potential symptoms in the children or the family.
  • Watch the News. Keep a close eye on community transmission levels in your area.

For those looking for more information, check out this article from Edutopia with more ideas on creating a safe learning environment.


In a way, nothing has changed. We have always known that small class sizes with great dedicated teachers lead to great results. Expensive Pod School programs are exactly that, but Pod After School is a low-cost alternative that can still yield a lot of the benefits, especially when using top-tier program like our TIPS™ Home Curriculum to drive the education side of things.

This is not an ideal world and these are far from ideal times, but we do hope that some of the ideas here help you band together with a few families and find a way through this pandemic. How we act now will greatly impact the future for our kids, so good luck!

“Why can’t my child read?”

“Why can’t my child read as well as everyone else?” is the unasked question we see in the eyes of most of the parents we talk to (on Zoom).

The answer is simple: your child can’t read because English is too hard. Seriously. That’s the problem. Our language itself is terribly, obnoxiously, horrendously, notoriously difficult to read. So don’t worry, it’s not your fault. It’s English itself that is the problem. In fact, it is so hard to read that millions of children fail. It’s not your child, or the class size, or even the teaching methods (this matters, but not as much as you think). It’s the very language itself. This is what the science of reading in the last ten years has been trying to explain.

Most Kids Won’t Read English Proficiently

First, know that if your kid can’t read (or read as well as they “should”), they are in abundant company. As of the most recent Reading Report Card by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), more than half of the kids in the country can’t read proficiently and one in four can barely read at all. Did you know we have a higher percentage of children reading below “basic” levels than we did 10 years ago? Did you know that literacy scores in the last two years are in a sharp decline? The story is even worse if you come from a poor neighborhood or are black or brown. And the consequences of low literacy are severe: it’s a sentence for a lifetime of lower income, slower progress, and uphill battles.

“When our kids can’t read, parents blame themselves. But they shouldn’t. The true problem is our language – it’s English itself. And that’s not opinion, it’s science.” – Zachary Silverzweig, CEO of TinyIvy

Even worse, all of this data is from before the Covid Slide. Before kids were sent home from schools, which disproportionately impacts minority students and those from poor families.

So what’s the answer? Why exactly do so few kids learn to read? It is hard to learn to read because English doesn’t read well. Over the past fifteen years or so, a growing body of research has begun to look at all languages, in a search for fundamental truth in how kids develop reading skills. The conclusion? English is, technically and scientifically, outrageously difficult to learn.

Compare English to Other Languages

For most European languages, kids read with 90-98% accuracy in one year. With English its 34%. That means that the average kid in France can read a book and correctly read nine in ten words.

The quick brown fox jumped over the ???? dog.

The French kid can read and understand the text. They can learn the new word from the context of the ones they understand and teach themselves to read the rest. But in English, that can’t happen. The language is too hard. Compare to how the English kid will likely perform:

The ????? ????? fox ?????? ???? the ???? dog.

The English learner can’t learn on their own with what they know. And this is really why kids who fall behind will never catch up. If you are not able to read well enough, you can’t make forward progress on your own. Practice is painful and feels pointless because your child can’t figure it out.

Speaking of figuring things out, let’s look at Italian. Italian is “transparent”, meaning what you see is what you say. Every letter is pronounced one way. It’s a “one-to-many” relationship. If you know the letter, you know the sound. On the other end of the spectrum is English, where an A or an O an E can make 6-10 different sounds EACH. It’s gobsmacking. Not only does every letter in Italian point to a single sound, but there are 97% fewer spelling rules than in English. Most kids become rapid efficient decoders of Italian in a few months of study. However, in English, most kids never achieve that mark. One-third of Finnish students read proficiently when they start 1st grade, but fewer than half of kids in the US will reach that level.

Can We Just Make English Easier?

So, the next time you are wondering why your kid is having so much trouble reading, look at any sentence in any book (unless it is one of ours) and think about how she could possibly figure it out unless she already knew how to read. What we ask our kids to do is unfair and a huge waste of their time and yours.

And now there really is a better way.

With TIPS, all of the challenges that held kids back are gone. Finally, all the complexity of English spelling and pronunciation is gone. Every single word becomes regular. At long last, English is easy to read. The average child could be reading fluently in 9-12 months of study, not 5 years. It should take a few weeks of instruction and a few months of practice to reach peak decoding speed, not 5 years. 90% of our children should be reading at grade level, not 40%. And now, for the first time ever, there is real hope that this can be the case. For the first time in English, there is a better answer to the question of “why can’t my child read?” They can’t read, because they haven’t tried to read with TIPS™.

Why Names Matter for Literacy


Your Child’s Name Can Help Him Learn to Read

Scientists multiple countries have put a lot of effort in trying to understand how children learn to read. A study in Israel using Israeli children, and drawing on research done in the United States, has looked at how children use their name as a tool for learning to recognize letters and words. (If you’d like to read the full study, you can access here.) But the short story is, your child’s name can actually help him learn to read. 

It is no surprise that family members encourage toddlers to learn their name and print the letters in them. Studies have shown that at the beginning, children do not recognize or understand the letters in their names or the sounds they signify. Often they cannot write their names reliably. A possible explanation is that young children have a memory for only a small number of letters.  It also appears that children are best able to recognize the first letter in their name, and maybe three letters total if it is a long name.  Most recognition of the first letter comes when it appears as a capital letter rather than a lower case letter. In many cultures, first names are very short, so it is easier for kids to learn the sounds and read their names.

First Letter Recognition

But generally, kids recognition of their own names, or names of people familiar to them, comes from that first letter recognition and word picture identification. Even though they may know the alphabet sounds that  letters ions in pronunciation of letters, and rules, sounding out his name is often not easy or intuitive. In teaching names to children, parents tend to name the letters rather than focus on the sound each letter makes.  Where the letter reliably represents the sound, the children better learns the sound along with the letter.  That, of course is often not the case. Zōē, for example, is an easy name to sound out … because two letters say their name. William, Joseph, Sarah are harder, because of variations in the letter sounds. 

Use your child’s name to help teach the concept of words and letter sounds. Explain that her name is a word that has a very special meaning, and belongs to her. Sound out each letter, and explain that sometimes the same letter has different sounds. The  two As in Anna are different (and neither one pronounced like the two As in Sarah). William has two different pronunciations of the letter I, as does Olivia.

Sounds Don’t Correlate with the Name

No wonder they focus only on the first letter!  But understanding their name as a word made up of individual sounds helps them understand the concept of letters making sounds that blend to form words that have meaning and lead to knowledge. An interesting side note, is that kids identify with, and recognize their first names, but far more often than not pay very little attention to their surname! 

Even though our TIPS™ system is leveled, introducing more frequently encountered sounds first, showing your child that each letter in his name has a unique sound is helpful. Like this:

In TIPS™, “Sophie is a Level 12 word”, largely because of the /ph/ sound, which is relatively rare in the English language. But here you have 6 letters, giving 4 sounds, with 1 silent letter. Try explaining THAT to a 4 year old! But if you explain that the diacritics have a meaning and a purpose, like a line means the letter says its name, or an x under means that letter has no sound, they can apply that concept as they learn other TIPS™ and learn to read. And looking at the name above, you can see how easy it will be for kids to make the transition to no tips as they start to internalize the word pictures.


Useful Teaching Concept

Despite the difficulty in relating the letters in your child’s name to the sounds they make,  a child’s name, family and peer names can be a useful tool for teaching reading concepts. It’s a good way to illustrate blending, showing how the discrete sounds combine smoothly to make their name.  If your child’s name has more than one syllable, it’s a good way to illustrate segmenting, another skill important in reading. 

Parents who talk, talk talk to their kids generally have kids with better phonemic awareness, because they hear so many words. Parents who read, read, read to their kids generally have kids who are more fluent readers. But every child likes to feel special, so focusing on your child’s name as a learning tool can be very beneficial.

So if you want to get started by teaching your child their name in TIPS™, make a request HERE, and we will be happy to send it to you!


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