Friday, August 26, 2016

Learning to Read and Spell with the Help of Some Really Cool Manipulatives: Can Do Cubes {A TOS Review}

If you have followed my blog for any amount of time, you are probably aware that hands-on products are very important in our homeschool.  I have been using different types of manipulatives with the children since Tabitha was a toddler. When it comes to learning to read, I feel that having some sort of movable letters is hugely beneficial. There are quite a few options out there for simple letters, such as foam, magnetic, or felt letters. And we've used them all through the years. However, I have never seen anything like the Can Do Cubes from (just2ducks LLC). We have been using these cubes alongside the Jolly Phonics and Grammar that I posted about earlier this week. However, they can be used with any phonics program. I am so excited to be sharing these with you now.

Let's take a look at what is included with the Can Do Cubes. 

We received:
  • Tray of Stage 1 cubes
  • Tray of Stage 2 cubes
  • DVD - Teaching, learning and 'sounding out' with Debbie Hepplewhite
  • CD-Rom with Laurie Fyke's teacher's guide, plus templates and worksheets
  • Instruction/Activity Book for Stage 1
  • Instruction/Activity Book for Stage 2
  • Two At-a-Glance Word Charts
  • Synthetic Phonics Overview Chart
Let's look at each of these components:

Tray of Stage 1 Cubes

The Can Do Cubes are made out of hardwood and measure 26 mm. They are laser-engraved with the alphabetic code. These cubes come in a tray that has a nifty tab to help lift it easily out of the box. There are eight different cubes in stage one. These have the sounds that are considered the "Simple Alphabetic Code" which is the 44+ sounds that make up the English language. 
  • There are 6 of Cube 1 which include the letters s, a, t, i, p, and n
  • There are 3 of Cube 2 which include the letters c, k, ck, e, h, and r
  • There are 3 of Cube 3 which include the letters m, d, g, o, u, and l
  • There are 3 of Cube 4 which include the letters f, b, ai, j, oa, and ie
  • There are 3 of Cube 5 which include the letters ee, or, z, w, ng, and nk
  • There are 3 of Cube 6 which include the letters v, oo, y, x, ch, and sh
  • There are 3 of Cube 7 which include the letters th, qu, ou, oi, ue, and er
  • There are 3 of Cube 8 which include the letters ar, ve, se, ce, ge, y
Now, to be clear, each of the cubes in a grouping have each of the letters listed. It isn't that one cube has s, and another a and so forth. Each of Cube 1 has s, a, t, i, p, and n.

Tray of Stage 2 Cubes

The cubes in stage 2 are different in that the sides of each cube have different spelling variations for the one sound.  For example the sound /ai/ is represented on the /ai/ cube with these spellings: ai, ay, eigh, ea, a, and ey. The stage 2 cubes are the "Complex Alphabetic Code" which is the 175+ spelling variations for the 44+ sounds. Also included are the split-vowel digraph, double letters, capital letters, and basic punctuation cubes. 


The DVD contains information about the original Can Do Cubes for English Grammar (which we did not receive) and information about the Systematic Synthetic Phonics by Debbie Hepplewhite. 

There is one section where each sound is shown and sounded out, showing the video of the mouth while making the sounds. 

We also see Ms. Hepplewhite working with the cubes with a student, showing different ways the cubes can be used. Here she has slowly sounded out a word and rolled the cubes out to him so he can find the sounds to build the word.

The remaining sections of the DVD have Debbie Hepplewhite explaining Synthetic Phonics.


The CD includes 5 different sections, four specific sections which are then combined into one book in the final file. There are instructions for using the cubes plus worksheets that can be printed out to work on matching letter sounds, blending, segmenting, sounding out/spelling, and handwriting. 

Here are some examples of these worksheets:

Here the child is to match the letter on the worksheet with the letter on the cube.

Here the child finds the letter shape on the cube that matches the sound. They help to sound out the word.

At the back of this section of the book there are some pages with blank boxes so different words can be built.

These worksheets focus on segmenting words. The child is to find the missing sound.

The next step is seeing a picture of the object and being able to say the word, sound it out and build it without seeing any of the letters. In other words, spelling.

On the following worksheets, the child is to practice writing the sounds, and later words and sentences.

 I have to admit, I was a bit confused about the place holder pictures on these worksheets. There is no correspondence with the actual sound that is being written on the line and the visual place holder picture next to it. These same six pictures are used on all the worksheets in this section. To me, this would be confusing for a child as first an s is to be written next to a house and p is to be written by the dog, and so on as they go through Cube 1, but then on the next worksheet, different letters are to be placed next to these same pictures. To me, it would make more sense for the image in the box to be the actual sound or something that contains the sound they are to be writing. Though I will be using the other worksheets included on the CD, I am not sure if I will utilize these handwriting worksheets.

Instruction/Activity Books (Stage 1 and Stage 2)

These books give instructions for teaching children to read, along with ideas on how to use the cubes.

At-a-glance Word Charts

These word charts show a list of words that can be built with the letters already learned, and how many cubes of each cube are needed to build the words.

Synthetic Phonics Overview Chart

This chart shows the different phonemes plus the graphemes that make the sound. The light blue graphemes are taught first. These are the sounds that are taught in Jolly Phonics Book 1, which I am using with Harold. The dark blue graphemes are taught later. This chart also includes teaching points.

How we used the Can Do Cubes:

We primarily used the Can Do Cubes as a hands-on manipulative with the Jolly Phonics. As I mentioned in my review of Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar earlier in the week, there were times when Harold was to be writing words from dictation. Instead of having him write his words, I allowed him to build with the cubes.

We would only use the cubes that had the sounds we have learned so far.

He had a blast turning the cubes all around and building his own words.

I then printed out some of the worksheets from the CD. He told me what sounds were in the word, blended them together and read the word. Then he built it with the cubes.

Then we worked on rhyming words, by placing the last two letters of the word on the table and finding other letters that would work as the first letter.

We also played one of the suggested games, where I rolled out the cubes and had him make words using only the letters that were on top. 

We haven't gotten to words that have long vowels yet, but I did want to share the split-vowel digraph cubes.

We can use the cubes to build words with short vowel sounds. Here is a simple CVC word.

With other letter manipulatives you would just add an "e" at the end of the word, the "silent" e to make change the word and make the first vowel say its name. 

However, with these cubes, you would use the split-vowel digraph, which allows a child to see that these two blocks are connected and work together.

What we thought of it:

I absolutely love the Can Do Cubes. Children love building with blocks, so this is a wonderful way to get children interested in building words. They are just the right size for little hands, and allow a child who does not yet have the fine-motor skills to write words, to be able to build words. The hands-on aspect of having to turn the cubes really gets the child involved in the task of creating words.

I highly recommend these wonderful manipulatives.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Throwback Thursday Blog-Style #114: August 25, 2016

Welcome back to... 

I know, I know, Throwback Thursday seems to be all about sharing pictures from the past, great memories that mean something to you, that you would like to share with others. At least that is how it appears to me. Throwback Thursday wasn't something I was participating in, and then I came up with an idea.

I thought it would be great fun and a help to my blog to share old content, but not just any old content. Each week I will share an old blog post from a previous year, any year, BUT it has to be from the current week (for example, something I've posted around August 25th, from any previous year)  I will go in, edit the post if needed, add a pinnable image if I don't already have one, and share it on Facebook.

Last year I focused solely on review posts for the posts I wanted to share. It was fun remembering some of the review products I had forgotten about. This year I will be focusing on recipes I have shared in the past.

Would you like to join in? You do not need to edit your past post in any way, you don't need to create a pinnable image, though it couldn't hurt, in fact it will help your blog traffic to add quality pinnable images to your posts.

Just go into your archives, choose a favorite post from this current week from any previous year, and link it up below. (If you don't have anything from this current week, it is still okay to link up with a post from a previous year around this time. And if you haven't been blogging for a full year, feel free to share any earlier post.)

I will be pinning posts to my appropriate Pinterest boards and will be randomly selecting a Featured Throwback Thursday post to share next week. Just a note, I will be sharing a picture from your post if you are selected as the featured post, but I will link back to your post. I will ALWAYS give credit and link back. By linking up you are giving me permission to use your picture in the post. 

Here is my Throwback Thursday post:

Originally posted August 30th, 2012
Kids and a Mom in the Kitchen #23: Oreo Fluff

Here is this week's randomly selected
Featured Throwback Thursday:

Blogger Loves the King shared

To participate, link up below. It would be great if you could visit several of the other posts that have linked up. Stop by, comment, and pin images so we can help each other.

If you would like to help spread the news:

Tots and Me
Happy Throwback Thursday!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Working on Phonics With {A TOS Review}

I love finding new products to help the children learn to read. Yes, even though it was summer, we were still busy learning. We just finished up a month long summer session. During this time Harold and Hannah have been working their way through two different books from (just2ducks LLC). The Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar set comes with 3 different levels in the Phonics books and 1 Grammar level. We have not yet gotten to the grammar book, but I will be sharing a little about it later in this review. 

First, let me share everything we were generously sent by

I received the 3 Jolly Phonics Student Books (1, 2, and 3) along with the Jolly Phonics Teacher's Book in print letters. Also included was the Jolly Grammar 1 Student Book and Jolly Grammar 1 Teacher's Book in print letters. We also received the Jolly Songs book (in print letters) which comes with a CD. The student books are consumable and are for use by one student.

The teacher manual begins with a lot of important information for teaching Jolly Phonics to your child(ren). This first section goes into details on five skills:
  • Learning the Letter Sounds
  • Learning Letter Formation
  • Reading (Blending)
  • Identifying the Sounds in Words
  • Tricky Words
Though these sections are explained separately, the first 4 skills are worked on at the same time in the lessons and Tricky Words are taught after a few weeks. 

After explaining the program, the Teacher Book then goes into the color coded sections for each of the Student Books. Specific instructions are given for each lesson. These instructions will vary as the Student Books have different activities depending upon the level.

Instruction Page for Student Book 1:

Instruction page for Student Book 2:

We have been focusing on Book 1 and 2. Book 1 goes through each of the 42 main letter sounds, presented in an order that allows the child to build words as quickly as possible. The first 3 sounds are /s/, /a/, and /t/, so after just three lessons the child is reading their first words (at, sat)

The student pages in Book 1 are quite simple. 

The pages that teach the sounds all follow the same format. There is a picture that the child can color. This picture has to do with the story that is told which helps the child remember the sound of the letter. You may wonder why there is a puppy for the letter "r." In the story the puppy is shaking the rug from side to side, saying /r/ /r/ /r/. 

There is also an action the child learns to help remember the sound. This action is pictured and described at the top of the page. This comes directly from the story. In the above example, the child is taught to shake their head from side to side and say /r/ /r/ /r/, as if they are the puppy they just heard about in the story. I thought this was a unique way to have a child remember their sounds. 

Then there are two lines of handwriting. The child will practice the new letter and then review previous letters. At the bottom of the page, there are words in a colored box that the child is to practice sounding out. The child is to place their finger on the dots under the letters as they say each sound, then they are to blend the sounds together to read the word. There are then four pictures for the child to say the name of and decide whether they can hear the sound in the word. They are to cross out the picture that doesn't have the sound in it. At first the sound is always found at the beginning of the word, but starting with the eighth lesson the child needs to be aware that the sound may be in the middle or at the end of the word. As you can see, Harold likes to circle the words that he hears the sound in. 

This Student Book ends with a few pages of "tricky words," what we would call sight words, and some practice reading simple sentences that only include words that are easily sounded out with the sounds learned in the book and the 12 tricky words introduced. 

Student Book 2 is a bit more advanced. 

The child already knows the sounds from the first book. New rules are learned (such as the "y" at the end of a word saying /ee/ and the sound /ck/ being written with "c" and "k" in words containing short vowel sounds), as are more tricky words. The program now introduces the child to capital letters as well. There are various kinds of activities to help reinforce what was learned in the first book. The child will practice reading and writing words, both those that can be sounded out and tricky words. They will have activities to practice matching upper case to lower case letters. They will also practice writing the upper case letters.

Children will also have the opportunity to write a simple sentence or two (or more) in response to a picture.

All these activity pages allow the child practice with the sounds they were introduced to in Book 1.  I've noticed there is a lot of work with recognizing the sounds in the words and what order they go in. The children learn to distinguish the vowels that are in the words.

Student Book 3 is even more advanced, with harder words and longer sentences. The end of the book has the child reading a story and answering questions.

How did we use this product?

My original intent was to use Jolly Phonics with Hannah, though I hoped to be able to use it with Harold as well. I'm sure you are wondering how I was planning on accomplishing this as these books are consumable. Well, I figured that Hannah would be beyond Book 1, so I could start it with Harold, while Hannah started with Book 2. This is exactly what we are doing.

I started out having Harold start in Book 1. He does already know the main sounds for all 26 letters of the alphabet and the letter names. He's known them for a while. My hopes for this program was that he could improve his blending skills and learn to read better. I also loved that he could practice his writing and spelling.

One of the activities Harold had to complete was dictation. I would say words and he had to listen for the sounds in the words and write some. Sometimes, instead of writing, he would get to use the Can Do Cubes from He loved being able to "build" words instead of having to write them. I will be sharing more about these cubes in my review later this week.

Harold is really enjoying his lessons. In fact, there are days he wants to finish 2 pages instead of the 1 I had scheduled.

As for Hannah, I had her start by working her way through the list of words in Book 1. We spend several days just reading the words in the colored boxes. She did a wonderful job with these recitations, so I knew she was ready for Book 2.

We don't work on the book every day of the week. When she has mommy time in the afternoon, we work on one page at a time, sometimes two. Sometimes the page has her writing her tricky words, a couple at a time. She needs to trace the words, and then she covers them and practices writing from memory. She also has dictation, where I read words for her to write.  I love all the focus on working with the phonics and phonemic awareness through varied activities. She's not a huge fan of all the writing on some days, like with the dictation and story writing, but it is important to me that she gets this practice in. I may start letting her use the Can Do Cubes for some of her dictation, just to give her a change of pace.

Now, for a quick look at the Jolly Songs book.

Each of the sounds taught in Student Book 1 is represented in the songs book. Most of the sounds have there own song (set to familiar childhood tunes), though there are a few songs that combine two sounds. In the songs where they are combined, they are also combined in the lesson. The song is related to the story the sound was introduced in. In the example I shared above, the /r/ is introduced with a picture of a puppy and the action is to pretend to be a puppy ripping a rag saying /r/ /r/ /r/. The song goes like this (to the tune of The Muffin Man):

See my puppy rip the rag. 
/rrr/! /rrr/!
See my puppy rip the rag, 
when he pulls so hard. 

While singing the songs, the child is to do the action. 

As you can see, the songs are quite short, just another fun way to remember the sound. 
The main place we have listened to the CD is in the van, listening to all the songs together. When I was listening to them, I remember wishing the song repeated just once, because to me, they finished too fast.

Now, let's take a quick look at the Jolly Grammar book.

In this book a child is introduced to early grammar skills and further spelling work with dictation. Children will learn more about sentences. They will learn about verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives, and more. I am thinking of using this after we are finished with Book 2. We will alternate our lessons throughout the week, one day using Jolly Phonics, the next using Jolly Grammar.

What did we think of Jolly Phonics?

This is a wonderful curriculum for teaching a child to read, write, and spell. The lessons are short and the books are eye-catching and colorful. There are a variety of activities to complete, allowing a child to practice multiple skills in each lesson. Suggestions are given for further activities to help reinforce what is being learned. I love that it is multi-sensory; there are some great hands-on ideas.

Here's Harold working on the suggested activity of making snake shapes from play dough. After making a snake, I asked him to form an S, which he did with no problem.

I appreciate that lower case letters are focused on first as this is the way I was taught to teach a child their letters. We see the lower case letters much more than the upper case letters that are used primarily in names and at the beginning of sentences. I admit, I have always taught my children their upper and lower case letters at the same time, though we focus on the lower case first. For some reason Hannah has been writing more in capital letters. I'm not sure why, as I haven't taught her to do that. So, I have had to remind her continually to write in lower case letters during her lessons.

Now, if your child is struggling with writing, it may be better to allow the child to use different ways to build the letters (such as the Can Do Cubes, or even simple magnetic or foam letters). A child does not have to be able to write to be able to build words. However, I wouldn't neglect the writing sections completely. As I have mentioned, there are times I have Harold use the Can Do Cubes, but I still want him to practice his writing.

This is definitely a program I highly recommend. 

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