Tips on Teaching Your Kid Sight Words Without Cussing (As Much)

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Your kid comes home from school with a sight word list, a handful of words they need to memorize this week. Great! They got this!

Turns out, they don’t got this.

You pour through the list with your frustrated scholar. You try your best to make it fun, but in time you find yourself scream-whispering, “THE WORD IS “CAT!” ITS NOT THAT HARD!”

As your little one stares into space, as if somehow they will receive the answer from the great beyond, you begin to think that this is all an act. If they can’t remember that C-A-T spells “cat” after the 39th attempt, something is up. There is a strong possibility this monster child is making your blood pressure sky-rocket purely for their entertainment. Jesus, be a flash card!

It seems like they aren’t even trying. They have been able to independently turn on an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse since the tender age of 3, surely they can remember 2-3 letters strung together to form a simple sight word! It can drive a saint to cuss, and a momma to...also cuss.

My stair-step children have made me a Kindergarten momma for three years a row, and that comes up to about a bajillion sight word study sessions. Here are the things that have worked for us.

(In this list, and any list I ever write about my kids, Skittles are a given. Little people will will do anything for a bump of sugar before dinner, and I sure ain’t above candy bribes.)

1. Make it a Game

Play “Swat the Sight Word.” Make small cards with your child’s current word list, and lay all the cards out, word side up. Then call out a random word from the group and have your child hit the word as quick as possible with the fly swatter.

Play memory by writing each sight word on two separate cards. Lay all the cards word side down. Take turn flipping the sight words over, and keep the set when you find a word match. Whoever has the most matches when the cards are gone wins.

Play Pictionary. Draw a picture and have your kid find the word card that matches the picture. Give your kid a secret word, and let them draw a picture as you guess the word.

Put the sight words in a grid and play Bingo with pennies.

See how quickly they can read 3-5 words, and then try to beat their best time.

Whatever! Just make it fun.

(Disclaimer: Fun for the kid. It will NEVER be fun for you.)

2. Make it into a song!

When my children were in preschool, they learned so many things through songs- the days of the week, how to spell all the colors, and something about eating candy bars that rain from the sky--(see next line).

I have a theory that their teacher snorted magic pixie dust that made her flutter about singing, rhyming her words, and being all-around Mary Poppins level extra. I wanted to share my theory with parents and administration, but snitches get stitches so I kept my mouth shut.

Anyway, drugs or no drugs, the songs got trapped in their little minds and they still live there to this day! I took a lesson from Mrs.Sings-A-Lot, and her method worked like magic, even without the pixie dust. Make up songs and sing them with your kids, and they will be able to remember absolutely anything.

“Stick out your tounge!

Thhhh! Thhhh! Thhhh!

That is the T-H sound, make it with me!

The, This, That and There.

T-H Sounds are easy to remember, don’t you see?”

That’s right folks, I’m a lyricist too!  

For more catchy sight word songs or a selection from my rap song “Not Tonight, Hunny. Ya Girl’s Got a Headache” Just ask me for a impromptu performance anytime!  Sharing is caring!

3. Put Those Dang Words Everywhere!

Make a word wall with flash cards on the fridge.

Write the words with dry erase markers on the bathroom mirror.

Keep a flash card set in the car for when you are waiting on your Chick-fil-A order (no judgement).

Get friends and family in on the act. Have Grandma or an older sibling play a sight word game. Get a neighbor to quiz them. In case you didn’t get the memo, moms are annoying. Let them give it a go with someone who has fresh patience and maybe a couple more cool points that their dumb parents.

The more they hear them and see it, the more likely it is to stick. Immerse those little minds.

4. Take a Rest!

Five year-old children can concentrate for 10-20 minutes at a time. Four year-old kids can give you around 8 minutes. That’s it. And that’s at their best time of day.

They have been in school for hours. Their brains are exhausted. Tread lightly.

Work for a few minutes while they are eating snack. Give them 10 minutes of review before bedtime. Have lots on mini-study sessions instead of one long cram-fest.

When you are both frustrated, it is near impossible for your little one to hear what you are saying, much less learn anything. You’re both stressed to the max. Take a break!  I recently was told by someone much sweeter and wiser than me, that children have a physical response when they receive a hug that lasts at least 20 seconds. A chemical called oxytocin is released by their bodies, and this puts them in a calm state. It helps rid anxiety and lowers stress.

So, when you are in the middle of sight word practice and you want to strangle your kiddo, give him some cuddles instead. It will probably do you both good!

5. Give Them Grace

Most kids learn to read between 4-6 years old, but many are closer 7-8 years old. And that is ok!

My boys would rather play outside and look for bugs or dare each other to touch a strangers shoe (a super fun game I recently caught them playing at a restaurant).

Learning sight words is on the very bottom of the list of things they want to do today. If they aren’t ready, they aren’t ready. You keep trying, but you don’t make them feel bad. Find small successes to celebrate. The very last thing you want to do is teach them to hate reading. Read for fun. Let them memorize a story and “read” it to you. Just don’t stress yourself out, or worst stress your kid out. Developing a love of reading is much more important than learning to read at an early age. If you feel there is an underlying developmental issue or roadblock, seek out help. But don’t spend too many of these fleeting moments stressing over it. They will eventually learn their sight words, but you will most definitely never get these precious days of childhood back. Give your kid grace, and give yourself grace.

My oldest is only 9 years old, but I have heard that college applications don’t even ask how many sight words you knew by first grade.