3rd grade reading guarantee

The 3rd grade reading guarantee can be scary to many parents who have a child entering the 3rd grade this coming fall.  So what is the 3rd grade guarantee?  According to the Ohio Department of Education, http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Early-Learning/Third-Grade-Reading-Guarantee, the 3rd grade reading guarantee simply states that a student leaving the 3rd grade is reading at a 3rd grade level.  Why must they have such a scary test?  This test is important in the fact that up to 3rd grade, we LEARN to READ, but after 3rd grade, we READ to LEARN!  The Stretch & Catch Reading Center https://www.facebook.com/stretchandcatchreadingcenter/ is helping students pass the 3rd grade guarantee by using the Stretch & Catch Method as a tactile approach to identifying patterns within the words.

Statistics show that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers.  This makes it very important for parents to make sure their child is reading at grade level.


What is Stretch & Catch?

The culmination of teaching regular and special education, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses at Cleveland State University and teaching my own children how to read, led me to develop a multi-sensory and developmentally appropriate method called Stretch & Catch.  Stretch and Catch simplifies a research based teaching strategy that helps readers “see” patterns within words.  The simplicity of Stretch & Catch allows anyone to teach readers at any level and any age. This method simplifies for parents a well-known reading method making it more accessible and fun to use.

The Stretch & Catch Method is a tool that can be applied throughout the entire developmental process of reading. This method uses a tactile approach to help children “see” and experience patterns within words by using their fingers to “Stretch” (sound out the word by raising one finger at a time per sound) and then “Catch” the word by saying all the sounds quickly while bringing the fingers into a fist. The Stretch & Catch Method follows a specific developmentally appropriate word list that is easily adaptable to different levels of abilities.

In order to learn how to read, a child must understand how words work. By learning how to Stretch & Catch words, your child will use many of his/her senses to see how words are put together and pulled apart.

The following is an example of a child learning the short ŏ vowel sound. [Note that if I want you to say a sound and not a letter, the sound will be placed between two slanted lines and in bold print. For example, when I want you to say the short-a sound, it will look like this: /ă/. When I want you to say the name of the letter a, it will be capitalized and in bold print, A.]

Stretch & Catch short-vowel word: dot

step 1: Say, “We are going to spell the word dot.” Now tell your child: “When I say /d/ [sound the letter out and lift the first finger], /ŏ/ [sound the letter out and lift the second finger], /t/ [sound the letter out and lift the third finger], do you see that I hear three sounds? So if I hear three sounds, there are three letters. Let’s see what three letters we hear.” Leave your fingers up.

step 2: Say the following: “When I say dot, I hear /d/ [wriggle or point to your first finger]. What letter is the /d/ sound?” If your child says the letter d, that is great. If your child gives an incorrect response, model that the d sound is /d/, like in dog (dog is the key word for the d sound). The list of key words to use for each letter sound can be found in my book. This is used to model the correct response.

step 3: Your fingers are still up. Sound out the word again, stopping at the second sound. “/d/ [wriggle/point to first finger], /ŏ/ [wriggle/point to second finger].” Continue to say, “I hear the vowel sound /ŏ/. [Wriggle/point to the second finger.] What letter makes the /ŏ/ sound?” If your child gives the correct response, great. If not, model the correct response: “The /ŏ/ sound is the letter O, as in octopus.Again, notice the use of the key word to model the correct response.


step 4: Move on to the last sound. Sound out the word again. (Your fingers are still up.) “/d/ [wriggle/point to first finger], /ŏ/ [wriggle/point to second finger], /t/ [wriggle/point to third finger].” Emphasize the last sound while pointing to or wriggling the third finger again. “What is the last sound you hear in dot?” Make sure to emphasize the /t/ sound. If your child gets the answer correct, great; if not, model the correct response: “When I hear the word dot, I hear the /t/ sound at the end. The /t/sound is a t, like in top [keyword].” Now put the three fingers down.

step 5: Stretch the word again: “/d/ [sound the letter out and lift the first finger], /ŏ/ [sound the letter out and lift the second finger], /t/ [sound the letter out and lift the third finger].”

step 6: “dot is spelled d [wriggle/point to first finger], O [wriggle/point to second finger], t [wriggle/point to third finger].”

step 7: Then Catch the word by saying it fast and pulling the three fingers into a fist: “dot.”

You catch the word because your child needs to practice pulling apart and putting words back together so he/she can hear each word he/she Stretches. This technique will be crucial when your child sees an unknown word while reading and begins to Stretch it out. For him/her to figure out the unknown word, he/she will have to Catch it after Stretching it by saying it quickly to identify what word he/she Stretched.

step 8: Now say, “Did you see how I did that? That’s how you Stretch & Catch words.”

You can find more lessons in Teach Your Child To Read In Less Than 10 Minutes A Day! Stretch & Catch Words. By: Amanda McNamara Lowe



Some parents seem to have it so easy.  They read nightly to their child and then…poof, their child can read.  Well, that is not how it works for most children.  That’s not how it even worked for my own children!  Think about if a colleague handed you the meeting notes written in Chinese characters.

chinese characters

(Chinese characters taken from the site chinesebynumbers.com)

Can you read the meeting notes?  No.

Now imagine that this is what a page of words can look like to a new reader. So, why would your child want to read if you hand them a book and all they see are a bunch of alphabet letters?

The key to LEARNING to read and LIKING to read are easy…only teach your child at their instructional level and in a non-overwhelming way.

HOW? Well, I like to teach my own children in many different types of environments, such as, in the car, on a walk, in the grocery store, in the bath. These are all places where learning seems “fun!” It’s fun, because your child won’t necessarily even know they are learning. For instance, if your child is unable to read simple short vowel words, then while they are in the bath, ask them to Stretch & Catch the word “cat” by using the soap suds to spell it on the wall. If they are unable to spell “cat” model for them the sounds in the word “cat” and then spell the word for them. Just continue with that one word for the entire time in the bath (NOT OBSESSIVELY OF COURSE, JUST IN A FUN WAY!). By the end of the bath, your child will know how to spell “cat”.

You can say to them, “Wow you learned to spell a new word!” In that instant, your child will begin to feel confident about learning to read. Now continue to slowly introduce another “at” word each day, while reminding them that they already know how to spell “cat” so then if they know that word, they can spell “bat.” Here are some more “at” words for your child to spell: sat, mat, hat, fat, pat, & rat.

It’s really that simple.

Once your child can spell a few short ă words, try to find a book that concentrates on the short ă words only. For example, the BOB book series has great developmentally appropriate books for this stage of reading. You can also read Dr. Seuss books. Sit with your child at bedtime and when you get to a short vowel ă word in the book, ask them to Stretch & Catch it.

Now those alphabet letters don’t feel so overwhelming to your child! In fact, they now make complete sense.

You can find more information about teaching your child how to read in my book, Teach Your Child To Read In Less Than 10 Minutes A Day! Stretch & Catch Words.



Reading doesn’t have to be “Puzzling”

I like to look at words like a puzzle. When you are putting a puzzle together you try to put all of the pieces facing up and start to make a plan in your head. When a child encounters an unknown word, this is exactly what they need to do.

FIRST: The child must find a pattern within the word, so they will know how to Stretch (or sound the word out) and then Catch the word (or pull it quickly back together). I find that the phrase Stretch & Catch works best when referring to reading words.

Let me give an example:

If a younger child comes across the following word: bad

  1. Ask your child, “What vowel do you see in this word?” You need your child to be able to distinguish which vowel is in the word in order to Stretch & Catch the word.
  2. If your child says, “short a” have them Stretch & Catch the word and move on.
  3. If your child is unable to identify the short vowel, you will tell them it is a short A word.
  4. Next, model how to Stretch & Catch the word for them.
  5. Finally, ask your child to Stretch & Catch the same word.

WHY? When a child is learning at their Instructional level, they need to LEAN on a teacher or parent to guide them, by modeling the skill, in a lesson. The more a skill is modeled for a child, the faster that child will LEARN that specific skill.

Now this skill we are discussing is READING, so it can be VERY OVERWHELMING to both the parent who is teaching and the child that is learning!

Reading doesn’t have to be such an overwhelming task for children. Let’s continue this idea that READING is like a PUZZLE and we just need to look at one piece of the puzzle at a time!

What happens when your child encounters the following word: PAIN

Now if your child is still reading simple texts, you will have to just tell them that word. If your child is reading more complex texts, you will need to help them solve this puzzle. Figuring out the puzzle of a higher leveled unknown word is NO different than figuring out a simple short vowel word. Does your method of figuring out a 24 piece puzzle differ from a 100 piece puzzle? No, you still need to put all of the pieces face up and figure out your plan. Most people when building a puzzle try to put the corners and edges together first. When looking at a word, you need to go right to the middle and figure out what type of vowel you are looking at. In this case, it is a long vowel.

  1. Ask your child, “What vowel do you see in this word?” You need your child to be able to distinguish which vowel is in the word in order to Stretch & Catch the word.
  2. If your child says, “long a” then they understand that the “a” next to the “i” makes the “a” say its name. Now have them Stretch & Catch the word and move on.
  3. If your child is unable to distinguish that this is a long A word, then explain the rule to them.
  4. Next, model for them how to Stretch & Catch the word.
  5. Finally, ask your child to Stretch & Catch the same word.


When we take the overwhelming piece of the PUZZLE out of reading, it makes it a lot easier to teach it!

More lessons in Teach Your Child To Read In Less Than 10 Minutes A Day! Stretch & Catch Words. By: Amanda McNamara Lowe



Why Is My Child Behind In Reading?

Why Is My Child Behind In Reading?

It’s that time of year, report card season. You anxiously open the envelope and what do you see next to reading level? A minus. What? A minus sign, a number 1, a D…you see a mark that indicates YOUR child is behind. But how? But why? Is it because you are racing to football practice, soccer, gymnastics and fencing each week? Is it because after a long day of work, then rushing home to make dinner, getting homework done, running each child to practice that you were too tired to read this semester with your child? Is it because you marked off that your child read 20 minutes each night, but in reality, might have only read 20 minutes that week?

So is there someone to blame? Should you blame your child’s teacher for not being on top of it and making sure your child was getting extra help during the school day? Should you blame yourself because life is so busy? Should you blame your child for not really reading the full amount each week?


Life is so busy. This is not the 80’s. Between the competitive sports world and the competitive academic world, it’s hard to keep up. So, let’s take the blame away. Away from you, away from the teacher, and maybe even away from your child and focus not on who to blame, but how to fix the problem.

The first and fastest solution to helping a child “catch” up to their reading level is simple… High Frequency words. Every book is made up of 50%-60% of high frequency words. These are typically words that don’t follow a specific spelling pattern which in turn means you can’t sound these words out, or that these specific words appear so often in text that your child needs to automatically read them. So how does this help your child’s reading level? When a child can automatically say a vast amount of words, without stumbling on them and trying to sound them out, they have 50% of the text read. This by itself solves your child’s fluency issues with reading. It will also give them confidence while they read.

If you don’t have time to flip through a list of high frequency words with your child, I have a YouTube station called Stretch and Catch Words, where your child can watch me review these words with them. You can also download many apps that help children review high frequency words.

You can find a list of high frequency words on my website at www.stretchandcatch.com




I try very hard to get creative when teaching my own children to read. When I say hard, I mean, how can I teach them to read in minimal time with maximum results?

I’m a busy mom and honestly, I don’t know any mom that says she’s not busy. Busy with work, busy cleaning, busy cooking, busy blogging, busy with 10 loads of laundry, busy being a chauffeur, busy keeping all of the kids in one piece!

For goodness sake, we are just trying to survive and keep our children alive and now they have to read?

That is why I have come up with NAPKIN READING…

NAPKING READING you ask? Yes! Every morning, I write little love notes to each of my children. Then after my little personal note, I teach them a quick lesson. With a child that is just starting to read, you will want them to read their special napkin in the morning, before you put it in their lunch box, so you can guide them if they have any difficulties.

WHY HIGH FREQUENCY WORDS? You will notice that my mini NAPKIN lessons combine the feature your child is learning as well as a few high frequency words. In order to read, your child must be fluent with his/her high frequency words. High frequency words are extremely important because they tend to be irregular and are not able to be sounded out or because they appear so frequently in text that your child should know the word automatically. These words make up 50%-60% of your child’s reading. If your child is fluent and automatic with high frequency words, he/she will be less frustrate while learning to read.

Example for a child learning short vowels:

High Frequency Words: I, love, you, the, is

Feature: Short ă words: cat, fat


I love you.

The cat is fat.



Example for a child learning blends:

High Frequency Words: have, happy, day

Feature: L Blend vs non-blends: plan vs pan; slip vs sip, blop vs bop


Have a happy day!

plan    pan

slip      sip

blop    bop



Example for a child learning digraphs:

High Frequency Words: I, love, you, have, school

Feature: digraph SH vs S vs H (it’s ok to use nonsense words) ship, sip, hit, shop, sop, hop, shot, sot, hot


I love you. Have fun at school!

ship     sip   hit

shop    sop  hop

shot     sot   hot



Example for a child learning long vowel ā:

High Frequency Words: have, happy, day, today, love

Feature: short ă vs long ā: can, cane, bat, bate, mat, mate, fat, fate


Have a happy day today!

can         cane

bat         bate

mat        mate

fat          fate



The feature words and examples are provided in each chapter of Teach Your Child To Read In Less Than 10 Minutes A Day! Stretch & Catch Words. By Amanda McNamara Lowe



When a child is first learning to spell, they use “kid spelling” to write down every sound that they hear in a word. For example, my five year old was recently given a spelling test at school and this is what it looked like:

  1. jet
  2. sip (ship)
  3. bet
  4. got
  5. jrum (drum)
  6. bup   (bump)
  7. muh (much)
  8. wis   (wish)
  9. map
  10. hop
  11. plan
  12. cap

When I get to see a child’s authentic spelling, it tells me a lot about that child. So of course, when it’s my own child, I get very excited to see what they can do. If I were to analyze her test, or any other child’s test, I first start with what she knows.

What is known: beginning and ending consonants, short vowels, blends

What is unknown: nothing

What is the child using but confusing: affricates (jr=dr), preconsonantal nasals (m=mp), digraphs (sh, ch)

“Kid Spelling” should inform a teacher of what the child knows, what is completely unknown to the child, and what the child is using but confusing. The teacher then automatically knows that this child’s instructional level of learning is where he/she is “using but confusing” his/her sounds. Of course, because I’m the “spelling mom” I review my child’s work immediately with her and show her what sounds she “used but confused”.

For the next few weeks, while she is taking a bath, we review digraphs, preconsonantal nasals and affricates for her to write on the wall with soap suds. This is her very favorite place to learn how to spell. I like to usually teach my children in places that appear to be a more fun environment to learn; on a walk, in the car, in the bath, in the shower…anywhere that doesn’t “look” like I’m teaching them.

Now when my third and fifth grader come home with misspelled words, I look at it quite differently. If they misspell any word, I automatically write the correct spelling of that word above the misspelled word and review it with them.

WHY? I don’t truly believe in kid spelling. In order to know how to spell a word correctly, a child must understand the pattern within that word. After that child encounters that one word spelled the same each time, it will become imprinted in their brain. An imprint is a fancy way of saying memorize. Therefore, a child has imprinted the word into the brain to make it permanent.

BUT WHY? What if a child continues to spell the word, bear like, “bare” and this child writes this word over and over? The incorrect spelling is now imprinted in this child’s brain.

Think how hard it would be to unlearn something that is permanent in your brain.

So the next time your child uses “kid spelling,” simply write the correct spelling above the misspelled word and review it with them.

According to the Human-Memory.net, “Recall or retrieval of memory refers to the subsequent re-accessing of events or information from the past, which have been previously encoded and stored in the brain. In common parlance, it is known as remembering.”