ABOUT the Developers of
Wordy Worm® Reading

Long time friends Judy O'Halloran (left) and Marilee Senior are co-founders of Wordy Worm Reading in Fort Myers, FL. The program is aimed at helping struggling readers become more proficient.

Judy O'Halloran

is the mother of a son with Down syndrome who led her on a decade-long search to find an effective reading approach. She has been a classroom teacher and a homeschool mom. As a private reading tutor, her frustration with having children for just one or two hours a week led her to change her focus from teaching children to teaching parents.

Marilee Senior

is a creative artist who has taken Judy’s academic knowledge and practical experiences and translated them into child-centered, family-friendly songs and graphics. Her  videos and activities make it easy to learn and fun to teach. What is often a rote, dry approach in many classrooms is transformed into family-centered, meaningful, engaging and fun-filled experiences.


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After earning her bachelors degree in Elementary Education, Kris committed to a year of national service which included mentoring students as part of the "America Reads" initiative. Kris led her team in an educational summer camp for the native Tlingit children in Kake, Alaska and has been a director of summer camps in a Delaware resort.   She taught in Delaware for several years before moving to Florida where she found her niche with first graders--a position she has enjoyed for the past 16 years. In addition to classroom instruction and tutoring, she is the Wordy Worm Reading Staff Development and Curriculum Leader for pre-school 3-year-olds through 2nd grade at her school.


As an avid reader, English teacher, reading tutor, and mother, reading – and learning to read– has always been important to me! When our youngest son, Casey, who has Down syndrome, was going through school, the typical reading programs were not effective in teaching him to read. So I took extra college reading courses, reading workshops and in- service programs in an effort to find what would work. Finally, learning and understanding phonograms –the single letter and multi-letter combinations that represent the smallest sounds in words– provided Casey with the quantum leap in learning to read.t

Later, when our oldest granddaughter turned three, I started to teach her the phonograms. Children are such miracles, so eager to learn. Their minds, like the proverbial sponge, soak up

The method I had learned for teaching phonograms was not particularly engaging. And while I had used additional creative exercises of my own, I wanted a more systematically playful approach to introducing them. Enter my friend, fellow grandmother, and creative artist, Marilee.

I remember when Judy mentioned to me that she had started teaching Katelyn the phonograms. She explained, "If a young children can tell you that a cow says, ‘moo,’ then they can tell you that m says /mmm/. “

I wanted to start teaching them to my 3- year-old granddaughter as well. But I didn’t know how.  As a child, I had not been taught phonics beyond the sounds of the alphabet. I found learning to read, using basic phonics, confusion and frustrating. I am blessed with a great memory. However, learning to memorize 200,000 words to become a proficient reader proved to be rather challenging.  In fact, this was the very reason I wanted to be sure Summer learned this very systematic code. I knew it would give her the added confidence and solid foundation so important in learning to read.

Judy was used to thinking on her feet and individualizing her instructions for her son and her students.  But I needed something more concrete. I can remember every poem my mother ever wrote and I thought putting them to rhyme would help me.  So we combined our skills and put the phonograms to song and added visual clues and gestures Judy found so useful in her tutoring sessions.

When Marilee (Mino) and Judy (Omi) first started working with their granddaughters, they took photographs of Summer and Katelyn, and their younger granddaughters, Sydney, Caroline, and Cameron acting out the phonograms. They used the pictures to illustrate phonogram cards and help the girls to learn. They wrote books, made up games, and went on phonogram hunts all around town.

One day Judy met a friend who was Casey’s first principal and later became director for staff development for the school district. When she heard about their reading activities, she said, “You have a moral obligation to share this with other children.” Judy’s first reaction was, “Please don’t tell me I have a moral obligation to do that. I’m Catholic. I’ll have to do it. And that’s not what I planned on doing.”

Marilee thought it was a good idea to share all they had researched and developed because, for her, learning the phonograms was like discovering a code. All the things she could have learned as a child about reading and spelling was so simple after all. So she put her creativity to work, imagining a little friend that would help children learn and remember. With that, the reading detectives brought ME to life–to make it fun for everyone. Now I help teach the rhymes and gestures. I can show you how to read on the go wherever you go. I make teaching easy and learning fun. I hope you’ll join us.

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