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My dream is to spark a national conversation about how massive parental involvement is the key to high quality education.

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Attention Parents!

cropped-img_0934.jpgYou can teach your child a tremendous amount of academics, especially with some guidance.

My name is Jennifer Bardsley. Find out more about me here or here.

Where to Start  will give you ideas for toddlers and preschoolers, and Afterschooling is for Kindergarten on up. Every child deserves one-on-one instruction, and that experience can begin in your home.

Afterschooling for Dyslexia

textgram_1448053916What do you do if your child has an official diagnosis of dyslexia and yet is not receiving specially designed instruction at school? Perhaps you are fighting for your child’s right to an IEP. Or maybe the IEP team offered to pull your child out of general ed and put him in a resource room with students who have a wide variety of other issues. Possibly your school district offers no dyslexia-specific services to students with dyslexia at all. You hear rumors of other states where dyslexic kids receive sixty minutes of the Wilson Reading Program a day and you weep.

Take a deep breath. Square your shoulders. Concentrate on hope instead of anger.

You can help your child immensely!

Be your child’s advocate, find a dyslexia tutor (if you can afford one), and start afterschooling.

I’m not the best person to talk about special education advocacy or finding a dyslexia tutor (hint: email Susan Barton or contact your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter), but I’ve spent the last sixteen years honing my skills as a K-4 teacher turned afterschooling mom.

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

Don’t wait for the school district to deliver meaningful dyslexia intervention to your child. Piece-work together a plan that works for your child in the interim. Keep advocating, but also start afterschooling. Something is better than nothing.

I wish I could offer guarantees that what works for my student will work perfectly for your son or daughter, but I cannot. My strategy is to not rely on any one program or method but instead to hedge my bets. You can use the framework of my afterschooling plan to create something that will make a meaningful difference for your child. Think of this as a sample plan for what might work for you.

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Step #1: Buy an iPad or tablet.

A lot of the ideas you will read about in this post could also happen with a computer, but in my experience the tablet makes things easier for kids.


Step #2: Sign up for subscriptions to, Dreambox Learning, and Learning Ally.

More about Nessy here.

More about Learning Ally here.

I’ve also tried out Reading Eggs, but like Nessy better for kids with dyslexia. If your student prefers Reading Eggs, go with that.

Dreambox Math is an online math program that helps kids understand “the sixteeness of sixteen” instead of relying on rote memory. It’s Common Core aligned, and will mesh well with whatever math curriculum your school uses. Since there’s no writing involved, dysgraphia won’t get in the way. However, Dreambox is not specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. Occasionally it includes games that might frustrate kids with weak working memory. As an afterschooling program though, it is really easy to implement. It’s much better than worksheets, and less involved than a complete homeschooling program like Right Start or Math U See.


Step #3: Order All About Reading and All About Spelling. (Full disclosure: I am an affiliate.)

AAR and AAS are scripted programs which means all you need to do is read from the teacher’s guide. It involves a giant magnetic board with phoneme tiles, a box of flashcards, decodable readers, fluency practice sheets, and the occasional cut and paste game. Both programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach which has a proven track record for helping kids with dyslexia.

In a homeschooling situation it would be easier to plug away at AAR and AAS in big chunks of time. With afterschooling, you have to be more creative. But it’s definitely doable. Plus, you have the comfort of knowing that your son or daughter is receiving an Orton-Gillingham based intervention with or without the school district’s help.


Step #4 Buy the Handwriting Without Tears “Wet, Dry, Try” App.

You could also try purchasing the entire Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. But definitely start with the app first because it is cheaper and easier to implement in an afterschooling setting.


The app has the added benefit of being user friendly. It’s something that small kids can do on their own without adult assistance. The actual HWT curriculum is of course marvelous, but it requires an adult.

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Step #5 Be creative so your child doesn’t hate you.

No kid wants to hear “Guess what, Timmy? You’re going to do an extra seven hours of school every week, after you’ve already gone to school!” That would be horrible. A smart parent is clever about marketing and generous with bribes.

I’ve found a lot of success with rewards charts. I use my computer to make a new game sheet each week. On the sheet are pictures of all of the afterschooling tasks my student will do. For really big things like an All About Reading lesson, I divide it out into the reader, the fluency workbook, and the magnet board. I also throw in fun things like read to the dog.

Remember how I mentioned the importance of marketing? Instead of a boring rewards chart, I call mine “Bingo,” “Candy Land,” or “The Mall.”

Here are what sample Bingo boards look like:


Bing Snip

Here’s a closer look at the top half of the Candy Land board:


Now for a peek at “The Mall.”

Mall 2

Prizes include everything from stickers, candy, $2 dollar bills, hair ribbons, gum, and erasers, to trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s and the indoor swimming pool. I change the prizes every week to keep things interesting. Yes, buying all of these prizes costs money. But when you ask a child to do an extra seven hours of work each week you need to reward them.

#6 Afterschool between the cracks.

Fitting an extra seven hours of work into an already busy week is intense, but doable. Shoot for two hours on Saturday, two hours on Sunday, and then about 30 minutes a day during the school week. Here’s how you can squeeze that in:

While you drive in the car:

  • The Handwriting Tears App.
  • Listening to a Learning Ally story.

While you wait around at sporting or musical events for other siblings:

  • All About Reading reader.
  • All About Spelling or All About Reading flashcards.
  • Fluency practice from the All About Reading Activity Book.

20 minute intervals at home:

  • Nessy
  • Dreambox
  • The All About Spelling and All About Reading magnet board.

#7 Learn to say “No.”

Afterschooling for dyslexia is a huge time commitment. With my student, we shoot for six hours a week in addition to a one hour session with a private tutor. That means my student is working an additional seven hours a week above and beyond what’s happening at school, and not including traditional homework. Yikes! This schedule is grueling but creates positive results. It also requires sacrifice from everyone involved.

Sacrifice means saying: “No, I cannot volunteer for X, Y, Z,” and “I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for piano lessons right now.” It also means closing your checkbook to school fundraisers because you are already spending so much on your afterschooling program.


At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I have been honing my afterschooling skills for sixteen years. For the past three years I’ve done process of elimination to find out what strategies do not work for afterschooling and dyslexia. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’ve stumbled upon perfection. I have developed a deep faith in parents’ abilities to make meaningful impact in their children’s educations.

Not every school district is “helpful.”

Not every family can afford to spend $20,000 for an expensive dyslexia program.

But every child deserves to become a strong reader.

I believe you can make a difference in your child’s education!

“Best Hair Book Ever!” Review

When I was a tween I had a hairstyle book that I memorized cover to cover. Now as an adult I realize that every single model in the book was white. I don’t know why that observation never occured to me when I was younger, but now it annoys me. That’s why I was so excited to read Best Hair Book Ever!: Cute Cuts, Sweet Styles and Tons of Tress Tips by Faithgirlz. It reflects hairstyles for all types of hair and ethnicities.

As soon as my six-year-old daughter saw this book, she was entranced. Unfortunately, her baby-fine hair is too thin for many of the styles. But there are still plenty of options to choose from. Braids, twists, spider ponies and cornrows; this book has something to teach everyone. It’s definitely too hard for a first grader, but perfect for girls ages twelve and up. There’s also a solid section on hair maintenance and choosing the right cut.

The only thing I wish the book included was an education about chemicals such as palates, sulfates and synthetic fragrances. This was a missed opportunity to make girls aware of avoiding unnecessary chemicals. Still, I liked the Best Hair Book Ever! a lot. Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a free copy in exchange for my honest opinions and reviews.

I review for BookLook Bloggers Review


Over the years I’ve reviewed a lot of computer-based phonics programs for kids, but I’ve never seen one specifically designed for children with dyslexia until now. Nessy comes from England and bills itself as “Everything you need to help children with dyslexia and reading disabilities.” A subscription for one student costs $10 a month or $100 a year. That’s significantly cheaper than a private dyslexia tutor, but slightly more expensive than programs such as Reading Eggs or Starfall.

(My Reading Eggs review)

(My Starfall mini-review)

Three big questions in my mind when I bought a Nessy subscription several weeks ago were 1) How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics programs? 2) Is it worth the time and money? and #3) What should parents know about Nessy?


#1 How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics program?

If you want to read the official list describing the fundamentals of Nessy, click here to go to the company website. My observations are not nearly as scientific. I’m telling you what I see as former K-4 teacher.

Nessy is slower and more systematic than other programs I’ve reviewed. It introduces sight-words in a way that is more user-friendly for kids with dyslexia. If a kid is learning the “th” sound for example, all the games are about the “th” sound. It doesn’t switch from “th” to sight-words, to review, to “ch,” to something else, and so on. Instead, it’s “th,” “th,” “th,” “th,” until the kids really understands.

My familiarity with the homeschooling program All About Reading which is based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham immediately helped me see that Nessy is also based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham. In fact, the student I am tutoring is working on the same phonemes in both AAR and Nessy. The embedded assessments in Nessy aligned perfectly with AAR. Both programs said she was at the same level of phoneme development. (Full disclaimer, I am an AAR affiliate.)


#2 Is Nessy worth the time and money?

Yes! A resounding Yes! The child I’m working with loves Nessy. She was hitting the wall with other computer games we tried. Nessy seems to make sense to her, and for that I’m really grateful. We are using Nessy in conjunction with All About Reading and All About Spelling. Nessy is not the only intervention happening, but it is one significant piece.

I also think Nessy would be good for children who do not yet have an official diagnosis of dyslexia. The wait to get assessed can take months if not years. In the meantime, kids could be doing Nessy just in case. Neurytypical kids would probably benefit too.


#3 What should parents know about Nessy?

When Nessy works, it really, really works well. But sometimes, there will be technical glitches.

It’s important to go into the settings and choose your location and the type of English you want. For me, that meant USA with an American accent. If you don’t do this, the loading time will be way too slow. Plus the accent could confuse your student.

We’ve experienced loading differences on the computer versus the iPad. On the computer, sometimes the videos are blocked by “loading” symbols. On the iPad, the sound occasionally cuts out, and I have to turn the game off and bring it back on again.

The glitches can be frustrating, but not enough to outweigh all of the benefits.

Final thoughts.

My experience with Nessy revolves around a first grader, who seems to be the perfect age for this program. They say it’s suitable for 5-12 years of age, but fourth graders on up might think Nessy is babyish. That’s not to say a nine year old wouldn’t learn a lot from Nessy, just that it doesn’t have a cool “tween” vibe.

As an Afterschooling program, Nessy is an excellent supplement to other dyslexia interventions already in place.

For more information please visit their website at:

What to do if you suspect your child has dyslexia

All children learn at different rates and the developmental range of what “normal” looks like is huge. But what should you do if your child is struggling with learning to read despite everyone’s best efforts? #1 Learn the signs Up to one in five people have dyslexia, so it is important to know the signs. … Continue reading

How to move forward with my blog?

I used to blog every day. I used to dream up posts in the middle of the night that I was dying to share. I still do. The difference between now and four years ago is that my kids are older. At ten and six year olds, I don’t feel comfortable revealing details about their education with … Continue reading

The CEB Student Bible

No matter what your religious persuasion, you will probably agree with me that The Bible deals with some heavy stuff. Rape, war, incest, and genocide are in the same book that promotes grace and forgiveness. The way the text is presented varies wildly from Bible to Bible, especially when you consider the footnotes, annotations, and … Continue reading

“B is for Bear, A Natural Alphabet” by Hannah Viano

B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano is a book that fuses science, nature, and art into one neat package. I thought it was brilliant. Unfortunately, my six-year-old daughter did not like it one bit. Sasquatch Books sent me a free copy in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Viano takes the traditional format of an alphabet book and includes a word and a sentence for each letter. There’s just enough content that the former K-1 teacher in me thinks it could would be a great supplement for the Common Core State Standards.  Vocabulary words such as “predators,” “scat,” and “investigate,” are sprinkled through the book, and the pictures provide great prompts for discussion.

I can definitely see B is for Bear being very welcome in a classroom environment. At home however, it would depend on the kid. My daughter thought it was boring, which really surprised me because she had previously enjoyed Viano’s book Arrow to Alaska. My daughter also thought it was too babyish, which I argued with her about, because this book isn’t babyish at all. There’s a lot of science!

Can’t please everyone, I guess. Pfffffft!

A Sneak Peek at “Secrets of the Dragon Tomb”

When I was lent an advanced review copy of the middle grade book Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, by Patrick Samphire, my ten-year-old son was thrilled. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is Steampunk meets SciFi and sure to keep kids up past their bedtime saying “Just one more page!” I can’t share a full review because this book doesn’t come out until January 12, 2016, but here’s a little teaser curtsey of my son:

Cousins Edward and Fredrick live on 19th century British Mars and must stop the nefarious Sir Titus Dane from obtaining a water abacus that can be used to find an ancient dragon tomb full of powerful technology.

My favorite part was the environment. I really liked how Patrick described the unique wildlife on Mars such as crannybugs and bushbears. I also liked how it wasn’t all “high-techy” because you don’t often see books about Mars that aren’t futuristic. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb was steampunk like The Peculiar, which is one of my favorite genres because it is uncommon in MG reads.

Taking your homekeeping to the next level


Erica Strauss has the goal of helping men and women everywhere turn their homes into centers of production instead of places of consumption. That’s a big challenge to wrestle with, but her new book The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping shows you how.

Instead of dousing our bathrooms in chemicals, Erica gives step-by-step instructions for making “potty powder” and “acidic bathroom cleaner.” Instead of buying sugary jam from the grocery store, she teachers readers to can their own preserves without using pectin.

Well, Erica would have to pry the pectin box away from my cold, dead hands, but I’m willing to give her other ideas a try. So are her legions of fans who adore her well-known site: Northwest Edible Life.

Sasquatch Books in Seattle sent me a free, advanced copy of The Hands-On Home this summer in exchange for my honest opinions and review. For me as a homemaker, it was love at first sight. The construction of the book is everything I expect from Sasquatch: fine quality pages, beautiful illustrations, and a style that walks the fine line between folksy and hip. The Hands-On Home is also enormous. It’s almost 400 pages long and feels like Joy of Cooking’s younger, prettier sister.

But don’t let the girth put you off, because The Hands-On Home is divided into easy-to-manage sections by season. It’s really like five books in one. First comes the part about basic, year-round instructions. Next comes spring, summer, fall and winter. In each of the seasonal sections there are edible recipes as well as ideas for home and personal care.

Northwest Edible Life fans might be asking themselves, “Do I really need to buy this book? Can’t I find these recipes on Erica’s website?” For me the answer is yes, because the blog–wonderful as it is–only offers a fraction of what Erica has crafted in the book. Plus, this book would make a lovely holiday present or engagement gift.

As a gardener, I was a wee bit disappointed that there wasn’t a gardening section to The Hands-On Home. I’ve given up on the idea of ever getting chickens, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like reading plans about coop construction. Erica writing a follow-up book about gardening seems like a no-brainer to me. The Hands-On Garden perhaps?

I began reading The Hands-On Home in summer when tomatoes were abundant. I *might* have made myself sick by overindulging in oven-roasted herb confit one August afternoon. But, I’m pretty darn proud of the multiple mason jars of lacto-fermented pico de gallo in my refrigerator. Now that it’s fall, I’m eager to try the sauerkraut with apples and caraway. I’ve made homemade sauerkraut before, but have totally forgotten how. Now all I have to do is open up the book, and the instructions are right there at my fingertips.

The Hands-On Home is so rich with ideas that it will take me several years to try them all. How lovely it is to have a guidebook to aspire to.

“Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars” by Constance Lombardo

This summer my six-year-old daughter and I got to take a sneak peek at a digital advanced review copy of Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars by Constance Lombardo that I received from Above the Treeline. Reading Mr. Puffball together made for many purrrrrrfect afternoons. Yeah, baby! Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars tells the story of … Continue reading

“The Book of Dares For Lost Friends” by Jane Kelley

The kids and I were super excited to win a giveaway from Darlene Beck Jacobson’s blog Gold From The Dust: Bringing Stories to Life, and receive a free copy of Jane Kelley’s latest book for middle grade readers. Thank you Darlene and Jane! Here’s my ten-year-old son’s review of The Book of Dares for Lost Friends. … Continue reading

“The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician” by Matthew Porter

The evil ways of Milton the Magnificent captured my six-year-old’s attention from the very first pages of The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician: A Monkey World Adventure by Seattle author, Matthew Porter. “Why is that monkey so mean?” my daughter kept asking. It was a one word answer: jealously.

Our hero, Oscar the Magician, is thrilled to discover that he’s been nominated for Magician of the Year. But his nemesis, Milton, has other plans.

Would Oscar be hurt? Would he lose out on his chance to win? Would he be thrown in jail forever for a crime he didn’t commit? This is a picture book with a lot of tension, and just the right amount of emotional “stress” for kids to handle. Spoiler alert: Oscar never gets hurt, no matter how dastardly Milton becomes. ;)

My daughter and I both enjoyed the beautiful illustrations which were full of detail and color. This book made for a wonderful bedtime read. Thank you to Sasquatch Books for sending us a free copy in exchange for our review.

Children, Blogging, Privacy and Balance

Mommy Blogs scare me, and I say that having blogged for four years. Once you write something on the Internet, it is there forever–even if you delete it. No post is worth hurting your child’s feelings. No amount of “likes” or “followers” makes up for a positive relationship between yourself and your child. As my … Continue reading

From the playroom to the boardroom

Can you take the skills you learned convincing your toddler to eat peas with you to work? That’s the question Shari Storm poses in her book: Motherhood Is the New MBA: Using Your Parenting Skills to Be a Better Boss, and she answers it with a resounding, “Yes!” Storm’s thesis is that all of the interpersonal strategies mothers hone while managing their kids are equally effective with adults.

As an example, let’s compare getting a child dressed and out the door to school on time, with launching a major change within a company. With your five-year-old, you need to give explicit, advanced warning about what’s to come. “We are leaving the house in ten minutes. Please put on your shoes.” In the workplace, advanced warning and clear instructions help transitions flow smoothly too.

Storm builds her book with an abundance of comparisons of things that help at home working equally well in business. Kids don’t like to hear “I told you so,” and neither do employees. Storytelling helps finesse action at home–and is also a clever way to communicate at work.

I found Motherhood Is the New MBA to be extremely readable and witty. I think it would be a great gift book for a new mom heading back to work. But it was also enjoyable for me to read as a SAHM/working mom hybrid.

Talking with children about diversity in books

Longtime Teaching My Baby to Read followers will remember that I have been building my collection of diverse children books for years. If you want to read some previous posts on the subject, check out: I want my children to read about diversity African American Literature for Children Teaching Kids about Islam Today I pulled … Continue reading


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