Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Yellow is the Sun

Today was a big day for us!   Jenna, (23 months), laid out all of the sticks in the correct order 1-5 while we sang “Yellow is the Sun” together.  This is a song from the Right Start Math curriculum.  She even held her hand out when we sang the line “My whole hand makes five”.  I’ve modified the words a bit to make them more meaningful to Jenna.  “Yellow is the sun, Jenna shows you one” etc.

Of course, when we got to six she wiped all of the sticks away!

We shelled out $5 to buy the book, but you could do this activity for free at home because the music is posted on the Activites for Learning website:  http://www.alabacus.com/pageView.cfm?pageID=309  I guess I should think about buying the Level A teacher’s guide in the next six month or so.

Homemade Book Idea from Farmgirl

Check out this beautiful homemade book a fellow blogger’s daughter made with folder paper, needle and thread.  http://farmgirl.hazubu.com/?p=1511

This is definitely a step up from grocery bags!  I love the idea of binding the book with needle and thread because that works on fine motor skills as well.  Beautiful work Milly!  We’re going to follow your lead and make our own book for Fourth of July.

Dreambox Confessions

A while back I posted my impressions of Dreambox.com, a math program which Bruce has played sporadically for over two years.  Bruce’s very nature is to become passionately interested in a subject or activity to the point of obsession, and then move on to something else.  So the way he has approached Dreambox might be a little bit out of the ordinary.  We usually sign up for Dreambox for one or two months at a time.  Bruce is usually beyond excited to play Dreambox in the initial weeks, and then his focus changes and he moves onto something else.  The last time I signed up Bruce for Dreambox was six months ago at Christmas, when I wanted to keep him busy over winter break. 

Remember how I titled this post Dreambox Confessions?  Well summer vacation starts this week and so I decided to sign Bruce(6 years old) up for Dreambox again.  He was very keen to play it, and I’m personally motivated to keep him occupied and busy this summer.  So on Monday, I signed him up.  Knowing his past history with Dreambox, I figured I’d let him him play as long as he wanted that first day (within reason).  As a former teacher, I was curious to see how much he really liked it, because it does cover some hard core math standards.

Here comes the really embarrassing part.  So Bruce is there at the kitchen computer playing Dreambox and Jenna (who’s 23 months old) and I were going about our day.  We read books…we counted blocks…we did a puzzle…we went outside…Jenna ate sand…I cleaned her up with the hose…we watered the garden…Jenna got all wet…I put her in clean clothes… You get the picture. 

Then I realized that through all of this Bruce was still playing Dreambox for three hours!  Which is so not okay in our household!  We have very strict rules about screen-time, and they usually involve reading or doing math to earn 30 minutes of PBS.  We also don’t own an Xbox or DS or anything.  So Bruce having 3 hours of screen-time (even though he was doing Dreambox) was a big goof on my part.  I was so distracted with Jenna that I wasn’t paying good enough attention.

But wait, it gets worse…  So an hour or two later my husband got home from work, our family ate dinner together, and then I took off to go for a run.  I came back home only to discover, you guessed it– Bruce playing Dreambox again!  Then came the very uncomfortable explanation to my husband.  Um… I had already let Bruce play Dreambox for three hours that day, bringing his current screen-time count up to four.  If I was the nanny, I would have been fired!

Not to redeem myself at all, but out of curiosity I went into the Parent Dashboard in Dreambox to see what Bruce was working on during my four hours of delinquent parenting and here is the cut-and-paste of what it said:

What’s Bruce learning now?

Bruce is skip counting forwards and backwards, for example jumping on a number line by threes: 3, 6, 9, 12, etc. This work will be helpful later when multiplication is introduced and common multiples are explored.

Bruce is using a fun tool called the Human CalculatorTM! DreamBox gives your child a column of numbers to add in a way that helps him look for patterns among the numbers and find pairs of numbers that equal multiples of ten. After mastering the Human CalculatorTM, Bruce is adding and subtracting 2- and 3-digit numbers. Our curriculum provides extensive scaffolding (support for gradual learning) and carefully crafted problems that develop powerful mental arithmetic strategies.

Bruce is learning a strategy that involves splitting numbers into friendlier pieces. When presented with challenging problem sets (like 43 + 36) he splits the numbers and rearranges the parts into tens and ones. Following this strategy, Bruce is learning a strategy to make addition problems friendlier by using our tool, Compensation BucketsTM. For example, initially turning the problem 29 + 64 into 30 + 63, and later adding 3-digit numbers with sums up to 200.

In general, I think that Dreambox is an excellent program, and highly worth checking out.  But I will definitely be setting the kitchen timer the next time I let Bruce log in.

Homemade Books from Brown Paper Bags

 Homemade Books from Brown Paper Bags, Step-by-Step Instructions

For more information on making homemade books with children, and why it is such an excellent learning opportunity, please see:http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/homemade-books/

#1 Start with a brown grocery bag.

#2 Cut out the sides.


#3 Fold the sides on the natural fold line.


#4 Fold the ends in so that they meet at the middle.


#5 Staple two on top of each other.


#6 Now you can add text, pictures or illustrations according to the needs of your child. 

#7  Don’t forget to cover everything with clear mailing tape when you are done.

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Kids in the Garden, June Update

(You’ll have to forgive me for this one.  Mainly I’m writing this post to show pictures of my garden to my grandma in San Diego.)

Earlier in the year I posted about our vegetable garden, and how my kids contribute. Here’s the link: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/2011/05/18/learning-in-the-garden/

It’s been a really cold and wet start of summer for us where we live, so I’m not holding out much hope for our tomatoes, but here are pictures of what our garden looks like at the end of June.


From left: Peas, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, artichokes, rhubarb, with asparagus and suchokes in the back.

Our raspberry crop

Our little two year old grape plants.  They are just getting going.  That’s some chard and lettuce in the planter on the right.

Hi Grandma!

The AL Abacus


AL Abacus front

AL Abacus, reverse side

In a previous post I talked about the Right Start Level C math program Bruce has been using, and its core component, the AL abacus.  I explained about how even though I think the abacus is totally amazing, Bruce hasn’t been too keen on it yet, which made following the specific lesson plans in the Level C teacher guide difficult.  He still benefited a lot from the other parts of the program however.

For those of you unfamiliar with the abacus, here’s a cool and (free) link that let’s you explore it online: http://www.alabacus.com/pageView.cfm?pageID=321

Here are also some pictures of two ways to represent 57.


Pretty cool, hunh?  Hopefully Jenna will be much more interested in using it when she is ready.

Coupons and Kids, Math in Action!


Sometimes it can be hard to think of real world math activities for kids to learn about and practice math, but teaching them math through couponing is a no-brainer.  Bruce, who is six years old, knows that Sunday is a big day in our household because we get five copies of our local paper and we will be cutting out coupons.  He also knows that I’ll be checking out my favorite coupon blog: http://couponconnections.com/ for the best deals.

This week, Bruce and Jenna’s favorite toothpaste went on sale at our local grocery store at 2/$6.  The coupon inserts included a $1 off one tube coupon.  Of course, with five copies of the paper I had five coupons.  Score!  Normally this same toothpaste sells for $4.50.

We bought five tubes of toothpaste, some with fluoride and some without.  (My two year old, Jenna keeps trying to sneak and eat it.)

When we got home we did a mini-lesson on how much money we had saved.  Adding, Multiplication, Subtraction, Dividing… our shopping trip with coupons offered a bevy of learning opportunity.  If Bruce was a bit older, I could have explained about tax and percents, but I’ll save that for next year!

Toddler Math

Day after day of watching her big brother Bruce sit at the dining room table working on Math Expressions and Right Start, Jenna has now started regularly asking to “do math” too.  She is 23 months old now, and I’m still trying to work on visualization with her in addition to counting.  

Jenna can count with correspondence from 1-3 and can also rattle off her numbers to 14.  However, I’m trying to phase that part out and work on saying “ten and one, ten and two, ten and three etc.”  This is what is suggested in the Right Start literature, and is a new idea to me as an educator.  I’m really interested in trying it out, so my poor little girl gets to be my experimental guinea pig!

With Bruce at this age, we worked on counting and that was about it.  All of his early math skills were learned at Montessori, and I didn’t begin any formal instruction with him until he was four. 

Here are some of the difficulties I’ve encountered trying to teach math to an almost two year old.  First of all, Jenna keeps trying to eat the math manipulatives!  They are all choking hazards, so I really have to watch her and put them away up high when we are done.  The other problem is her eternal asking of the question “Why?”  Our most recent math session looked like this.

Me: “Can you give me two?”

Jenna: “Why?”

Me: “Because Mommy wants two squares.”

Jenna: “Why?”

Me: “Umm… because one square is not enough.  Mommy wants two.  Can you count out two?”

Jenna: “One’s nough.  One’s nough Mama.”

Me: “No, one’s not enough.  Mommy wants two.  Please give me two.”

Jenna: “Why?  Why Mama?”

At this point in the lesson I decided to just switch back to counting with correspondence.  I’ve been using the counting song from Sesame Street and Jenna can now sing along.  I’m not sure how much she is learning from all of this, but at least it’s a fun activity to do with Mom.

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Jenna’s Preschool Book

Jenna has participated in a wonderful infant-toddler class all year at our local community college.  It is two hours a week, and the mothers and fathers attend too.  Here is a book we made to celebrate the last day of school.  (Unfortunately, it’s not one of my best.  Jenna looks like Cousin It in a few of those pictures.  The pig-tails lasted about two minutes!)  For more information on the how and why of Homemade Books, please see: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/homemade-books/

Jenna’s Preschool Book


Jenna plays with the farm animals.


Jenna plays with the blocks.


Jenna plays on the stairs.


Jenna plays at the water table.


Jenna plays with her friends.



Jenna loves preschool!

Pizza Wanted Part 2

“Pizza wanted reward $100 and eat it”

Bruce has been at it again with his dinner hour protests!  I was happy to see this sign however, because you will notice the Zs are going the right direction this time.  (Last week’s example.)

Just in the past couple of weeks I have been having Bruce actively correct his number reverals, so I think he is becoming more aware of reversals in general.  It’s really a judgement call about when to have a child start actively correcting letter reversals, which as I’ve posted before are completely normal until around Christmas of third grade.  I’ve decided to have Bruce start correcting his numbers however, because he’s embarking on 3rd grade math content, and I don’t want his handwriting to confuse his computation.

When Sophie Get’s Angry…

This is one of my absolute favorite books for young children to learn about recognizing and managing their emotions.  (That’s called Social Emotional Learning in teacher-speak.)   This book is an SEL classic!  It’s called When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry… and it’s by Molly Bang.

My husband and I read this book over and over to Bruce when he was little.  Just like Sophie, Bruce is often “a volcano ready to explode”.  When Bruce was little, we talked with him about how he often felt like Sophie and got really, really angry.  But we also talked about how Sophie learned to calm down, and rejoin her family in a positive way.

Jenna is such a different child and temperament than Bruce, that it is truly remarkable that they are both my children!  When we read Sophie to Jenna, we talk about how she relates to the little sister in the book, who has to deal with her older sibling Sophie getting angry.  It’s so interesting how both of my kids are gaining insight from the same book, but in entirely different ways.

This is definitely a good book for Guided Reading.  Simply reading it aloud to children doesn’t do it justice.  The conversation and the personal connections to their real life are what make Sophie so meaningful.

ABC Practice

A couple of months ago I had purchased Pre K Hooked on Phonics kit.  It’s designed for 3 years on up, but I decided to buy it anyways, out of curiosity.  I was impressed with the DVD that came with it, and Jenna watched it about a dozen times before we moved on to “Leap Frog’s Letter Factory”.  We also have been reading two of the books, The Cereal Box and The Party.  For some reason, Jenna doesn’t want to read any of the other four books that came with the set. 

At 23 months, Jenna is still too young to follow the Pre K Hooked on Phonics instructions.  She just stomped on the flashcards when I gave it a try today!  But that doesn’t mean that she can’t benefit from any of the materials, especially if I modify how I use them.

Today for example, after the ABC cards were thoruoughly trod upon, I threw in an on-the-fly phonemic awareness activity.  While Jenna was sitting still for all of three minutes, I whipped through as many of the cards as I could.

Showing the web:  “W-W-W-W- Web!”  Flip card over showing the letter  “W”

Showing the escalator going up:  “U-U-U-U Up!”  Flip card over showing the letter “U”

We are not doing this activity every day.  Rather, I have the boxes sitting in the living room, and when Jenna sees them and wants to get them out, we do and it’s really fun.  We read the two books, we play with the flashcards, and she gets a star sticker.  Eventually, we will be able to do some of the actual Hooked on Phonics games, but we aren’t quite there yet.

Science in the Kitchen Revisited

Last week Bruce and I did an experiment with a popular candy, that left our whole family thinking twice about eating anything with artificial colors.  Check it out for yourself here: https://teachingmybabytoread.com/2011/06/13/science-in-the-kitchen/

Today we revisited the same experiment, this time using the so-called “natural” version of the candy, sold in the bulk bins of our local coop for a whopping $6.19 a lb.

We put about five or six pieces of candy into two glass jars and filled the jar with about 1/2 of water.  Then we set the timer for five minutes.

This is what the jars looked like when the timer went off.  Not exactly appetizing, is it?

Here is the picture of the experiment done with the conventional candy.

Here is the picture with the natural candy.  As a result of these activities, Bruce is really thinking twice about eating anything with what he terms “weird colors”.


I once taught at a wonderful public school who’s philosophy was a variation of “Every student is a teacher, every teacher is a student and every parent is both”.  Recently, I learned about a whole educational movement I had never ever heard of before, but had been actively engaged in for several years: Afterschooling.  Oh!!!  so that’s what the kids and I have been up to!

In simplest terms, Afterschooling is when your children attend public school, but you augment their education at home in a structured and meaningful way.  This is like how Bruce attends our local school districts part time Kindergarten program, and then in our off hours I work with him on math, reading, and science concepts that are at his appropriate level.

As a former teacher who has worked in one of the best public schools in California, as well as one that was really struggling, I am 100% committed to public education.  (For more on this, please see my post: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/2011/04/04/womens-retreat/.)

However, I understand and respect that Homeschooling is also a viable and meaningful option for many families, for a variety of reasons.  I am really excited at how so many districts, including the one in which we live, have developed outstanding Homeschool resource centers to help assist families who choose Homeschooling.

For us, Afterschooling has been the answer up until now.  Bruce has truly learned and benefited from all of the social interaction school has provided.   He loves his teacher, his friends, PE, library time, even music.  The Kindergarten curriculum itself, has been pretty simple for him, and his teacher has been very supportive of us supplementing at home. 

Next year Bruce has been accepted into the number #1 performing public school in our state, which promises to be be more challenging.  We are very exited about this move, and also a bit apprehensive!  It is hard to predict if I’ll feel the need to continue with Afterschooling for Bruce or not.  I’m hopeful that the new school will meet all of his learning needs, and we’ll be able to save our afterschool hours for home, Cub Scouts, soccer and playing in the back yard.  Of course, that will also free my time up to do more activites with Jenna.  Does that make us Beforeschoolers as well?

Stack the Countries

Quick quiz, if your six year old asked you where Windhoek was, what would you say? (For the answer, keep reading.)

Bruce earned all 50 states in “Stack the States” last week, and so I shelled out the big bucks ($1.99) to buy him “Stack the Countries” on our Ipod.  So far he’s been really excited about it, but it is oh-my-gosh so much harder!  It’s taking both the map on our family room wall, plus a lot of adult input, to help Bruce play.  I’d say this game is definitely meant for 5th graders on up.

“Stack the Countries” includes locations, shapes, capitals, language, and flag identification.  My husband and I both are getting schooled while we help Bruce play.  By contrast, Bruce was able to play “Stack the States” 75% on his own. 

By the way, in case you didn’t know (I certainly didn’t), Windhoek is the capital of Namibia.