Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: July 2011

“Which way does the b go?”

When I was a K-4 teacher one of the most common questions I heard from parents concerned letter reversals. Are they normal? When should you worry that your child might possibly have a learning disability?

The answer I was trained to give was: “Don’t be concerned about letter reversals until winter of third grade.”

So, up until December of third grade, letter reversals are probably developmentally normal. After that, you should seek help. (More ideas one what to do if you suspect something is wrong with your child’s learning here.)

In the meantime, if your child is mixing up some of the most common letters: b, and d, here’s a quick tip.

Teach your child to spell “b –e –d” and make the thumbs up sign with both hands. That will show them which ways the b and d go.

This is a trick that kids (usually) love. I hope it works for you!

Morning Message

I don’t post about this every day, but keep in mind that writing and reading a daily Morning Message with Jenna is a key part of my methods in teaching young children to read. I have been doing this with Jenna (24m) for almost half a year. She can now hold the pen and point to each word as she “reads” along. This means that she has preliminary understanding that each word on the page corresponds to a spoken word aloud.  With older children you can work on spelling and conventions.

The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 10

This is a series of posts I am writing about The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Although the WTM has a decidedly homeschooling bent, it is an excellent reference book for any parent who is interested in taking an active role in their child’s education.

Over the next few weeks I am reading the WTM again for the second time, and blogging about my thoughts chapter by chapter. I want to be conscientious about not violating any copyrights, so I will not be including quotes from the book on my blog. I will however, be referencing specific page numbers from the third edition. I invite you to read along with me, and chime in your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Chapter 10

p 200: The author’s guidelines for when to use TV seem really reasonable to me, and are in accordance with our own family’s philosophy. I understand that some people ban the TV entirely from the house, but we have found that if you are choosey about what your kids watch, then television can be a wonderful learning medium if used appropriately and in moderation.

p 201: I agree with the author in lumping computer time in with TV time. We call this “screen time” in our house. For my son (6) two pages of math, or one page of math and 15 minutes of spelling = 30 minutes of screen time. This is pretty much a racket on my part, because almost all of his screen time is educational! We don’t own a DS or any sort of gaming system.

Unofficial K-2 CogAT Practice

I created practice sheets like these for my son and a couple of his friends when they took the CogAT 6 last fall. I made these worksheets after reading everything I could about IQ assessments in general, after having seen the uber expensive booklet Mercer Publishing puts out, and using my background as a teacher. I do not want to any way comprise the CogAT screening process, but let’s face it. If there is already a $45 test prep book out there, than it is already not a level playing field for children.

Here are two examples of ways you can prepare a K-2 child for the nonverbal section of tests like the CogAT. Please feel free to print these out and use them at home. I suggest making a whole bunch more practice sheets on your own. If you do so, please send me a jpeg so I can include your examples in this post. Thanks!

Bean Activity


 Here is a classic preschool/Kindergarten activity that teaches letter recognition, sound, and also works on the fine motor skills necessary for writing.  The idea is to first trace the letter with glue, and then let your child glue the beans to the letter.  All the while you say:  “Wow!  The B says ‘buh’. Beans start with ‘buh’ too.  We are building with beans.  Buh-  buh-  buh.  You are building the letter B.”  I’m showing beans in this example because Jenna was working with the letter “B”.  You could also use feathers for the letter “F”, raisins for the letter “R”, walnuts for the letter “W” etc.  I would highly recommend doing this activity outside.

Usually I have only seen this activity done with younger children, but today I had Bruce join in and make the number 4.  This is one of the numbers that he commonly reverses.  I don’t know if this will help sear the right direction into his brain or not, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.  Plus, the pincher grasp needed to pick up beans is good fine motor work.  Since Bruce is six, I also had him do his own glue squeezing which also gives those fine motor muscles a workout!

Blogging About Blogging

Dear Readers,

I started this blog six months ago in order to share my ideas about education and to help offer parents of small children a roadmap of what they could do to encourage early literacy skills before their children started Kindergarten.  When my own son Bruce was 18 months old, I had come across Glenn Doman’s book Teach Your Baby to Read and tried to implement that approach closely.  Unfortunately, I was left with the impression that it was a bunch of baloney.  So instead, I cobbled together ideas from my experience teaching Kindergarten and wouldn’t you know it?  Bruce was sounding out words by 2 and a half and reading simple books by age three.

Over the past six months I have learned a lot from the ideas and experiences my blog readers have shared.  I have also enjoyed reading other people’s blogs about education (mostly from homeschoolers).  When I eventually go back to becoming a classroom teacher, I am going to have a lot more to offer!  But right now my children really need me to be home.  In our state, teacher pay is so low that if I went back to work now I would barely make any money after paying for day care. Blogging has been a nice outlet for me to feel like I can still make a contribution to education. 

Which brings me to money, because I want to be really clear about my motive for blogging.  It’s right there at the top of my blog: “Helping you ensure that your child is academically advantaged, regardless of age, ability, or socio-economic level.” 

A while back I paid $30 to take Blog.com’s advertisements off my site.  I also signed up to be an Amazon Affiliate, with the hopes of someday being able to make back that $30.  What I have found is that it is a lot more convenient to cut and paste the Amazon Affiliate widget into my blog than it is to take a picture of a book I own, then upload it to the computer, than upload it to my blog, than cut and paste it into the post, and then find a normal Amazon link to put under it.  With the Amazon Affiliate link, I get a picture and link all in one.  Plus, it doesn’t take up so much storage space in my blog from having to upload pictures.  On almost all of my posts I always suggest checking your local library first. 

A few weeks ago I signed up to be an All About Spelling Affiliate too, because as an educator (and a horrible speller!) I am honestly blown away by the quality of the program.  But I am not a mercenary, and here are my blog statistics to back that up. 

February 28th – July 27th 

4,366 Visits (2,803 in the past month)

12.729 Page Visits

2,087 Visitors

46 Countries

Top Ten Countries: US, Canada, UK, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, India, China and Singapore

Amazon Affiliate Account: $7.12

All About Spelling Account: $29.92

I have not received any checks yet from either affiliate account.  I think you have to hit a certain dollar threshold to be paid, and then pay taxes on that to boot!  So you can see that I am being truthful when I say that hopefully some day in the future  (maybe!) I will be able to make up the $30 it took to take the Blog.com advertisements off my site. 

I feel like I need to publicly share this information after being cyber-bullied.  In the next few weeks, I will also be editing a lot of my previous posts in order to remove pictures of my children in order to better protect their privacy.  Luckily, Jenna has her hair in her face in a lot of them, so I can keep those!


Jennifer Bardsley

Midway Through the Ramayana

For my previous post about the Ramayana, please see here.

Bruce and I are now nearing the end of reading the Ramayana together, and we have been working through it for about three weeks. For being such a flimsy book, it’s really taking us a long time because the story is so complex. There are demons, fights and magical animals on just about every page, so we are only reading a few pages at a time. It would be like trying to read 40 pages of the Bible with a 6 year old. That just wouldn’t work very well, so we are taking this slowly.

Reading the Ramayana with Bruce is a radically different experience than reading it in college. I’m not trying to be culturally insensitive here, but take this “text to text connection” we made for example. In the Ramayana there is a giant monkey army that comes to the aide of Rama, led my Hanuman, the monkey army general. At one point, all of the monkeys gather and there are millions of monkeys as far as the eye can see. This of course made both Bruce and I think about Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, by Al Perkins aka Dr. Seuss. Even the part about monkeys with rings reminds me of Hanuman bringing Rama’s ring to Sita.

Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb was published in 1969. At that time in America there were a lot of “East meets West” ideas floating around contemporary culture. It really makes me wonder if Dr. Seuss was reading the Ramayana at the time!

The other thing that Bruce and I have been discussing midway through the Ramayana is the idea of Hope.  Sita is sitting underneath the tree in Ravana’s garden and she is utterly hopeless and miserable.  She’s crying and she no longer cares about her appearance.  But Vishnu, as Rama, sends the monkey Hanuman to Sita bearing a ring, and that gives Sita the strength to carry on.  I told Bruce that I believed that even when you were really hurt and upset, that you had to remember the story of Sita and look for God to send love your way.  It probably won’t be a monkey bearing a ring, but it might be a poem, a song you hear on the radio, a beautiful sunset, or a friend giving you a kind word of encouragement.  I hope this is something he remembers later in his life (especially when he is a teenager).

Don’t Waste your Money on this one…

I was so excited to see that our local Costco was currently carrying Leap Frog DVDs, because this doesn’t happen often.  We already own “The Letter Factory” and “The Talking Words Factory”, but we had never seen this one, “The Amazing Alphabet” before.  Oh my gosh, what a disappointment.  Please don’t waste your money on this one!  This definitely goes into the category of “edutainment”, meaning that there is too much cartoon and not enough learning.  (On a side note, the music from this video sounds a little bit like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.)

I also picked up “Code Word Capers” at Costco, which we had previously just borrowed from the library when Bruce was little. Jenna isn’t ready for “Code Word Capers” yet, but she hopefully will be by fall. I used it with Bruce and he still remembers it fondly. These are the Leap Frog videos that I think are worthwhile purchasing.  At Costco they are selling for just under $7 each.

The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 9

This is a series of posts I am writing about The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Although the WTM has a decidedly homeschooling bent, it is an excellent reference book for any parent who is interested in taking an active role in their child’s education.

Over the next few weeks I am reading the WTM again for the second time and blogging about my thoughts chapter by chapter. I want to be conscientious about not violating any copyrights, so I will not be including quotes from the book on my blog. I will however, be referencing specific page numbers from the third edition. I invite you to read along with me, and chime in your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Chapter 9

General Thoughts:

If any of you follow my blog on a regular basis you might already know my thoughts on Latin. You can find them on my Latin page. The only thing I haven’t said, is why not German? If one of the big reasons to learn Latin is so that you can better understand the English Language, then wouldn’t German be an even better choice? My Magister, Mr. Stasel, use to say that the English Language was half Latin, half German. I’ve never studied German myself, but don’t you decline nouns in German? Wouldn’t that help you learn English grammar just as well? Plus, you could actually use German and put it on your resume as a skill future employers might value. German speakers, please let me know what you think!

Here is a recount of trying to teach Bruce Spanish: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/spanish/

Has anyone used any of the other language programs the authors of the WTM recommended?

The Unintended Consequences of Letter Writing

When I was a teacher and parents asked me how to help develop their children’s writing abilities at home, I always gave these four suggestions: create a special writing corner, make a personal dictionary, buy your child a journal, and give them lots of stationary supplies including their own personalized address labels.  Of course, one of the unintended consequences of all of this writing is that you end up with some really special childhood keepsakes.  Here is a letter my mom recently found that my Grandma Gerry  wrote me when I was six years old, after I mailed off a letter to her on that I composed on my own stationary:

First Language Lessons Audio CD

We are listening to First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind right now, and so far Jenna, Bruce and I are impressed. It includes lots of short poems, stories, and several grammar chants and songs.  The narrator is pretty good and occasionally uses a Southern accent, which is novel for my kids. Jenna is 24 months at the moment, Bruce is 6, and I am (not saying!) but we are all enjoying the CD because it has a little bit of something for everyone. It is also a good choice for short car trips, as opposed to some of our audio CDs which have longer, more involved stories that you don’t want to interrupt because you just arrived at Trader Joe’s.

As a teacher, I was not trained in teaching through memorization. The whole idea of teaching grammar through chanting is very new to me, and I am not entirely sold on the idea.  But this CD has so many stories and poems on it that the grammar chants are sort-of squeezed in there in a way that my kids don’t seem to mind. If they end up memorizing lists of pronouns –great! If not, they will hopefully learn grammar in school, or else I will teach it to them in a formal way later on.

The author, Jessie Wise, has books that go along with this CD. I checked them out from the library, looked through them extensively, and decided they were not for me. My philosophy of education does not include teaching children by rote, and additionally I felt that Bruce would be bored out of his gizzard if I tried to make him follow that type of curriculum. Jenna might be able to handle it when she turns six someday, but Bruce has far too much action in him. That being said, I absolutely love the audio companion CD. I bet that by the time my children tire of listening to the CD in the car, they will have a lot of those poems memorized just like Jessie Wise intends.

All About Spelling Level 1

I should have titled this post “Claire Was Right”, in that when my friend saw my initial post here she immediately commented that I should have purchased Level 2 for Bruce. Instead, I bought Level 1 which is indeed too easy. Interestingly enough however, we are going to do part of Level 1, specifically steps 10, 16, 18, 19, 23, and 24. So Level 1 is not entirely wasted on Bruce, and of course I will use it for Jenna once she turns three and a half or four. But I am getting way ahead of myself.

I am very new to the All About Spelling bandwagon, and really wish I had heard about it a long time ago. It is very similar to a program I used when teaching Kindergarten and First grade called Systematic Sequential Phonics they Use. Unfortunately, I have searched and searched for this book to no avail, because it must be out of print. Both programs end up teaching spelling and phonics at the same time in a very hands on, kinesthetic way. Here’s the link on Youtube explaining All about Spelling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLo8POyQKIc&feature=related.

As soon as I saw the video, the teacher in me was hooked and I immediately ordered Level 1. All of the materials arrived today, and here is what I got:

The basic startup kit.

The magnets put onto the letter tiles and then punched out.

The level 1 kit as well as the organizer box, divider cards and phoneme CD-ROM.

This is what the board looks like set up with magnets used near the end of Level one, which is where we are going to start with Bruce. There are a bunch of other magnets that I have in a bag to save for future levels. Unfortunately, (and I’m kicking myself right now), I bought the wrong darn size magnetic white board to go with all of this. I had to go back to Office Depot and buy one that was 2’x3′.

If you have followed my blog you know that I have a neurotic fear of magnets around young children, so even though these are pretty weak magnets I’m going to store the whole board behind my china cabinet when not in use. For once, having an old hand-me-down china cabinet and wall paper that needs to be replaced is a good thing. If they get scratched up by this gigantic whiteboard, no big deal!

The Level 1 cards punched out and organized in the box. I’m glad I bought that box! A word about the blue cards. Do you see them up there in the box? Each blue card contains a rule or generalization about spelling. Level 1 has 16 rule cards in it. This is how I was able to figure out what steps in Level 1 I still needed to cover with Bruce, even though almost all of Level 1 is too easy for him. I just sat down there in his room and asked him to answer the questions on each of the blue cards. The ones he didn’t know directed me to what step to do in the book.

Here’s a picture of the lesson plans I’ll used to do the first activity with Bruce which was really quick and fun. Even a horrible speller like me wasn’t able to mess this up!

Once again, the teacher in me wishes she had the whole box, Levels 1-7. What an amazing diagnostic tool those blue cards would be! I’m thinking of our church’s tutoring program for disadvantaged students… You could go in and figure out exactly where a third grade English Language Learner was at in terms of spelling and phonics just by going through those blue cards. Then you could go back to the lesson plans, and know exactly what to teach.

As a former teacher, when I come across materials like this it makes me super excited, but also sad because I know that there are educators all across the country teaching in impoverished districts that are desperate for meaningful tools to help teach reading and spelling. If only I had access to this back in East Palo Alto, when I was muddling through trying to use Open Court! I could have written a grant to the Peninsula Community Foundation for five sets of materials and then used them for small group instruction.

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In the Car Curriculum

It is still the middle of summer but I am already thinking about our commute time this fall when we drive Bruce (6) to his new school. This is really karma for me, because my own mother drove me to school thirty minutes each way for seven years. Luckily, Bruce’s commute is only fifteen minutes each way. Our state offers free school buses and the environmentalist in me knows I should choose to put Bruce on the bus. But if he took the school bus each day he would not get home until 4:30, and then still be faced with homework, which reportedly will take up to an hour to complete as a first grader.

As an educator, I believe in giving children free time to play around in the backyard, goof off, and generally be a kid. So that’s why I am strongly considering driving Bruce to school. But that doesn’t mean I want the thirty minutes he spends in the car each day, or the hour Jenna (2) will be spending, to be wasted time. I am going to purposefully plan to utilize this time effectively by creating an “In the Car Curriculum”.   I am going to try to tie this as closely as I can to my SLE inspired reading list, which Bruce and I are already working on.  A lot of these CDs we already own, but some I will need to purchase, and some I will check out from the library.

None of these CDs are meant to take the place of meaningful conversation with my children, and we won’t be listening to them every day. If I sense that either one of my kids would like to talk or has something they would like to share, of course I will turn off the CDs at once. But if you think about it, every time you ride in the car you are probably listening to some sort of background noise already, usually the radio. This is what I plan for us to listen to instead.

The genesis for this idea comes from the classic book, Cheaper by the Dozen, in which the author’s father has his children listen to language tapes while taking a bath. Incidentally, Cheaper by the Dozen is based on a true story about the man who invented the QWERT keyboard among other things.

When Bruce and Jenna are in the Car Together:

When only Jenna is in the Car:

As you can tell, I am a big fan of the Jim Weiss audio book series. Our whole family loves his narration and storytelling. We have listed to his “Arabian Nights”, “Shakespeare”, “American Tall Tales”, and “Abraham Lincoln” CDs over and over again. They will not bore you to tears I promise!!! I am very excited to add some new titles to our collection. 

I would also like to point out that we will be listening to Story of the World Volume 1 by Susan Wise Bauer with the understanding that it is in the genre of historical fiction, and not verifiable fact.  The negative reviews on Amazon.com regarding historical inaccuracies concern me, but I still want to see what it is all about because I respect Susan Wise Bauer as an author and a home educator.

Garden update, end of July


This seems like a cruel post to write being that so much of the country is suffering through heat wave and drought, but it is is the exact opposite where we live.  I’ve only watered my vegetable garden three times this summer because it has been so cold and rainy. 

Sadly, there is probably no chance at all we are going to get tomatoes this year, even though our vines our huge.  Normally I am a strict organic farmer, but I have even resorted to spraying the tomatoe blossoms with fruit setting spray to no avail.  It’s just too cold for the plants to fruit.

We are getting peas at least, which both Bruce and Jenna love to eat right off the vine.

Our rasberries are also just starting, which are also a family favorite.    I like to share pictures of my garden because I think that teaching kids where food comes from, and giving them the experience of being able to eat things straight out of the yard is an education in itself.  This is a lesson I learned from my mother-in-law and sister-inlaw.

CVC Flip Books

Jenna is 24 months now, and knows all of her sounds. She doesn’t just say her sounds, she says them “Leap Frog Style”. If you ask her what sound the letter A makes for example, she screams “AHHHH” just like in the “Letter Factory Video”. She is more confident with upper case letters than lower at this point, so we are still playing a lot with her Word Whammer.

From a learning point of view, Jenna is in the crucial stage between knowing her sounds and being able to make the cognitive jump and start sounding out consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words. It is likely that this will not happen for a while. Bruce was two and a half before he could do this. But that doesn’t mean that I can start introducing the concept to Jenna now, in fun ways a little bit each week.

Today I made a few CVC flip books that correspond with some of the words introduced in the “Talking Words Factory”. Here’s what they look like up close:

Flip books are wonderful FREE things that parents can make at home to help support emergent readers. I made flip books for students all the way up to third grade. They can become increasingly more complex as you go along, and are a great way to practice phonics and sounding out words. If you are working with a really young learner like Jenna, make sure to write everything in lower case letters except for B/D/P/and Q. Those letters are really confusing in lower case form.

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