Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Love You More

 Wow!  I really enjoyed reading Love You More, The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter by Jennifer Grant.  The very witty author has a lot of shared jokes and insights to offer on general parenting in addition to telling the story of adopting her daughter from Guatemala.  I especially chuckled at Grant’s memories of her husband mowing the grass in the dark, because as parents of small children they were constantly so busy.  She also does a good job of explaining what motivates parents to adopt.

If I had one criticism of the book, it is that while Grant does an excellent job of explaining the many nuances of feelings that parents and adoptees experience, she only glances over the impact of adoption on her other three children.  She briefly mentions the emotions her biological daughter Isabelle feels in the chapter “Post Adoption Blues”, but that’s about it. 

As a reader, I immediately identify with Isabelle.  When I was little, my parents adopted my sister who was two weeks old at the time.  My parents would agree with Jennifer Grant 100% that they knew my sister was their child the moment they saw her.  But for me as a nine year old?  Heck no!  Stories of my immediate jealousy to my new baby sister are the stuff of family legends.  Luckily I have grown past this (mostly), and my sister and I are very close as adults.  🙂

Still, I wonder how Isabelle feels knowing that her mother wrote an entire book about adopting Mia.  My inner nine-year-old is screaming: “Here it is years later, and Mia is still getting special attention for being adopted!”  But in spite of the reemerging sibling rivalry this book is bringing up for me, I’m giving it 5 out of 5 on Amazon.  It really is that good.

P.S.  I received a complimentary copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for writing my honest opinions about it.

All About Spelling Level 2

Bruce (6) finished All About Spelling Level 1 about a month ago, and since then we have been working through AAS Level 2. It continues to be a fabulous program, and (sadly) I am learning a lot too!

Here’s a peak at what the box looks like with the new AAS Level 2 cards inside. There are enough new cards that I was able to toss two of the blue Styrofoam spacers.

Here’s the accompanying progress chart. As you can see, Bruce is not very interested in stickers. He’s really taking the AAS Level 2 “Wild West” theme to heart, and drawing cowboy stick-figure vignettes over each step he completes.

Here are some of the other materials that come with Level 2. The jail is going to be introduced in an upcoming lesson, and is going to be where we put words that do not follow the rules. I’ve heard these referred to as Outlaw words before.

The spelling board is one of the really magical parts of this program, as far as I’m concerned. It allows children to learn how to spell in a kinesthetic way, without their handwriting holding them back. This doesn’t mean that writing out the words with pencil and paper isn’t part of AAS Level 2, because dictation is also a component of the program.

Here is Bruce’s work from Step #1. All of the Classical Education Homeschooling families reading this post are probably cringing right now, after seeing my son’s handwriting! As an Afterschooling family, I have not chosen to work on handwriting with Bruce at all, because it is a battle-ground area with us. He is supposed to be starting a formal handwriting program in his public school’s first grade.

By Step 4 you can see a little bit of improvement, at least in writing things on the lines. I am at least insisting on that.

What I am really noticing about AAS Level 2 is that each step is taking us longer to complete than Level 1. Bruce use to be able to finish off a Level 1 step in 15 minutes. With Level 2, each step is taking two to three 15 minute sessions. His progress is slower, but he is learning a lot. Bruce enjoys spelling, and regularly asks to do an AAS spelling lesson. Of course, I reward him with a bit of computer time afterward! All in all, I continue to be really impressed with this program, which is why (full disclaimer!) I signed up to be an Affiliate with the company.

How to Get Boys to Read

“I just don’t like books Mrs. Bardsley!”  That was a refrain I sometimes heard from boys when I use to be a teacher. Typically, the third grade boys who would say this entered my classroom only able to read at the first grade reading level. No wonder they didn’t like reading! If you are an eight-year-old boy, easy readers seem uncool and babyish. So if you are an adult with a reluctant reader in your life, here are some books that are guaranteed to inspire reading. They are not at the first grade reading level exactly, but they have a lot of picture cues to help facilitate independent reading.

The whole collection of Captain Underpants books take toilet humor to new lows.

Yuck! Be prepared to hear a lot of poop jokes.

The Adventures of Daniel Boom AKA Loud Boy by D.J. Steinberg are only a half-step up in merit from Captain Underpants.

Instead of toilet humor, brace yourself for your son to start reading in a very loud shouting voice from his bedroom that is sure to wake up your two-year-old from her nap.

A Calvin and Hobbes Love Affair.

I do not understand Bill Watterson’s humor and yet somehow he speaks directly to the male soul. My son Bruce has used his own allowance money to buy every single Calvin and Hobbes book he can get his hands on. He spends hours reading these books, and has learned a lot of new vocabulary words that come out in strange pronunciations. “Mom, do you believe in ufos?” he asked me one day. It took me a while to realize ufo was U-F-O. Bruce was pronouncing it phonetically as a word. Then there was the time on a hiking trip that Bruce asked my husband, “Dad, am I gripping too much?” Hunh? Apparently Bruce meant griping.

Even though these are comic books, I still think they have a lot of educational value. Remember when working with reluctant readers that reverse psychology is your friend. Make a big deal about how you don’t think comic books are quality literature, and how you would really prefer your son read something else. Then watch your son go hole up in his room and read away.

Preschool Math

Jenna (25m) and I had some fun today with pattern games.  We used simple objects from around the house to play.  Right now were are working on A-B-A-B patterns.

This is a really easy activity to copy at home with your little one.

Fariytale Favorites in Story and Song

Normally our family loves anything Greathall Productions publishes, and anything Jim Weiss reads. But “Fairytale Favorites in Story and Song” is only so-so. If this was the first ever Jim Weiss CD you bought, you would probably think it was pretty good. But compared to the other Greathall CDs, it is just not very inspired. I would recommend not purchasing this CD, but perhaps checking it out from the library if available.

Here are the stories included on this CD:

  • Stone Soup
  • Puss in Boots
  • The Shoemaker and the Elves
  • Rapunzel

Fairytale Favorites is appropriate for all age levels, which is why I purchased it, but neither my 2 year old nor my 6 year old found it very engaging. And I (yawn), would much rather listen to something else.

Right Start Level D Without the Teacher’s Guide?

A while back I posted about how my son Bruce (6) has been working through the Right Start Level D workbook this summer, sans scripted lessons in the Teacher’s Guide. I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone, but we have all of the materials and the geometry booklet, plus I’ve had a ton of training in Constructivism, since I use to be a teacher. In the future, I won’t attempt flying solo for Level E because I have never taught higher than fourth grade!

Summer is nearing completion and Bruce has completed 35 pages. That’s not as far as I hoped, but isn’t bad if you look at a one page a day M-F average. We’ve jumped around a lot, and now he is doing the geometry section. Are we doing this right? Hmmm… That’s a very good question. Bruce is definitely learning a lot, but I’m not sure I’m teaching this exactly how Joan Cotter would like. Please feel free to tell me what you think (or give me a geometry slap-down as the case might be). 🙂

Here’s how I’ve been teaching segmenting circles and drawing octagons etc. These next pictures are with my own handwriting:

That was all using the 45 degree triangle. I’m thinking maybe I should write the angles on the triangles with a Sharpie. Why didn’t I do that before? With older kids you could probably be more heavy handed about angles, and go through and label them all, match up the congruent ones etc. If you have a compass, and triangles you can do all of these activities at home. Of course, the caveat is that I might be teaching you the wrong way to do this!

Greek Myths For Kids

A Round-Up

My husband and I have been reading Greek myths to our son Bruce since he was three and a half years old. Accordingly, Bruce is now very well versed in Greek mythology, (although my husband admits he was a bit too heavy handed in the telling of Icarus.) Many of these books fit in nicely with my SLE inspired reading list, but not all of them are worth purchasing. So for the first time ever, I’m using a thumbs up, thumbs down way to review them.

Here are the Learning Goals for my SLE Inspired Reading List:

  • Understand that people from other countries, cultures and religious traditions might have different core beliefs and thoughts about the world than we do.
  • Identify, explore and evaluate those beliefs, and consider how they influence action and practice.
  • Become well versed in Greek mythology, and understand the connection between ancient stories and the Western values we prize today in the modern world.

Here are the values I would like Bruce to take away from reading Greek Myths

  • Think carefully about the consequences of the promises you make.
  • Be careful about bragging and boasting.
  • Gold, fame, adventure, beauty… none of those things mean as much as your home and family.

The McElderly Book of Greek Myths by Eric A. Kimmel

This is one of the first Greek myths books I bought. The illustrations are beautiful, and it’s not too scary. We started reading this to Bruce at around three and a half. By that point, I was so sick of reading kiddie books that I wanted something interesting!


Favorite Greek Myths by Mary Pope Osborne

I love Mary Pope Osborne and all of her Magic Tree House series as well as One World Many Religions. But I was not very impressed with Favorite Greek Myths. For one thing, she uses the Roman names in all of the myths. What’s up with that? Why would you title a book “Favorite Greek Myths” and then use the Roman names throughout?

Osborne also crams every single minor deity into each story. So in “The Kidnaping: The Story of Ceres and Proserpina”, she also works in Mercury. In “Lost at Sea: The Story of Ceyx and Alcyone”, she also includes the god Sleep, his son Morpheus, and Iris. This gets really complicated and confusing. Other Greek myths we have read are a lot easier to follow.

On the plus side, this book has beautiful illustrations by Troy Howell. They are in an Art Nouveau style, reminiscent of Alphonse Mucha.


The Adventures of Odysseus by Hugh Lupton

Can I give this two thumbs up? 🙂 It’s my favorite!

In what can only be an homage to one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Dawson from La Jolla High School, some of my favorite stories to share with Bruce come from the Odyssey, which I read in ninth grade. Bruce learned about the adventures of Odysseus at three and a half, when we first took him to a Greek restaurant. That night I tried to tell him as many Odysseus stories as I could remember, and we later purchased several to help us out. This one, by Hugh Lupton, is one of our favorites.

A word of caution however… We loved this book so much that we gave it to one of Bruce’s friends for his fifth birthday. This boy thought the book was too scary. So use your own judgment on what you think your child can handle, or just skip the scary parts.


D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths

Bruce and I are still reading this one, but it is really good so far. I’ll post a review soon.


“Greek Myths by Jim Weiss” Audio CD

I haven’t listened to this yet, so I can’t give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. However, my husband and Bruce really enjoyed listening to this cd on the way to a backpacking trip. My husband said it tells about some of the labours of Hercules, but in a kid friendly way. Instead of Hercules doing penance for killing his six sons (eek!), he “did something bad to another man”. Okay, we’ll go with that.

Bruce and I will be listening to the cd again on the way to school this fall, and I will update my review. In the meantime, we’ve all had enough Greek myths for a while, and are ready to listen to something else. Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 2 audio CDs are coming any day now, and we are really excited to embark on that.

Wordless Wednesday

Okay, I lied!  I can’t write a post without words.  Can you see the Made in China stamp on the bottom?  This was a napkin ring from the American Girl Bistro we went to.  Can you believe they are printing out paper napkins in China and sending them to America in those big cargo crates?  Crazy!

Life of Fred Cats Review

Bruce (6) talked me into purchasing two of Stanley Schmidt’s new Life of Fred elementary series, Life of Fred Cats and Life of Fred Dogs. We had read Life of Fred Fractions earlier in the year, and Bruce really loved it. I was only lukewarm about LOF Fractions, because I thought it relied on traditional algorithms too much, and that goes against my Constructivist philosophy for teaching math. But since the books are so inexpensive I decided to go for it. Besides, when your son is begging you to buy math books, shouldn’t that get an automatic purchase?

I decided to buy the two highest books in the LOF elementary series, because Bruce is at the third grade math level. To me as a former 3rd/4th grade teacher, LOF Fractions seems to be at the 4.5 grade level. I was hoping that Cats and Dogs would be at the 2nd or 3rd grade level respectfully. That seems logical, right?

Wrong! It turns out that LOF Cats is more at the first grade math level, but 3rd grade reading level. Bruce burned through LOF Cats in about an hour, reading it as soon as he came home from a backpacking trip with his dad. Mostly the entire math was review for him, although yesterday he did bust out with “Putting your socks and shoes on is not commutative, Mom.” In retrospect, if we had had these books when Bruce was 4 they could have been a really fun bedtime read aloud together.

Before I realized that Bruce was going to read the entire book in one sitting, I had made this really nice notebook to go with it for him to write down his answers. It’s back to school season right now, and I picked up a whole stack of spiral notebooks the other day for $.10 each.

Bruce ended up not using my nifty notebook at all. Stanley Schmit makes a big deal about how important it is for kids to write down the answers as they go along in the book. I would agree with him on this point, if the math was at the appropriate level. But I’m not going to make my son write down the answer to 7 + 9 when he is capable of doing square roots and fractions. That would just be busy work.

I’ve heard the argument made before that LOF Fractions could be its own stand-alone mathematics curriculum. I strongly disagree, but can see that this argument has some valid points. There is no way anyone could say that LOF Cats could be its own curriculum, however. That would be ridiculous. It’s too bad that Schmit didn’t include the “bridge” section between every five chapters like he did in the Fractions book.

Final thoughts? I’m not very impressed with LOF Cats, but will probably bring it out when Jenna turns 4 and we will have fun with it. I also respect Schmit’s assertion that the books are cheap but well-bound. They will indeed last a long time. I will keep them on my shelves for many decades and someday when I’m old Bruce and Jenna will visit home with my grandkids and say: “Oooh! Life of Fred! Can we borrow these, Mom?”

Surviving Your Serengeti

I just finished reading the New York Times bestseller Surviving Your Serengeti by Stefan Swanepoel.  I found this book to be very thought provoking.  The author writes about a couple from LA who travels on a three day safari in Africa, only to discover the survival skills they witness in the animal kingdom can also translate into real life and the business world.  I think this book would make a nice gift for anyone going through job loss or divorce.

Although the primary focus of Surviving Your Serengeti is taking skills from nature and applying them to business, it also had some take-home ideas for me as a mother.  Many moms of course, are the CEOs of their families, and responsible for keeping everyone on track, well fed, educated and clean.  That takes all of the skills Swanepoel talks about in his book: endurance, strategy, efficiency, communication, grace etc.  So even though I’m not in the working world at the moment, I still felt like I benefited from reading this book.

Finally, I have to mention the book’s cover.  As soon as my six year old saw the cheetah picture he thought this book was going to be for him!  He looked at the table of contents with me, and immediately claimed he would be a “Risk-Taking Mongoose”.  That made me wonder if Swanepoel has any ideas for a children’s version of this book in the works.  I think kids would really relate to this way of analyzing their strengths as well.  Plus, I’d love to see all of the illustrations.

P.S. I received a complimentary copy of this from Booksneeze, in exchange for writing my honest opinions about it.  I did not get paid for my review.

Why I Can’t Spell

I should have titled this post “Why I Can’t Spel Worth Beens”. Finishing off All About Spelling Level 1 with Bruce really pointed out to me all of the spelling rules I do not know. It’s like if you learned how to read, but never learned how to pronounce the “th” sound. Sure, you’d be able to function in society but you would be making crazy mistakes your whole life and never know why.  You would probably feel pretty stupid too.

It is so sad to me that here I am in my 30s, having graduated from Stanford University for Pete’s sake, and yet I am still learning something from a Level 1 spelling book. I have tried my upmost for at least two decades to improve my spelling through rote memorization, and it just doesn’t work. Finally, I just gave up and figured that I would always be stupid about spelling. I am the family joke! My younger sister still likes to tease me about misspelling ‘very’ when I was in high school. (I thought it had two r’s, like ‘berry’.)

Now, I realize that I’m a poor speller because my spelling knowledge is like Swiss cheese. I need to systematically memorize specific spelling rules to plug those holes.  Moving the tiles around on the board along with my six year old is helping hard wire those rules into my brain.  I’m not stupid about spelling; there are just things I never learned for some reason.

Take Key Card #9 for example. “Which letters are often doubled after a single vowel at the end of a one-syllable rule?” The answer is f, l, and s. Sometimes this is called the Floss rule, because floss has all three letters in it and also follows the rule. This is an example of a spelling mistake I make all the time. I am always getting confused with double consonants. I’ve learned to compensate with spell check, and when that’s not available, choosing words that I am certain of spelling.

Hopefully by the end of taking two kids all the way through AAS Level 7, I’ll be a good speller too. After all of these years, there is new hope for me yet!

Boy Scout in Training

Bruce and my husband just got back from a two night, eight mile backpacking trip.  Maybe next year Jenna will be old enough that we can go too!  Btw, my father-in-law has climbed every single peak on that ridge.

One of their favorite parts was watching this water snake eat a fish.

Afterschooling Update

It’s the middle of August and we have been having long, lazy summer days around the house.  Jenna (25m) has been reading books, playing in her playhouse, building with bricks and “playing letters” with her Word Whammer.  We continue to write a Morning Message each day, and have been reading and making Homemade Books.  She is not impressed with the new Consonant Vowel Consonant books at all!

Bruce (6) has been building with Legos, reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as well as lots of Calvin and Hobbes, playing with the hose in the backyard, and trying to convince my husband to take him on a climb of Mt. St. Helens so that Bruce can collect volcanic ash and make concrete like the ancient Romans.  (ie. we’ve been listening to Story of the World a lot too!) 

I’ve also been letting Bruce play Clue Finders Third Grade Adventures, which is pure edutainment and not nearly in the same category as Reader Rabbit 2nd grade math.

When we can get Jenna to miraculously take a nap, Bruce and I are working on All About Spelling Level 2, which I will be blogging about soon.  We are also just starting into the Greek section of my SLE Inspired Reading List.  Bruce has slowed down a bit with Right Start Level D.  He has done about 34 pages this summer, but now is pretty bored with it.  Life of Fred Cats and Life of Fred Dogs have arrived in the mail today, and so I’m going to switch him over to those for fun.  The math concepts will all be review for him, but I want him to enjoy math.

Stories from Plato by Mary E. Burt

My six year old and I are venturing onward with my SLE inspired reading list  by reading Plato. As you might imagine, it was exceedingly difficult to find a kiddie version of The Symposium. In fact, there is only one option currently in print (that I can tell), and it was written in 1894. Surprisingly, Mary E. Burt’s Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers is actually pretty good.

Here are the Learning Goals for my SLE Inspired Reading List:

  • Understand that people from other countries, cultures and religious traditions might have different core beliefs and thoughts about the world than we do.
  • Identify, explore and evaluate those beliefs, and consider how they influence action and practice.
  • Become well versed in Greek mythology, and understand the connection between ancient stories and the Western values we prize today in the modern world.

Here is what I would like Bruce to take away from reading Stories from Plato

  • Name recognition with Socrates and Plato
  • The highlights of Aristophane’s story of the three sexes from The Symposium

Mary E. Burt was a teacher of literature in Illinois when the Kindergarten Association of Chicago asked her to write up some books that were more interesting for teachers to read to children. Stories from Plato is broken into 27 chapters that are each based on ancient writing. Usually the stories are sandwiched in between Mary’s own didactic lesson. She doesn’t spell out for you what the source is for each story, so I’ve been piecing this part together on my own. Here’s an example, including hyperlinks that show the actual text so you can read part of the stories for yourself:

Chapter 2: The Goodness That is Within (Protagoras, by Plato)

Chapter 3: For the Little Boy Who Will Not Say “Please” (The Symposium, by Plato)

Chapter 4: The Gift of the Muses (Phaderus, by Plato)

Chapter 5: Why the Quarrelsome Men Were Locked Out of Bird City (“The Birds” by Aristophanes)

Bruce and I have enjoyed reading this book together at bedtime. But actually, puzzling together what story goes with what has been the best part for me. I’m going to continue plodding away, and try to put together a complete list. Stay tuned for updates!  On a final note, I’d like to mention that Mary Burt uses the Roman version of the god’s names, instead of the Greek versions, in case that matters to you.

Three New Pages

Hello Regular Blog Readers! I’m not sure if you have seen, but I have three new pages up.  Here they are:

I’d also like to share with you a really cool blog about math called Math in a Minute that I found out about through a blog carnival submission.  I’m so impressed by this math blog, that I have added it to my links.  It mainly has ideas for older kids, but wow!  If there were parallel universes, this would be the math version of my blog.