Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: September 2011

La Oportunidad Perdida

Este es una revista sobre el libro La oporunidad perdida, una fabula de descubrimiento personal por el autor Andy Andrews.  Yo recibido este libro gratis de Booknseeze, y ahora voy a describir mi opinion del libro.

La oportunidad perdida tiene muchos cuentos en uno libro.  Tambien, hay un viaje por tiempo y historia.  Los personajes  principales son Dory y Mark Chandler quien viven en Denver con su hijo en el tiempo presente.  Pero, hay muchos capitulos de este libro que han sobre otros persones.  Por ejemplo, Oskar Shindler, y Thomas Jefferson estan en el libro tambien.  En cada cuento hay una roca mysteriosa.  No voy a decir mas sobre este roca, porque no quiero darte la sopreza.  A mi me gusta que el libro tiene muchos cuentos de historia.  Pienso que aprender sobre las personas importantes de historia es muy interesante.

Cuando lei  La oportunidad perdida la semana pasada,  pense sobre hombres y mujeres en situaciones dificiles.  Al tiempo, my blog era “cajo” y yo tuve triste.   Me ayudo a pensar en la gente en el libro.  Estos personas todas hicieron cosas buenas, en el media de situaciones dificiles.

La nivel de espanol en este libro no era tan dificil para me, y me ayudo a recordar muchas palabras en espanol que yo aprende muchos anos pasados.  Pero ahora, tengo problemas recordar como escribir en Espanol.  Lo siento!  A mi, me gusta este libro.

Save your $ on this one

 I saw these cards at the Target Dollar Spot recently, and picked them up for Jenna(26m).  Frankly, I don’t think they are even worth a dollar.  Okay, maybe if you didn’t have any learning things at all in your house they would be worth it.  Or maybe you could use them as a really lame stocking stuffer in a few months.  That’s about all these would be good for.

Why do I dislike them so much?  First off, there are no instructions.  That’s fine for a former K-4 teacher like me, but what about folks who don’t have 100 phonics activities committed to memory?  The next problem is that the cards are not interactive at all.  There is no reason to flip the cards over to check your answer for example. 

So really…  I know they just cost $1 but if you see them at Target save your money!

Third Grade Math — Transferring Answers

Bruce(6) came home from school yesterday super excited about his first day of third grade math.  It’s the first time he has said “School was great!” so far.  Mathematically, the Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions Volume 1 book is in the slightly easy to perfect level range for him.  But oh no!  It is a textbook and so he has to transfer his answers into a spiral notebook.

Uhg!  I am feeling like such an idiot right now.  Bruce has been doing all sorts of math up the wazoo this summer, but it never occurred to me to teach him about transferring his answers.  He did this a little bit with Life of Fred Fractions, but that was many months ago.  Since LOF was for fun, I didn’t push him to make things neat and tidy either.  I really should have known better and foreseen that transferring answers was coming down the pipeline because I use to teach third grade for four years.  Two of those years were with textbooks, but the other two we used math menus, with no transferring required.  Teaching Bruce to transfer answers just didn’t occur to me.

Bruce was really confused by having to transfer his answers, and had actually written in the book at school before he realized he wasn’t supposed to.  Eraser to the rescue!  I hope he gets the hang of this spiral notebook thing quickly without being discouraged, because the third grade math is so perfect for him.  I don’t want his six-year-old fine motor skills to drag down his mathematical progress either.  There is a huge dichotomy there in what his brain can do and what his hand can write.  I need to teach him how to grid out his answers on the page, and neatly write page numbers at the top ASAP.

For any of you homeschooling families who might be reading this, take note!  If your kid can cruise through a Singapore or Miquon book without any problem that’s great.  But could that same child transfer all of those answers in an organized way to a spiral notebook?

Aristotle for Mommy and Daddy

For all of you moms and dads who are reading Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World with your kids, this is fabulous self-education bridge between SOTW 1 and SOTW 2.  Richard E. Rubenstein’s book Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages is wonderful refresher to anyone who read Aristotle or Plato in college, but also a good introduction to ancient philosophy for those who did not.

There are a lot of books I have enjoyed reading sitting on the toilet (lid down!) while my kids take their bath each night.  This book is not one of them.  You really need to be able to concentrate on the text longer than in 60 second intervals.  That doesn’t mean it is a difficult read, just one that you want to fully engage in without being distracted.

The way that Rubenstein compares and contrasts Plato and Aristotle is enlightening.  Bear with me, and read this little excerpt slowly enough so that it sinks in:

“In Aristotelian epochs, economic growth, political expansion, and cultural optimism color the intellectual atmosphere.  People feel connected to each other and to the natural world.  Confident that they can direct their emotions instead of being dominated by them they are generally comfortable with their humanity.  Proud of their ability to understand how things work, they believe that they can make use of nature and improve society.  The natural world seems to them vast and harmonious, populated by highly individualized people and things, but integrated, purposeful and beautiful.  Aristotelian thinkers know that they will die as all nature’s creatures do, but the environment that nurtures them seems immortal, and this gives meaning to their lives.  Curiosity and sociability are their characteristic virtues, egoism and complacency their most common vices.

“Platonic eras, by contrast, are filled with discomfort and longing.  The source of this discomfort is a sense of contradiction dramatized by personal and social conflicts that seem all but unresolvable.  Society is fractured, its potential integrity disrupted by violent strife, and this brokenness is mirrored in the souls of individuals.  People feel divided against themselves –not ruled by reason but driven by uncontrollable instincts and desires.  The universe as a whole may not be evil, but it is far from what it should be–far, indeed, from what in some other dimension, it truly is.  Latter-day Platonists are haunted by a sense that the world people call real is, at least in part, illusory…and this is also the source of their longing.  They believe that a better and truer self, society, and universe await them on the other side of some necessary transformation.  Earthly life is therefore a pilgrimage, a stern quest whose pursuit generates the virtues of selflessness, endurance, and imagination. The characteristic Neoplatonic vices (the dark side of its virtues) are self-hatred, intolerance, and fanaticism.”  pp 49-50

I don’t know about you, but that gives me chills when I read it.  It also gives an incredible amount of perspective when you look back through history and think about the thoughts and values that shaped action.  Of course, how can you not read that and wonder to yourself what type of era we live in now, or on a more personal level, what is your own fundamental belief?  Are you more of an Aristotelian thinker, or are you Platonic?

I started off this post referencing Story of the World, and you just have to trust me that if your child is reading SOTW, then Aristotle’s Children is really worth your time as a parent to read.  It gives you depth, perspective, clarity… you name it.  The section on the relationship between Aristotle and Alexander the Great for example, is truly fascinating.  Now I might just have to go back and reread the primary sources…

Where did my blog go?

For the past six days my blog has been mistakenly eaten by Blog.com’s spam filter.  Their very nice and supportive customer service department has now gotten everything straightened out.  Thank you for sticking with me!

Story of the World Volume 2, Disc 4

Bruce(6) and I listened to disc 4 of Susan Wise Bauer’s wonderful book The Story of the World Volume 2 last night. We heard all about William the Conqueror, Harald, and the Battle of Hastings. We also learned about what castles were like at the turn of the first millennium.

Here is a picture of William the Conqueror’s fortress, The White Castle, that my husband and I took when we visited London last May.

Here’s another picture. Right now The White Tower is used as an armory/museum.

Look how thick the walls are!

This is the portcullis we walked through, just like Susan Wise Bauer describes in her section on castles.  Pretty cool!

Homeschooling Your Two Year Old

Full Disclaimer: I titled this post to help with my Google crawl, because really we are an Afterschooling family and not Homeschoolers. But now that I have your attention… 🙂 Bruce(6) began his first day of first grade today, which leaves Jenna(25m) and I a lot of quality time together. My plan is to do about 10-20 minutes of seat-work with her each day. I’m keeping things fast and fun. Here’s what we did this morning:

I started things off with a Morning Message. Normally I do this on a mini-whiteboard, but today we just used paper. Notice that Jenna “helped” write the message with me. After we read the Morning Message several times, Jenna asked to write Os. I don’t have a picture of this, but we wrote a lot of Os!

Then I played secretary, and had Jenna tell me a story. This is the first story she has ever told me that I have written down verbatim. I’m not sure where she gets her inspiration. I am not pregnant!!!

Our next activity combined fine motor skills and pattern work. We used little post-it flags to create an A-B-A-B pattern. Picking up the flags is a great way to strengthen the muscles Jenna will eventually use to grasp a pencil. The picture above represents a lot of facilitation on my part to complete the pattern correctly.

This shot is Jenna making a pattern by herself. Or should I say “pattern”?

Finally, to wrap things up we sang “Yellow is the Sun” and laid out the sticks. This is from Dr. Joan Cotter’s outstanding Right Start Mathematics program. Hopefully in the next year or two Jenna will be ready for level A. Until then we are working on visulaization instead of just counting.

There you go! Jenna was sitting at the table for less than 20 minutes and now we are ready to play with toys, dress up, visit the library, and dig around in the backyard for the rest of the day. For more ideas on fun learning activities you can do with young children at home please see my Where to Start page.

Garden Update, September

(For my previous garden pictures, please see May, June and July.)

It is the second week of September and we have approximately two more weeks of semi-warm weather before it starts to get cold again where we live.

Right now our squash are about midsize, and have taken over the former pea patch. My fingers are crossed that we will be eating spaghetti squash soon, but it might not stay warm long enough for them to mature.

Our tomato plants are almost six feet tall, and only just now producing a few pitiful handfuls of orange tomatoes. Hopefully I’ll be able to ripen some of them on the windowsill all the way into October. That’s the only way I can get them to turn red. The garden gets over 8 hours of sunshine a day, but only if it is sunny. That’s a big if where we live.

My husband is so clever! He has started putting down bamboo leaves between our raised beds, which is the best mulch ever and completely free. It makes a soft path to walk on, and smothers weeds and grass. That’s the asparagus patch on the right of the picture. This time of the year we let it grow really big so that the roots will be nice and healthy over the winter, and ready to send up new shoots in spring to eat.

Here’s Bruce(6) digging up potatoes. He planted the entire bed himself, helped water, and dug them up for dinner. I told him that he should feel really proud of himself for helping put food on his family’s table.

Reflections on My SLE Inspired Reading List

(Please note that this post has no official affiliation in any way shape or form with Stanford University. I am however, a Stanford and SLE alumna, and I consulted several of my SLE friends to help formulate this list.)

For the past four months my six year old Bruce and I have been reading through a selection of books inspired by fall quarter of Stanford University’s Structured Liberal Education (SLE) program.  I have often referred to this on my blog as my SLE Inspired Reading List.  We have also finished up listening to all eight hours of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 1 about ancient history, and are already midway through Story of the World Volume 2 about the Middle Ages.  Fall is upon us, first grade is starting, and it is the natural time to move on to other pursuits. 

The perfectionist in me is having difficulty not finishing the last items on my list, but the parent in me knows when it is time change course.  We have not yet read the kiddie version of The Aneid I had selected and we never got to Aristotle because I was unsuccessful in locating a child’s version of his philosophies.  I’ve also had to give up my fantasy of Bruce listening to harp music and me reciting lines from Sappho, which was one of my favorite SLE memories. 

For many of you reading this, you might be thinking; why even bother? SLE for six-year-olds?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  But really, childhood is the perfect time to introduce all of these stories and ideas.  I have two words for you: visceral imagination.

When I was a freshman in college reading The Ramayana, I was concerned about a thousand things. What would my thesis be for this text?  When would I find time to crank out a ten page pager? What did the professor just say?  Do I have enough quarters to do laundry?  Is my roommate going to pay her share of the phone bill?  Does that boy like me?  Will I be able to bike from my part-time job to lecture in time?  Where did I put my glasses?  Do my professors know that I went to public school?

When Bruce listens to The Ramayana he’s thinking: Whoo hoo!  Flying monkeys!!!  Then he’s jumping off the couch and onto the loveseat yelling: Sita, here I come!  When we read The Adventures of Odysseus Bruce is crashing around the living room with his pirate sword, ready to slay suitors.  When we read A Child’s Garden of Torah he’s joking with me about turning into salt if I cross him.  When we read Stories from Plato Bruce imagines that the rock in the middle of the lake he is swimming in, is really the lost island of Atlantis.

There is going to be a time and a place for Bruce to revisit all of these ancient texts with profound analysis.  But there is only one time in his life when he will hear these great ideas for the first time.  I am glad that I was able to share that introduction with him, and to witness his awe and wonder.

A Little Princess and The Ramayana

In my initial post explaining my SLE Inspired Reading List, I included the 1995 movie adaptation of A Little Princess to watch as a follow up to reading The Ramayana. Yes, that sounds like a strange idea, but bear with me!

For some reason, Warner Brothers decided to have Sara Crew tell the story of Rama and Sita throughout the movie. They parallel the story of Sita (who is not named) being kidnapped by Ravana, and Rama trying to rescue her, with Sara being abandoned, poor and all alone. The actor who plays Captain Crew also dons blue paint to portray Rama. Spoiler alert!!! Since they change the ending of the movie and let her father survive, at the end of “A Little Princess” Captain Crew is indeed reunited with Sara, just like Rama reclaims Sita. The rescue is thwarted however, and Sara gets hauled off anyway until the very last minute, when Sara and her father are reunited a second time, and live happily ever after. This is similar to the kid-friendly version of the Ramayana we read, where Sita survives the fire and gets to live with Rama after all.

Another Ramayana reference throughout the movie is Hanuman, or rather a monkey that Sara Crew keeps encountering again and again, often at times of loneliness and sadness. It’s been a long time since I’ve read A Little Princess, but I think there was a monkey in the original story. However, the way the movie uses the monkey is very clever, and clearly a wink-wink to audience members familiar with the Ramayana.

Finally, I have to confess that the perils of mothering a young son prevented me from re-watching this movie in its entirety. Bruce(6) took one look at the title and refused to watch anything with princesses or dolls in it. He did allow me to fast forward to the Rama parts, and thought those were pretty cool. “I wish they would tell the rest of the story and leave out the girly stuff,” were his exact words.

Story of the World Volume 2

(I will be revisiting this post soon with updates.)

We are now on disc #3 of the 9 disc audio set for Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 2It is absolutely fabulous!   That being said, it is also leading to a lot of problems in our household.  Jenna(25m) has now listened to ten hours of Jim Weiss reading SOTW, since we also listed to SOTW Volume 1 this summer.  To put it bluntly, Jenna has now had enough.  Bruce(6) on the other hand, is desperate to hear to more.  So this is what it is like every time we get in the car:

Bruce: Story of the World!  Story of the World!  Turn it on Mom!!!

Jenna: No Story of the World!  I want music. CLASSICAL music!  No Story of the World!  Music!!  Mommy put on classical music!

Repeat 100 X

Sigh…. As my husband has put it, our children have no hope.  They are being trained to be nerds from the start.  The first grader is begging to hear history from the middle ages, and the two year old is a classical music snob.  🙂  We are going to try putting an old boom box into Bruce’s room so he can listen to SOTW on his own.

Please note that I haven’t been deluding myself into thinking Jenna was learning anything from listening to SOTW, but she had been tolerating it pretty well for Bruce’s sake.  And who knows?  Maybe she did pick up some vocabulary along the way.  She is pretty darn good a stringing sentences together for such a little girl.

To help support SOTW #2 I have gathered up all of the books in our home library that correspond to the years 300-1500.  As you can see, we are a little knight heavy.  Mary Pope Osborne’s Favorite Medieval Tales is one of the best of the bunch. I will write and link up full reviews of all of the books in the next few months.

Fine Motor Skills and Toy Kitchens

Jenna(25m) had her friend Sally(3y) over to play today and they had a lot of fun with our toy food collection and kitchen. 

I thought I would use the opportunity to work on color sorting, so I tried to introduce the idea of making “green soup”.  The girls were not interested in this idea in the least!



What they did want to do was play with tongs and cut fruit.   This was equally educational, because it worked on the fine motor skills that will eventually help them grip a pencil and write letters.  Of course, it meant that I had to sit there and re-velcro toy food for twenty minutes.  That was the one fine motor task they just couldn’t grasp.  (bad pun intended)  🙂

Beast Academy Review

Wow! The Art of Problem Solving (AOPS) folks have me pretty darn impressed with their new math curriculum for 2nd-5th graders, called Beast Academy. I received a free sample chapter in the mail to review, and it was a geometry section from one of the two, third grade books. As my son Bruce (6) puts it: “It’s like they copied Calvin and Hobbes but stuck in a lot of educational stuff and took out the human beings.” That’s an apt description, and I have never seen another math program like it.

This is from the Guide book.

This is from the Practice book.

Of course, it’s too bad that I of all people received the geometry section, because what I would really love to peruse would be arithmetic. How are they going to handle traditional algorithms? I’m dying to know. I have very strong feelings about how math should be taught from a Constructivist perspective.

From a careful reading of the geometry section however, it seems that Beast Academy encourages problem solving and critical thinking skills, two core components of Constructivism. This program does not seem to be spoon feeding children methods to solving problems, but rather encouraging them to analyze and think for themselves.  It is based on the National Common Core State Standards.

Another strength of Beast Academy is the answer key at the back of the Practice book, which I bet is going to educate a lot of parents who use this program. It has the most detailed explanations for solving problems that I have ever seen in a math book for children. This would be a valuable asset to parents who were not trained in teaching math, or who had a weak background in mathematics themselves.

For Afterschooling families such as ours, I think Beast Academy would be an excellent choice becase it is so engaging and fun. If you wanted to use it as a summer bridge activity, you could do both the Guide and Practice books. If you were only looking for a bedtime read-aloud during the school year that would sneak in some math, you could just get the Guide.

How to compare this to other homeschool curriculums on the market? It is totally different from anything I have ever seen in public schools. It’s a whole lot better mathematically than Life of Fred (Pro). It does not seem to be as hands-on or as manipulative based as Right Start (Con). I wish I had a background using Singapore so I could compare it with that. Maybe I can convince my friend Claire to write a guest post with that info after I mail her the books! (No pressure, Claire.) 🙂

Baby’s Relaxing Day

Here’s our latest homemade book that Jenna (25m) and I made.  For more information on the how and why of Homemade Books, please see here.

Baby’s Relaxing Day


Baby goes for a walk.


Baby does Yoga.


 Baby plays Classical music.


Baby gets a massage.


Baby snuggles with Teddy.


Baby takes a nap.

The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 13

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 invite you to read along with me, and chime in your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Chapter 13

General Thoughts: The Argumentative Child? You might as well use that description for me or my son from day one. Impassioned, persuasive reasoning is something that is embedded in our very natures, and neither of us waited until the “Logic Stage” to deliver our viewpoint to anyone who would listen. 🙂

p 230: “Now is the time for critical thinking.” I have a fundamental problem with this statement. I really cannot understand waiting to teach critical thinking until the 5th grade. I don’t think that’s exactly what Jessie Wiese or Susan Wise Bauer really intend either. (See below.)

p 231: “But you shouldn’t consider critical thinking and fact gathering to be mutually exclusive activities.” Bingo! That’s my philosophy from the get-go. I cannot listen to Story of the World with my six year old and not encourage critical thinking at the same time, just because he would fall into the “Grammar Stage” category.

p 235: This page made me think of all of the wonderful Socratic Seminars my fifth and sixth grade teacher, Richard Gray, led us in. We used the Junior Great Books series and I still remember a lot of the stories we read and discussed.

p 235: There is an interesting line at the bottom of this page that says that homeschooling kids in the Logic Stage usually spend an hour working on their own for every ten minutes of direct instruction from mom or dad.