Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: October 2011

How to Write A Five Paragraph Essay

Bruce(6) was home from school today with a nasty cough, but he wasn’t too sick to boss me around. 🙂 He came into the kitchen while I was making lunch and told me that we were going to do a five paragraph writing contest. He told me that a paragraph has five sentences with periods in it, and that I better get busy. The next twenty minutes were spent with us both writing and trying to protect our papers from Jenna(27m) and her crayons. Here is a sample of what Bruce produced. He did indeed write five paragraphs worth of material, although each paragraph was on a different topic:

Since I was being forced into an impromptu writing test, I decided that I’d whip something up that would be didactic. So after Bruce read me his composition I showed him my outline of how I crafted a five paragraph essay. Mostly this lesson went straight over his head, but at least the idea has been planted that there is an organizational strategy to writing a five paragraph essay.

Please note that this is not my best work, and that I struggled a bit with the D’nealian script. I’m also a naturally horrible speller, so have fun catching my mistakes!

My color-coded outline:

My Essay: I’ve color-coded some of the sentences in case you want to use this as an example when teaching your own children how to write essays.

The basic formula for writing a perfectly serviceable (but boring) five paragraph essay is as follows:

1) Introduction Paragraph.

Thesis statement


Reason #2

Reason #3

Restate thesis in new way


2) Second Paragraph

Reason #1 statement

Supporting detail 1.1

Supporting detail 1.2

Supporting detail 1.3


3) Third Paragraph

Reason #2 statement

Supporting detail 2.1

Supporting detail 2.2

Supporting detail 2.3


4) Fourth Paragraph

Reason #3 statement

Supporting detail 3.1

Supporting detail 3.2

Supporting detail 3.3


5) Conclusion Paragraph

Restate thesis statement in new way

Restate reason #1

Restate reason #2

Restate reason #3

Final conclusion sentence

Right now I am pretty happy that Bruce likes to write at all. As a first grader, he is focusing on putting down thoughts to paper and perfecting his handwriting and spelling. But some day when he is ready, maybe the summer before fourth grade, I’m going to teach him how to bang out a five paragraph essay in his sleep. It is a skill that will serve him well on standardized tests in the future.

D’Nealian Handwriting Makes a Difference

When I taught Kindergarten, first, third and fourth grade I was an awesome handwriting teacher! I’d do a kinesthetic lesson, put on some classical music, and turn the kids loose on their Handwriting Without Tears books. I was always a champion of teaching cursive, even if it meant pleading the case for cursive with parents and other teachers.

But as the mom to Bruce(6), I have basically been a failure at teaching handwriting. It has always been a battle ground issue between the two of us, and so I have never pushed handwriting practice at home. His Montessori preschool teachers made a lot of headway with Bruce, and now his first grade public school teacher is teaching him the D’nealian script. Actually, although the term “D’nealian” is being used, the actual practice sheets I am seeing coming home from school look like they might be from the Evan Moore modern manuscript book. That is probably a lot cheaper for the school to purchase.

Bruce has been doing a ton of handwriting at school each day, and I am already noticing a huge difference. Here is a sample from his Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions work from today:

Compare that to this sample of his writing from just two weeks ago:

That’s a pretty amazing jump in skills in just two weeks! I am very impressed with how Bruce’s first grade teacher has motivated him to improve his handwriting skills, and given him the time in which to do so. My husband and I are both so thankful that we live in a good school district where teachers like this abound.

Rataouille and Gifted Children

There is some debate in the education community as to whether or not you should tell gifted children that they are “gifted” or not.  To me, this debate is utterly ridiculous.  Truly gifted children will already know that they are different.  I can’t understand knowing the name or explanation for their difference offering anything but relief.  To think about it in another way, would you ever consider not telling a child with diagnosed allergies, “By the way, the reason you are sneezing so much is that you are allergic to dust,” or would you just let that kid sneeze for the rest of his childhood without knowing that there was a name for his condition?

One of the best vehicles I’ve seen to start a conversation with gifted children about their differences is the 2007 Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille.  In this movie Remy is clearly different from all of his rat friends and family.  His sense of smell is so acute that he can detect rat poison.  He feels more comfortable walking upright, rather than on all fours.  Leading and ordinary rat life depresses him because he thrives on challenge, stimulating conversation, and activity.  To put it bluntly, Remy is Highly Gifted.  If you gave him the WISR, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Rats, he’d score a 146 or above no problem.  (I just made that part about the WISR up, btw.)

As a gifted rat, Remy has different social and emotional needs than his peers in the rat community.    Leading and ordinary rat life depresses him because he thrives on challenge, stimulating conversation and activity.  Intellectually, Remy fits in much better with humans with whom he shares equal curiosity levels about food, flavors and creativity.  But socially of course, he does belong in the human world at all.  This is very reminiscent of how gifted children so often relate better to adults than to their age level peers.   Just like Remy, gifted children have the raw talent, but not the skills, expertise, education and experience that adult humans have.  Like Remy, gifted children are constantly navigating the rat world and the adult human world, trying to forge a path that works.

So if you are the parent of a gifted child who ever happens to go through some tough social situations, try checking out “Ratatouille” from the library.  It will be a good jumping off point for lots of different conversations you can have with your son or daughter.

Very Cool Music Blog


As my regular blog readers know, my daughter Jenna(27m) has been attending a Kindermusik “ABC Music and Me” class this fall.  I’ve written about this previously here and here.

So, the jury is still out on whether or not we will continue into the winter term.  The teacher is great, the program seems wonderful, but there are only three kids in the class and I’m wondering if I should save our money for musical education when Jenna is older.  My mom is taking Jenna to class tomorrow, and I’ll be interested in hearing what she thinks  because she has been a piano teacher for over fifty years, and my grandfather was a musician in the San Diego Symphony.

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you a very cool blog that includes many posts about the benefits of Kindermusik: It is called Making Music with Kids.  The author of this blog has very poignant post about Music in a Down Economy.  I’ll have to pass it along to Jenna’s music teacher.  It must be very hard on Jenna’s teacher to only have three students in the class.  I wonder if she is even able to break even.  😦

Baby Goes to a Restaurant

She’s back folks! The popular start of such homemade books as Jenna’s Baby Book, and Baby’s Relaxing Day, has one more adventure to share. It took a long car trip to accomplish this culinary experience, but it was well worth the trip. For more information on the how and why of homemade books, please see here.

Baby Goes to

a Restaurant

Baby gets special dishes.

Baby reads the menu.

Baby drinks coffee.

Baby eats fruit and yogurt.

Baby eats ice cream cones.

Baby goes to the restroom.

Pershing, Commander of the Great War


I did not expect Pershing, Commander of the Great War by John Perry to be a tear-jerker, but half way through reading it I could not stop sobbing.  Without giving away any spoilers, something very tragic befell Pershing midlife, and it is the type of story that makes you want to kiss every member in your family and tell them that you love them.  I know that something that happened over a hundred years ago should not affect me so much, but I cannot get the image of General Pershing crying on the shoulder of his friend on the train ride from Bakersfield to San Francisco out of my mind.

It is impossible not to have a great deal of respect for General Pershing, not just because of his leadership during World War I, but also because of the type of man he was in general.  His first job was as a teacher in an African American school, teaching the children of former slaves how to read.  He went on to lead the Buffalo Soldiers, the famous all Black Tenth Calvary Regiment.  When the army short-supplied them during the Spanish American War, Pershing took matters into his own hands and “requisitioned” food and supplies off of a train even though this made him face potential disciplinary action later on. 

Pershing’s humanity was also evident in his successful use of diplomacy and compassion to find a peaceful resolution to conflict with the Muslim Moro people of the Philippines.  He treated all people with dignity in an era when racism was the norm. 

I additionally enjoyed reading about Pershing’s first wife, Helen Frances Warren, who was a pioneer of modern thinking in her own right.  Mrs. Pershing was an educated Wellesley grad, and an early proponent of Montessori education.

Perishing had a well know reputation for being a stickler for details.  This really made me think about how I run my own household, and evaluate how I could make things better.  Proper nutrition, clean pots and pans, the right supplies… Pershing knew that little details could make a big difference for soldiers.  Reading this book made me want to give my whole house a good scrubbing!  But I’ll think twice about varnishing my wood floors. 😦

P.S.  I received a complimentary copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my review.

All About Spelling and my Two Year Old

As reported previously, we are now in week #2 of doing quick, ten minute All About Spelling lessons with my son Bruce(6) before he leaves for school in the morning.  The necessary evil in the arrangement is that I have to plug Jenna(27m) in front of PBS kids so that she will stay out of our way.  Otherwise, she wants to do spelling too.

Today Jenna wandered into our spelling lesson and really wanted to participate, so I told that as soon as we had dropped Bruce off at school we would come home and she would be able to have a spelling lesson too.  Since she is a very agreeable two year old, she of course agreed.  On my part, it was one of those blanket statements I often make to her such as; “Yes, I’ll put on a pretty dress.  But not today, maybe tomorrow.”, or “No, we can’t go to the ice cream store today, but maybe next week.”  I really didn’t think she would remember. 

Boy was I wrong!  Forty minutes later once we had dropped her brother off at school and had returned home, I was at the sink doing dishes when I heard Jenna yell “Help!  Help!” I rushed out to the dining room only to discover her trying to pull out the AAS white board from behind the china cabinet where it is stored.  I had forgotten my promise to do a spelling lesson, but Jenna remembered and was going to keep me to my word.

If Jenna was three and a half, or maybe even three, I would consider breaking out the AAS Level 1 book and giving it a go with her.  The whole first part of Level 1 is on letter and sound recognition.  The second part of the book spells simple consonant vowel consonant words.  Jenna already knows her letters and sounds, but she doesn’t necessarily have the attention span to blend words yet.  So instead, we played around with the letter tiles, calling out sounds and joking about the “funny a”.  (The A tile is written how you would see it in a book, as opposed to writing it by hand.)  Jenna also had fun using the letter tiles to make patterns and decorations.  She played with the spelling board for over twenty minutes, long past the time when I was ready to move onto something else.

I would not advocate buying any of the AAS materials for a child who was not old enough to use them, but if you happen to already own the supplies because you have older kids in the house, then that’s pretty swell.  Jenna felt so proud for doing a spelling lesson just like her brother, and she had a lot of fun too.  I’ll be getting the board out again with her the next time she asks.  And this time, I really mean it!

Blogging About Blogging About SLE

This past summer my son Bruce(6) and I read and discussed children’s versions of many ancient religious and philosophical texts, as part of what I called my SLE inspired reading list.   As it turns out, my post about reading the Ramayana with children is one of my most popular pages!  Apparently there are not many bloggers out there writing about this, so now when you Google “Ramayana for Children” my blog is the tenth listing.  However, if you Google “Ramayana for Kids” my blog doesn’t come up at all.  A corollary is that if you Google “SLE Stanford” my blog is the tenth link, and for “SLE Reading List” I am number three.  How funny is it to think of future SLE freshman pulling up my page including my six year old’s comparison of the Ramayana with “Star Wars”?

One good thing that has come from my blog is that if you Google “Henry Tien Stanford”, my SLE page also comes up.  Henry was my student advisor and he died his senior year.  He was not actually a SLE alumni, but helped all of us in Paloma dorm.  Henry was one of the nicest people I met at Stanford, and if his parents ever read this someday I want them to know that he is not forgotten.

The other search category that will now pull up my blog is “Suzanne Greenberg Stanford”.  I find that really funny.  Do you mean to tell me that out of all of the wonderful things Suzanne has done in her life professionally, my little blog post describing what a great SLE professor she was, is the ninth page to come up?   I am sure that Suzanne has taught hundreds if not thousands of students over the years.  Suzanne probably has no idea how much her caring and mentoring has meant to so many people.  I still remember being called to her office after I got the first ever “D” in my life.  I never got one again.  🙂

But I digress, so let me get back to my point.  After analyzing my blog data, I figured Gee, I better let somebody with an official affiliation with SLE know about my kiddie reading list, so they don’t wander across my blog post on the internet, and think “What the heck?”  This is how I happened to email Greg Watkins, the assistant director for SLE. 

I am so happy I did, because he shared with me the link to his free podcasts called Father Daughter Philosophy Chats.   So far our family has only listened to the “Introduction to Aristotle” chat, but if the rest of them are as good as that one, then WOW!!!  I have now downloaded them all, so they are ready to go on our next car trip.  For those of you who follow a Classical Education model, these podcasts fit in perfectly to the Logic stage or above.  I’ll be blogging about all of the chats a bit later, after we have listened to them.  I’d love to hear what you think of them too, so please feel free to leave a comment below.

Finally, I think the hardest part of blogging for me is that when I was a SLE student I was taught to revise and edit each piece of my writing at least ten times.  I simply cannot do that as blogger and mother of two young children.  My blog is more of an ongoing record of ideas about giving children an academic head start in life, than an example of my best writing.  If I were to polish every last blog post to my own standard of perfection I would not be able to share anything.  So, my new mantra has to be: That’s good enough.  Hopefully it is.

All About Spelling and Afterschooling

It is now October and my son Bruce is in first grade. He completed All About Spelling Level 1 over the summer, and began work on Level 2. But to be honest, we have taken a one month break from AAS in order to accommodate the first month of school and all of its added pressures. Now, routines are in place and we both have the brain-space to deal with other opportunities besides school, homework, and soccer practice.

The great thing about All About Spelling is that it is fast, fun and effective. Yesterday before school I (admittedly) plugged my two year old in front of “Curious George” on the TV, and asked Bruce if he would like to have some special mommy time with me and the spelling board. He immediately said yes! In about ten minutes we completed the very end of step five, which we had begun a while ago before we entered our AAS hiatus.

I would never wake a child up at 5:30 in the morning to do extra spelling practice before school started, but a fast ten minutes of quality time together before a leisurely school start time is fine by me. Especially when I consider the spelling list he brought home from school yesterday, which is way too easy for him. I have to preface this with; I love his school and I admire his teacher. But take a look for yourself:

(Bruce’s spelling list, not from AAS.)

I don’t quite understand how Bruce got sorted into this spelling group, but since his spelling homework is so heavily handwriting related, I’m perfectly okay with him having simple words. Practicing writing his words in the D’Nealian scrip alone will be challenge enough for him. Besides, since I’m Afterschooling Bruce anyway, I know that he is going to be systematically learning spelling rules and patterns with AAS, without having his spelling ability tied to his handwriting skills.

So what are my plans and goals at this point? Ideally it would be great if Bruce could get through one AAS step a week, broken up into three, ten minute sessions. But if we only end up doing two sessions, that will be fine too.

Two Year Old Won’t Nap!

This is an educational blog, not a parenting one of course but…man!  I hate the stage that we seem to be quickly approaching with Jenna(27m).  Nap disappearance!!!  In all fairness, Bruce(6) stopped napping at around 18 months, so I feel blessed that Jenna’s naps have lasted this long.  I have read that gifted children can sometimes need less sleep than neurotypical children, so I’m going to cling to that!  🙂

One trick I’ve tried with Jenna recently that sometimes works is to rock her in my arms while I’m at the computer, and to pop Jessie Wise’s First Language Lessons CD into the CDROM drive.  Sometimes Jenna will fall asleep to this, and sometimes she won’t.  But at least she is listening to poetry, stories and grammar songs in the meantime.  Maybe some of that will sink into her subconscious.

Incidentally, last night when I was trying to go to sleep myself I kept hearing the “Pronoun Song” in my mind.  It was very annoying, let me tell you…

SAT Prep For Kids

 This is an old newspaper clipping from high school about the National Merit Scholarship awards.  I’m including it because even now, it really bothers me that I am the only girl in the picture.  How come an affluent community such as the one in which I lived produced eight students who received National Merit Commendations or higher, but only 12.5% of those students (me!) was female?  As a parent, teacher, educator, and woman I find this fact shameful.  It is almost twenty years later and I am still seething about this.  Why were the other girls at my high school not scoring higher?

But let me step off my soapbox for a moment and tell you the other thing that bothers me about this picture, which I understand now only recently.  The National Merit Scholarship is based on the PSAT, which I took only once in the 9th grade, having not studied for it at all.  I only received a commendation.  Please somebody correct me if I’m wrong here, but I could have kept taking the PSAT all the way until 11th grade, right?  If I had taken in it 11th grade, my score would have been a lot higher and I might have actually gotten a scholarship.  Why didn’t anyone tell me this at the time?  Or for that matter, why didn’t anyone help me study for the PSAT in the first place?

When I look at this group of boys on the quad I have to tell you that each one of these kids was a great guy, and the ones that I have stayed in contact with all went on to do wonderful things.  Quite unfairly, some of us were being better prepared for academics at home than others.  One of my friends in this picture came from a blue collar family who really left him to his own devices.  He ended up scoring 1550 right off the bat.  Talk about raw, unguided talent!   My parents by contrast, were well educated and literally drove the extra mile throughout my entire school career to make sure I got the best schooling they could offer me.  But my experience was probably different from the guy whose dad was a Ph.D. and who was able to help with math and science homework past the eighth grade.  This kid went on to score a perfect 1600 on the SAT.  We both tied for Valedictorian, but I only achieved a measly 1450 SAT score by comparison.  Of course, that score doesn’t seem so shabby knowing that as a girl, I was lucky to be in a picture like this at all. 

So what are the lessons learned?  It seems pretty obvious to me now, but parents and teachers need to help their children work the system.   I’m going to be studying the rules of the PSAT and National Merit Scholarship when my kids are in high school to make sure that they take the test at the right times to give them an advantage.  The other thing that occurs to me, is that it is never too early to start filling my children’s’ minds with the knowledge they will need to do well on standardized testing.  How much do you want to bet that the son of the Ph.D. was hearing higher level vocabulary words at a young age, then the son of the security guard?  Both guys are equally brilliant as it turned out, but they weren’t really launched into college at the same level of advantage, were they?

Officially studying for the PSAT and SAT is a long way off for my children, who are only 6 and 2, but I’m laying down tracks now, for their future success.  At present, this means incorporating a rich vocabulary into our everyday life and conversation.  One way we do this is by playing a game my third grade teacher invented called Magic Word.  My six year old also has experience with logic and analogies thanks to taking the CogAT, and is getting hands-on experience in geometry through our time with Right Start Level D this summer. 

I try to sprinkle all of these activities into my kids’ lives in a fun, engaging way.  I’d never sit down my six year old and drill him on SAT words.  But I’m not above asking him to do a few geometry problems in order to earn computer time.  You can be sure I’ll be doing my utmost to give equal attention and preparation to my daughter when she is old enough.  I’m just hoping when she is in a picture for her school newspaper, that there will be some other girls sitting next to her.

Historical Heroes, Wickedly Funny Profiles of Six Time-Honoured Megastars!

 Historical Heroes, Wickedly Funny Profiles of Six Time-Honuored Megastars!  by Mike Kelly Publishing is a really obscure (but wonderful) book that I happened to come across in a used book store.  It is so off the beaten path that it took me a while to hunt of up the Amazon link for it.  This is probably due to the book being of British publication, and intended for British audiences. Some of the humor is also very British, and a bit over Bruce’s head, but most if he thinks is hysterical. 

Bruce(6y) and I are are reading this book together at bedtime, and enjoying it quite a bit.   Each section is about 100 pages long, so this book is really an anthology of six biographies about Joan of Arc, Charles Darwin, King Tut, Napoleon, Shakespeare, and Julius Caesar.  There are lots of cartoon-like illustrations to grab Bruce’s attention, but not so many that this would qualify as a graphic novel.  Due to the nature of the book, you do not have to read the biographies in chronological order.  So far we have read the Napoleon and Charles Darwin section.

The only “hot-button” issue in this book would of course be the Charles Darwin section, which I found very well done.  It lays out the history and science behind Darwin’s classic book The Origin of the Species in a way that still leaves room for faith.  I’m including two pages from this section so you can see for yourself.  If you are okay with these two pages, then you would be very happy with this book as a resource to use to explain Evolution.

Update 11/20/11:  I should add that after reading all of the book, there is a certain section in the Joan of Arc section you should know about, when the ladies of the court check to see if Joan was “a maid” or not.  I just skipped over this part since I was reading the book out loud.

Lists of Great Men and Women to Cover from The Well Trained Mind

 Wow.  That picture came out really awful, for which I apologize.  But my main point in taking it was to exemplify for those of you who do not yet own Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise’s book The Well Trained Mind, all of their wonderful lists of famous people to study with your child over the course of their education.  The authors have eight lists of people to know, divided into era and and categorized in both the Grammar and Logic Stage. In layman’s terms this means “Here’s a list of people your child should know about when they are in first grade, here’s a list for second grade etc.”

As an Afterschooling family who loosely incorporates a Classical Education model of learning, these lists of people are a good reference for me as a parent to look at from time to time, to keep us on track.  When we read about a famous person during bedtime read aloud, or listen to a CD about Abraham Lincoln, I make a little annotation in my copy of The Well Trained Mind.  I write a “B” next to the name for when Bruce has been exposed to the famous person in question, and I’ll write a “J” someday when Jenna is old enough to participate too. 

Homeschooling families might want to take this even further and create a giant timeline in their living room with pictures of each famous person studied, as suggested in The Well Trained Mind.  But we are a bit more low-key than that, primarily because any history study we do at home is just a supplement to the excellent education my children are already receiving in public schools.  Who knows what we might get up to this summer though?  🙂

Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America

Having just read Sherman the Ruthless Victor, I decided to get out one of our family’s all-time favorite Jim Weiss recordings: “Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America” to listen to in the car this weekend.  Bruce has been listening to this CD since he was four years old and is the background for one of our family’s all time funniest stories about Bruce.

When Bruce was four years old he was spending the night at Grammy and Papa’s house.  Papa was watching a PBS documentary on Andrew Jackson, and Bruce had crept into the room and was watching with him.  Then Grammy came into the room and remarked, “Oh, you’re watching something on the Civil War.”  Papa said that this wasn’t the case, and they started arguing the point.  Finally, Bruce broke into the conversation to settle the issue.  “Grammy,” he said.  “You’re thinking of Stonewall Jackson.  This show is about Andrew Jackson.”

How did my preschooler know who Stonewall Jackson was?  “Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America”!  We have listened to this CD about twenty times now, and unfortunately it is now scratched in places from overuse.  It keeps skipping in the middle of the Gettysburg Address, which is really annoying.  I might have to buy a new copy for Jenna when she turns four.  🙂

Does my two year old have Autism?

(I chose this picture of a stack of train tracks that Jenna(26m) built yesterday. Jenna does not have Autism Spectrum Disorder, she just comes from a long line of engineers! 🙂 But sometimes, unusual toy play such as lining up toys, using them inappropriately, or lack of imaginary play can be indicators that a child might not be developing normally.)

Is my two year old normal? That is certainly a question most parents ask themselves at one time or another. I’m not talking about; is my child extra smart?, or is my child eating enough?, but the very basic, core wish of every parent out there, is my child okay? In our family, this has always been an extra sensitive question because we have strong family history of Autism. That was one of the primary reasons we spaced our children four years apart, to make sure Bruce was “in the clear” so to say, before we had Jenna.

As it turns out, Autism is not something we have to worry about for either of our children. Before we breathed this gigantic sigh of relief however, I practically memorized the First Signs.org website for appropriate developmental milestones, as well as their red flags page. If you have young children, I highly recommend taking a look at this important information. With Autism, early intervention is critical.

In addition to our family history of Autism, I had experience doing ABA therapy with two little boys in college, as well teaching children with Asperger’s syndrome who were mainstreamed in my classroom. So if you would ever like to pick my brain on Autism related issues, please feel to contact me  by email and I’ll see if I can be any help.