Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Teaching My Baby To Read 2012 SAT Challenge


Calling Nerds of All Ages!

Are you ready for some fun? Starting January 1, 2012 I’ll be using one new SAT word in bold in every post I write. I will be pulling my words from Merriam-Webster’s 365 New Words a Year Page a Day Calendar.

If you have any interest in being as crazy as me, you can use this as an opportunity to start preparing your children now for the SAT. It doesn’t matter if they are toddlers or teenagers. I am constantly reminding my father-in-law that my two year old is capable of learning any word he says! So instead of learning the “saltier” words of the English language, I’m going to start expanding Jenna’s vocabulary now, with words that will someday help her crush the SAT.

All you have to do is slip the daily word into conversation with your child a few times a day. Build it into the words they are used to hearing, and you will add that word into their vocabulary.

If you really want to take this activity to the next level, you can get your own copy of the calendar, or else write the word on a slip of paper and post it somewhere in the house where your literate children are liable to see it. Slip it next to their cereal bowl, hang it on the fridge, or tuck the page into their lunch box with “Love Dad” written on the back. Make this a part of your daily habit, and brace yourself! The diction of this blog is going to become a bit grandiloquent in the new year. 🙂

“Sherlock Holmes for Children” Review

Greathall Productions is outstanding as usual, in its production of “Sherlock Holmes for Children” as told by Jim Weiss. My only regret is that we purchased this for Bruce(6.5) after my husband and I went to London earlier in 2011. I’ve read a little bit of Sherlock Holmes a long time ago, but not enough to really make an impact on me when we visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum on 221b Baker Street.  Now I wish I could go back to the museum, and know more about what I was looking at.

(Not my husband!) 🙂

Jim Weiss tells four Sherlock Holmes stories on this CD: The Mazarin Stone, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, The Musgrave Ritual, and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. Nothing is too scary, too long, or inappropriate for children. This CD is good for listening to at least five times, before it will drive me crazy!

Ice Skating on Paper Plates

I stole this idea from Jenna’s Kindermusik teacher—ice skating on paper plates!  It works best if you have paper plates with waxy bottoms, which we unfortunately do not have at the moment.  But regular paper plates work okay too.  Turn on some music, scatter some plates, and skate over the living room carpet to your heart’s content.

“Mozart’s Magic Fantasy” Review

For Christmas this year we gave my daughter Jenna(2.5) a copy of “Mozart’s Magic Fantasy”.  I was really surprised when we first listened to it, because it is a clear departure from the other three Classical Kids CDs we have heard; Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mr. Bach Comes to Call, and Tchaikovsky Discovers America.  Instead of introducing children to the music and biography of Mozart, “Mozart’s Magic Fantasy” is a mixed up retelling of the opera “The Magic Flute“.

To be honest, I haven’t seen “The Magic Flute” in fourteen years, so I certainly do not have a clear memory of the plot-line of the opera.  But just from a cursory refresher from the internet, it seems that although there are overlapping characters and some jumbled plot-lines between “Mozart’s Magic Fantasy” and “The Magic Flute”, the two stories are decidedly different.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the Classical Kids version, because it was highly entertaining and definitely put a kid-appropriate story line to the music.

Jenna has listened to this CD three times now, and two of those times were not even in the car.  She likes to put the CD in our DVD player, cuddle up with her baby doll, and listen to the music while sitting on the family room floor.  A two year old choosing to listen to opera?  Now that’s a magic CD!

For the Love of Geology

When I was a little girl my mother had a pendant in her jewelry box that was made of a pink rock she had polished in her childhood rock tumbler.  I was always fascinated by this, so when I was about eight or nine, I asked for a rock tumbler for Christmas.  It was a children’s rock tumbler, and immediately broke.  I returned it for $50 worth of merchandise at Imaginarium because they were all out of rock tumblers.

This year for Christmas my parents gave Bruce(6.5) a Thumler’ Tumbler rock tumbler, which is about $80 and a lot nicer than a toy version.  The reviews I read about this particular model said that it should work just fine and not break down.  Some of the reviews also mentioned the noise, but I hadn’t really given that any thought until Bruce and I set up the tumbler and plugged it in.

WHOA THAT TUMBLER IS NOISY!!!!  We have it in the laundry room with the door closed, and it sounds as loud as both the washer and dryer going at the same time. Bruce and I tried putting the tumbler in the garage, but then you couldn’t hear the TV or have a decent conversation around the kitchen table.  So the laundry room it is. This is the new sound we will be listening to for an ENTIRE MONTH!  Actually, it might take longer than a month.  You are supposed to run the tumbler 24/7, but we are turning it off at night so we can sleep.  Thank goodness we don’t live in attached housing, because I’m sure the neighbors would complain.

My husband and I are very curious to see what our electricity bill is going to be like this month.  It’s possible that the cost of electricity will be equivalent to what we could have spent at our local rock and gem shop to buy a bag of pre polished rocks.  🙂  But Bruce is very excited about this latest experiment, and he can’t wait to add new rocks to his collection.  For the love of geology I think I can put up with the noise for one month a year.

Weird “Veritas Press” Christmas Video

You have got to be kidding me! A while back I posted about the conservative homeschool company Veritas Press, and the things that I found interesting about their catalogue.  Somehow I ended up on their email list, and yesterday received the following Christmas greeting.  There is no need to watch the whole clip; you can probably tell what concerns me by just looking at the first image.  (I originally had the whole video pasted into this post, but felt the image was too disturbing for my blog.)

I have no intention of getting into any sort of debate about the second amendment.  I come from a family where lots of different people hunt, and I’m not anti-gun ownership.  But what the heck?  I have never, ever in my entire life seen an educator or somebody in the educational field represent themself, their school, or their company holding a gun.  Can you imagine if your child’s school sent out holiday cards with a picture of the principal holding a rifle in the school office? 

I think this is one of the biggest “lack of professional judgment” examples I have ever seen in the field of education. I don’t think that guns should be associated with schools, nor should they be associated with religion. I also don’t think that guns should be associated with teaching from a religious perspective — any religious perspective.  Combine this with a homeschooling company that believes young children should not learn science, and a literary catalogue that mainly teaches American history from the Caucasian perspective and you leave me, a former public school teacher, wondering if I should throw their catalogue in the trash.


Update: 12/27/2011

Before I wrote this post I did not know that Veritas Press promotes the author Douglas Wilson who is on the record for being pro-slavery  This is from Wikipedia:

Wilson’s most controversial work is probably his pamphlet Southern Slavery, As It Was (ISBN 1-885767-17-X), which he wrote along with League of the South co-founder and fellow Christian minister Steve Wilkins. The pamphlet stated that “slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.”

This explains the dearth of children’s books in the Veritas Press catalogue that describe the American experience of non-whites. I cannot understand how anyone could purchase products from a company that in associated with a pro-slavery author. That’s a major deal-breaker for me, and I have indeed thrown the Veritas Press catalogue in the trash.

For further information, please see:

Southern Slavery as it Wasn’t by Sean M. Quinlan, Ph.D., and William L. Ramsey, Ph.D.

Two Year Olds and Band-aids

A box of band-aids… The best Christmas present ever for a 2 and a half year old!  I’m going to remember this the next time we have to keep Jenna busy on an airplane.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of my Teaching My Baby to Read friends!  We will be having fun with family today, and hopefully not getting into any trouble.  I just need to keep the pens and markers away from Jenna, who my husband is now calling “our little graffiti artist”.  In the course of cleaning the house up for company I found her artwork on the leather couch, the front door, the playroom window, the mirror, and the dining room chairs.  Sigh…

Text to Self Connections

One of the ways teachers encourage reading comprehension in Balanced Literacy classrooms, is by teaching kids to make “Text to Self”, “Text to Text”, and “Text to World” connections.   Another educator-phrase for this is “Activating prior knowledge.”  The idea is that if kids come into a text already knowing something about it, then they will be able to understand the content better.   You can encourage these types of connections at home when you are doing read aloud at bedtime. “Hmmm, this part reminds me of_______”  etc.

Here’s an example of a “Text to Self” connection that my two year old daughter Jenna made yesterday.  She is 30 months year old:

We were reading Bumpy Tractor and got to the line “Though bumping’s what I love to do, I can be very gentle, too”.  Completely unprompted, Jenna said “I can be gentle. I’m gentle when I hold kitty cats.  I held the orange kitty cat in my lap very gently.”  She was referring to when she played with her cousin’s new litter of kittens.  Whether or Jenna did indeed hold those cats gently is up for debate!

Staying Sane Over Christmas Break

Do you want to know what I’ve been waking up to every morning of vacation?  My six year old Bruce hovering and inch from my face saying “Wake up Mom; it’s time to do spelling.”  The first morning of vacation I didn’t move fast enough for him, and he said, “You’re asking for it—Freeze Out!” and yanked the covers off of me.  I couldn’t really object because that’s how I often resort to getting him up and ready for school each morning.  🙂

Two days into my Afterschooling Over Christmas Break project, he had read through eight books and I needed to add an extra poster board of options.  He’s also done four Hands On Equations lessons, finished third grade in Dreambox Math, and as result, has earned a lot of time playing Lego Ninjago on the computer.

There has also been a lot of piano playing over the past few days, since Bruce suddenly decided he wanted to learn how.  I’ll probably write more about this later because I have a lot to say about gifted children and intensity.  Suffice to say for now, yesterday I was basically chained in the living room trying to keep Jenna occupied while Bruce (entirely of his own accord)  spent about six hours at the piano learning 23 songs from his Primer Level Piano Book.  I’ve never seen anything like it. When I would try to get him to take a break from learning he would become irate.  So instead of waking up to my six year old asking me for a spelling lesson this morning, I woke up to piano playing instead.

Today was my husband’s first day of vacation, and as soon as we had breakfast I grabbed my canvas grocery bags, said “See ya later sucker!” and drove off in his new car!  (Okay, maybe I didn’t really say that, but there was some evil laughter involved.)  I finally got the chance to go to the teacher store by myself and look through all of the homeschool math curriculums I’ve been curious about.

Granted, twenty minutes of examination really can’t tell you everything you need to know about a program, but it seemed to me that the only similarity between Saxon and Math Expressions was the quantity of work they have children do.  Philosophically, they are quite different even though both programs are published by Houghton Mifflin.  Singapore Math Standard Edition seemed a lot more similar to Math Expressions, in terms of how they fall somewhere in the middle of the Back to Basics vs. Constructivist spectrum.  (Please correct me if I’m wrong about this!)  From what I could tell, both programs teach multiple strategies along with traditional borrowing and carrying methods. Where they differ, is that Singapore employs a lot more curriculum compaction, whereas Math Expressions has kids do page after page after page of work.  I went ahead and purchased a Singapore 4a textbook just because I wanted to examine it further, and see what Bruce thought about it.  Maybe it will keep him busy…


Organizing Your Home Library

(Our current set-up)

When I first started my blog early in 2011, my son Bruce was five and a half years old and reading at about the 3rd grade level. I wrote a post about how I organized our home library to support Guided Reading.

(Earlier in the year)

Since then, Bruce has entered first grade, had a birthday, and is now reading at the fourth or fifth grade level.  My husband has brought down even more books from the garage, and our home library/playroom has gotten a bit hairy. So today I tackled the mess. Luckily for me, Jenna(2.5) is the rare two-year-old who is not a “dumper”. For some reason it has never occurred to her to empty out one of the Guided Reading baskets, even though she is now tall enough to reach them. This has continued to allow me to organize our chapter book collection thematically and by author.

It would be better to have sturdy wooden or plastic boxes for this system, but the drawer organizers I purchased from Ikea are a lot cheaper, and do the job in a pinch.

If I had more space, I would continue the box system on into the picture books, but that is simply not an option unless I purchase more bookshelves (and had space to put them). So for now, masking tape has to suffice. As you can see, not all of the books are organized. The rest could be labeled “General Fiction”, but I didn’t want to be too neurotic!

There is an empty basket near the recliner in the corner for Jenna to dump books that she has finished reading. That way I can put them back myself in order, and keep tabs on what she’s looking at. Having a “return basket” is also a tip you could use if you had a nanny. That way you could see what books your child was reading while you were at work.

If you turn a lot of our books over, you will find the Guided Reading level written on the back with Sharpie. An alternative way to organize your box system, is by actual Guided Reading level. In many Balanced Literacy classrooms you will see a K box, an L box, and M box etc. The benefit to having the Guided Reading level on the back of your books is that it helps you and your children choose books at the appropriate reading level. Jenna is not ready for this to make a difference of course, and Bruce is way beyond needing this type of assistance. But for beginning readers, this can really work wonders.

It takes a lot of time to look up and label the Guided Reading level of each book, but an additional bonus is that it will help you quickly assesses and monitor your child’s reading level. You simply pull down a book and see if your daughter can read it. If it’s too hard, move back in the alphabet; too easy, move ahead. Just right books are ones where a child makes no more than three mistakes on the first page.

Looking back through all of these pictures I keep thinking to myself “Holy cow, that was a lot of work!” But as a former teacher, I know that organizing a classroom library helps kids feel less overwhelmed by their reading options. It can also help reluctant readers gain footing on the path to becoming strong readers. Once they find the type (or box) of books they like, they know where to start. Hopefully, once they start reading, they will never stop.

Geometry Smashers

Here’s a geometry-themed adaption of an idea I originally saw on the blog One Mouthful. In the original example, Lia had written numbers on the bottom of an egg carton, and let her preschooler smash the numbers with a toy hammer. Since Jenna(2.5) is still working on visulalization and quantities, instead of numeral recognition, I decided to make a geometry smasher instead. I called out each colored shape, and Jenna smashed away.

The unexpected consequence of this activity, was that Jenna’s older brother Bruce(6.5) was very jealous. He wanted a geometry smasher too! So I thought, why not? I emptied out some eggs in the fridge, and made a geometry smasher for Bruce that concentrated on concepts he has already learned in his third grade Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions book at school.

Here’s the before picture.

Here’s the after picture. Apparently, six and a half year olds like to smash stuff too!

Afterschooling = Two Extra Years of School?

Can 2 hours and 20 minutes a week of meaningful, parent-led instruction lead to 2 extra school years of education by the time your child leaves for college? Do the math for yourself.

Think about how long your son or daughter is in school each day. Then, subtract lunch, recess, snack, library, PE and school assemblies. What number of instructional hours do you end up with? In our case, this number is about 4 hours a day of solid, prepare-my-child-for-college education. (That’s not to say that recess, snack, lunch, music, and PE aren’t important, because of course they are!)

4 X 180 school days = 720 hours of instructional time in a school year.

720 hours x 2 school years = 1440 hours in two school years

1440 /12 years of Afterschooling = 120 hours a year of Afterschooling you need to do to reach the two extra years of school mark.

Here are some ways to accomplish that:

  • Year-Round Model: 2 hours and 20 minutes a week
  • School Year Only Model: 3 hours a week
  • Summer Heavy Model: 1 hour a day for 50 days of summer + 1 hour and 45 minutes a week while school is in session (This is what our family does.)

What counts as Afterschooling?

Opinions vary on what counts as Afterschooling and you are free to define this for yourself. In my view:

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

For me, the litmus test of Afterschooling is: Will this activity someday help my child past an AP test in high school? Reading, spelling, handwriting, math, critical thinking, fact gathering, scientific experiments… all of these things would pass that litmus test. Does that mean giving up other things like soccer, music lessons, and playing outside? Heck no! Those important activities are incorporated into our lives, but they just don’t count as Afterschooling.

Where to Start with Afterschooling?

  • Don’t have a lot of time? — Try starting out with Carschooling.
  • Need ideas for Math? — Check out my Cheap Math page, or consider investing in a good homeschool math program like Right Start, Miquon, or Singapore. Hands On Equations is also a program I love for teaching beginning algebra skills to young children. Dreambox Math is an online option for grades K-4.
  • Need ideas for Science? — Check out the free lesson plans at Science Without a Net.
  • Are you ready for some History? — I recommend Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Series Volumes 1, 2 and 3.
  • Does your child struggle with Spelling or Phonics?All About Spelling is really amazing!
  • Concerned that your child is behind grade level? –Check out my Sylvan Learning Center Alternatives page.
  • Wondering if your child might be gifted and in need of enrichment? — Check out my Gifted page for information and resources.
  • Are you really ready to Geek out? — Check out my Inspired By Stanford’s SLE Program: A Reading List for Children Part 1 and Part 2.

Need More Inspiration?

Although there are a ton of homeschooling blogs out there on the internet, Afterschooling blogs seem to be few and far between. Here some of my favorites:

  • Enchanted Schoolhouse Blog Fairy Tale Mama writes “My daughter attends a public Montessori school so we do what some call “afterschooling” with extra activities. My son stays home with me and does not attend preschool. We’re all avid readers so I blog about what we’re reading (kids and adults alike), what we’re learning, what projects we’re working on, and our quest to improve our lives and hopefully those around us too.”
  • Post Apocalyptic Homeschool Blog Jennifer Arrow’s education focused blog could very well qualify as an Afterschooling blog, since her son is not yet old enough for regular school! She writes “This blog is called Post-Apocalyptic Homeschool because I obsessively collect and stockpile used children’s books just in case I need to personally educate a small village after some sort of catastrophic scenario where all the other books and technology and book-obtaining means of all kinds have been destroyed, such that the only reading materials left for miles around are the piles of books in my garage.”
  • AfterschoolingTAH This blog’s motto is “blending parenting, school & community”, and includes a lot of resources and ideas for third grade students on up.
  • Mama’ing Again Pamela Afterschools all of the birth, adopted, and foster care children that flow in and out of her house. She goes the extra mile to make sure all her kids get on grade level and beyond, no matter how far they have fallen behind before they reach her family.
  • Enrichmints “The purpose of Enrichmints is to share ideas for educational enrichment and to encourage and empower parents to teach their children and be actively involved in their education, whether they’re homeschooled or public- or private-schooled..” Fabulous!

Finally, if you have never before read The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, you are in for a treat because it is full of ideas for taking a more active role in your child’s education at home. This book is not just for homeschoolers! You can also check out The Well Trained Mind Message Board “Hive Mind”, specifically the Afterschooling board for more ideas.

Hands On Equations is AMAZING!!!

(From Lesson 6)

Can you believe a 6.5 year old can do this? Granted, my son Bruce is very bright for his age and is capable of doing third grade math, but this isn’t a case of “My son is so smart!” or, “I’m such a great teacher!” 😉 This is an example of brilliant, Constructivist curriculum at its finest. Can you imagine how easy Algebra 1 is going to be for my son someday if he can already do problems like this in first grade?

I’m not a representative for Hands On Equations and I don’t have any affiliation with the company. I just think this program is awesome. I really want to write a grant and bring HOE to my son’s school, but I haven’t even broached the subject with his teachers.

As a former teacher myself, I know that I really have to watch myself. I don’t want to be pushy, I don’t want to be the problem parent, and I just want to let Bruce’s wonderful teachers continue doing a wonderful job as they see fit. I know as well as anyone that public school teachers can sometimes be under enormous pressure to strictly implement district-approved curriculum, without any room for creativity. So for now, HOE is just a fun activity that we are doing at home. But oh my goodness! The teacher in me sooooo wants to run a HOE small group during centers time. I know those first and second graders and they would eat this up.

GF/CF Chocolate Chip Cookies, My Two Year Old, and Some Fine Motor Fun

Today Jenna(2.5) and I made some chocolate chip cookies. It started out as your ordinary cooking-with-your-two-year-old experience. There was some extra hand washing, a few near misses with the mixing bowl, and a lot of warnings not to eat butter. Bob’s Red Mill Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix only required three added ingredients: 1 egg, butter, and water. That kept things pretty easy for cooking with a little one.

But half way through I felt like the chocolate chip cookie ratio provided in the mix was pretty slim. In a failed attempt to make thumbprint cookies by adding some Enjoy Life chocolate chips, I inadvertently fell upon the best fine motor skill activity ever!

(Sorry for the ugly picture of my yucky looking baking sheet.)

I pressed thumbprint marks into each cookie, and Jenna slowly and carefully filled each center with chocolate chips. It took her about ten minutes, and about 400 calories of chocolate chip consumption, but she got a big fine motor skill work out. This activity strengthens the same muscles that will one day help her hold a pencil correctly.

So the next time you are making chocolate chip cookies with your kids, give it a try! Here’s hoping you are making nice, normal, gluten filled cookies that don’t have a weird garbanzo bean aftertaste.