Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Cookie Sheets and the Word Whammer

If wandering Leap Frog magnets are a problem in your kitchen, check out this idea I stole from the mommy-pundit over at Teaching Stars.  You can use an old magnetic cookie sheet to organize and store the pieces, so they are all ready for the next time you play.  This is an excellent help in our family, because our magnets didn’t stick to our stainless steel refrigerator, and I had been keeping them in a bag. 

Now that Jenna is getting ready for the “Word Hunt” setting on her Word Whammer, it is really helpful to have the letters sorted by color.  Sometimes the Word Whammer prompts her to look for a letter that is a certain color, so this will be a definite channel factor towards success.  I could also try putting them in ABC order if that ends up being more helpful.  Very cool!

The Quarter Game

One of the many great things about no longer living in California is how much cheaper everything is. Today Jenna(2.5) and I went out to a tea shop that some friends opened in our community. For $3 they bring kids a plate of sandwiches, a little pot of hot chocolate, and some grapes. That’s pretty munificent for only a few dollars. Today Jenna chose peanut butter and jelly, but sometimes she gets Nutella instead. (The little boy from One Mouthful would love this place!)

While we were waiting for our food, we played yet another variation of the How Many? game, this time using quarters I had in my purse. It would have been even better if I had half-dollars, because the larger the pieces are the easier this game seems to be for two year olds to master. Jenna solidly knows the quantity 3 now, and is catching on to 4 quite quickly.

All I do is put some quarters on the table and ask her “How many?” It is really important to show the coins in a variety of patterns, especially now that we are getting into higher numbers.  We are doing four quantities right now; 1,2,3, and 4.

Another variation of this game that Jenna invented is to turn the tables and let the child be the teacher. Today, she kept swiping the coins from me, laying some out, and asking “How much are there?” She also liked to have me name a quantity, and then take one away to trick me, which means that this game is also teaching some beginning subtraction concepts as well.

So the next time you are out and about and are trying to keep your preschooler entertained, try reaching for some change in your purse. I’m going to make sure I always have some quarters or half-dollars in my wallet, for teachable moments in the future.

SAT Word A Day Blog

It is now 30 days into my Teaching My Baby to Read SAT challenge, and I figured it was time for an update. Bruce(6.5) is really excited about learning new words, and is exerting his will to keep me on track.  If I forget to use the Magic Word of the day, you better believe I hear about it from my son!  Jenna (2.5) on the other hand, really doesn’t know anything different is going on.  Her participation at this point is just hearing the rest of us incorporate the words into our everyday language.

Some words are easier to work with than others.  If you have the calendar and are following along on my blog, you might have noticed that sometimes I jump ahead and use a word a few days out, because it better meets the needs of that day’s post.  Other words, are too tricky to incorporate into my blog at all.  Today’s word for example is habeas corpus.  That’s a tough word to work with!

I have made a concerted effort to teach ten-dollar words to my kids before, but having the daily calendar is making things easier.  I consider it $7 well spent, and intend to keep this up all the way until Jenna takes the SAT someday.

Michael Clay Thompson and Royal Fireworks Press

Last week when we were snowed in and had major cabin fever, I took a very expensive leap of faith and ordered the Level 1 Michael Clay Thompson curriculum from Royal Fireworks Press. I had never heard of RFWP before, and shelled out my $150 (plus shipping) based solely on the recommendations of two people I “knew” on the Well -Trained Mind Message Board. I am relieved to report, that they did not steer me wrong. WOW! These books are really amazing.

MCT is the first curriculum I have ever seen that is specifically written for gifted children. Would neurotypical children enjoy it as well? I would think so, but they might need additional paper and pencil practice. Since MCT is written with gifted children in mind, there is basically no “drill and kill” involved. The RFWP catalogue explains this philosophy by saying:

“We do not use worksheets. We believe that they are the neutron bombs of education; they kill all intelligent life while leaving the textbook intact. Coping with a worksheet sends a child in search of a short answer that will fit on a short line. We would prefer children to seek large panoramas of ideas and relationships. To worksheet a subject is to trivialize it.”

You really have to see the text of these books yourself to understand how they are so different. If you click “view online” on the following link, you should be able to see inside the first book, Grammar Island. In the teacher’s edition of Grammar Island it says the following on page 164:

“Grammar Island is based on a profound conviction that the bad things sometimes said about grammar are not true–that grammar is fun, incredibly useful, and extraordinarily high level, perfectly appropriate for challenging even the brightest elementary children. Grammar Island is founded on very high expectations of children’s ability to learn, and on a high opinion of the value and fun of grammar.

“Grammar Island is not meant to take a whole year; on the contrary, it is intended to be studied quickly early in the school year, making it possible to use and apply the valuable knowledge for the remainder of the year. Many pages of Grammar Island contain only a single sentence, so a month or less should be plenty of time to move through the whole island! Grammar Island provides a compact approach to introducing grammar; rather than being a grammar unit, it is a grammar launch.”

The Basic Homeschool Kit which I ordered also came with instructions on how and when to introduce each book. You are not supposed to do them all at the same time, but rather work through them on an overlapping spectrum. I don’t know if you can tell from the picture above, but I laid out the level one books on the floor to match the instructions. I am hoping that Bruce (6.5) will be able to complete level one over the next eight months, and finish in time for second grade.

So far Bruce and I have snuggled up on the couch and read almost half of Grammar Island together. We both think this book is really cool. Last night we also read the first 38 pages of Building Language, which is even harder to describe than Grammar Island. Once again, you really need to click “view online” and see this book for yourself. For a child who has read through Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 1, this book is even more engaging. Since I have no intention of teaching my children Latin, this type of book provides the benefits without the wasted time (in my opinion).

Some final thoughts about all of this is how much this curriculum has made me think of my fifth and sixth grade San Diego Seminar Program teacher, Mr. Dick Gray. Oh my gosh he would he love this! In fact, I’m wondering if we might have actually had The Magic Lens in our classroom. I searched online but couldn’t find a picture of what the book use to look like in the mid-1980s. As a teacher, Mr. Gray was passionate about Classical Education (although I don’t think we called it that back then). He taught from the Socratic method, made sure we knew how to diagram sentences, ensured that we memorized Shakespeare, and led us through all of the Junior Great Books. He was also very willing an as educator to roll the dice, and try something different, especially if he felt it would meet the unique needs of gifted learners. I don’t know why, but somehow reading through the RWFP catalogue, and looking at the MCT curriculum, really overwhelmed me with how lucky I was to have Mr. Gray as my teacher.

Make Your Own Talking Words Factory

Calling Professor Quigley to the factory floor. Mr. Webster is on his way!

Today Jenna(2.5) said to me “I can’t go to the Talking Words Factory tonight because I’m going to Daddy Preschool”. It was a spontaneous bit of imagining on her part, but gave me the idea of actually building a pretend Taking Words Factory ala Leap Frog. So we set up the tunnels, got out every single letter toy we own (I’m very acquisitive of phonics products), and I blew up some copies of the DVD pictures on our printer. Voila!

Here’s our Talking Words Factory with the Word Whammer ready to go.

Here’s our Letter Factory complete with ABC cards and blocks.

We had fun crawling around our forts, sounding out letters, and attempting to blend words. I say attempting, because even though Jenna has known all of her letters and sounds for quite some time, she is still not quite ready for sounding out C-V-C words yet. But this was a really fun way to practice.

Long Division and Constructivism

This is certainly a bizarre piece of scribbles to include on my blog. I might as well post a picture of chicken scratches, or sastrugas in the snow.  But it is an authentic piece of scratch paper from this past weekend when I was recording my son Bruce(6.5)’s thinking out loud while he solved a long division problem.  His current strategy is to think about long division in terms of multiplication, and to keep multiplying until he gets the right answer.

One of the biggest questions people have when they first hear about Constructivism is “How in the heck would you do long division?” The answer to that question is that there are lots of ways to solve long division problems, and that each child will explore and then settle on a strategy that best makes sense to that particular child’s brain.  Maybe that will be choosing to use the traditional algorithm, maybe not. 

In a true Constructivist program, the traditional algorithm would not be introduced until the child had already mastered several other methods.  If a teacher introduces the traditional algorithm too early, thinking and exploration could suddenly halt, which would really crimp the development of true number sense.

This is why it is important for me as a parent to give Bruce lots of opportunity to learn how to do long division at home many months before he learns at school through Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions, which is not “Constructivist enough” in my opinion.  Stay tuned for more examples of creative ways to do long division!

Kindle Fire vs. IPod Touch

Jenna(32m) and I just got back from her big brother Bruce’s Student of the Month assembly, and now she decided to fall asleep in my lap.  Thankfully, for the 30 minutes we were sitting on auditorium bleachers, I had back-up.  A yellow sucker that was soon covered in blond hair (yuck!), and Bruce’s Kindle Fire and headphones, which I had stashed in my purse.  Normally we have a NO DISNEY UNTIL AGE 3 policy in our household, but I had made the exception and loaded a princess movie onto the Kindle for this precise moment.

As my regular blog readers know, the Kindle was a Christmas gift to Bruce from my in-laws.  What I am finding as a mother, is that I’m stealing it all the time, without my son’s knowledge! 

I have a “Little Pim Spanish” on it right now, as well as Leap Frog’s “Phonics Farm” and Preschool Prep’s “Meet the Phonics“. The Kindle Fire is bigger than our IPod Touch (another gift from my in-laws) but far less cumbersome than a portable DVD player.  So I can just slip it in my bag and bring it out for Jenna in previously problematic situations like waiting in the doctor’s office or at Bruce’s swimming lessons.  Technically, I could have done this with the IPod Touch, but the screen is really too small for a preschooler to deal with, plus I don’t like having something that costs $400 banging around in my purse.

The big problem with the Kindle Fire is the lack of parental settings regarding the internet.  I have to make sure that our password for Wi-Fi is scrambled so Bruce can’t accidentally turn it on, and he has sworn up and down that he wouldn’t try anyway.  So that is still an issue, but not a big concern at the moment.  Hopefully future Kindle Fire generations fix that problem.

But I have to admit, this is my new “Mommy’s helper” of 2012.  If you have any ideas of other things to download, please let me know!

The Misdiagnosis of Gifted Children

Just Released from SENG!

This is the first time this video has been released for free on YouTube. I’ve read Dr. Webb’s book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders, and it was absolutely fascinating.  Parenting aside, if you have any adult in your family who you believe might be gifted, you should read this book.  I kept charting back my family tree and my husband’s family tree, and having “aha moments” at every turn of the page. I really feel like I gained new empathy for the people close to me, after learning about this. 

Deliciously G-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s Chocolate Chip cookies on page 215 of her book Deliciously G-Free, are really good but they are a pain in the butt to make. They require 14 different ingredients (not counting cooking spray), and four different types of flour. I’ve made them twice now, and the first time turned out to be a disaster because my two year old daughter Jenna was helping me. But the second batch when I could really concentrate? Yum, yum! Even my husband really liked them, and he is a chocolate chip cookie purist.

Still, I like to bake with my kids all the time, and 14 different ingredients and a two year old just don’t mix well. Plus, one of the ingredients in this recipe is potato flour which is a really fine particle that floats up into the air, redounds everywhere, and coats everything in sight. Talk about messy!

In the Power Flour section of her book, Elisabeth suggests mixing up the four flours ahead of time, but that still leaves you with ten more ingredients left to measure out with significant preschool “help”. So I decided to make my own chocolate chip cookie mixes today using all of the ingredients except for the liquids; eggs, butter and vanilla, and the chocolate chips themselves. Once again, I had a lot of “help” from Jenna, so I hope the mixes turned out okay.

Half way through this twenty minute process Jenna lost interest in helping and started ripping tissues out of the Kleenex box.

As crazy as it sounds, that really was helpful because it let me finish things up, and get out the vacuum. Hopefully I’ve traded one morning of total kitchen disaster for five days of peaceful and easy chocolate chip cookie baking in the future. Now that ten of the ingredients are premeasured, I think my six year old son Bruce and Jenna could probably make these cookies by themselves, with me handling the oven part.

More Math Without Worksheets

My six and a half year old son Bruce has been doing Math Without Worksheets to earn screen-time recently. I write down a number problem, and he writes down a word problem to match. Then he solves the problems numerically on the left-hand side of the page, and in words on the right. This type of Constuctivist activity is the nidus of someday being able to write out proofs in higher level math.

Bruce has been solving problems this way once a week for three weeks in a row now, and you can already see a really big difference in his work. For one thing, he’s writing down his thinking himself now, whereas before I had to write down his answers for him. But there is still a lot of room for improvement. As a former teacher, these are the things I am looking for (rubric style):

  1. The word problem should match the number problem. (+3)
  2. The word problem should be neatly written and in its own space. (+3)
  3. Numerical work should be neat, tidy, and in its own space. (+3)
  4. The numerical work should clearly show the strategy being used. (+3)
  5. The answer should be circled. (+1)
  6. The written explanation should be neat, tidy, and in its own space. (+3)
  7. The written explanation should clearly show the strategy being used. (+3)

If I was a third grade teacher scoring Bruce’s work in the above example, I would give it 12 out of a possible 19 points. The word problem, as well as the written explanation, both need a lot of work. Numerically, Bruce is showing that he knows that since 20 divided by 5 = 4, then 20 divided by 4 is going to equal 5. That’s a solid strategy for solving the problem.

Here’s another example from the same day that shows a lot of improvement. In this next problem, Bruce’s numerical explanation is even stronger, but the written parts are still a bit confusing. I’d give this example 15 out of a possible 19 points.

For the twenty minutes Bruce spent working on these two pages I let him earn half an hour of Lego Ninjago on the computer. Am I a “Tiger Mom”? No. Am I looking for extra ways to boost my son’s academic potential? Yes! The best part of all of this is that it is free and rooted in solid Constructivist pedagogy. No matter what math curriculum your child is using at his or her school, this type of practice can help.

Education Begets Education

I found this paper on the floor of my six year old son Bruce’s room today, and at once recognized my husband’s handwriting. Clearly this was the debris of a “teachable moment” they had shared between the two of them.

As a wife and mother, it really made me happy to find this, but as a former teacher it made me sad as well. Here right before me was an example of the Haves and Have-Nots, of education begetting education, and of some kids (like my own children) being set up for future success while other kids are lucky if their dads come home at all. My husband is a Stanford educated engineer, and my children are going to get a myriad of mini-math lessons across the span of their childhood that other children will not receive.

When I was little, my dad (an English major from a state university), never talked to me about math, but you better believe he taught me how to write when I was in high school! I never turned in any essay that I hadn’t revised at least four or five times with my dad’s guidance in writing, and my mom’s help with spelling.

Even at the time, I could see a great disparity between the levels of help students were getting in my own circle of friends. Some of my friends from blue collar families weren’t getting any help at all, while other kids were even luckier than me because they were also getting help in math. I still remember being shocked when I heard my friend K’s dad quiz her about her pre-calculus class. Her dad was a captain in the Coast Guard and was fully capable of keeping up with K in math, whereas my parents were not.

When I was at Stanford I did know several people who were “Legacy” students, meaning they were the children or grandchildren of Stanford alumni. To the uninitiated, Legacy status seems really unfair because it does, supposedly, give you a slight advantage into getting into a university. But I never once met a Stanford Legacy student who wasn’t brilliant and highly educated.  In fact, they very often seemed a lot smarter than I did.

Now it is pretty clear to me why this was the case. Education begets education. Those kids had 18 years of “teachable moments” from some of the smartest people in the country. They probably had parents who could help them in English, Math, Science, French, and nailing the SAT.  Their families probably had dinner time conversations that made the ordinary discourse of the rest of us seem phlegmatic.

It’s not fair that some kids have educational advantages and some do not.  That’s why parents from all backgrounds need to rise to the occasion. Teach your children what you know and are good at. Then seek out help to do the rest. That’s the lesson my dad taught me every time he turned off a football game, slashed through my latest essay with his revisions, and then handed it over to my mom to double check our spelling.

Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds

As a douceur to convince Jenna(31m) to start blending C-V-C words, I’ve cracked open my wallet and loaded Preschool Prep’s “Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds” onto Bruce’s Kindle Fire. Let me tell you, as somebody who has turned green from watching Leap Frog videos about 100 times, and who can sing the “Rusty and Rosie” songs by heart, “Meet the Phonics” is a nice change of pace!

That being said, I don’t think that “Meet the Phonics” would make the best starter video for a young learner because it introduces a lot of information very quickly. Conceptually, “Meet the Phonics” teaches material covered in Leap Frog’s “Letter Factory”, “Talking Words Factory”, and “Talking Words Factor Two”, all put together.

What is really interesting to me as a parent, is right in the middle of “Meet the Phonics” when they start showing a slot machine that blends C-V-C words, Jenna starts to immediately lose interest and starts wildly touching the screen trying to change the Kindle over to something else. This is proof yet again that she is still not ready to blend…

I think my new preferred order for introducing letter and phonics sounds to young children through videos, starting at 18 months and going in three week intervals, would go like this:

  1. Rusty and Rosie’s ABCs and Such
  2. Rusty and Rosie’s Letter Sound Songs
  3. Leap Frog’s Letter Factory
  4. Leap Frog’s Phonics Farm (egad, it’s boring!)
  5. Leap Frog’s Talking Word’s Factory
  6. Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds
  7. Talking Words Factory Two, Code Word Caper

For Bruce(6.5), the videos that made the most difference were “Rusty and Rosie Letter Sound Songs”, and “Talking Words Factory #1 and #2”.  Jenna on the other hand, has responded the most to the “Letter Factory” .  So I think it is worth trying all of these videos out, if you can get them at your local library for free.

Howling Frog Books Greek Classics Challage: January

Join the Greek Classics Challenge!

I decided to wade into Jean’s Howling Frog Books Greek Challenge with something easy, so I pulled down Mary Barnard’s translation of Sappho from my bookshelf. Whereas other versions of Sappho sometimes read like Victorian diarrhea (pardon my French), Barnard’s translations are crisp, modern and clear even though they were published over half a century ago.

When you hear the name “Sappho” usually one thing comes to mind these days, so I was surprised to rediscover that her poems cover such a wide range of topics and emotions. My favorite was fragment 17, which I first highlighted 15 years ago before I ever had children, or even met my husband:

Sleep, darling

I have a small

daughter called

Cleis, who is

like a golden


I wouldn’t

take all Croseus’

kingdom with love

thrown in, for her

Leonardo and Steve, Review

Reading Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years, by Dr. Keith Devlin is easy, entertaining, and educational.  Those are three qualities that make Leonardo and Steve a good choice for a leisure-minded non-fiction enthusiast like me.  You don’t have to be a math genius to understand this book either.  In my case, that’s a good thing!

The crux of this book is the parallel between Steve Jobs and Leonardo Pisano; how they seized upon, changed, and communicated the inventions of other’s and sparked financial and personal computing revolutions.  Leonardo (also called Fibonacci) did this in 1202 by writing the book Liber Abbaci which introduced Hindu-Arabic numbers to the businessmen of Pisa, and explained how these numbers made accounting much easier than the Roman numerals they were using.

All of that would be interesting in its own right, but to me as a former elementary school teacher and participant in the world of gifted education, there are some other random things about Leonardo and Steve’s stories that really strike me. 

Dr. Devlin briefly mentions that after the publication of Liber Abbaci, arithmetic schools sprung up over Italy, where maesti d’abbaco would teach students the new Hindu-Arabic methods.  He says that these schools “followed a specified syllabus, typically comprised of reading and writing in the vernacular, arithmetic, geometry, bookkeeping, and occasionally navigation.” (Loc 274, 29%) A specified syllabus?  That almost sounds like Common Core Standards from the Middle Ages!

The other section of Leonardo and Steve that I found fascinating was this description of what it is like when a computer programmer gets lost in thought while at the computer: “Once you get into the project, it develops a life of its own.  You find yourself in what is often referred to as “The flow”.  Time stands still, and the mind is able to cope with any amount of fine detail. Indeed, it does not seem like fine detail; at that moment that design or that piece of code is all that matters in the world.”  (Loc 235, 25%)  I thought that was good explanation of what happens to gifted people in general when they get super-focused on a project.  In fact, perhaps it is the gifted brain’s ability to focus on something for a long time (the so-called 10,000 hours effect) that leads to achievement.

A final thought about Leonardo and Steve is that it could very well be read as a sequel to Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  What would have happened if Leonardo had not been born into the nobility? What would have happened if his father had not taken him to Algeria where he encountered Hindu-Arabic numbers?  What would have happened if Steve Jobs had not lived in Cupertino?  You could very well make the argument that these men would not have made such a big impacts into modern lives if they had not been born in the right places and the right times. 

P.S. I have no idea if I annotated these page numbers correctly or not, so I apologize if I made citing errors.  This is only the third eBook I’ve read and it took me a good deal of time figuring out how to use the highlighting function.  If I don’t make a concerted effort to keep up with technology I’ll end up someday as the grandmother who doesn’t know how to turn on her TV!  🙂

Snow Ice Cream

I borrowed this idea for making snow ice cream from the Duggar family on “19 Kids and Counting”, but Jenna and I made up our own recipe using ingredients we had on hand:

  • 6 cups snow
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 3 T maple syrup
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/4 c brown sugar

It was really yummy!