Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Would Your Teenager Cross the Street?

Admittedly, I have a very one track mind these days.  But ever since I read Parenting Teens with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay it feels like my cranium has been opened and light poured in. 

Before I read about Love and Logic, if you had asked me what a well-disciplined child was I would have answered: A child who follows directions and doesn’t embarrass you in public.  By that definition, Jenna(2.5) is very well behaved, and her brother Bruce(6.5)…err..um…not so much!  Now after reading Love and Logic I would a define a well-discipline child as: A child who is being trained to make good choices, to think for him/herself, and who takes 100% ownership for the results of his/her decisions. 

My goal as a parent is not to raise a child who will do what I say, but to train a child who makes good decisions and chooses to do the right thing of his own accord.  No matter what hegemony is present in my daughter’s life, I want her to have an inner voice that is so strong and wise that it will carry her through all situations.

To ground this philosophy in reality, this morning was pretty crazy.  Bruce came up to me worried about going to school because it had started to snow.  I checked all of the weather alert updates, and none of the schools in our area were closed, so I spent the next ten minutes calming his anxiety about getting stuck somewhere on the bus.  Finally, we agreed that I would drive him to school this morning.

While we were driving to school I saw two teenagers walking up to the high school and coming to a crosswalk.  The boy, who was about six feet and looked like he could play football, crossed the street on the red light.  The girl who was with him, waited at the corner for the signal to change.  She looked across the four lanes of traffic and held up her hands at her friend to say, “What gives?”

Whoa!  I just saw an amazing moment in time.  That teenage girl made a split-second decision to stay put on the corner.  She didn’t follow the good looking guy next to her into what could have been a dangerous situation.  She followed her own inner voice and stayed put.  The teenage boy on the other hand, probably thought he was invincible and the ordinary rules of society or consequences physics would not apply to him.

This really made me think.  What type of teenager was I?  For sure, I was the girl who stayed on the corner, and the boys I hung out with in high school would probably have had their arm out in front of me making sure I waited for the light to change.  All of the teenagers I chose to be friends with were really responsible.

But what types of teenagers will my kids become?  Who will their friends be?  At that point in my thought process I started to freak out a bit.  I had just witnessed one moment of good/bad decision making.  How many of those moments will my own kids someday face?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Deep breath Jenny! 

After I dropped Bruce off at school the thermometer started dropping lower and lower, and the sky began turning whiter and whiter.  Maybe Bruce was right to be concerned about the weather, and I just committed a parenting error by teaching him to ignore that voice inside of him that said he should stay home. Then again, maybe I was teaching him to check in with experts and make informed decisions.  Or maybe, as is so often the case, I have no idea what the heck I am doing and am just making this up as I go along!  🙂

P.S.  I read an interesting post at Tinderbox Homeschool recently about how the Unitarian Church teaches children to listen to their “inner voice” starting from a young age.  They might be on to something!

Here’s the link to the official Love and Logic Webpage.

Starting All About Spelling

Jenna is 32 months right now, and we are officially starting All About Spelling Level 1. I think the ideal time to begin AAS would be between 3.5 and 4 years old, but our situation is a little bit different. Since Jenna already knows her letters and sounds, and since we already own all of the Level 1 AAS materials, I figured that we might as well start now.

Right now we are going through all of the yellow Phonogram cards and I am quizzing Jenna to officially note which letters and sounds she can correctly identify. We only do four cards a day, and then we put a sticker up on the chart to celebrate each sound that is checked off. At most, we are spending about five minutes a day on AAS, which seems like a perfectly acceptable amount of time for a two and a half year old to concentrate. Level 1, step 1 might end up taking one or two months, but that’s okay. Jenna is so excited to “do spelling” just like her big brother Bruce, that this is a really meaningful and fun activity for the both of us to share together.

Love and Logic at the Airport

It took nine hours of travel, and two planes to make what should have been a four hour flight home from San Diego yesterday.  Ugh!  While I was at the airports, I put my time to good use by reading Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay.  I was able to put their advice into practice right away, and boy was it effective!

On my original flights to San Diego, United made everyone in boarding classes 3 and 4 check their bags at the very last minute because there was supposedly not enough overhead space left.  I dutifully compiled, only to see when I was walking down the aisle to my seat that there was tons of space left. Double Ugh!

So when I was persevering through a longer than expected layover on the way home, and the service desk lady made this announcement about forcing us to check our bags again, this time I decided to put some Love and Logic tactics into action and see if they would work in this situation.  I knew I needed to: 1) show empathy that was perceived as sincere, 2) stay calm and not get angry, 3) let natural consequences do the teaching for me, 4) don’t get in a power struggle and 5) fall back on catch phrases if I ran into trouble.  I went up the desk, looked the United lady in the eye, and dove in.  Here’s how our very calm conversation went:

Me: It must be so hard to do your job and have to make announcements like this.

United Lady: Um… Are you in boarding class 3 or 4?  I need to check your bags.

Me: Yes, I am in 3. But you see, the thing is, I was wondering if you would consider letting me keep my bags.  I was just packing up my grandma’s house and I have things in here that I don’t want to risk losing.

Untied Lady: I’m sorry but everyone in boarding class 3 and 4 needs to check their bags. We have a full flight and there won’t be any room in the overhead space. 

Me: Bummer.  But you see, the last flight I was on a few days ago they made the same announcement and I checked my bag only to discover that there ended up being lots of overhead space on board. So now I would really prefer it if I could keep my bag with me. Would you think about letting me keep it?

United Lady: Oh okay, but you might have to surrender your bag later when you are on the flight and there isn’t enough room.

Me: Thank you for your consideration.

As it turns out, there was a ton for room for my bag when I finally made it onboard.  You better believe I spent the rest of my flight finishing that book.  I’m turning into a Love and Logic monster!

Funny Costa Concordia Video

I am still in San Diego visiting my grandma, cousins, and old childhood memories. Last night we watched four hours of gripping family movies my grandpa took in the early 1980’s which included my aunt changing a light bulb, my dad watching a football game on TV, our family eating lunch, and my fourth birthday party in its entirety.

The funniest shots were when my grandpa would film what the contents of our houses looked like when I was little, including the stereo systems in all of their behemouth glory. Grandpa would have loved to get his hands on my cousin Steven’s high-tech equipment, and would be so proud that his grandson actually became a professional videographer.

Here’s a funny little clip that Steven put together just for fun. I can’t wait to go home and show it to Bruce(6.5) because I think it might inspire him to put his own stories to life too.   This summer I want to teach Bruce about technology by helping him craft his own little video from start to finish, and then upload it on YoutTube and my blog. It will teach creative writing, story organization, and technology all in one activity.   Video equipment is so affordable nowadays that I can just hand over an old IPod to my son and he can start filming at a picture quality my grandpa could only dream of.

I’m also issuing an invitation to my Teaching My Baby To Read audience.  If your children or teenagers create their own mini-movies on YouTube, please let me know and I can share the link for you.  I’m going to be crafting a complete STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) page in the future, and that would be a great place to share.

Crossing South and Visa Dream

I’m down in San Diego this weekend at my grandma’s house, so I don’t have much time for blogging. But I did want to share the exciting things my cousin, Steven Javitz, is up to. He is producing the series Crossing South which has been getting some great buzz on PBS and in the San Diego Union Tribune.  It is currently only showing in Southern California, but is going to be rolled out to a PBS station near you soon.  Steven’s documentary, Visa Dream, has won an Emmy!

All About Spelling Level 3

Our All About Spelling Level 3 materials have arrived! I was planning on waiting until Bruce(6.5) went on Spring Break to get started with Level 3, but when he saw me punch out all of the cards he started to get excited too, and asked me if we could start now. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in our house one spelling lesson = 20 minutes of “screen time”. 🙂

There are 28 Steps in Level 3, and our plan is to do one step each week.  If we stay on track, Bruce would finish Level 3 right before he starts second grade.

This is what my box looks like with the Levels 1-3 now inside.

Here is our board set up for Level 3, including the special tags from Level 2 like the R controlled tag, and the open-door, closed-door syllable tags.

We began step one this morning while Jenna(2.5) watched half a Curious George episode on PBS kids. We still have about 5 minutes of the lesson left to complete, because we ran out of time before the school bus came.

AAS has imbedded review throughout the program, which is a really good thing since Bruce finished Level 2 almost two months ago! Today we reviewed some very important Key Cards, which we then got to see in action when Bruce built words that exemplified each spelling rule.

On a side note, it seems like every time I blog about AAS it is with a great deal of encomium. That’s not just because I signed up to be an AAS Affiliate. I signed up to be an Affiliate because I’m so impressed with the program, and because I have deep scars from living my whole life as a poor speller. That is what I do not want for my children.

Bummer! I wish I had heard of “Love and Logic” Sooner

I’m heading off to my Grandma’s house this weekend and so my husband is holding down the fort. I’m really looking forward to a plane ride without children.  Bring on a layover; I don’t care! 

One of the things I am excited to do while wedged back in Coach, is to finish reading Parenting Teens with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay.  Yes, I know I do not have teenagers, but this was the first Love and Logic book our library had available to check out.  I’m way down on the hold list for the rest of them.

This book on teenagers however, is so amazing that I have actually gone and purchased it to keep off of Amazon.  I want to read it again and again, and next time use a highlighter.  I also want my husband to read it, after I’ve written all of my little notes in the margins.  I guess I better order the book for younger children too…

One of the major subjects of Parenting Teens with Love and Logicis how to not argue with your teenagers, and the ways you can change your communication styles to avoid power struggles and no-win situations.  The book suggests that parents talk in a way that emphasizes what the parent will do, not what the teen should do.  Example: “I will serve you dinner after you have showered,” instead of “Take a shower right now!” 

The authors also make a clear case for what they call an “inverted triangle.”  When kids are little they should be have very few choices.  As kids grow up, the authors say that we should give kids more and more control over their own life, because the purpose of parenting is to raise adults who can think for themselves, not adults who do things because they are afraid of what their parents might say.  I wasn’t an authoritative-style parent to begin with, but the triangle idea still made me think.

Every time I read another chapter in this book my mind starts opening up a little bit more, and I see new ways I can improve how I interact with my kids.  Previously I was a Positive Discipline devote, both at home and in the classroom.  Love and Logic seems similar, but better.  I’ve tried a lot of the communication changes and they really work. Wow!

P.S.  For those of you have read any of the Love and Logic books, I hope you enjoyed my little joke in the title of this post.  🙂

What to Do on a Rainy Day

Sometimes as a stay-at-home-mom it can be easy to get bored, even though we love our children tremendously. On gray, rainy days like today I can certainly relate to Jen over at Post-Apocolaptic Homeschool when she writes about her son needing something new and fun to do every few day to stay engaged, on-target, and most importantly not bored.

These past few days I’ve felt like every toy in the house has already been played 1oo times. Then I read a post from Nicol at A Better Life for My Family about water coloring with your kids as a family activity. I immediately though, “Duh! How could I forget about the watercolors?” We have at least four sets, but they were tucked away in the cabinet and I had forgotten about them.

Even if I had remembered them, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to actually sit and paint with Jenna(2.5). I probably would have just sat there and watched her paint. But today I put down my coffee cup, and joined in on the action. Of course, me being me, I had to add my own spin to Nicol’s activity. We made a homemade book about it!

For more information on the how and why of Homemade books, please see here.

Jenna Paints

This is Jenna.

This is Maya the dog.

This is Bruce doing yoga.

This is Jenna on the couch.

This is what it looks like outside.

First Words to Read

This morning at breakfast Bruce(6.5), Jenna(2.5) and I discovered our neighbor’s Alaskan Huskie standing on our deck and staring at us through the sliding glass door. I bet you can guess what our Morning Message was about today!

After we had dropped Bruce off at the bus stop, Jenna had a second go at breakfast, and we re-read the Morning Message together. While she sat there munching on her corn flakes, I whipped together two Consonant Vowel Consonant flip books to correspond with the morning’s adventures.

Before when I have made CVC books for Jenna, I have used construction paper, a stapler, and a little bit of thought and time. But today I just whipped them together in five minutes. If they only last a couple of days and then get recycled, that’s okay! They do not have to be perfect or last forever. Their direct correlation to the present is what makes them so powerful.

Here are some pictures from our -at book:

In a classroom setting I use to have store-bought CVC flip books for children to work with, but homemade ones are even better! We saw a dog in our backyard today. Jenna asked me to make a dog book. Then she asked me to make a cat book. These words have meaning to Jenna, and that is what makes this a fun and joyful Constructivist activity, as opposed to a generic, prepackaged reading lesson.

Using a Morning Message at Home to Teach your Young Children How To Read

It’s fast.  It’s easy.  It’s free.

When I was teaching Kindergarten and first grade, every morning during circle time the children would help me write a giant Morning Message on the white board.  I would be the secretary, and the children would supply the ideas.  Usually I would pick a “star of the day” to be the lead voice in this endeavor, but everyone participated.

Since our Morning Message each day followed a clear, predictable pattern, the children knew what to expect. 

Helping children recognize words on sight, and anticipate what a sentence will say, draws from the Whole Language philosophy of teaching reading.

But I made sure that our daily Morning Message was also teaching phonics too.  I frequently chose simple, consonant-vowel-consonant words that I knew the kids were already learning to sound out.  While I wrote down each letter, I sounded it out, often exaggerating my speech.  The ‘T-H” in Thursday, became “Thhhhhhhhhhhh-urs-day.”  The “A-R” in party, became “Ar!  Ar! Ar!  The pirate sound Ar goes in party!”  The combination of Whole Language and Phonics methodologies is what makes the Morning Message an example of Balanced Literacy Instruction.

In my classroom, some of the first words my students learned to read were from the Morning Message.  

In my home, I used the Morning Message to teach my son Bruce(6.5) to read at a young age, and now I am using it to teach my daughter Jenna(2.5) too.

I have been writing a Morning Message with Jenna each day starting when she was 22 months old. I use to write our Morning Message on a mini white board that I kept on the refrigerator, but it has since fallen off and smashed.  So until I can buy a new one, we are just using white paper and I am taping it up to the kitchen cabinet instead.

Since this is such a malleable activity, the complexity of our writing has changed a lot over the past year.  Right now we are concentrating on patterned sentences, simple words she already knows phonetically or by sight, and new words that I want her to learn.

In today’s example, I put a box around Jenna and Mom because these are words that I know, that Jenna knows. I circled the word is, because this is the new sight word I am teaching.  Today’s message did not include any new c-v-c words to learn, but that was just an accident.  Jenna helps me think of what to write.  Since we wrote our message over our bowls of cereal today while we watched a bird eat from our feeder outside, Jenna wanted to write about eating breakfast.

After the message is written, I read it to Jenna several times and encourage her to read it with me.  I use my pen to point to each word as I read it, to model sound-to-word-correspondence.  Eventually, Jenna will be able to read the Morning Message all by herself.  My son Bruce could do this by age three.

Full disclaimer!  Sometimes I give Jenna a few chocolate chips after we have read the Morning Message together.  This really helps her “feel the love” for this activity.  🙂

Blogroll with Me, and I’ll Blogroll with You

Hello Teaching My Baby to Read Readers!  I am always interested in getting new ideas for how I can help be a better parent and at-home educator.  There are many homeschooling and Afterschooling blogs that I check on an almost daily basis.  Please be sure to check them out along the right-hand side of my blog.

In the hopes of getting new ideas (and new readers), I am launching a new plan this month.  If you put Teaching My Baby To Read as one of your blogroll links, then I will put your blog in my blogroll too. We can give it a month and see how things go.  I will check your blog a few times each week, for a whole month.  If we aren’t a good fit as blogger fellows, then at the end of the month we can remove each other’s links without any hurt feelings.
Bring on the new readers and fresh ideas!

Leaps in Learning

Exciting things are going on in Jenna’s brain right now, I just know it.  We are definitely nearing the end, of what I call “The Middle”, in my Where To Start Page for teaching young children to read.

Jenna is 32 months old, and I can see the jumps in learning she is making right before my eyes.  It started last week with her spelling the word M-O-M.  Then yesterday she asked to get out the tunnels and build the Letter Factory in our living room.  She laid out all of the letters from the Word Whammer out on the coffee table and pretended to build words. 

Jenna has also been dragging out the old school Leap Pad we have from Bruce.  I think the real name for it is “The Leap Frog Easy Reader Phonics Kit”.  Jenna is showing me that she understands word-to-word correspondence because she can touch each word one at a time to make the book talk.  When she was younger, she would have just wildly started coloring on the page.

I don’t know if this happens with your children, but with both of mine it seems like when they make giant developmental leaps it coincides with a change in or a disturbance to sleep patterns.  Can I insert an exasperated sight here?  Argh!  Jenna is hardly taking any naps at all anymore, and she only seems to need about ten hours of sleep a day.  The cozy days of my little girl napping in my arms while I blog away one handed, are long gone. 

Blink and you’ll miss it.  Toddlers turn into Preschoolers really quickly.

A Shot in the Arm of Love

My son Bruce has been taking swimming lessons these past couple of months, and while Jenna and I splash around in the “leisure pool”, and I try to get a bona fide workout in three feet of water, I have been people-watching. Two mothers in particular have really stood out to me.

One mother is bald and often wears a pink ribbon track suit. Sometimes her husband comes with her, and they sit together on the bleachers and watch their children swim. I’m sure that every other adult in the pavilion had noticed this mom, and probably sent up a private prayer for her. It is readily apparent that she deserves understanding and empathy because she is fighting for her life.

The other mother I have noticed also deserves compassion, but I think I’m probably the only person there who realizes this. Her fifth grader appears to be a total brat.  The swimming teachers are really frustrated with this child, and he doesn’t have any friends.  Sometimes he won’t even get in the water.  When he does get in the water, he plays with the water in a really odd way.  Instead of sitting on the bleachers chatting with the other parents or reading a magazine, this boy’s mom sits by herself, tensed up.  At times, she has even come in her swimsuit, in case she needs to get in the water with her son if he causes problems.  This mom might be worried that the other parents present think she is unfriendly and a bad parent.  Probably a lot of the other moms are in fact thinking this.  I however, am not.  I’m not a Psychologist, but I’m pretty darn sure her son has some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The thing is, he is high functioning enough to seem “normal” to people who are unfamiliar with the many nuances of what ASD can look like.  The other adults probably just think this kid is a jerk.

I wonder if the mom with breast cancer and the mom of the child with ASD have ever noticed each other, and if so, what they think of the other person’s circumstances.  The mother who is bald might not ever have the chance to see her children grow up, but at least she knows that her children are neurotypical, and will be able to follow an ordinary path in life.  The mother of the child with ASD might be with her son every day for the next forty years.  She will have to forge ahead, and clear a path for her child through schools, swimming lessons, and ordinary living.  But she will see her son grow up. 

I wish there was some way I could help both of these mothers, beyond praying for them.  I wish there was a way that I could tell both of them that I am noticing them, and I think they are both really brave.  I wish I could give them both a shot in the arm of love.

Jennifer Bardsley, M-O-M

Yesterday was a celebratory moment for us. My daughter Jenna(32months) was sitting by the couch in the living room, and she looked over into the basket were the Word Whammer was laying upside-down. She looked at it for a moment, and said “Two Ms, like in mom.”

I was really surprised, because although Jenna has known her letters and sounds for about six months now, she hasn’t shown any interest in blending. So I got out the cookie sheet and turned it around. Then I offered her the choice between an O, and an E, and asked her to spell mom for me. She picked out the O on her first try! Then Jenna proceeded to read the word mom to me many times. That’s as far as she could go. As my husband asked when he got home that night, Jenna could not spell dad.

When my son Bruce was two and a half we were having a snack at the Nordstrom’s cafe together one day, and I started writing out letters on the menu to keep him busy while we waited for our food to arrive. It was in that moment that I realized that Bruce could read simple Consonant Vowel Consonant words. I was startled and surprised, even though we had spent hours and hours watching phonics videos together. I looked around the restaurant excitedly, like there would be somebody there to share my joy. Of course there wasn’t, and I kept my mouth shut.

You know how the first time your child uses the potty you want to shout it from the rooftops? Well, I feel that way too, about my daughter spelling and reading her first word. But for some reason, it’s not socially acceptable to be proud of your child’s reading accomplishments. I’ll share my M-O-M moment on my blog, and with my husband and the grandmas, but never with ordinary people I know in real life. That would be cloying. Pooping in the potty at age two is okay to talk about. Reading a word is not.

But this isn’t a case of “Oh, my daughter is SO smart.” It’s the result of the time we have spent together, and the types of play activities we have enjoyed. All of these ideas I share for free on my Where to Start page, so that families of all academic and ability levels can get a jump start on learning too.

I don’t expect that Jenna will be reading Harry Potter any time soon, but I do envision her slowly starting to pick out more and more words on her own. If she follows her brother’s path (maybe she will, maybe she won’t), by age three she might be able to read level 1 Bob Books. By age 4 she would hopefully complete the series, and turn into a full-fledged, reader-beader.

All children learn and develop at different rates though, and that’s okay. No matter where my children are at in reading, as their M-O-M, I can appreciate the W-O-W.

Gifted Children Deserve Compassion and Empathy

Almost a year ago, when my son Bruce was still in regular-ed Kindergarten, I was at my wits end.  I knew in my heart that there was something extremely different about Bruce, and that he was most likely highly gifted, but my husband and I were still waiting for the results of his evaluations.  In the meantime, it seemed like each new day presented new opportunities for us all to be miserable, in ways that often resulted in high anxiety, huge explosions, and public humiliation. 

By contrast, my daughter Jenna who was a toddler at the time, spouted please and thank you without prompting, and gave out spontaneous hugs.  Our problems with Bruce were not related to bad parenting, even though from the outside looking in, other people might have been quick to blame my husband and me.

Bruce’s Kindergarten teacher (a really nice, and hard-working lady), kept telling me “I’ve only ever seen one other student like Bruce before in my twelve years of teaching.”  My mother-in-law said, “Your husband had already calmed down by this age.”  My own mother said “You only threw two tantrums in your whole life!” And Bruce?  With his words he told me, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to school anymore,” and with his actions he told me that he was freakin’ miserable.  All of his shirt collars were chewed up and his fingers were raw.  There was such a mismatch between what his intellect was capable of doing, and what his five year-old-maturity level was capable of expressing, that he was in deep sorrow.

Out of true desperation I thought of the smartest, wildest, craziest boy I knew growing up in the San Diego School District’s Seminar Program for highly gifted youth.  Then, I emailed his mother, “Help me Mrs. G.  Please help me, because I am failing my child.  There is nobody I can talk to who understands the situation like you would.  What should I do?”

Mrs. G immediately emailed me back and gave me phone numbers of people I could talk to, including people who worked with SENG.  She also told me that I was going to be an advocate for Gifted Education, and that I was going to speak up for children like our sons.

The phone numbers and links to SENG were great, but become an advocate for Gifted Education?  What the heck!  Maybe I could have done that when I was a teacher, or a summer school principal, but now I was *just* a stay at home mom.  I had given up my voice, so that I could be there for my children…or had I?

About a month later I started Teaching My Baby to Read Blog with the intention of helping parents ensure that their children are academically advantaged regardless of age, ability or socioeconomic level.  As an added bonus, blogging has also allowed me to speak up on behalf of the importance of Gifted Education.

Those of you are regular readers of my blog know that my son Bruce is a happy, well-adjusted first grader in a Gifted Education program today.  He has amazing teachers who understand him, friends who are just as intense as he is, and Bruce no longer feels the need to chews up his shirts.  My husband and I have a lot more support now, because we have other parents to talk to, both in-person and online.  The SENG website and conference we attended last year have also been amazing resources for our entire family, grandparents included.

Recently I read a very nasty attack of gifted families on BabyCenter.com.  Let this blog post serve as my retort.