Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Really Nice Chirography

Here’s a letter that my son Bruce(6.5) wrote this weekend that I will not be mailing to my sister-in-law who is 9 months pregnant! It’s too bad he included that sentence about her looking funny (because she was so pregnant), because otherwise this is pretty good handwriting for Bruce considering that chirography has never been his strong suit.

For her part, my daughter Jenna(2.5) has started writing “O” and “I” on any writing surface she can find; writing paper, Magna Doodle, wallpaper, closet door, leather couch… you name it! We have to be very careful that all of the pens, pencils, and crayons are up high. This is really hard to do with an older brother in the house.

Another interesting thing to note (which you can see in this picture), is that Jenna is very clearly left-handed like her brother. My husband and I both find this interesting because we are each right handed. I’m not sure developmentally when hand dominance is supposed to be settled, but we have been watching Jenna for a long time now, and are 100% sure that she is a leftie.

Plastic Canvas Kids Project

This is what I’m going to be up to for the next few days; creating 60 plastic canvas needlepoint kits for an activity at Bruce’s school. I decided to write a blog post about it because when I had Googled Plastic Canvas Kids Project I hadn’t come up with what I was looking for, and ended up having to “wing it”.

What I came up with was a bookmark with your mom’s initials on it, as a present to create for Mother’s Day. I bought three sheets of plastic canvas for fewer than five dollars, and then cut out the bookmarks myself. I have intentionally left the sample unfinished so that the kids can see that they need to write their mom’s initials with a dry erase marker.

I’ve had Bruce(6.5) do a test-run for me, and WHOA! This might be a lot harder for first and second graders than I thought. After watching my son try this, I decided that I need to have each bookmark started, and every needle threaded, ready to go.

This is how I am starting each bookmark. I need to do this 60 times!

After each bookmark is started, it goes in its own Ziploc bag with a little ball of matching yarn.

The reason that I suggested this project for first and second graders, is because sewing involves fine motor skills, which help build the hand muscles kids need to print and write cursive neatly. Sewing also teaches spatial orientation, planning ahead, and critical thinking. It may sound pedantic, but this type of project will also impart basic life lessons like how to thread a needle, which will come in handy if one of these kids ever needs to sew on a button in the future.

Setting all of this up is a lot more labor intensive than I had originally anticipated, but also a lot cheaper than I would have thought. Each pack of size 16 or 18 needles was about 2 dollars for five needles. I only needed 3 sheets of the plastic canvas, and Bruce’s teachers had left over yarn and Ziploc baggies. So I can make all 60 kits for under $20! I was thinking today while I was stitching away, that this could be a good craft project for our church’s annual family camp this summer, but of course— I never want to see another plastic canvas bookmark again!!! That’s too bad, because I still have 39 kits left to create.

SAT Words for 2 Year Olds

As luck would have it, there has been an especially nice run of words on my tear-off daily calendar this week. A lot of the words are appropriate to teach to Jenna(2.5). If I want my daughter to someday have a vaunted vocabulary, then I need to be mindful of working new words into our ordinary conversation, every day.

Yesterday’s word was scour. That’s a really easy word to use with Jenna when we are playing with our toy kitchen. We really need to scour that sink out!

In a few days, the word will be inkling. I can use that word while Jenna is engaged in one of her new favorite activities, doing a simple magic trick from Bruce’s Magic Box.

Here’s the red fluffy ball.

Jenna puts it in the box.

She closes the box and makes the red fluffy ball disappear. I have no inkling how she does it! 😉

The Founders’ Key, Review

If I could have a “dream book club” to discuss Larry P. Arnn’s The Founders’ Key I would invite the author himself, the late Ayn Rand (of Atlas Shrugged fame), Douglas Wilson (Classical Christian Education advocate and author of Southern Slavery, As It Was), and Sarah Palin (Tea Party darling).

In this imagined dinner party Dr. Arnn would edify us all about the great significance and impact of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  Ayn Rand would agree with Dr. Arnn that the so-called “fourth branch of government” (the regulators and bureaucrats), must be cut down to size. 

Douglas Wilson would be invited because of a shared common interest with Arnn in Classical Education (at least, I’m assuming this based on footnote 3:4 on page 200).  Also, because after reading in “Christianity Today” that Wilson refers to himself as a paleo-confederate, I would really like to hear someone as learned and respected as Dr. Arnn stick that type of racism to its sticking place.  Arnn makes very clear in chapter six of The Founders’ Key that while some of the founding fathers could be accused of hypocrisy at time, they were not white supremacists and that type of thinking is nonviable with the founding principles of our country. 

The last invitee to my imagined book club night, Sarah Palin, would be there to secure out spot on the evening news.

For my own contribution to the book discussion, I would offer that I thought that Dr. Arnn’s book was meticulously researched and well written.  However, I’m not sure that I agree with his main thesis; that the Constitution is under attack by Progressives.  I think that the Constitution has always been under attack from one political group or another, but that the great beauty of the Constitution is that it can hold up, no matter what type of ideology is thrown against it.  Take Prohibition for example.  To me, the 18th and 21st amendments indicate that the Constitution is both flexible and unchanging at the same time. 

On the question of the constitutionality of mandatory healthcare, I am more likely to think with my heart, instead of my head.  But I trust that the nature of our political system in America, will ferret out what is legal.  Hopefully, that will include ensuring that children of my neighbors can see the doctor when they are ailing.

Now I believe, imaginary dessert and coffee are being served!  Thank you Booksneeze for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Dress-Up Clothes and Why We Need Them

Dress-up clothes are a big deal in our house, and we have an extensive collection of costumes packed into their own trunk, pictured behind Jenna(2.5).  When my son Bruce was three and four, my MIL would take him to buy a new costume once a month.  We also have a lot of hand-me-down costumes.  So now, sometimes I even have trouble closing the trunk’s lid.

Since my husband and I have chosen for our kids to go to Montessori for preschool, having a giant hoard of dress-up clothes for my kids to dally with is really important.  True Montessori schools like the one Jenna is registered to attend in the fall, do not by nature include dramatic play activities.  In fact, if you visit a “Montessori” school and see kids dressed up like firefighters, it’s a safe bet that you are seeing a fake Montessori.  Since Montessori isn’t a licensed term, any school can slap it on their title without consequence.  A real Montessori school will have a bevy of bizarre objects and manipulatives for the kids to “work” with, that you don’t even recognize.  I often found myself staring through the one way window at Bruce’s preschool class thinking “What the heck is that thing?”

Some educators and parents give the Montessori philosophy a really hard time because of its stance against dramatic play.  After all, research shows that dramatic play is really important for children, and can actually make them smarter.  My opinion is that it is really easy for families like ours to have dress-up clothes, toy kitchens, toy lawn mowers etc. at home.  What is difficult is to recreate the highly unusual activities they have going on in good Montessori classrooms.  Jen at Post-Apocalyptic Homeschool does a really good job creating Montessori styled experiences for her son at home, but boy is she dedicated!  That’s a lot of work! 

Where we live, the wonderful, three hours a day/three days a week Montessori Jenna will attend in fall only costs $300 a month.  Although that price would still be out of reach for a lot of families, it is extremely cheap compared to where we use to live in California.  So we are lucky that Jenna will be able to have a great Montessori experience, just like her big brother.  At home, it’s a safe bet that there will be a lot of princess tea parties in my future!

Make My Child Smarter

I apologize for the horrible title of this post, but as a blogger I have to think about the zeitgeist we live in, which means thinking of search words people might look up on Google. The real title of this post is “Channel Factors for Success When Educating Your Child at Home.” Yup. Nobody’s going to search for that on Google.

For those of you who aren’t Psychology majors, a channel factor is something that makes a behavior easier to do. If you go to sleep in your exercise clothes for example, it might be easier to wake up the next morning and go to the gym. If you put your computer and briefcase in front of the garage door in the evening, you might be less likely to forget them when you leave for work in the morning (heh, hum, Mr. Bardsley). If you cut up a bunch of carrot sticks and put them in the refrigerator, you might be more likely to eat vegetables the next time you get the munchies. Those are all channel factors.

Right now in our household things have been totally crazy. We have relatives in town, swimming lessons, Bruce’s science project and book report due, new mattresses being delivered, volunteer projects spread out over the kitchen counters… Normally things aren’t so chaotic around here, but right now everything is in an uproar. Doing something fun with Bruce like playing Hands On Equations is out of the question at the moment. But thankfully, Afterschooling is still going on, just in a bare-bones fashion. I’ve built channel factors into our regular operations to make that happen.

Every morning at breakfast, Jenna(2.5) clamors to do the Morning Message because she knows she will get a few chocolate chips afterwards. This only takes about three or four minutes, and starts the morning off with a mini-reading lesson tailored for my two year old. Right now we are working on recognizing her name, and some simple consonant-vowel-consonant words.

Our word a day calendar is located on the desk in front of the kitchen table. Bruce sees it while he’s eating his cereal, and usually asks what today’s new word is. SAT prep for my six year old, before 8AM? Can’t beat that!

The presidential flashcards are located in the cabinet right above where I pack Bruce’s lunch. So it is really easy to stash one in his lunch, on the off-chance that he might read it.

Once we hit the car to race to the bus-stop (if we are really late), or head off to swimming lessons after school, I turn on the CD player and it is time for Carschooling. There is always a CD loaded, ready to go.

Those are my favorite channel factors for adding some extra education at home. What are yours? I’m always looking for new tips and tricks!

LM Montgomery, Suicide and Depression

Recently one of my friends from church has suffered the loss of her father due to mental illness.  I thought it was very brave of my friend to be so upfront about saying this, because it takes some of the stigma away from depression and other mental health issues. 

Another family that has done an enormous public service along this vein is the Montgomery family, the heirs to Lucy Maud Montgomery who was the author of Anne of Green Gables and other beloved classics.  When Canadian television ran a documentary about suicide and depression, the Montgomery family released their long held family secret, in the hope of helping others.  LM Montgomery had succumbed to a life-long battle with depression and ended her own life.

When I read this as an adult I was truly shocked.  My two favorite authors growing up were LM Montgomery, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.  As it turns out, The Little House on the Prairie series was most likely written by Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo’s brilliant and unhappy daughter who also suffered from depression.  So now it turns out that the entire body of work (exclusive of the Bible), that was critical to my identity formation as a young tween was written by two women who suffered from mental illness.

In retrospect, the revelation about LM Montgomery makes a lot of sense.  If you have read any of her work you know that she often described what she called “white nights”.  These were times when her characters work up at 3AM and brooded; worrying so much that they were unable to fall asleep.  As an adult I can see that sure, everyone goes through tough times at one point or another and has trouble sleeping, but to actually have this happen to you so often that you name it, could be a sign of mental distress.

Another common element of LM Montgomery’s work was her characters expressing the point of view that there was only one path for them, towards happiness.  In the Emily of New Moon series, this was termed “the Alpine Path”.  As a child, I took this a gospel truth; that smart, brilliant people were hard-core and pursued their goals single mindedly whatever the cost.  Now as an adult, I can see how psychologically detrimental that narrative can be.  Happiness is a choice, not a state of being, and there are many avenues towards achieving a happy life.  When I was 18 I got turned down by Harvard, but I went to Stanford instead and that ended up being okay!  🙂

I still absolutely love all of LM Montgomery’s work.  Plot-lines, creativity, passion, funambulism with scenic descriptions… To this day, she remains one of my top five favorite authors of all time.  I would be devastated if my either of my children did not love her work as much as I do.  But when Bruce and Jenna do read Montgomery’s books someday, I’m going to have a lot of new talking points to discuss with them.  I am also saddened that LM Montgoemery did not live in a time where modern medicine could have done more to help her.

Quantity Identification and Adults

Last week when I posted about playing The Quarter Game with Jenna(2.5), Lia from One Mouthful posed an interesting question. What type of quantities are adults capable of visualizing? Unfortunately, I have no idea, even after trying to figure out the answer via Google! Instead, my son Bruce(6.5) and I have been conducting our own experiments on each other. I can visualize up to seven quarters within 3 seconds, and he can visualize 6. We still need to try this out on my husband.

Interestingly, when we used two or three different colors, we could both go a lot higher. This reminded me of some Right Start mathematics literature I read by Dr. Joan Cotter, which encourages teaching your child to recognize the quantity 5 as being two on each side with one in the middle. (I can’t remember the specific place where I read that, or I would include the link).

So for me as a parent who is trying to anneal my daughter’s math skills, once Jenna has the quantity 4 nailed, then I should start introducing 5 as four of one color, and one of another. As soon as Jenna can do that, then I’m going to start her out on the first few lessons of Right Start Level A. I tried this a couple of months ago, and she wasn’t ready back then. But I think she is going to be ready soon.

A Fresh Idea for School Fundraisers

If you are a public school parent like me then you are probably sick of auctions, walk-a-thons, and wrapping paper sale fundraisers.  But last night my husband and I got to go to a school fundraiser that was actually a lot of fun.  Our school’s PTA organized a Comedy Night for our whole city. 

Comedy Night featured three local comedians of varying degrees of celebrity, and a fourth comedian from California.  Each comedian was sponsored by a local company.  They also got sponsorship for the VIP reception beforehand which had wine and food.  Since let’s face it, not many people want to go to another school auction, let alone an auction that isn’t even for your kid’s school, the PTA marketed Comedy Night to surrounding communities, without highlighting that it was a school fundraiser at all.   This marketing strategy worked, and all 750 tickets were sold-out!

I’m not sure how much money was raised, but in “fun-factor” terms, my husband and I laughed so hard that our face muscles hurt.  The lady sitting next to me was even crying.  We will definitely be attending Comedy Night next year, and bringing some friends with us.

Find the Four and Five Year Olds


Could we close the #OpportunityGap with TV?

What if, an elementary school in a struggling neighborhood had multiple sets of Leap Frog videos? What if, that elementary school targeted the four and five year old siblings of enrolled students, and gave those children access to the phonics videos, in sequential, three week intervals?  What if those four and five year olds entered Kindergarten in the fall already knowing their letters, sounds, and C-V-C words?

For $150 you could buy nine or ten Leap Frog and Preschool Prep videos, a box of Ziploc backs, and a ream of copy paper.  Then you would bag up the videos with the following flyers:

Congratulations on being _________’s little brother!  Greenwood Elementary school is so excited to have you as part of our extended family, and we are looking forward to you entering Kindergarten this fall.  Are you ready to start your learning adventure a bit early? If so, go ahead and borrow The Letter Factory for the next three weeks, and watch it as much as you would like.  Return this video on _________ and we will send home The Talking Words Factory for you to borrow next.  Happy viewing!

Would this idea work?  Would it improve test scores?  Should I let this idea go, or should I think about it some more?

All About Spelling For Adults

I’ve made no secret that I am a horrible speller.  Even though I wrote down every single word on my spelling list 25 times (no joke), all through my childhood, I never learned to spell well.  This has caused no end of embarrassment, although I have learned a lot of coping strategies over the years.  On AP tests and during college finals, I would simply choose words that I knew how to spell, even if I really wanted to use bigger, better words that were more impressive.  I also heavily rely on spell check, but even that is not fool-proof.  When I was a third grade teacher, I was lucky that the parents in my classroom were very understanding when I once sent out a classroom email about the read aloud book we were doing, Loser by Jerry Spinelli, and spelled it L-O-O-S-E-R!

I really want things to be different for my own children, which is why I’m willing to count my pennies, and invest in All About Spelling.  So far Bruce(6.5) has completed Levels 1 and Level 2.  The strange thing is, I have been amazed at how much I have learned in the process. 

As parents it is really easy to give all of your time and resources to your children, but I decided to be a bit selfish, and do something daring last month.  It may sound crazy,but I bought AAS Level 6 for myself!  Deep down, there is still a flickering hope that I might be able to learn to spell, and I am hopeful that Level 6 is the vade mecum I am looking for. 

Since I am an adult using this program, I am doing thing a little bit differently.  For starters, I am using the green cards diagnostically to find out how many words I don’t know.  My teacher and quiz partner?  That would be my son Bruce, who loves his new role as spelling master!  We are going through 30 word sets at a time, and Bruce is really enjoying his power-trip.

I can already see how much I have learned from Levels 1 and 2, because  a lot of words that I have previously misspelled like “accident”, or “occupy”, I am now getting right.   I  can picture the AAS “open door”, “closed door” syllable tags in my head. For the first time, I understood why there are two Cs! I’m also picturing the tiles, moving around in my brain.  This is monumental for me, because I have never been a person who could see how a word was supposed to look before.  I still can’t visualize the whole word, but I can see the tiles for some reason.

As it turns out, most of Level 6 is too easy.  Level 7 would probably be a better choice for me once it is released this year.  But I’m still going to read and work through the lessons, because I am making so many new spelling connections that I can hardly believe it.  Just ripping out the green cards to begin with, taught me a lot because it showed me the patterns in words, and how I could use those patterns to be a stronger speller.

If I can spell “raccoon”, then I should be able to spell “account”.  If I know the difference between “angle” and “angel”, then I should also be able to spell “camel” and “nickel”, without reversing the E-L.  If I can picture all of those words as little blue and red tiles moving around in my head, then I don’t need to be a spelling L-O-O-S-E-R after all.  🙂

What Girl Scouting Has Meant to Me

(Flying up to Juniors)

On March 12, 2012 the Girl Scouts will celebrate their 100th anniversary, and in honor of this they are launching “The Year of the Girl”. When I watched their announcement of this on Good Morning America yesterday all of my wonderful memories of Girl Scouting came flooding back, and I wanted to add my voice to the celebration.

Girl Scouting was a huge influence on my childhood. I was never a “rough and tumble” type, and neither was my mom. Scouting took us places where we would never have gone otherwise. Hiking, camping, horseback riding, archery… You name it, Troop 3021 tried it!

Some of my best friends today, are friends from Girl Scouts.

We learned everything from simple home repairs, to how a power plant worked. As young girls, we were girls who were going someplace, because we had strong leaders (like my mother) who were showing us what our lives could become.

Some of the most precious values I hold dear today come verbatim from the circa 1977 Girl Scout Law:

I will do my best:

  • to be honest
  • to be fair
  • to help where I am needed
  • to be cheerful
  • to be friendly and considerate
  • to be a sister to every Girl Scout
  • to respect authority
  • to use resources wisely
  • to protect and improve the world around me
  • to show respect for myself and others through my words and actions

As sometimes happens in life, Troop 3021 fell apart somewhere in the middle of Cadets, but that doesn’t mean that my Girl Scout experience stopped there. In high school I spent two years as a Counselor in Training at Camp Sherman, the largest Girl Scout Camp in the Country. Then in college, I spent a summer there working as Nature Director. Camp Sherman was what solidified in my mind that I wanted to become a teacher.

Someday when my daughter is old enough, you can bet your sweet bottom that I’ll be her troop leader, But you don’t have to have daughters to participate in Girl Scouts. There are so many other ways to be involved. Are you a woman in the workplace? How about inviting a troop of girls to come tour your office. Are you interested in camping? You can volunteer your services at camp one weekend, and help pay for a “campership” so that a disadvantaged girl can go to camp. And of course, the easiest way to participate is the yummiest. When you buy a box of Girl Scout cookies, you are supporting a mighty good cause. Scouts honor!