Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Simply Grillilng by Jennifer Chandler

This weekend I’ve been cooking from Jennifer Chandler’s new book, Simply Grilling, which I received a complimentary copy of from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review. If I could write just one word about this book it would be WOW!

If you are a fan of cookbooks with pictures then this book delivers with full color photographs of every recipe. If you are a fan of international cooking, then this book will take your dinner table to new realms. If you are a fan of easy recipes, then this book is for you. The instructions are simple and most ingredients can be found in your local supermarket.

I decided to give myself a jump-start on the week by spending a couple of hours on Saturday turning my refrigerator into my own deli counter by preparing three of the grilled salads and sides from Chandler’s book.

Asparagus and Cherry Tomato Salad from page 133

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad from page 145

Grilled Lime Sweet Potatoes from page 185

I also prepped for Chicken Drumsticks with Mustard BBQ Sauce (page 67) to make later this week, as well as Grilled Filets with Gremolata (page 95) to make tonight. Since it is 41 degrees outside and raining in sheets, I used my indoor grill pan without any problems. Everything tastes delicious and looks really healthy.

If I had one comment for the editors of this book it would be that in future editions I think you should annotate the Gluten Free recipes. By my estimation, almost all of these recipes are GF and many of them could be modified to be GF/CF as well. To a GF eater like me, that is a strong selling point of Simply Grilling that could be highlighted.

Create a Reading Nest

This idea doesn’t cost any money at all! See if you can carve out a tiny bit of space in your house to build a “Reading Nest”  The spot should be just big enough for your child, a pillow, and some books.   This special spot for independent reading doesn’t have to look great from an interior decorating standpoint, and it doesn’t have to stay part of your decor forever. Feel free to turn things back around when the novelty has worn off.

1 in 88 is WAY TOO MANY!

The CDC has come out with new data today showing that the rate of Autism Spectrum Disorder is now 1 in every 88 American children. For boys, the numbers are even worse. The research that was collected from 14 different data gathering places in 2008, says that 1 in every 54 boys has Autism. That’s a 78% increase in Autism in just five years.

As a family member, former teacher, and friend to people with ASD, I am just crushed. I know I should count my blessings and be grateful that my own children do not have ASD, but I am heartsick for all of the parents who are not so lucky.

My blog is apolitical by nature, and I’m not trying to change that, but what the heck? 1 out of every 88 Americans born today will have to struggle to learn how to do the simplest of things, like ask their mommy for a cup of apple juice, and that doesn’t concern the powers that be? You would think that this huge increase in Autism would be at the forefront of national security.

Who is going to take care of these children in the future? Who is going to pay for these children now? How are families going to manage? How are school districts going to manage? What happens if the problem gets worse? Why isn’t this front page news, every single freaking day?

What if these kids are the proverbial “canary in the coal mines” giving us a clue that something is terribly wrong with our environment, or our DNA, or (my MIL would say) our medical practices? When I think of my own experience of all of a sudden developing severe gluten intolerance in my 30s, I get even more freaked out. Is there something in our food supply? Was there something in our food supply when my mother was pregnant with me, or when my grandmother was pregnant with my mother?

My husband calls Autism “the black hole of conversation” in our family, because we can all talk about it for so long; spinning our wheels and getting more and more upset. So instead of doing that, I’m going to be proactive. I’m hunting down a blue light bulb so I can participate in Autism Speak’s Light It Up Blue day of advocacy on Monday April 2. I’m also going to open my wallet and make a donation in honor of my mom’s birthday. I wish I could do more.

Wii Did It!

It’s not cheap being a stay-at-home-mom. For one thing, I’m not making any money. For another, my earning power came to a stand-still six years ago, and another state away. On the plus side, we save a lot of money on childcare, not going out to eat, and our really lousy housekeeper (me!).

Recently, my husband and I decided to aggrandize our saving potential by canceling cable TV. Our rates just jumped up to almost $100 a month for DVR and cable television in two rooms. That’s over $1,000 a year that we could have been contributing to our children’s 529 plans. Still, the thought of not being able to turn on PBS Kids while I made dinner made me really nervous. How was I ever going to get the nitty-gritty stuff done in the house?

Yesterday I was trying to exorcise all remaining flu germs by cleaning the bathrooms. Jenna(2.5) felt she wasn’t getting enough attention, so she dumped her sippy cup of apple juice on the carpet. I soaked up the juice, and was putting the rags into the washer when Jenna grabbed a red marker and colored all over her body and the playroom wall! Then, when I was trying to wipe off the walls, she ran into the bathroom, slammed the door and tried to eat toothpaste. Ahh! Why do I even bother trying to clean the house? It’s not worth my daughter suffering from possible fluoride poisoning.

I don’t know if I can handle being a SAHM without TV, so I started talking to people to find out how other families handle screen time and television. A lot of these were conversations that made me feel like I should have “OLD FOAGIE” written across my forehead. Our television is 14 years old, so if we plug it into the wall, all it will get is fuzz because it can’t receive digital signals on its own. Netflix, our old frugal standby from our newlywed days, no longer mails out DVDs. Our local Blockbuster is closed. Whoa! The whole television industry has radically changed and I didn’t even notice because I was too busy writing out large checks to the cable company.

So here’s our hoped for solution; I purchased a Wii with the Sports and Resorts package, as well as a Wii Fit. Previously, my husband and I had held firm against any type of gaming system at all, because we thought it would be too addictive for Bruce(7). But we talked about it, and figured that “active” games would probably be okay. Since I don’t have a gym membership, maybe the Wii Fit will be fun for me too.

Now, our plan is to get Netflix and Hulu Plus streamed through the Wii for a grand total of $15.98 a month. Even with the second Wii remote I just had to buy, that still comes to “a heck of a lot cheaper than FIOS”. I think this will all pay for itself within six months. Having a dinosaur of a television is a good thing in this case, because if a Wii controller accidentally goes flying through the screen, it’s no big deal.

Maybe now I can finally finish cleaning the house…

P.S. In neurotically researching all of this, I realized that bloggers can sign up to be Netflix Affiliates. So if any of my blogging friends would like to do this, leave a comment and I will happily click through you.

Seed Tape With My Two Year Old

I have no idea if this will work at all, but today Jenna(2.5) and I made seed tape for spinach and arugula seeds. We used paper towels, a paintbrush, and a paste made of whole wheat flour and water. I followed instructions I found here.

Jenna was “helpful” for about seven minutes, and then went off to watch Elmo while I finished. Spinach seeds are really hard for a two year old to pick up.

I wanted to try using seed tape this year instead of directly sowing my spinach and arugula seeds because I am a very lazy planter. I am much better with seeds you can scatter, like lettuce. To make matters worse, my husband is an engineer, and so he is exceeding careful whenever he plants beets. Then, he spends the rest of the summer mocking my rows.  Let’s see who’s the most obsessive planter this year! 🙂

Planting Peas

Everyone in our family has been down for the count with the flu, except for my WONDERFUL husband who has been taking care of us. Today Jenna and I were finally feeling a bit better, so we went out to plant peas.

Pea planting is a great fine-motor activity for little kids, because unlike lettuce or carrot seeds, peas are big enough to pinch in two fingers. Jenna used sticks to poke the holes, and smoosh them in.

Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me until later to try sprouting some peas indoors so Jenna could watch the seeds burgeon. By that point, we were out of peas so we used beans instead!

Five Block Weekends

(A Screen Shot From my Computer)

Five Block Weekend PDF

Our family has been struggling recently with really crazy weekends. Bruce(6.5), Jenna(2.5), my husband and I all have so many interests, responsibilities, and pursuits that we approach our weekends with a list of expectations a mile long.

For my husband and me it means housework, yard work, grocery shopping, and time to relax?–what’s that??? For our kids, it means wanting adult attention 100% of the time. When it is just Bruce, Jenna and I alone at home, they both understand that at some point I’m going to make dinner and that they will be responsible for coming up with their own fun time. But when my husband is home…yikes! They won’t leave him alone for five minutes. My husband is such a wonderful, hands-on dad that it is hard for him to not let our children totally dominate him.

Often times Sunday night has rolled around and I have found myself telling my husband “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m really glad that tomorrow’s Monday and that things will get back to normal around here.” That’s usually when he tells me “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m really glad I’m going back to work!”

Obviously, something has to change. It’s not fair to either of us to be slaves to our children, our house, or our yard. So I tapped into the scheming part of me that was once a Psychology major, and came up with a behavior modification plan for our whole family. I call it Five Block Weekends. Here’s how it works:

The five blocks are: Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon. Every member in the family gets the opportunity to choose a Fun Time activity of their own choosing. Fun Time for a two year old might mean going to the park. Fun Time for a teenager might be a driving lesson.  Fun Time for parents might be going to the tool store by yourself.

Mom and Dad get their own Fun Times outright. It is assumed that they have worked hard all week to help take care of the family and that they deserve their own three hour window of alone time. But kids have to earn their Fun Times by choosing to meet whatever expectations the parents lay out, two blocks in a row.

Right now the weekend expectations I have for my kids are that they will choose to be friendly, helpful, kind, pleasant and responsible. If one child has two great blocks in a row but the other doesn’t, then one sibling goes off to the beach for a picnic with Dad, while the other child sits at home and thinks. One child’s choice to be in a sour mood should not mean that the whole family’s weekend is ruined. I am giving my children control of their own outcomes. At the same time I’m being clear that they do not have control over other people’s time and opportunity to relax.

We have tried this plan one week so far and it’s worked out prettywell. Jenna got to go to Toys R Us to buy bubbles Saturday afternoon and to the frozen yogurt shop Sunday night. My husband went to REI Saturday morning, and I got to go grocery shopping by myself after church. That was awesome! Another unnamed family member made some different choices last weekend and has hopefully learned a lot. 🙂

Simple Secrets to a Happy Life, by Luci Swindoll

I really enjoyed reading Luci Swindoll’s Simple Secrets to a Happy Life. There is nothing in the book that is especially profound, but Swindoll’s writing is so positive and upbeat that I felt like I got a shot in the arm of optimism after each chapter.

This is saying a lot because I finished the last few chapters sitting on the couch next to my two-year-old who had spent the morning throwing up on me and various surface areas of our house and car. I feel like I can hear Swindoll whispering in my ear, “So what? You’ve got health insurance, you’ve got cable, you’ve got a working washing machine, and you’ve got time to spend with your daughter keeping her company until she feels better.  Look for the rainbows instead of the clouds.”

In addition to being up-beat, this book is very life-situation-neutral. It doesn’t zone in on any one gender, age, or family circumstance. It could serve as a great hostess present or graduation gift for somebody you didn’t know very well, with the caveat that Swindoll is writing primarily for a Christian audience. I’m going to drop my copy in the mail as a surprise for my dad’s cousin Barbara Jo. I think this book will make her smile too.

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

Behavioral Problems at School and What a Teacher Might Do About Them

Please note, this post is not about either of my children (at the moment) thank goodness!

I hope no parent reading this post needs this information, but in case you do I’m sending you a big blogosphere hug! Here is some education for you as a parent, about the tools an elementary school teacher has at her disposal to help a child who is having chronic behavioral issues. I’m writing them out in a continuum, from a starting disciplinary measure to the most extreme.

For Starters

  • Notes home (the teacher is probably saving copies)
  • Calls home (the teacher is probably making a record of these in her file)
  • Loss of recess (the teacher is probably keeping track of this too)
  • Staying after school (not really done any more, in my experience)
  • Moving seats

Getting Stickier

  • An isolated seat
  • A seat with a cardboard “office” around it
  • Being sent to the office (some teachers do this as a starter step)
  • A conference with mom and dad to set up a behavioral plan (this is when all of those notes the teacher has been keeping come out)

Really Hairy

  • Sending a child to a lower-grade classroom to “shame” them (I don’t like this option)
  • Sending a child to an upper-grade classroom to “make them afraid” (I don’t like this option either)
  • Sending a child outside the classroom door to work (doesn’t work in CA schools because of the open floor plan)
  • In-school suspension
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

And Now For Some Out of the Box Ideas That Can Help…

  • Recess –This should be obvious, bud sadly is not. Make sure the child gets to go outside and play!
  • Stamp books— Make a little book by the child’s desk and stamp it every time you catch the child being good
  • Tactile discs for kids to sit on –Sometimes this helps kids with ADHD focus
  • A classroom microphone for the teacher — Research has also shown that this can help children focus
  • Sending a child to a lower-grade classroom for a few hours to feel safe, clear his head, and take a breather
  • Paying attention to low blood sugar issues.
  • Sending a child to walk a labyrinth
  • Providing fidget toys for children
  • Providing “a cave” in the classroom for children to take a break in
  • Figuring out the hot-button times for a child, and then asking the school district to consider providing a Para-educator, adult volunteer, or older student buddy for those time-periods

Finally, one of the symptoms of being a chronic know-it-all is that I love to offer help and advice. 🙂 If you would ever like to email me privately with specific situations or children in mind, I can be reached at teachingmybabytoread at gmail dot com.

March Madness

March is usually pea-planting time where we live, but this month I’ve been lazy.  It’s a good thing too, because today we woke up to snow!

Our composters were frozen shut.

Asparagus tips were poking up through ice.

Our artichokes and rhubarb got pounded.  I think I might wait until April to put my kids to work planting peas this year…

Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens, by Connie Rae

Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens by Connie Rae has a lot of real gems in it that I appreciate even though my children’s teenage years are still on the horizon.  I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review on both my blog and on Amazon.com.  I am giving this book 3 stars.

I love Connie Rae’s idea on pp. 97-98 about leaving a surprise word of encouragement taped to the milk carton, when you and your child are going through a rough time. That’s definitely a tip worth remembering! Her emphasis on prioritizing family time (p118) is an important concept to remember too. Chapter 3’s theme of taking care of your children and teens by nurturing and protecting your marriage is a really refreshing addition to a parenting book, which I have not seen before.

My favorite advice is from page 192 when Rae shares her three rules to teach our kids to live by, adapted from her time as the parent-ed instructor at her community college’s preschool. (We are very active in our local community college preschool too.) To paraphrase, the three rules are: 1) Don’t hurt yourself, 2) Don’t hurt somebody else, and 3) Don’t hurt your toys. —Simple advice, but awesome!

If I was the parent of a troubled teen I think I would probably read every book out there about how to help my child, and how to cope. There are many parts of this book that would offer me hope and encouragement, as promised in the title. The problem I have with Hope for Parents of Trouble Teens is that even though I am a member of the United Methodist Church, this book is written for a Christian audience and I’m not sure that Connie Rae would consider me the “right” type of Christian.

The author really threw me on page 128 when she was discussing evaluating your church to determine if it was a good fit for your teen. One of the questions she wants parents to ask is whether or not your church is “too liberal”. What should church have to do with politics? Interestingly, she does not advise parents to question whether or not your church is “too conservative”.

I also have concerns about how Rae addresses (or does not address) teenage sexual orientation. On page 19 the author interprets Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” with the advice that parents need to discover and honor the individual bent and nature of a child. Great! I love that thinking. But then on page 114 Rae says that parents need to help teens find “an acceptable masculine or feminine role and to learn sex-appropriate behavior.”  What the heck is that supposed to mean for parents of gay teens? From Rae’s caution against churches that are “too liberal”, I have a guess. The author could have used this passage to encourage parents to accept teenagers of any sexual orientation, but she did not. I really wish she had.

Find Your Neighborhood School

I am late to go volunteer at Bruce’s school!  The insane needlepoing project continues…  So today, I’ll leave you with a freshened up version of an earlier post, which is very near and dear to my heart as both a teacher and parent.

“What school is my house zoned for?”  As a former teacher, I think that should be the most important question you ask before you buy or rent a house.  It always amazes me how many parents I meet in “Mommy and Me” groups who are clueless about what school their house is zoned for.  I always politely nod and mumble, “Oh, you still have a while to figure that out yet,” but inwardly I’m shocked.

One of the main reasons my husband and I chose to raise our children in our town was because of the stellar reputation of our local school district.  We would rather rent a shack next to the best school, in the best school district possible, than own a mansion in a crummy district.  How could you prioritize a walk-in-closet over the quality of your child’s education?

All students in our local school district benefit from being shepherded by honest administrators, school board members who conduct themselves with dignity, and citizens who again and again show their support for our children by voting “Yes!” on school levies.  But not all of the schools within our district are performing at equivalent levels of excellence.

My experience teaching has taught me that the economic hardships a family faces can have a direct impact on a child’s ability to learn.  If you look our state’s educational report website, then you will see that the number of children qualifying for free or reduced breakfast and lunch in our district has jumped from 27% in 2005-2006, to 35.1% in 2010-2011. Every school in our district includes families who are on hard times.

I think it behooves everyone; homeschoolers, moms of toddlers, grandmas, grandpas, and fabulous aunties,  to take a look at your local school district’s school locator map.   Find out what school your house is zoned for, find out the issues that school is facing, and if you have the inclination, find a way that you can help.  The answer could be as simple as purchasing your next birthday present from your neighborhood school’s book fair.

Baby Signs, do they work?

Yes! Yes! Yes!!! Baby Signs Work!!!!

I credit my cousin Elizabeth for introducing me to Baby Signs, because it was through her children that I first saw how amazing Baby Signs were in action.

Even before I ever became pregnant, I knew that I was going to give Baby Signs my best try. My husband and I both read the book before Bruce was born, and started introducing signs to him at nine months. We did this with Jenna too, and credit Baby Signs for giving both of our children an early jump on language and communicating.

Here are the words and signs my daughter Jenna knew at 15 months:

Baby Signs:

  1. bath
  2. eat
  3. drink
  4. milk
  5. backpack
  6. pacifier
  7. book
  8. dog
  9. duck
  10. cat
  11. pig
  12. bunny
  13. horse
  14. mouse
  15. Roomba
  16. ball
  17. baby
  18. toothbrush
  19. apple
  20. bird
  21. Grandma
  22. hug
  23. up
  24. kisses
  25. music
  26. potty
  27. ice-cream
  28. telephone
  29. frog


  1. Mom
  2. Dad
  3. Bruce
  4. boat
  5. bow
  6. duck
  7. doggie
  8. Roomba
  9. pacifier
  10. yes
  11. book
  12. ball
  13. bird
  14. bread
  15. Papa
  16. up
  17. water
  18. more
  19. that

And now for some embarrassing true stories….

When Bruce was about one year old we were at a Stanford wrestling match watching from the stands. An unknown lady (who was very well-endowed) asked to hold Bruce because he was so cute. I was a tired first-time mom, so I said “Sure,” and handed him over. Bruce took one look at the lady’s chest, and started signing “drink”, which is thumbs-up, to the mouth!

“Oh, how cute!” the lady said. “He’s giving me thumbs-up. This baby must really like me!” Um…yeah…well. 🙂

The next embarrassing story has to do with washing machines. Washing machines were one of Bruce’s favorite things when he was a baby, and my husband and I both spent lots of time lifting Bruce up to play with the dials. Bruce’s self-invented sign for “washing machine” was to pin his arms to his side, hold out his hands, and spin them like he was turning the dials on the dryer. Go ahead and try this sign in the privacy of your home. Notice anything lewd about it?

Bruce was so obsessed with washing machines that every house we visited he would run up to the hostess and “ask” to see the washing machine, by engaging in his own little sign. I was always mortified at playgroups!

By now of course, both my kids are older, excellent speakers and have forgotten all of the signs they ever knew. This doesn’t stop my husband from breaking out the signs every once in a while, like when we are at a really awkward family reunion and one of us needs a drink…

If you are interested in giving Baby Signs a try with your own infant, I would suggest checking out the parent’s guide from the library, and purchasing a few board books to read to your child at home. That’s one of the easiest ways to learn the signs yourself, while at the same time teaching them to your baby. Here are the books we used:

Right Start Math Balance Fun

I could have also titled this post “How I Fold Laundry”. 🙂 You see, I have our Right Start Math box underneath my bed. About once a week, Jenna(2.5) likes to get out the box and play with the math manipulatives, while I’m folding laundry.

Pictured here is the math balance. Developmentally, Jenna’s not ready for all the learning skills the math balance can teach. But it is teaching her the concepts of “balanced” and “equals”. I guess one of the benefits to being a little sister is that there are extra cool things floating around the house to play with!

Intensity and Giftedness

I could write a different post about intensity and giftedness every single day of my life.  If you are a gifted person yourself, or the parent of a gifted child, you could probably write those posts too.  Intensity is the dual edge sword of giftedness. It is what leads you to practice, practice, practice, and also what can lead you down the path to crazy-town.

I apologize in advance for the obnoxious naval-gazing aspect of this post, but if you are interested in my thoughts about living with intensity, here goes…

Here’s a little gifted boy from my family; my grandfather, pictured here as an insanely young Eagle Scout. As part of his work towards this honor he earned 36 merit badges even though only 21 were required at the time. Intense?

My grandpa was also an accomplished violinist and musician, a member of the San Diego Symphony, and a music teacher. While looking through his high school yearbooks a few weeks ago, I noticed that he was elected concert master of his school orchestra and performed as first violin, as a freshman. If I had to take a guess, I bet you that there were 10,000 hours of practice behind this, driven by Grandpa’s intense love of music.

If you are a regular Teaching My Baby to Read follower, you might recall my son’s adventures over Christmas break, when he first decided to learn piano. Bruce spent six hours a day, practically chained to the piano, for three days in a row. There was crying, giddy laughter, six-year-old swearing (Piano playing if for fart-heads!), and a lot of begging on my part for Bruce to choose a different activity. From December 20th to December 22th he learned 33 songs, and completed half of Piano Adventures Primer Level.

When I told my mom about how frazzled I was from Bruce coercing me into being his piano teacher, Mom let loose an evil laugh and replied “Karma is a b—- , Jenny.” She was referring of course, to my own multiple childhood trips to crazy-town.

When I was uninformed, I thought that intensity only impacted gifted people in their academic pursuits. Now as an adult who has read about Kazimierz Dabrowski, I know that intensity can manifest itself in the Psychomotor, Sensual, Emotional, and Imaginational realms of personality and behavior as well. Now for the aforementioned naval-gazing:

When I was seven years old I engaged in a months-long, endless assault on my parents to subscribe to the Disney Channel.  It culminated in my grandparents purchasing the subscription for me for Christmas. What freaked my mom out, was that instead of just whining for what I wanted for a week or two like a normal second grader, I relentlessly approached her with well thought out arguments, statistical analysis of our family’s television viewing habits, and reliable forecasts of how the education and entertainment value for our whole family would be bettered if we only had the Disney channel.

Then there’s the time when I was about 9 and earned Pioneer Girl’s Highest Honor Award, completely through my own efforts and determination. This came as quite a shock to both of my parents, who are Atheists. (Pioneer Girls is a Christian organization.) At the awards ceremony the head leader announced that no girl had ever done that before in all her time serving at that particular church. I hadn’t realized this when I had first began doggedly cranking through the activities in my Pioneer Girls Guidebook. I just thought memorizing Bible verses was fun!

Even as I grew older relaxation has always been a particular problem for me, because I have trouble relaxing without relaxing intensely.

Here’s a needlepoint it took me three years and three boyfriends in high school and college to finish because the project was so large. It was also the beginning of my battle with carpal tunnel syndrome. I wouldn’t stop needlepointing when I was in pain, because I wanted to finish.

The obsessive gardening and 1500+ bulbs in my yard are contributing factors to my tendonitis. You see, I can’t just use gardening as a relaxing pastime; I have to garden intensely.

Then of course, there is my latest hobby, which would be blogging…  Let’s just move on.  🙂

If you can imagine what type of teacher I was, then you can probably guess that I was very passionate about teaching. I stayed up late, working hard, then working harder, to become a better teacher. I’d wake up in the morning, worrying about my students. I spent half of my summers working in my classroom. I couldn’t work 40 hours without working 60, and then spending my vacation, working some more. This is very reminiscent to me of Bruce’s current first grade teacher, who must be an example of Karma coming back to me in a good way, because she is so wonderful.

Being an intense child?–Extremely difficult!  Parenting the intense child?–Even harder! Putting your child in a classroom where the teacher is still there to answer your phone call at 5:30PM? –Awesome!