Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Beach ABCs

Today, Jenna(2.5) woke up and spearheaded our entire family into donning boots, fleece and scarves to go to the beach this morning. In addition to a lot of fun playing…

…we also took a moment to write out words and letters in the sand.

Jenna and I both took turns writing with the stick, although her “letters” were just a bunch of scratches. She can write Os, Xs, and a few other letters, but writing letters in wet sand is really hard. It works a major amount of gross muscles that are really good for preschoolers to practice using.

To tap into fine motor muscles, I tried to have Jenna fill in the letters with rocks, but that didn’t last too long.

There were too many other fun things to do, like throwing rocks instead!

P.S. Keep that and picture in mind because I have a whole post to write about Dyslexia one of these days. Finding ways to make conjunctions and articles “concrete” is one of the tips I learned after reading The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis.

Artemis Fowl and Machiavelli

Part of creating a reading list for children that was inspired by winter quarter of Stanford University’s Structured Liberal Education program, meant finding a kiddie version of Machiavelli’s famous treatise on power, The Prince. This task proved very tricky. I had to really search through my teacher-brain to come up with something close. Then I realized that Bruce(6) and I had already read the perfect selection earlier that year —Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer!

Artemis Fowl is rich, arrogant, power-hungry, and will do anything to get what he wants. For 90% of the book he exemplifies the credo “The ends justify the means” and continues to carry out his scheming plans even though they involve hurting other life forms. By the last few chapters however, Artemis has developed a conscious, and begins to rethink his past choices. This fits in perfectly with the second teaching objective for my Part 2 Reading List.

Learning Goals for Children

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

Artemis Fowl is not classical children literature in my opinion, but it is entertaining. It is written at the 6th grade reading level, or Guided Reading Level Y.

Descartes for Kids


As part of my SLE Inspired Reading List for Children Part 2, I wanted to introduce my son Bruce to the philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes. You’ll probably be shocked to hear this, but finding a kiddie version of Discourse on Method & Meditations etc. was next to impossible. What I did end up purchasing was The Fly on the Ceiling, A Math Reader by Dr. Julie Glass. It’s not exactly high philosophy, but it does introduce children to the name “Descartes” and the basic concept of Cartesian Coordinates.

The Fly on the Ceiling, a Math Reader is a level four book from the Step Into Reading collection. That means that it is somewhere in the middle of a second grade reading level. Ironically, even though Bruce is in first grade, I hadn’t sat down and read a book at this grade level to him since he was four. He was pretty excited that we were reading something so quick and easy. That’s a lesson for me!

The Adventures of Martin Luther by Carolyn Bergt

I don’t think it matters what faith your family comes from, teaching your children about the Reformation at some point, is a must. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation were historical events that rewrote the way our world was written. They are also the embodiment of the teaching objectives from my SLE Inspired Reading List Part Two.

Learning Goals for Children:

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

Okay, so here’s my big problem. I wanted Bruce(6.5) to learn about Martin Luther as a historical figure, but I also wanted my son to do his own thinking, and come to his own conclusions. The trouble was, I couldn’t find any children books about Martin Luther that were neutral in tone. Our first pick, Martin Luther A Man Who Changed the World by Paul L. Maier, was offensive to Catholics.

Our second pick, The Adventures of Martin Luther by Carolyn Bergt, was slightly more neutral in tone, but written in a ridiculous sing-song manner that I found annoying. Another fault of The Adventures of Martin Luther is that it is only 15 pages long. The pictures are nice, but this is really more of a booklet than a book.

If I was a Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Atheist, I don’t know what I would think about either of these children books about Martin Luther. Since I’m Methodist, I’m okay with my kids reading about Martin Luther from a heavy-handed Protestant point of view. What I’m not okay with, is bad poetry.

SLE Inspired Reading List Part 2 Update

To me, a Classical Education is about raising critical thinkers who are grounded in history, philosophy, literature, religion, science and math; and who are able to clearly express their opinions in both conversation and writing. It is going to be a continual process to get both of my children to that goal. We are lucky to live in a great school district where I am very confident my children will learn the three R’s, but teaching them about philosophy and the world’s religions is pretty much up to me. This has been where both of my SLE Inspired Reading Lists 1 and 2 have come in handy, as well as Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World CDs.

Regular Teaching My Baby to Read readers might have noticed that it has been a long time since I have updated you on my SLE Inspired Reading List for Children Part 2. Bruce(7) and I finished reading almost all of the books several months ago, and they have been sitting on my desk waiting to be blogged about. It would have been much better if I hadn’t procrastinated, because then our experience with my second reading list would have been fresher in my mind and easier to write about. On the other hand, it’s interesting to look back and see how the values and issues Bruce and I learned about together have now been integrated into our daily thinking.

These were my learning goals from my SLE Inspired Reading List Part Two:

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

These were the books we read:

Now, it’s up to me to make good, clear off my desk, and review away. Stay tuned!

Wallpaper is Driving me CRAZY!

Okay, so this post has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with early childhood at-home education, but since I’m pretty sure that anyone with young children can commiserate with me on the constant battle of wanting your home to look nice, and then having it destroyed on a daily basis, I’ll go ahead and share.

My troubles began a couple of months ago with this clock…

It belonged to my grandfather who died when I was nine. If you open up the clock’s door, you’ll see my grandpa’s name and birthday engraved.  He was the best possible grandfather anyone could have ever wished for.

Well, the problem is that my grandma was downsizing, and nobody in my family wanted Grandpa’s clock. I couldn’t bear the thought of nobody taking it, so even though it is pretty fancy to have around the two tornados I call my children; I said “Please give it to me.” I also ended up receiving my grandma’s china cabinet, china and a few other things that nobody but sentimental-I would claim. Then, when the mover delivered everything, this happened:

The dummy doorknob on my second front door bashed into the wall, right through the wallpaper! The problem is, the wallpaper is thirty years old, I don’t have any extra rolls, and it covers my entire tw0-story entryway. (I have a house from the early 1980s, and it is totally rad.)

Grandpa must have kicked this one out of heaven for me, because now the movers are going to pay to repair the wall, and repaper the entire entry/stairwell/hall…to the tune of almost $6,000! 

Great, right? But now the dining-room wallpaper is going to look even worse! It’s going to look like Mrs. Keaton from Family Ties and some people from Ikea got together to decorate a home.

Plus, I have to figure out which replacement wall paper to pick, and that is really stressing me out. I’ve taped some samples to the wall and am trying to man-handle them like a two-year-old would every time I walk up the stairs. I need to think: durable. 

I had been thinking about extending the neutral wall paper into the dining room and doing one really cool accent wall behind the china cabinet. It’s a small enough wall that I could repaper it myself in ten years when styles change. But now that I’ve found out that the entryway area alone is going to be $6,000 (which I don’t have to pay, thank goodness) I’m really afraid to find out about the dining room.

“Paint it instead!” you say? I’d have to pay to have the walls textured first. Then, I’d still have to pay to have the walls painted because I don’t want my husband spending two weekends climbing up on a gigantic ladder.

This all seems like a lot of work and worry over walls that my daughter is going to scribble on the first time somebody leaves crayons out.

I welcome your suggestions!

I Read/You Read Challenge

Guided Reading is arguably the most important of all three types of reading. When you and your child read the same book together simultaneously, and then discuss what you have read, you can help your child learn new vocabulary, reading comprehension strategies, and the begins of literary interpretation. Guided Reading is so much more than just Independent Reading or Read Aloud, and yet it can be darn near impossible to fit into your Afterschooling schedule.

It is a lot easier for me as a mom to do meaningful Guided Reading activities with Bruce(7) over the summer.  During the regular school year, it is much more of a struggle. One way I’m trying to keep the ball rolling is by utilizing our “I Read/You Read Challenge” box. The way it works is simple; when Bruce finishes a book he drops it in the box and then I read it too so we can talk about it.

In theory, the box is also supposed to work in reverse, with Bruce reading books I put in there as well. I say in theory because between trying to read everything Bruce has read, keep up the newspaper, and read the occasional Booksneeze book, I haven’t actually added anything to the box for a while. But if I was staying up late to read fifth grade chapter books instead of blog, I’d be able to stretch Bruce’s repertoire of interests by adding new titles to the box. That’s the deal.

It would be even better if I kept a stack of post-its in the box, so that we could write little notes to each other as we read. At the moment, we have to keep pens and pencils under virtual lock-and-key because Jenna(2.5) considers herself a “wall artist”. She would also love to get her hands on a stack of post-its. Sigh…

The Golden Moment of the Day

I snapped this picture yesterday night while making dinner.  The cost?   Well…..

Making Bedtime Bearable

I bet every mom or dad out there could yammer on for about twenty minutes about various sleep issues their family had struggled with at one time or another. Usually the headline to all of these stories is: NOT ENOUGH SLEEP. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a parent worry that their child was sleeping too much.

Both of my kids sleep in the own beds all night long, but the problem is, bedtime is at 10 PM and they wake up at 6:45 AM. Jenna(2.5) will take a twenty minute nap in the car on the way to pick up Bruce from school, but that’s it. The real bugger is, that both Bruce and Jenna seem fine with this amount of sleep. My husband and I on the other hand, are ready to eat them.

We have always had a really good, regular bedtime ritual with both our kids. Bath, pajamas, teeth brushing, story-time, snuggle, lights out, etc. At seven, Bruce is really easy at bedtime.  Our two-year-old is the problem (big surprise). Somebody needs to lie down with Jenna until she falls asleep, and that can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour. Starting the bedtime ritual at 8 instead of 9 only means that you will be snuggling next to Jenna for two hours instead of one. She gets up to use the potty at least three times, and she worms around in bed so much that when she wakes up in the morning her hair looks like this:

Today I had an epiphany. The years between snuggling and “see’ya in the morning” are really short. I’m sure there are mothers all over the world who sadly, wish they could lie down in bed next to their healthy child with her head on their shoulder one more time. Instead of being frustrated as I look at the clock and Jenna ask for a drink of water one more time!, I should relax. I should focus on controlling the things that I can control.

So today I am going to buy nicer sheets for my daughter’s bed. The ones she has are really cute, but are polyester awful. They probably aren’t helping her hair situation either. The other thing I’m going to do is order a subscription to Click magazine. We already get Ladybug for Jenna and Cobblestone for Bruce. My husband and I have read every book in our home library about a million times. I don’t like bringing actual public library books into our kid’s bedrooms because I’m afraid they will get lost. Magazines are nice for bedtime because they are new material. And if I have to read Clifford Goes to Dog School one more time I think I am going to lose it, literally and figuratively.


My latest foray into scraping out time for myself and actually reading for pleasure, has been Momaholic, Crazy Confessions of a Helicopter Parent by Dena Higley. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Honestly, this has been the best Booksneeze book ever!!! It sounds trite, but I could not put this book down. I kept trying to sneak and read it when I was supposed to be making dinner. Then I caught my first grade son trying to sneak and read it, because he wanted to see what was so special about it. His report after reading a few pages: “I don’t see what the big deal is Mom. This book isn’t that good.” So sorry Dena. If you thought soap opera fans were tough, you haven’t met my seven year old.

I mention soap operas, because Dena Higley was the head writer for Days of Our Lives. She is also the mother of a college-age son who has Autism, a college-age daughter who did something unexpected, and two teenagers that she adopted. Dena was also a self-professed “helicopter parent” who obviously never read Parenting Teens with Love and Logic (at least until it was too late). She describes her book as a “how not-to story”.

What makes Momaholic so entertaining is Dena’s cleverness as a writer. She is funny, witty, relatable and makes observations that you or I might have thought in our head at one point, but never fully articulated. In short, she is everything that I want to be as a writer myself.

An example of Dena’s cleverness is an observation she made about picking her kids up from school, and how she so often sees mothers taking naps in their car while parked at the curb. But then fast forward to 10 PM that night when they really are supposed to be falling asleep, and they can’t because they are thinking of about a million things they have to do the next morning. (Okay, when I write that out it sounds rather dull, but when I read it in Momaholic it was hysterical.) It was insights like these that kept me hooked on this book even though I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent at all.

Another funny part was when she talked about her older son with Autism slipping in a funny line from the movies during a football game. We have a family member with ASD who does this all the time. A lot of his favorite lines come from his childhood Buzz Lightyear toy that my kids still play with today. “Hmmm… Very interesting. Adventure is my middle name.”

I’m not a soap opera viewer myself so I don’t know any of the juicy/gritty back-story as to why Dena lost her job at Days of Our Lives. She is such a good writer that I have no idea why the powers-that-be could not see this. But if she does decide to stay out of TV and write another book, then I know exactly what I want to read from her next. Thomas Nelson Publishers, please listen up!

Dena, I want you to write a book about parenting older children with Autism. There are lots of memoirs out there about parenting young children with Autism, but there aren’t many about making the transition to adulthood. You could spend a few chapters in the book discussing your own family’s situation, but then spend the rest of the book profiling other kids who have “made it” and the tremendous parenting that was involved. I know the perfect, not-so-perfect, ASD college student who you could devote a whole chapter to.  I wish he and your son Connor could be pen-pals.

Snap Circuits

One of Bruce’s favorite birthday presents from turning seven has been the Snap Circuits kit my husband and I gave him. Snap Circuits has a very Lego-like feel about it. It includes a circuit board and a myriad of components that snap together. If you follow the directions in the schematics book, you can build circuits that do real things like turn on a light bulb, work a fan, play music, etc. These experiments go very quickly. The first time Bruce and I did Snap Circuits together we did six different experiments in about twenty minutes.


Will I date myself if I say that this was “totally awesome”? I don’t have any engineering experience at all, and yet I was able to help my son do this without any problem. In fact, I felt like I learned a lot myself as an adult.

That being said, when my Electrical Engineer husband does Snap Circuits with Bruce he takes the learning to a whole new level because he knows just the right words to say. This strikes me as yet another example of education begetting education. Yeah for my by kids, bummer for everyone else. It strikes me as sad, because I never got exposure to anything like this when I was a child. My parents were wonderful, but they were English and Home Economics majors. It makes me wonder…If I had played around building circuits when I was seven, would the thought of becoming an engineer someday ever occurred to me?

Back to the present, how can the ordinary mom like me be able to do Snap Circuits with my kids and use the same sort of language that my EE husband can? Well, I need to hunt down a copy of There are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings by Kenn Amdahl. I first read that book in high school and remember it as being a funny, easy-t0-understand explanation about how electricity works.  I don’t really want to spend my limited free time reading about electricity, but I’m willing to do a little Mommy-Ed so that I can be a better home-teacher.

Finally, I have to give a shout-out to Beth at Homeschool Ninjas because she is the person who introduced me to Snap Circuits in the first place. I asked her which kit I should buy, and she said to buy the biggest kit we afford, because the experiments go very quickly. That was really good advice! So for Bruce’s main present, we purchased the Snap Circuits Extreme kit, which has 750 experiments.

There are less expensive Snap Circuit kits available too. There are also extension kits you can purchase to beef-up the smaller kits if your child ends up liking Snap Circuits as much as Bruce does.

An “Almost” Slumber Party

My son Bruce celebrated his seventh birthday by having an “Almost” Slumber party with his friends. It was a good first step towards the real thing, and hopefully gave the parents of his friends either a night out to themselves or some quality time with their other children. My sister-in-law made things a lot easier on me by taking my two-year-old daughter out to dinner during the whole event.  Thank you SIL!

Here are some ideas that I used to plan this party, in case you want to try an “Almost” Slumber birthday yourself.

How I worded the Evite:

Please join us in celebrating Bruce’s 7th birthday with an “Almost Slumber Party”! We will have pizza, ice-cream cake, party games, and a showing ofPokémon the Movie 2000 (rated G). Bring a sleeping bag and pillow, but leave your pajamas and toothbrush at home because this slumber party ends at 9PM. Moms and Dads, this is a drop-off party, so have fun going out to eat on your own or spending time with your other kiddos. Please let us know if there are any food allergies we should be aware of.

The Schedule:

It turns out that my glorious schedule had about thirty minutes too many in it. The boys ate pizza a lot faster than I had predicted. Luckily it was a pretty day, so we all went outside to play tag for thirty minutes.


The Goody Bags:

I tried to choose things that weren’t annoying and that would actually serve a useful purpose in the future. The licorish and jacks we used during the party. The basket could be used to store books in the future, the white board could be used for doodling or writing a Morning Message with younger siblings, and I passed out the fidget toys to play with when Bruce was opening his presents. I picked up all of these items at the Target Dollar Spot and the total cost of each basket was $8.50. That was the bulk of this party’s budget.

Setting up for the Movie:

Before the kids arrived I put down masking tape around my media cabinet because I didn’t want stinky, seven-year-old boy feet kicking it while they watched the movie later. This had the added bonus of creating an exit path, which was probably good from a safety stand-point.

The Sign-in Sheet:

When parents dropped their kids off I had them write down the phone numbers for easy reference. Later on when the party started to get wild, I had to gently explain to a couple of boys: “This is a party and we want you to have a good time. But our house also has rules that we would like people to follow. I have your mom’s cell phone number in case I need to call her.”


For dinner we had an untouched, fruit and vegetable platter…

…and pizza. This is where I could have shaved off $30 from the party if I had gone for take-and-bake pizza, instead of delivered. But our family never orders delivered pizza, so this was a special request from my son, and made things a bit easier for me. 3 large pizzas was the perfect amount.

Don’t rat me out to Martha Stewart, but I ended up just making cupcakes out of a mix. Usually I bake from scratch, but I had to save time and make things easier for myself somewhere. Commercial cake mixes really freak me out because they have so many preservatives in them, and it is really unnatural how perfect the cupcakes turn out. I did make homemade frosting though, because that’s really easy.

For the movie the kids had licorice from their goody baskets, and popcorn. I wouldn’t be a good Girl Scout if I didn’t mention that it wasn’t just any popcorn, but Boy Scout popcorn. 🙂


Each goody basket included a bag of jacks, and so this was the first game the boys played. It took about two minutes before they started spinning the jacks like tops, and playing Lego Spinjitzu with them. For those of you who do not know what Ninjago is, consider yourself lucky.

“Frozen Solider” is a fun game that we played too. The first person to melt their solider out of the ice cube wins. Unfortunately, I messed up and forgot to give the most important rule of all: You can only use your own body heat! What ended up happening was that the boys just threw their ice-cubes repeatedly on my wood floor until the ice cracked. My poor floors!

“Who Am I?” was the most fun game to play of all. After the kids at eaten their cake, we sat around the dinner table and took turns playing one at a time. I had written up the papers ahead of time, so nobody knew what was on them. The way you play is that you lick the piece of paper and stick it to your forehead without reading what it says. Everyone at the table knows who you are but you. You ask questions to figure out your person. The funniest “Who Am I?” character was when one of the boys was wearing his teacher’s name, but didn’t know it.


“Toilet Paper Mummy” is a party classic, and was also a lot of fun.


I don’t like talking about money on my blog, but since this post is about planning a party I guess that warrants some specifics. This party was for 8 boys and cost about $150. That included making a goody basket for my daughter too. There were ways I could have saved money (like forgoing on delivered pizza and skipping paper plates and napkins). But for our neighborhood and situation, $150 is a reasonable amount to spend.


I could definitely have been a better environmentalist if I had used my own plates, cloth napkins, and cups instead of juice boxes. On the other hand, hopefully the goody baskets we spent home will actually be used and not junked. Soooo…. although this birthday party could have been more environmentally friendly, it could also have been a lot worse.


Egad… I never want to have an at-home birthday party again! I am sure I am going to be changing my tune in about four months when Jenna turns 3, but for now, when I say never I mean NEVER!!!! 🙂

Update on the Bean Experiment

Do you remember the bean experiment Jenna(2.5) and I were doing? Well, this is really embarrassing, but after my last post about it our family got really busy, and even though I meant to have Jenna go and plant the beans in the yard, we never did. To make matters worse, we lost the bag underneath a pile of artwork.

Today, while cleaning off the counters (finally), this is what I found:

Holy Moly! I can almost hear Dr. Frankenstein’s eldritch voice exclaiming “It’s alive!” As soon as Jenna wakes up we are going to plant these babies outside. This time, I really mean it. 🙂

Thank you Pinterest People!

I just wanted to say thank you to all of my readers who have shared my ideas on Pinterest. This is really special to me because I don’t know any of you in real life and I am not a Pinterest person myself. Actually, I’m sort of clueless about the whole thing.

What’s funny to me is that the most shared idea is for CVC Flip Books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking my own project. It’s just weird how social sharing and the web works. Out of all of the ideas I’ve ever blogged about; it’s funny that it is CVC Flip Books that was the most popular.

If I was a pinner on Pinterest, these are the two ideas from my blog that I would share. I can’t take credit for creating these lessons, just blogging about them. I learned about both of these math activities from master educators when I was teaching third grade.

Peanut Buttering (Reducing) Fractions

Square Numbers and Square Roots

Probably if I wasn’t spending my free time blogging, I’d be pinning away. Or if I was a better blogger, I’d have a Facebook page for Teaching My Baby to Read and also be on Pinterest. But then I wouldn’t have any time to write my blog. 🙂 So once again, I’d like to give BIG thank you to those of you who are on Pinterest, and who have brought my ideas there for me.

Fidget Toys

I’m not normally an advocate of buying cheap junk from China, but I made a special exception when I saw these rubber balls at the dollar-spot at Target today. To the untrained eye they look like yet another object that’s going to float around the back seat of your car or annoy you when you are trying to vacuum. To a teacher’s eye, they are the perfect “fidget toy”.  At a dollar a pop, they are also a steal.

When I taught K/1, our team wrote a special grant to buy toys like this. We kept them in a basket on the rug for circle time. Instead of calling them toys, we referred to them as “learning tools”. Every child was allowed to choose a learning tool when it was time to sit still and pay attention.

There is research to support that fidget toys help children with ADHD focus and attune. But if a teacher only has fidget toys available to the kids who really need them, then that can be stigmatizing. Having a basket of learning tools available to everyone is so much kinder.

You know, now that I think about it, having a few of these hang out in my car isn’t such a bad idea after all. That might be helpful for carschooling.