Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: May 2012

If you are having a bad day, then this is for you!

Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column this week.

A STEM Summer

Here’s a sneak peak at something I am working on that I’m calling “A STEM Summer”. (Click on the picture and it will become bigger, or see if this link will work.)

A STEM Summer is designed to take between 30 minutes to an hour each day, not counting field trips on Wednesdays. I wanted to design something that was easy, free, thematic, and fun to do this summer in a multiage setting. When I’m finished planning, I will upload my hyperlinked chart so that you can join in on the fun.

Hopefully, A STEM Summer will be a jumping-off board for other families who would like to do something academic over the summer to keep their children’s brains busy, but who agree with Michael Clay Thompson that workbooks are “the neutron bombs of education”.

There are many ways that you could pick and choose from these plans, to meet the needs of your own kids. Maybe you just want to do one week of A STEM Summer. Maybe you just want to use the weekly themes to help you plan which books to put on hold from the library. Maybe you just want to do science experiments every Tuesday, all summer. Or, maybe you want to follow along with us every step of the way and send in your pictures and comments.

Here’s how the eight weeks of A STEM Summer will work:

  • Mondays: ART
  • Tuesdays: SCIENCE
  • Wednesdays: TECHNOLOGY
  • Thursdays: ENGINEERING
  • Fridays: MATH

The weekly themes are based upon a great art book I found at the library called 123 I Can Paint! by Irene Luxbacher. It’ not very expensive, so I am going to purchase it. Here are the weekly themes:

  • Week 1: OCEANS
  • Week 2: FARMS
  • Week 3: HOT/COLD
  • Week 4: CITIES
  • Week 5: SPACE
  • Week 7: BUILDINGS
  • Week 8: OLYMPICS

Each week I’ll check out a bunch of thematic books from the library for my kids to read. Some of the science ideas are from I Capture the Rowhouse’s Science Without a Net program, which is fabulous. Most of the science and engineering experiments I’ve selected use ordinary household objects. I’m hoping that my total expenditures will be under $100, but there are a few things I plan to purchase/already own:

A Note About Art/Mondays: 123 I Can Paint! is a directions-based art book. It could be open ended if you wanted it to be, but it does show step-by-step instructions for how to create each piece. Since I am not an artist myself, I felt like I needed help in this way. Here’s a sample:

A Note about Technology/Wednesdays: We are going to try to go on themed field trips each Wednesday. While out and about, I’m going to teach Bruce(7) and Jenna(3) how to use our camera and video camera. Then later at home, I’ll continue teaching Bruce how to use Windows Movie Maker so that he can create his own summer movie.

A Note about Literacy and Language Arts: There are lots of ways you could use A STEM summer to help improve your child’s reading, writing, and language arts skills over the summer. One way would be to create homemade science books , another way would be keep a science notebook or journal, and a third would be to incorporate writing about math into your Friday activities. Younger children will benefit from a daily Morning Message, where you can write things like “Today is Thursday. We are making a solar oven. It will be so hot!”. Hopefully the experiments and projects will be so fun, that your kid will want to write all about them. You could even send me a jpg and I’ll post their work on my blog if you would like.

When I am finished planning, this will be the home of A STEM Summer. I’m very much open for suggestions and ideas. Please don’t be shy to tell me what you think needs improving!

Happy Memorial Day!

I was sitting on the beach this weekend talking with my Grandma about what her Russo-German parents would think about all of us living the American Dream in the Pacific Northwest.  The day was so beautiful that I said “All we need now is to see a Bald Eagle.”  Twenty seconds later not one, but two Bald Eagles came swooping down and let my son Bruce(7) get within five feet of them.  Wow!

Introducing Numerals

My daughter Jenna is 2.5 years old now and we have been working informally on basic math skills for almost a year. She is pretty good at visualizing numbers up to about four and she can count with correspondence to four. What I haven’t introduced to her at all is the concept of numerals. Today was the day!

First we made the quantities 1, 2, and 3 using candy.

Picking up that candy was a good fine-motor activity!

Then we matched up the numerals with the correct quantities. My main goal is for Jenna to understand that the numeral represents the quantity. I could have introduced numerals to Jenna a long time ago, but I wanted her to her to have a strong understanding of quantities first.

We did this game several times, with lots of candy. I’m banking on Jenna asking to do this activity again in the near future!

L.M. Montgomery Messed With My Head

If you are a kindred spirit then this post will make absolute sense to you. If you don’t know what I mean by “kindred spirit”, then I’ve already lost you. I’m talking about Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, The Blue Castle and more. I read all of her books over and over and over again when I was younger.

Our house is currently torn up with a gigantic wall repair project going on, and I found myself thinking about how our house feels about all this. Does our house want to look better? Does our house mind the fact that my kids will probably trash it once the scaffolding is pulled down? Does my house wish that a double-income couple was living here who could hire a housecleaner each week? Is our house disappointed in me?

That sounds crazy, right? But if you grew up as a LM Montgomery fan like me, then that type of thinking would make perfect sense to you. I bet you’ve also spent some time wondering what a good “name” for your house would be, and have secretly wondered how you might try to slip that into ordinary conversation.

The weird thing is that as an adult, I can see how this is all completely irrational and ridiculous, but it’s too late for me because it is ingrained into my being. The ironic part is that in all of L.M. Montgomery’s books there are usually older characters warning her heroines not to read novels because they are “a pack of lies”. As an adolescent reader, I always sympathized whole-heartedly with her heroines that novels were the truest expression of truth there was, and that those old codgers didn’t know what they were talking about. Now, I’m stuck with this crazy thinking. Really though, I shouldn’t be joking with the word “crazy” because it turns out that L.M. Montgomery suffered from major mental issues that took her life, which is very sad.

Going back to my house and what it feels, it occurred to me the other day that maybe my house doesn’t mind being torn up by my children. My husband and I are the fourth set of owners, but the first owners with kids.  Maybe my house has just been aching for a family. Maybe it wants to look pretty, but loves having children even more.  As soon as I came upon that thought, I felt a lot better.

When Painters Come to Your House

This is what our house looks like at present.  We have this crazy wallpaper removal and wall repair project going on right now, and it’s been rough keeping my kids safe and out of the way.

There’s been between one and four painters here working hard every single day all week, and they won’t be finished until next Friday.  We are so lucky that the insurance is paying for half of this, because as it is the only summer vacation our family will now be taking is going to involve tents.

I didn’t even include a picture of the worst part of all of this, which is that all of my grandmothers’ china and crystal is spread out in my kitchen, because they had to move the china cabinet.  It’s only a matter of time before something breaks.

Coincidentally, Jenna(2.5) and I happened to check out The Great Gracie Chase: Stop that Dog! by Cynthia Rylant from the library.  It is a story about a dog named Gracie who gets frightened and annoyed when painters come to her house!  I wish I could say that I planned this, but I didn’t.  It was just a lucky day at the library.  So if you ever have workmen come to your house, keep this book in mind.

Swimming with Boys

If you are the mother of a son or the father of a daughter then you can probably relate to my latest “I Brake for Moms” column in The Weekly Herald this week.   🙂

Talent is Overrated by Goeff Colvin

Right now I’m midway through a Mommy-Ed reading list designed to help foster resiliency in children. My most recent read is Talent Is Overrated, What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. This book had a business focus instead of parenting, but it was still useful to me. Here’s a great quote to show you why:

“Many of the most successful people do seem to be highly intelligent. But what the research suggests very strongly is that the link between intelligence and high achievement isn’t nearly as powerful as we commonly suppose. Most important, the research tells us that intelligence as we usually think of it–a high IQ–is not a prerequisite to extraordinary achievement.” (p45)

In layman’s terms, you don’t have to be “gifted” to produce extraordinary achievement and high IQ is no guarantee of future success.

So what does Colvin believe engenders achievement? Deliberate practice, and lots of it. That means practicing to improve your weaknesses over and over again. I don’t recall if Colvin mentioned the so-called 10,o00 hour rule or not, but he seems to be describing the same idea.

There is an especially interesting section about violin players on pages 56-61 and how many practice hours they need to log become they become virtuosos.  I’d love to have the mom from Homeschooling, or Who’s Ever Home read that part and tell me what she thinks, because her daughter Haley is extraordinarily talented at the violin. Or is it that Hayley just practices a heck of a lot more and a heck of a lot smarter than everybody else? Here’s a You Tube clip of 9 year old Haley performing Moto Perpetuo by Paganini. It will be the perfect accompaniment to the rest of my post. 🙂

So how do talent, IQ and success all fit together? If I were to throw in my own two cents, I would venture to guess that it has something to do with intensity and education begetting education. My grandpa was a wonderful violinist too, and he eventually became a member of the San Diego Symphony. But he didn’t just wake up one day and start playing the violin. He was probably just as awful as everyone else to start with.  My grandpa was intensely focused however.  Even as a retired adult, he was obsessed with music. He loved and pursued music of all types, and learned how to play and teach every single instrument but the organ. He also had parents and a brother who also played the violin. In fact, my great-grandparents courted in their local town orchestra. There was probably a lot of musical education begetting musical education in their household.

What Talent is Overrated means is that even if your child isn’t “gifted” maybe you should consider the idea that your child could be gifted at a certain subject, if he or she really put in the hours. Also, it takes a lot of hours for anyone to become good at something, so don’t let your kid give up too early.  Make sure that your children know that with enough practice they will improve at anything.  Then, keep your fingers crossed that at some point internal motivation will kick in and you won’t have to nag your kids do something that they are now good at.

Picasso, That’s Who!

I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary copy of Hope Harris’s new CD Picasso, That’s Who! in exchange for my honest opinion and review–which is I love it! It fits in perfectly with everything our family tries to do with Carschooling. The music is catchy, and Hope works in a lot of factual information as well. Who would have ever thought to write a song for children about Paul Klee? Hope Harris, that’s who!

Here are the artists she sings about:

  • Jackson Pollock
  • Pablo Picasso
  • David Hockney
  • Grandma Moses
  • Alexander Calder
  • Georgia O’Keeffe
  • Paul Klee
  • Romare Bearden
  • Henri Matisse
  • Claude Monet

The Henri Matisse link will take you to a great project  from Exploring More.  The Jackson Pollock link will take you to Teaching Stars where Kristen has used this CD as a springboard for some very cool art activities with her girls. If I can ever find a free weekend to breathe, I’m going to try to work up something fun for Monet.   We have already been reading books from the library about him. Stay tuned!

I do have one major suggestion for parents who are using Picasso, That’s Who! on the road. You really need to have two adults in the car, plus an art history book. The first time we listened to this CD we were driving to my folks’ house. I kept wanting to show pictures to Bruce and Jenna of the art that was being sung about, but didn’t have any materials with me. So at Grandma and Grandpa’s, I “liberated” my old AP Art History Text H.W. Janson’s History of Art. Then on the way home my husband drove and I could flip through Janson and find the right picture.

And now a plea to my blog readers, especially those of you who are homeschoolers. I’d like spend Mondays this summer doing structured, directed art lesson with both Bruce(7) and Jenna(2). I have no artistic training myself, so I need something “teacher proof” (although I hate that term!) These are some of the books and programs I am considering:

Any suggestions? Hope Harris has really gotten us inspired to learn more about art!

Square Numbers With Crackers

Do you want to feel like a math hero? Try teaching your kids about square numbers in a way that actually makes sense to them. All you need is a box of square crackers.

It turns out that this is easier said than done in our household. Yesterday I purchased a special box just for this activity, but my husband almost polished off the whole box last night watching Nova. Argh!

The way this works is that you use the crackers to build numbers. Ask your kids if they notice anything special about the numbers 1 and 4. They are square!

Is 5 a square? No!

Is 6 a square? No, it’s a rectangle.

7 isn’t a square either.

Neither is 8.

But look! 9 makes a square. It’s a square number.

If we were to keep building (which would require a complete box of crackers) then we would see something like this. The next square number is going to be 16.

Children who are learning about multiplication can also learn the corresponding equations that go with each square number. 1 x 1 = 1, 2 x 2 = 4, 3 x 3 = 9, 4 x 4 = 16 As the teacher, you can make this activity as advanced or as simple as the needs of your child requires. Just be sure to hide the box of crackers from your husband. 🙂

Afterschooling Plan for Grades 1-4

If I had a dream for my blog it would be to spark a national conversation about how massive parental involvement could be the magic bullet towards solving our educational woes in America. Spending extra time with your child afterschool teaching him or her new concepts does not mean you are a “Tiger Mom”; it means that you know your child deserves one-on-one instruction, and you are going to make sure that he or she gets it. Just to be clear, I’m talking about more than just checking your child’s homework. I’m talking about meaningful, planned instruction. I’m talking about Afterschooling.

By my calculations, if your child logs in 120 Afterschooling hours a year, then your son or daughter is on target for accomplishing an extra two years of school by the end of high school. That might mean your child will be capable of taking AP, IB, community college, or university courses in high school, and have the option of graduating from college early. I myself entered college with 90 completed quarter units already, and graduated in three years. I really wish I could have stayed for the fourth year because college was so much fun, but I’m glad I don’t have the $30,000 worth of student loans it would have meant being burdened with.

I don’t believe in forcing children to learn anything. I strongly believe that kids need time to goof off!!! But if my son wants to play Lego Nijago on the computer, then I am going to make him work for it. 🙂

This is how we prioritize:

  1. School
  2. Homework
  3. Playtime/Free time/Outside time
  4. Limited extras like soccer or piano lessons
  5. Afterschooling
  6. Screen time

So are you interested in a plan for Afterschooling your 1st-4th grader? Feel free to leach off of me! Here is what Bruce(7) did this past year. Our Afterschooling calendar begins in summer and is ending right about now (May). We’ll take a brake until summer vacation starts again.


Don’t think you have time to Afterschool? Sneak in some learning while you are on the road. Most of these titles are available at your local library.

First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind

The Story of the World Volume 1

The Story of the World Volume 2

The Story of the World Volume 3

Beethoven Lives Upstairs

Mr. Bach Comes to Call

Mozart’s Magic Fantasy

Greek Myths

Sherlock Holmes for Children

Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America

Fairytale Favorites in Story and Song

Speak Spanish with Dora & Diego! Vamanos! Let’s Go!

Kindermusik CDs

Yellow is the Sun

Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery

Spelling and Phonics

All About Spelling Level 1

All About Spelling Level 2

All About Spelling Level 3

Liberal Arts

SLE Inspired Reading List Part 1

SLE Inspired Reading List Part 2

Michael Clay Thomspon (Grammar Island and Building Language)



Dreambox Math

Right Start (1/3 of Level D)

Singapore (1/2 of 4A)

Hands on Equations (1/3)

Life of Fred

Math Without Worksheets

Hands on Fractions

Timez Attack

Science and Technology

Science Without a Net

Snap Circuits



Stack the States

Stack the Countries

10 Days in Europe

All of those extra little bits of learning really add up. For Bruce, that total time spent Afterschooling this year equals at least 200 hours, not counting all of the times we listed to the same Carschooling CD over and over and over again. That’s like an extra two months of school! These hours were mainly put in over the summer, Christmas Break, Spring Break, and as a way of earning screen time.

I invite you to share your own plans for Afterschooling in the comments section below. Let’s get this national conversation started!

Raising Resilient Children

I had the opportunity to hear Seattle’s Dr. Chris McCurry speak on the topic of raising resilient children recently, and he gave me a lot to think about. Is my goal as a parent to raise children who are happy or to raise children that can face whatever challenge life throws at them with courage and grace?

Dr. McCurry said that happiness is a fleeting emotion that you can’t force a child to feel no matter how hard you try, and that a better goal would be to raise children who are functional no matter what. This dovetails with what I’ve been trying to reinforce with my own kids for a while: happiness is a choice, not a state of being. Raising resilient children who chose to be happy would be my ultimate goal.

As part of his lecture Dr. McCurry suggested a list of books to read that could help parents learn about fostering resiliency. Since the only time I ever get to read books these days is sitting on the toilet (lid down!) while my two-year-old takes a bath, it’s going to be slow going for me to get through these, but I’m always game for a little Mommy-Ed.

I’ve already Outliers, and it was indeed a fascinating read. I wish I had thought to blog about it at the time, but maybe I’ll come back to that one of these days. My goal is to read and review the rest of these books one at a time. Oh, and I’m going to choose to be happy about taking on this challenge. 🙂

Welcome Weekly Herald Readers!

I am very excited to announce that my column “I Brake for Moms” is debuting in The Weekly Herald starting today! I know there are moms and dads of all ages in Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, and Edmonds who would agree with me 100% that this is a wonderful place to raise children. I love that we have a newspaper that supports young families, and sees moms as the heart of our community.

Teaching My Baby to Read is my own personal blog that I started over a year ago to share what I learned as an elementary school teacher. Too often the message parents hear is “Read a book to your child.” Well yes, that’s obviously a good idea, but there is so much more that parents could be doing. All you need is a library card and a little direction. My Where to Start page will give you ideas for toddlers and preschoolers, and my Afterschooling page is for Kindergarten on up.  

My goal for this blog is to help you ensure that your child is academically advantaged, regardless of age, ability, or socio-economic level. My dream is to start a national conversation about how massive parental involvement could be the magic bullet towards helping all children in America achieve academic success.

To those of you in the other 49 states and 76 countries who read my blog, I’ll be sure to share links to “I Brake for Moms” each week.  So grab a cup of coffee and take a moment for yourself.  🙂

“Messing” around in the garden

I promise you this isn’t an obnoxious my-garden-is-so-wonderful post; in fact it’s the opposite. My garden would be pretty nice, if I didn’t have a two year old helping me at every step of the way. Kind of how our house would be really beautiful if my family didn’t live here.

There has been a lot of planting and replanting of seeds and Jenna is also quite fond of “making rivers” with the hose. There is now so much garden soil in our bathtub that we might have to call the plumber.

I finally had to ask myself, what was my main goal for having a vegetable garden? Is it to save money on our food budget or is it to teach my children about where food comes from, and the effort it takes to grow? For me, education always trumps budget (do you hear my wallet screaming?), so I finally broke down and bought transplants. If Jenna ends up destroying those with too much enthusiasm, then so be it.

Do you want your own garden for your preschooler to man-handle, but are short of space? Forgotten potatoes are always fun too.

We are watering these and putting them in a sunny window to see what happens. 🙂

Lunchbox Notes Continued

One of the ways I try to sneak in extra learning for my son Bruce(7) is through lunchbox notes. Full confession—he’s not very thrilled. But I know that even if he chooses to crumple up the note each day, that he is still learning. How do I know this? because he usually tells me something sassy like “I’m not going to learn about Dwit Eisehow and you can’t make me!” With apologies to President Eisenhower, that garbled educational moment was coming from the US Presidents pack I picked up at the Target Dollar spot. I also deal from a Spanish and a musical instrument pack, pictured above.

Recently I read a great blog post written by a former SAT tutor on Explolring More that talked about the importance of building your child’s vocabulary starting from a young age. I’ve been trying to do this for both of my kids through Magic Word, our daily vocabulary calendar, and reading Building Language with Bruce. Another way to peck away at this is through lunchbox notes.

The only catch is that we have to go over the word thoroughly at breakfast, before Bruce heads off to school. That way, when he gets to lunch and takes the word out, he already knows what it means. Hopefully, the other kids at the table will learn the word too.  Either that, or they’ll find this whole idea really soporific.