Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Shakespeare for all ages

Do you think Shakespeare is too hard for kids?  Think again!

With the right type of scaffolding, almost any age can enjoy the “Bard of Avon”.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

For Kids 2.5 Years Old and Up

Shakepeare’s Storybook with CD by Patrick Ryan doesn’t exactly tell the stories of Shakespeare.  Instead, it includes the stories that inspired Shakespeare.  So instead of “Hamlet”, you hear the story of “Ashboy”.  “A Bargain is a Bargain” tells the story of “The Merchant of Venice.”

There are two CDs with this book, as well as lots of pictures.  None of the stories were too scary for my daughter, who started listening to them as young as two and a half.

For Kids 4 and Up

Can I just say how much I love Jim Weiss?  Basically anything you purchase from Greathall Productions is going to be golden.  Shakespeare for Children is no exception.  This is an audio CD that tells the stories of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “The Taming of the Shrew”.  Both versions are awesome!

Tales from Shakespeare by Tina Packer is another great choice for kids.  My son and I have read this book at bedtime over and over again.  The plays are told in narrative form but include original lines whenever possible.  The illustrations are beautiful; my only complaint is that there aren’t more of them.

For Kids 6 and Up

Chapter 39 of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 2 includes historical information about Shakespeare, as well as a brief retelling of “Macbeth”.  If you have Jim Weiss reading the audio version of SOTW2, this appears on Disc 9.  I love the entire SOTW series to begin with, so getting a bit of Shakespeare thrown in is a nice bonus.

The Shakespeare Stealer is a historical novel for middle grade audiences by Gary Blackwood.  It tells the fictional story of Widge, an orphan boy who knows how to do a cryptic shorthand that allows him to transcribe plays when he should just be watching them.  The language is pretty advanced (not inappropriate, just challenging).  You really feel like you are getting a history lesson when you read this, as well as being entertained.

For Kids 10 and Up

Imagine if Monty Python, the Globe Theatre, and the evening news were mixed together.  You might end up with “This is Macbeth” and “This is Hamlet”.   These are two really wonderful introductions to Shakespeare for older students, created by Greg Watkins and Jeremy Sabol from Stanford’s Structured Liberal Education program.  (More about my own interest in SLE here.)

There are key scenes from the plays performed, faux interviews of the characters, musical interludes, and pretend medieval commercials.

My son Bruce is only seven, so he doesn’t quite have the attention span to make it through an entire DVD.  But he loves the medieval commercials so much, we have watched those on repeat.  It’s going to be really difficult to walk past the replica sword store, the next time I take Bruce to the mall…

Helping Kids Understand Place Value

Make the largest possible number using these three digits.

This type of problem will really show you if your child understands place value or not.  Hopefully, it’s a piece of cake.  But if you are teaching a child who is a beginning math-er, then you might want to get out some place value cards to help.

Here I’ve laid out all of the possible numbers you could make with those three digits. I’ve also arranged them in order of greatest to least.  (Really, that’s two steps!)

Now I can really see what the biggest numbers could be in each of the hundreds, tens and ones place.  (I can only use each digit once!)

I lay the cards on top of  each other to form my number.

This helps kids understand that 954 is really 900 + 50 + 4.

FYI, the cards I’m showing in the picture are from Right Start Math and cost $5.50.  You could easily make them at home of course.  Place value cards will work with any type of math curriculum.

Chocolate-Covered Baloney, Confessions of April Grace, by KD McCrite

Chocolate-Covered Baloney (The Confessions of April Grace) is a novel for middle grade audiences, that the author KD McCrite has chosen to set in the 1980s.  It is one of the tamest MG books I have read in a long time.  For example, April’s family receiving crank phone calls is considered a BIG DEAL.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the author’s use of voice.  Even the chapter titles were funny to read: “Myra Sue’s Room: The Pit of the World”, “Almost a Civil War in Our Very Own Kitchen”, etc.  McCrite’s use of voice totally had me convinced that I was reading the inner musings of a tween growing up in Arkansas.

In addition to April Grace, the other characters in the book were equally well developed.   Of course, as a member of the United Methodist Church, I’m a bit biased towards loving the scenes with Grandma’s gentlemen friend, a Methodist minister!

When it comes to plot, that’s where McCrite lost me.  The most incendiary thing that happened within the first few chapters was that April Grace caught her sister Myra Sue at the mailbox removing a package she intended to mail.  That really wasn’t enough to hook my interest.  I kept reading because the characters were engaging, but the action didn’t really seem to get going until the final chapters.

I also question the whole construct of placing the novel in the 1980s.  I’m not sure my nieces and nephews would know what “The Cosby Show” was, or care.    The whole concept of soap operas too, might be over their heads.

It’s entirely possible though, that a large part of the April Grace audience is moms reading with their daughters (I don’t know.)  As an adult reader, it was fun to read these pop culture references.

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

I review for BookSneeze®

I feel like a drip!

Non WA readers are going to need an explanation for this one.  In Washington State there are coffee stands serviced by “bikini baristas”.  Sometimes you can tell which ones they are, and sometimes you can’t…

My “I Brake for Moms” column in the Sunday Herald. Check me out in The Good Life Section!

Star Wars Origami Paper

Thanksgiving vacation at our house has been filled with a whole lot of Star Wars origami.  While poking around the Origami Yoda website, my son Bruce discovered that author Tom Angleberger will send you preprinted Fortune Wookiee paper.  (Instructions here.)  

All of a sudden, I had my seven year old begging me for a lesson about addressing envelopes!

As you can see from the above picture, we still have a long way to go.  This was try #2, and represents considerable effort.  Bruce also had to create a self addressed envelope, so that was good practice too.

Thank you Mr. Angleberger!

Area of Polygons on a Geoboard

What is the area of this concave polygon?

Maye there is a formula out there to figure it out, but we are going to use our brains instead.  It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be fun!

First let’s make a rectangle around the whole polygon.  This tells us that the polygon is going to be less than 12 square inches.

Now let’s splice and dice.

The blue triangle in that yellow rectangle is 1.5 square inches.

The blue triangle in this yellow square equals 2 square inches. (Click here for how we figure out areas of triangles.)

The area of this blue triangle is 2 square inches.  Plus I need to add the 1 square inch from that square in the upper right corner.

Now I have 1.5 + 2 + 2 + 1 = 6.5 square inches.

Hard, but fun, right?

Staying Warm in the Pacific Northwest

My “I Brake for Moms” column in the Sunday Herald. Check me out in The Good Life Section!

I want my children to read about diversity

This might seem like a weird thing for a white mother in WA to be worrying about, but…

I want my children to read about diversity.

Last Saturday Grammy took all of her grandchildren to see the Village Theater perform “Big River”.  Every time I encounter Huckleberry Finn I gain new insight.  Hearing him sing was no exception.

“Big River” had some bad words, most especially the bad word that sometimes bans Mark Twain from schools.  But I knew that my son Bruce could handle it, even though he’s just seven.

That’s because we spent all of September reading books about the African American experience.

When I saw the character Jim on stage, trapped in a shed and singing about wanting to fly away, I thought about the stories my son and I read together from The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton.

In the car on the way home from Everett,  Bruce and I had one of those parent-child conversations that you dream about.

But here’s the problem:

I searched and searched for books by African American authors and had a boat-load of trouble finding any.  I don’t know if you can tell from that picture, but four out of ten of those books, are by famous people.  If you are African American, do you need to be a movie star to get a children’s book published?

That’s why when I read the article Will Latino Stories Sell by Laura Lacamara, I was so intrigued.  Is that what’s happening with books about African Americans too?

This is actually a question I’ve been meaning to email Mary Kole, author of Writing Irresistable KidLit for a long time.  (You can read my full review of KidLit here.)  Writing Irresistible KidLit shows a keen analysis of trends happening in the MG and YA market today.  The one thing I didn’t see Mary Kole mention specifically however, was this question I have about the lack of books written by or about African Americans and Latinos.  Has the upswing in the MG/YA market left without them?

If I put my fourth grade teacher hat back on, I know that Christopher Paul Curtis, Mildred Taylor and Gary Soto are master writers.  But where’s everyone else?  I looked and looked and couldn’t find anyone in our library.  Are African American and Latino authors not getting published?

In the picture book market, I keep seeing Amazing Grace everywhere.  Isn’t the author Marry Hoffman a white woman from England?  Don’t get me wrong, I love that book.  But if I was an African American picture book writer from Detroit, I might be a bit miffed.

I understand that publishers need to make money.

So maybe this is what moms like me need to be saying:

I will buy books for my children written by culturally diverse authors!

Who’s with me?

Dysgraphia Paper

When you are looking at a second or third grader with poor handwriting you have to consider four possible causes:

  • Is this an issue of effort?
  • Is this an issue of strength?
  • Is this an issue of skill?
  • Is this an issue of brain to hand function?

It’s been about three weeks since I started Afterschooling my son Bruce(7.5) in handwriting.  (See here for more info.)  The teacher in me was a bit freaked out because I was worried he might have Dysgraphia.  That’s how bad things were.  I saw this handwriting sample online of an 8 year old with Dysgraphia, and it looked very familiar.

Now, three weeks later, I’m not so worried, and I’ve got the writing samples to prove it!
Raised Lines Paper Narrow


Day 1 of Callirobics is on the left.  Day 9 is on the right.


You can already see the difference, right?  I can’t wait to see what Bruce’s handwriting looks like on Day 50!

I’m feeling a lot better that this is not a “brain to hand” issue.  That would require professional intervention.  But since we are just talking about effort, skill and strength, I can totally work with him on that at home.


But that doesn’t mean that some of the tools used to help children who do have Dysgraphia, wouldn’t be beneficial.  So two things we are trying out are Mead RediSpace Transitional NoteBook Paper and Raised Lines Paper Narrow.

The Mead RediSpace  paper is really frustrating to use. 


Here’s what my handwriting looked like when I tried it.  My penmanship is usually a lot better than that!  Bruce hates this paper.

But I think it still has value.

You know how the stair machine at the gym is not very fun? It really hurts to be on the stair climber because your muscles are working so hard.  That’s what this paper is like.  It almost made my brain hurt because of all the tick marks.  But those little boxes forced me to remember about finger spaces between words, letter size, etc.  These are things Bruce needs to work on.  So writing a letter to grandma on this paper once a week, is good exercise.


The Raised Lines Paper  is a lot easier on the brain.

I wish I had taken a picture of Bruce’s handwriting on this, but that letter has already been mailed to Grandma.  It was the best penmanship I’ve seen him produce in a long time.  The raised lines gave his brain automatic feedback every time his pencil formed a letter.  I’ve sent some to school with him to use on special projects.

It’s too bad this paper is so expensive!

…Which brings me to my moment of whining.  I wish I had access to this paper when I was a teacher!  I know lots of kids who could have really used it!

Melissa and Doug Geoboard

Sorry for the lame picture.  Things have been a bit busy here.

What you’re looking at is the Melissa and Doug 11 x 11 geoboard kit I bought for Jenna(3) so she wouldn’t be left out of the geoboard action her big brother Bruce is doing.

This is a real geoboard that you could do some serious math with.  Since it is 11 x 11, there is the potential to do bigger problems than on a 7 x7 board.  But!!!  The square inch tiles won’t work.  (See here for more info.)

What this kit has going for it, is the picture cards that slide into the back. Jenna is still too young to be able to actually create the pictures, but she thinks she is is creating the pictures.  There is also a lot of fine motor activity going on which will help her handwriting muscles.

P.S.  I am adding this to my Grandma Please Buy This page.


Starfall Learn to Read

Jenna is three years old now and she’s recently become interested in Starfall.com.  Her brother Bruce(7) was totally uninterested in Starfall at that age, even though he could sound out three letter words no problem.

Jenna won’t sound out words for me when prompted, but is highly intrigued by the computer.  She can do a bunch of the Starfall games on her own, including the matching game that involves reading some basic words.

Yes, this makes no sense whatsoever!

I think she must be really strong at beginning phonemes, but won’t look at the middle of a word at all, especially if mommy asks.  But the game pictured above?  She’s getting 100% all the time.

Whatever.   I guess I’m just along for the ride.  🙂

Basic Cooking for Busy People

One of my good friends is a busy lawyer, married with no children. Since she’s never had a two-year-old screaming at her while she tried to make dinner, her cooking experience is a bit different than mine.

Recently my friend asked me for some tips and tricks for healthy eating. Rose, the blogger at Our Lady of Second Helpings, would be the true master for a question like that. But here are my favorite shortcuts. This isn’t how I cook all the time, just when I’m super stressed.

Tip 1: Prep for the Freezer

Buy a bunch of chicken cutlets in bulk, and then bag them with marinade for the freezer. One or two nights before you want to cook chicken, take the bag out of the freezer and put it in the fridge. Then you will be all ready to grill.

The George Foreman is your friend!

Special Note to Special People: In the above picture I’m showing Ziploc bags. But when I was pregnant, I never, ever marinated in plastic. I only used Pyrex. I also didn’t use my George Foreman when I was pregnant, because of the Teflon. Even today, I normally marinate things in glass. But not everyone is freaked out about plastic as I am.

Tip #2: Buy a Rice Cooker

Before you start grilling that chicken, add 1 cup brown rice and 2 and a half cups water to your rice cooker. Then turn it on. It’s sooooo easy! If you assemble a quick salad while the chicken is cooking, then you’ve got rice, chicken and salad ready to go in about twenty minutes. Boom! Dinner’s ready.

Tip #3: Prep Once, Eat Twice

On the right, you are seeing the stir fry we are eating tonight. On the left, you are seeing the stir fry that is going into the freezer. The meat is bagged in marinade. The vegetables are chopped and ready to go. Plus I’ve got that rice cooker, remember? Dinner will be done in 20 minutes, easy.

Tip #4: Buy a Vitamix

This is the sad one, because not everyone can afford something that costs $400. But we use our Vitamix every day to make green smoothies. Raw kale every morning? Yum!

Sleeping Like a Baby

My “I Brake for Moms” column in the Sunday Herald. Check me out in The Good Life Section!

Sneaky Handwriting Solutions

We have been doing some major Afterschooling work on Handwriting around here with my son Bruce(7).  When I say “major” I mean six minutes a day of Callirobics, and as many fun fine motor activites as I can drum up.

It took me a while, but I finally found a gender neutral  pot holder making kit.  Bruce loves it!  I need to go buy a refil kit of loops now.

In the meantime, he’s learning to latch hook.  This is a lot harder! 

P.S.  If you haven’t already seen this, here are my thoughts on why pencil grips are like running shoes!

Star Wars Origami

My son Bruce(7) has been working really hard on his handwriting for the past ten days. He’s finished week one of Callirobics, and I’m already seeing a difference.

So today when Jenna(3) and I were at the Edmonds Bookshop, we bought Bruce a present: Star Wars Origami by Chris Alexander.

Bruce has been really into making “Darth Paper” and Yoda puppets recently, so I’m hoping this gift is a hit. Plus, origami works fine motor muscles needed for good penmanship, so really this is another sneaky way to promote better handwriting.