Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: December 2012

A better future for people with Autism

My “I Brake for Moms” column from the Sunday Herald.

I wrote this with really good intentions, but now that I see it in print I’m envisioning about a hundred ways my words could be misinterpreted…

Merry Christmas!

My “I Brake for Moms” column from the Sunday Herald.

What are you asking Santa for Christmas this year?

The Air We Breathe, by Christa Parrish

I’m only going to tell you three things about The Air We Breathe by Christa Parrish, because if I tell you any more than that I’ll totally ruin it for you.
1) The first main character is an agoraphobic teenager named Molly who lives in a wax museum in Maine.  She has a big crush on the pizza delivery boy across the street.

Okay, so right now you are probably thinking Chick Lit?   WRONG!

2) The second main character is a former homeschooling mom named Claire, who is having difficulty moving on with her life after her children were killed in a tragic car accident, when she was driving.

Okay, so now you’re probably thinking Melodramatic Chick Lit WRONG!

3) This book is published by Bethany House.

Okay, so now your mind might be jumping to all sorts of conclusions. Prairie Romance?  Christian Romance?  WRONG AGAIN ON BOTH COUNTS!

The Air We Breathe is impossible to pigeonhole.

It is complex, disturbing, scary, dark, inspiring, uplifting, and so much more.  The story arcs are impossible to predict.  The author had me freaking out multiple times, right up until the very end.

At one point I actually got chills.  Then I was like, “This is fake.  This is fake.  This is fake. This is fake.”  But it was too late; there were goosebumps all over my arms.  (Ice cream scene.)

There is a religious thread to the story line, (it is a Bethany House book after all), but the Christian elements fit in so well will the psychology of the characters, that I think readers of any faith background would still appreciate the story line.

I feel like Christa Parrish took me for a ride as soon as I read the first ten pages. 

And I liked it.

P.S.  I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

“Keeper of the Mountains” trailer

I’m so excited to share the first glimpse of “Keeper of the Mountains”, a documentary that my former roommate, Alison Otto, has been working on! Anyone who loves mountaineering or inspiring stories about women will be interested:

Keeper of the Mountains Trailer from Allison Otto on Vimeo.

In a post-World War II era during which few women lived and traveled independently American journalist Elizabeth Hawley settled alone in Kathmandu, Nepal.

There, despite having never climbed a mountain, Miss Hawley carved out a niche for herself as the foremost Himalayan mountaineering historian in the world.  Now 89, she has recorded more than 80,000 Himalayan expedition ascents, her reports are trusted by news organizations and publications around the globe, and she maintains the world’s largest and most treasured Himalayan mountaineering archive.

“Keeper of the Mountains” is a portrait of a woman who played an unlikely key role in the Golden Age of Himalayan mountaineering while living life on her own terms at the edge of the troposphere and defying the traditional gender roles of her day. It chronicles the challenges she currently faces as she tries to maintain the mountaineering archives and her independence while dealing with advancing age and a rapidly changing world.

Candy and Words

I’m not above resorting to bribery.

My daughter Jenna is almost three and a half years old.  We’ve been doing a lot of activities recently to support her burgeoning knowledge of sounding out words.  Here is one more.

The Candy Game

Before we start, I count out twenty five chocolate chips and mini marshmallows in the cup.  It’s really not that much candy, but enough to be super motivating.  Then I grab the deck of words we are currently working with.  I made this deck from our All About Reading level 1 activity book.

Then we just go for it. Old-school, flash card quizzing.  Every card Jenna sounds out earns her a a small piece of candy.  We play the game for no more six minutes.

My son Bruce was able to do this type of activity when he little too.  So now I’m completely jaded and this seems normal.  But the teacher in me remembers working with five, six, and even seven year olds to accomplish this same learning objective.

There is definitely a huge range for when a child will developmentally be able to sound out three letter words.  But I think that there are probably loads of children out there who could be reading before they entered Kindergarten, if parents had more guidance in how to help teach their children at home.  That’s the whole mission of my blog!

Jenna and Bruce have been working with letters, sounds, and words since they were each eighteen months old.  Almost all of this is documented on my Where to Start page.  Most of my ideas are free.  All of them are child-centered.

The bottom line is you can teach your child a tremendous amount before Kindergarten, especially if you know where to start!

A Beautiful Book About Dyslexia

Word Blindness

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle is a beautiful book for middle grade readers that tells the story of Fefa, who grows up in turn-of-the-century Cuba.  Fefa struggles with a multitude of siblings, and also with “word blindness”, aka Dyslexia.

This is an extremely low word-count book, which makes it approachable for struggling readers.  Written as a collection of poems, this novel tells a complex and engaging story.

The cover art by Yuyi Morales is absolutely beautiful.  The Wild Book looks and feels like a regular middle grade novel. No middle school student would feel ashamed for having this book in her arms, even though it is a book about a tween’s struggle with Dyslexia.

I have never read anything by Newbery Honor winner Mararita Engle before, but she is now on my list of authors to check out.  Well done Ms. Engle!

A Modern Mom Thinks About Barbie

My “I Brake for Moms” column from the Sunday Herald.

This was written and submitted before what happened on Friday.  Thanks to my sister for her permission to share a funny Barbie story from our childhood.  What’s your’s?

Teach a Three Year Old to Read

My daughter Jenna is almost three and a half.  I’ve been teaching her about letters and sounds since she was about 18 months old.

(Full explanation here.)

I used the same methods with her older brother, and by the time he was three he was reading Bob Books.  But every kid is different, and that’s okay.

Jenna knows all of her letters and sounds, and can sound out several words on her own.  More importantly, Jenna is super excited to “do reading”.  She’s pulling out materials, and asking to practice on a regular basis.

Game on!

Here are some of the things we have been doing:

Modified Ziggy games

I’ve previously mentioned how I bought the Ziggy game book from All About Reading, even though we aren’t actually using AAR.  At this point, the learning goals of the games are way too easy for her, but Jenna still really loves Ziggy.  So I’m bringing out the file folders and also pulling out some word cards.

The  way we play the game is that I hide the game pieces under high-frequency words that can be sounded out.  “Ziggy” asks Jenna to hand him the word that says _____.  Underneath the word is a game piece.  Jenna picks up the appropriate word, gives the card to me, and gives the game piece to Ziggy.  Simple?  Yes!  But for some reason Jenna loves this.

I have been pulling cards from this deck of words I already own.  It says “sight words”, but we have only been using the words that are decodable, like: but, and, cut, man etc. Then I realized that I could be making my own flashcards from the AAR activity book I purchased a while back.

Blast Off to Reading book

I purchased the AAR level 1 activity book because I was curious.  I’m a former Kindergarten teacher and I don’t believe that you need to buy a special program to teach kids to read.  That’s the whole purpose of my blog!  But I love All About Spelling, and so I really wanted to see a little bit of what All About Reading was like.  Plus (full disclaimer) I’m an AAL affiliate.

Anyhow, yada, yada, yada, AAR appears to be just as good as AAS.  If you really want a program to hold your hand through the whole teaching process, then AAR would be a really good choice.  I’m not personally going to use the full AAR program, but the activity book dovetails into what I’m already doing.

Leap Frog Easy Reader Phonics Kit

We have a really old Leap Pad kit that I had purchased for Jenna’s brother a long time ago for $30 at Fred Meyer.  Jenna’s the perfect level for it now, and thankfully it still works!  It uses the same characters as the Leap Frog Talking Words Factory videos, which is cool.

Please note, I’m including the links to Amazon for this kit at the bottom of the post, but that’s just so you can see what they look like.  I bought all three kits for $30!  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that deal on Amazon.  I bet there are people selling these on Ebay though.  Once again, they are called “Leap Frog Easy Reader Phonics Kits”.

Talking Word Factory Videos

These are the two videos that I really credit teaching my son Bruce how to read.  Unfortunately, they weren’t a magic wand for Jenna.  But she still does ask to watch them every once in a while.  You can probably find these videos for free at your local library.

Starfall Learn to Read


What really seems to work for Jenna (but what her older brother Bruce was totally uninterested in), is Starfall.com.  That’s been a really big help, and we’ve uprgraded to the $35/per year premium level.

Homemade Books

Custom books tailor-made for my child?  Did I mention they are free?  All I have to do is make them myself.  Jenna now has over thirty books that tell the story of her life.  How awesome is that?

That’s my update for now.  Hopefully we will be ready for Bob Books soon!

Playing Santa this Christmas

You are looking at a major problem with our Christmas decor.

  1. The giant heads on my childhood Christmas stocking really freak my kids out!
  2. My stocking isn’t pointing the right direction!

I could spend $100 bucks at the mall and bring our living room out of “Hand-me-down Central” into “Pottery Barn Generic”, or I could use that money for something more important.

I could be part of the “Advent Conspiracy”…

So I didn’t go to the mall.

Instead, I logged onto Kiva.org and funded a $25 micro-loan to Guatemala.

That’s about the price of a new stocking!

I’ve never loaned through Kiva before, but it’s pretty cool.  I got to pick where my money went, and read the business plan for how it was going to be used.  Maybe (probably) it will be repaid; maybe not.  If the loan does get repaid, I can choose to loan it out again.

While I was deliberating about which loan to fund, I decided “Hey, why not finish off my Christmas list with some Kiva gift cards for the Grandmas?”  Sweet!

Full disclaimer!

If you sign up on Kiva.org too, through my link, then I somehow get extra money to loan out.  (I don’t get the money to keep; just to loan out.)

I’m still new to this, but there is also some way to join, or create a team on Kiva.  I’m not sure how that works, but I’m intrigued…

I’m also wondering if this would make an interesting learning opportunity for my seven year old son.  He might be getting a Kiva card under the tree this year too.

Check it out for yourself:

Starfall Rocks!

 Starfall Learn to Read

Upon the recommendation of my blog friends, I went ahead and shelled out $35 to upgrade to the paid version of Starfall.com.

I totally agree with Kristen at Teaching Stars, and Jen at Post-Apocalyptic Homeschool, because this has been worth it.  The added math games alone make it worthwhile.

Jenna(3) has been playing Starfall for about a month now, and has suddenly started blending three letter words.  (I’ve been trying to teach her how to do that forever.)  Yeah!

So…. Starfall.com is definitely being added to my Where to Start page.  It’s about time.  😉

Helping Kids Stay Warm this Winter

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

Making Homemade Christmas Books with Children

It’s been a  long time since I’ve made Jenna(3) a new homemade book.  But she’s sounding out three letter words now, so I really need to get back in the swing of things.  Here’s our latest addition to her “Jenna Book” collection.

Feel free to print this out to make your own book.  All you need is a brown paper bag and some clear packing tape.

The Santa Book

Sleeping Santa

opens up.

Santa’s on a Christmas cup.

Santa reads the letter B.

Santa pours a cup of tea.

Santa’s going to make some noise.

Hurry Santa.  Bring your toys.

Make Your Own Menorah

What you are looking at is the menorah my son Bruce made in Montessori many years ago.  Hanukkah doesn’t begin until sunset this Saturday, but I thought I’d write this post up early in case you wanted to make your own menorah too.

The materials are quite basic:

  • One paint stick that they give out for free at paint stores
  • 10 bolts
  • Glue
  • Stamps or other decorations

The directions are even easier:

  1. Glue 9 bolts onto the stick.
  2. Glue the 10th bold on top of bolt 5, so that the middle bolt is extra tall.  (This is for the shamash candle.)
  3. Decorate in between the bolts.

Here’s what our menorah looks with candles in it, set up for the fifth night of Hanukkah:

Our family is United Methodist, so we celebrate Christmas instead of Hanukka.  But we do bring out our menorah each year and talk about how some of our friends and neighbors have different faith traditions.

Unfortunately, in researching this post, I realize that I have totally blown it all these years… literally. 

I knew that you were supposed to light the shamash candle first and use that to light the other candles, but I didn’t know that you were never supposed to blow the candles out.  We have also been lighting them left to right instead of right to left.  Ahh!  I’m so embarrassed!

When I stick with books, I do a lot better. 

Here are some of my favorites about Judaism:

Ham again Mom?

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