Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: January 2013

When are Kids Ready to Learn?

Every child learns at a different rate and that’s okay.

But here’s the problem… I think that some parents and teachers get so caught up in accommodating developmental readiness, that they miss out on the opportunity to teach important academic concepts to young children.

I believe that children as young as 18 months are capable of learning Kindergarten level skills.

That’s the whole point of my blog!

Sound boxes

Bean activities.

The trick is to teach things like letters, sounds and phonics, through highly engaging, play-based activities.  A few key videos like Leap Frog’s Letter Factory can help too.

Still, developmental readiness is a real thing.

I have followed the same course of instruction for both Bruce and Jenna, starting at 18 months old.  (Check out my Where to Start Page for more info.)  But they both are reaching different milestones at different ages.

Letters and Sounds

  • Bruce 18 months
  • Jenna 22 months

Sounding out CVC words

  • Bruce 2.5 y
  • Jenna 3 y

Bob Books Set 1 (first few books)

  • Bruce 4 y
  • Jenna 3.5 y

Bob Books Set 1 (the whole box)

  • Bruce 4.5 y
  • Jenna ?

Bob Books Sets 2-5

  • Bruce 4.5-5 y
  • Jenna ?

Magic Tree House Books

  • Bruce 5.5 y
  • Jenna ?

When you lay it out like that, it is easy to see the ebb and flow of learning.  Sometimes learning happens quickly, sometimes it takes more time, but it doesn’t mean that the time I spend with my children teaching them new things isn’t meaningful.

So I hope parents remember two things:

  • Kids are ready to learn when they are ready.

  • Kids might be ready to learn as soon as you are ready to teach them.

DIY Bob Book Games

Bob Books; boring but brilliant.

That’s one one of my blog’s original posts almost two years ago.  Back then, my son Bruce was in Kindergarten independently cranking through Magic Tree House books.  Part of that success was due to his solid understanding of phonics, and the confidence he gained by reading Bob Books, by Bobby Lynn Maslen.

It’s not rocket science; it’s just phonics.

(Check out my Where to Start page if you are intrigued.)

Fast forward to the present and my daughter Jenna is now 3.5 and beginning her own Bob Books adventure.  The original games I made for her brother are a bit dog-eared, but sill in working order.

This is how they work:

This is the envelope I made to go with Set 1, Book 8, Muff and Ruff.  Inside the envelope are all of the letters you need to make every word in the book.  Vowels get their own color.  The sight-word “for” gets its own color too.

The envelope is not a game piece!  It is just to remind me of the words my daughter needs to spell.

This is how you play:

Find the letter that says “ttttt”.

Find the letter that says “uh”.

Find the letter that says “gggg”.

Put them together “t-u-g”.

What does that spell?

We do this for each word on the list.  Once I know that my daughter can read all of the words from the story, then we get out the book.

I’m showing envelope #8 here because that was the cleanest.  (I did say they were a bit dog-eared, right?)  But right now, Jenna is still on book #4.

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

On the back of some of the envelopes I wrote when Bruce had read each book!

I know it’s wrong to compare your children, but I’m finding this really fascinating. This tells me that Bruce read book #6 when he had just turned four years old.  Meaning, he and his sister are roughly on the same track, even though they keep reaching different milestones at different points.

This is important information, because it shows me that my methods are working! 

Yeah for Bob Books!

“Let’s Play Math” review

If you are familiar with my blog than you already know that I am passionate about teaching math from a Constructivist perspective.

Teaching math from a Constructivist perspective means enabling children to develop their own meaningful strategies for solving problems, instead of just blindly teaching traditional algorithms. It also means giving children time, space, and materials to explore mathematical concepts and create their own understanding.

Let’s Play Math: How Homeschooling Families Can Learn Math Together, and Enjoy It! (Homeschool Math Manuals) by Denise Gaskins, is a beautiful book that explains the “why” and “how” of teaching math from a Constructivist perspective.

I loved it!

This book is well researched, well annotated, and includes loads of activities that you can try with kids K-12 at home. While reading the book, I found myself remembering a lot of things I had forgotten from my teacher-training in Constructivist math.

The only weird thing, was that the author never actually uses the word “Constructivist”.

I’m still not exactly sure why that is. But clearly, I’m a former public school teacher bringing my own public school jargon with me. The author, Denise Gakins, approaches the topic from the world of homeschooling. So there you go…

The other comments I have about the book Let’s Play Math are not criticisms, they are only observations.

This is more of me and my public school background chiming in.

There were many instances where the author mentions public schools and textbooks teaching math from a very traditional “drill and kill” sort of way. This is definitely not trueand true, depending on the school and district.

Dale Seymour Math Investigations for example, is a solid, Constructivist program used by many public schools. It gets horribly bashed by the homeschooling mother of a certain blog I will not name, which is really unfair. You cannot judge the whole Investigations program by looking at the homework workbook. The real learning in Investigations happens in the classroom, on the floor, with kids playing and exploring math.

My last school, did not use textbooks at all.

Conversely, Saxon Math is a homeschooling program that is the total opposite of Constructivism. Drill, kill, “carry the one” etc. I could just as easily be prejudiced and suspect that many homeschooling moms don’t understand how Constructivist math is being taught in public school classrooms, and that they have a knee-jerk-back-to-basics reaction that leads them to Saxon.

My other comment is about algorithms, and when to teach them. I’m a proponent of not teaching traditional algorithms until fourth or fifth grade, once a child has a multitude of other stratgeties for solving problems.

My experience is that when you teach a child an algorithm too early, they will cling to the algorithm like a life raft, and thinking will stop.

It has been tricky to not let my own public school son learn algorithms until fourth grade math, but I’ve been able to accomplish this through a whole lot of Afterschooling.

I’m not sure if Denise Gaskins would agree with my approach about when to teach algorithms or not. I suspect she would, but I’m not sure. I think it would have been beneficial to slip an entire chapter on algorithms, somewhere in the middle of her book.

Lastly, I have to say that there were so many parts of this book that I highlighted that I really gave my Kindle a workout!

There is a whole section that I’m going to come back to this summer, to keep my kids busy. But was especially useful to me at this moment, were the talking points for helping kids solve problems on their own. Yes, I at one point learned all of talking points, but I really needed the refresher.

My son’s school does Continental Mathematics League, and those problems are really hard. I’m going to print up all of the talking points and post them in our kitchen so that my husband and I will have a list of questions to prompt our son’s thinking. Here are some examples from the book:

  • What do I want?
  • What can I do?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Can you draw a picture?
  • Can you act the problem out?
  • Can you make a chart?
  • Do you see a pattern?
  • Can you try the problem with smaller numbers?
  • Can you work backwards?
  • Can you try something and see if it works?

It doesn’t matter what grade your child is at, those questions are good places to start.

That’s just a teeny, tiny sample of all of insights Let’s Play Math has to offer.

I can’t wait until the author publishes Let’s Play Algebra!

Lose Four Pounds in Two Days!

But you don’t want to.  I Promise.

My “I Brake for Moms” column today in “The Good Life” section of The Sunday Herald.

Bob Books Alternative

We’ve really been having fun with dot-stampers!

Here is yet another thing you can do with them: make homemade phonics books.

Jenna is 3.5 years old now, and can sound this book out if she’s feeling cooperative.  But no matter how she’s feeling, she likes to criticize how Spot the Dog turned out.  (He does look a bit like an elephant.)

We also have a set of Bob Books Jenna is working through.  But Jenna seems to do be more inspired by books in color.  So I really need to get the dot stampers out again, and make another book.

(For more on the how and why of homemade books for children, please click here.)

Stumbling on Open Ground

I just finished reading Stumbling on Open Ground by Ken Mansfield last night.  I received a free copy of this book from Booksneeze, in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I really wanted to like this book at lot.

Ken Mansfield shares his Job-like story of living with not one, but two cancers.  That’s a pretty darn amazing story.  Especially when you consider that Ken Mansfield is the former US manger of the Beatles’ Apple Record company.

The problem was, that the narrative was unclear.  I felt like I was in my car at a stop sign and the car next to me was playing a really good tune on the radio.  The melody was there, but I just couldn’t fully access it.

For example, in one scene a doctor is telling Ken that he needs to go home and get his affairs in order because he is going to die.  In the next scene, his wife is saying that they left for Hawaii and the cancer didn’t act up after all.”  What???  Don’t leave me hanging!  I wanted to hear more details of how that went down.

Instead, I felt kind of lost.

I review for BookSneeze®

Home-School Communication

For Teachers!

One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is effective home-school communication.

In practical experience however, that is easier said than done. I know, because I’ve been there.

What if the parents in your class don’t speak English? What if they are struggling with literacy issues? What if they just toss a newsletter in the trash, or else it never makes it home? Why bother?

Or conversely…

What if the parents are so hyper-involved that they gobble up every word you email them twenty seconds after you click “send”? What if they are questioning your every move?

The Gold Standard

In my opinion, the gold standard of home-school communication is sending out a weekly classroom newsletter or email. Yes, it takes at least thirty minutes to write something decent, but those thirty minutes will solve a ton of problems before they start. Spend effort composing your letter, and you will earn parents’ trust.

If you are already sending out a weekly classroom newsletter, you get an A!

Want an A+? Here’s the next step:

Train parents to be teachers at home.

How are you supposed to do that? Don’t worry; I’m here to help!

All you need to do is include a Tip of the Week at the end of each of your classroom emails.

Each Tip of the Week is appropriate for grades K-4. They describe simple, meaningful things that parents can do to support learning at home. None of them include any advertisements.

The permanent home of this information is: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/for-teachers/  I will be updating that page soon, and building up my list of tips.

So if you have parents in your classroom begging you for more, more, more information, here’s something to help.

P.S. Please note that my entire blog is copyrighted. You cannot cut and paste from my blog posts, but you can cut and paste the links themselves. Does that make sense? So if you wanted to include my entire Tip of the Week list on your classroom website for example, you have my permission to cut and paste everything below. Just don’t cut and paste from the actual posts themselves. Thanks! 🙂

Tip of the Week

Understanding POV

“Who is telling the story?”

Write it on your arm to remind yourself to ask, every time you read your children a book today!

Understanding point of view is a major learning objective you can help your children master.

I’m feeling kind of lazy and am not bothering to look it up in our state’s K-12 standards right now, but I know from being a teacher that understanding point of view is something third graders are expected to understand. You can give your kids a head start by covering POV at home.  They don’t have to be eight years old to learn this.

First Person POV

A great book to get you started is My Little Brother by David Mc Phail.  I highly recommend checking this book out from your local library.

In My Little Brother, the older brother is telling the story.  But the way the story is written, and the way the pictures are drawn, there are lots of opportunities for children to have to really stop and think.

Here are some prompts you might try using: “Who is telling the story?  Point to the person who is telling the story.” etc.

Third Person POV

In the case of a book written in the third person POV, like When Sophie Gets Angry–Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang, the answer to the question “Who is telling the story?” is: The Narator.

The concept of a narrator can be a bit confusing for preschoolers, so make sure they understand first person POV first.  I’m training my three year old daughter Jenna to recognize the difference.

“Who is telling the story?”

Did you write it on your arm yet?  😉

Who’s cooler, you or your sister?

My “I Brake for Moms” column this week in the Sunday Herald.

Carnival News

A woke up to a nice surprise today in that my two posts about logic cards have been featured in the most recent Math Teachers at Play Carnival

This was especially exciting because it’s the first carnival I’ve been in that I didn’t submit for!

For those of you who don’t  know what a blog carnival is, here’s the 15 second explanation:  There’s this website called Blog Carnival.  Bloggers can organize a carnival for free according to their intersts.

Last fall I organized a Carnival of Afterschooling.  It was only mildly successful because most people probably don’t know what Aftesrchooling means.

I intended to organize another carnival in December, but got flooded with posts from nanny websites.  So I ended up scrapping the whole idea.

It’s too bad, because there was one really great post I wanted to share.  Belatedly, here it is:

Bon Crowder presents Chutes and Ladders – It’s a Math Game! posted at Math is Not A Four Letter Word, saying, “A way to look at math – even during game night!”

Logic Cards for Older Kids

My son Bruce(7) asked me to make some logic cards for him.  (Previously I had made a preschool set.)  Here’s what I came up with that’s more of a challenge.

Which one is different on each card?

I made all of these cards using are stamp art set.  It was way easier than drawing things by hand, but you could do that too.

Too many toys?

My “I Brake for Moms” column in the Everett Daily Herald today. 

Check me out in the Good Life section.

FYI: If you are looking for a really creative solution to storing stuffed animals, check out Kristen’s idea here over at Teaching Stars.

Luckily  my kids don’t have enough stuffed animals for their own Zoo!

The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant

I was interested in reading The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant by Terry Felber because it has a foreword written by Dave Ramsey.  I’m not a huge Dave Ramsey fan, but am familiar with his approach to debt-free living.

Dave Ramsey is so passionate about The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant, that it is required reading for every single person who works for his company.  That’s a pretty big endorsement.

This book is written in two parts.  The first half is a mildly interesting story about a business owner from Venice.  The story is supposed to teach financial truths through fiction.

The second half of the book is a study guide  that mashes up scripture, Dave Ramsey, and the guy from Rich Dad/Poor Dad.  There was a lot of common sense advice, including one of my favorite John Wesley quotes of all times: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

The best thing about this book is its brevity.

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

I review for BookSneeze®

Logic Cards for Preschoolers

Here’s a fun, fun game our whole family played at dinner tonight.

Putting one card at a time in the middle of the dinner table, I gave the prompt: “Which one is different?”  Jenna(3) gave the answers.  Bruce(7) was the person who got to say “You are correct!”

(If you click on the pictures they will get bigger.)

The cards got progressively harder, but only a few of them were too hard for Jenna.  She loved this activity.

None of the cards were too hard for Bruce.  He was kind of disappointed that I didn’t have a set designed for him, so that’s my goal for tomorrow.


The cards were super easy to make using these stamp thing-a-ma-jiggers that Jenna got for Christmas.  She did art while I made a bunch of learning tools for the future.

One final note.  Anyone familiar with the CogAT can probably see the way my mind is working…

Envelope Budget Wallet

Check out my new wallet from Thrifty Zippers!

One of my goals this year is to be better about teaching my daughter about money.  Specifically, I want Jenna(3) to understand that when I say “There’s no more money for ice cream,” I’m not actually saying: There’s no more money!

I’ve been thinking that a Dave Ramsey style cash/budget wallet, might solve this problem for me. I can show Jenna that there is an actual envelope of money for ice cream, but that there are also envelopes of money for other things.

In the past, I’ve tried the envelope/wallet system with real  paper envelopes.  Tsh at Simple Mom talks about this in her book One Bite at a Time.  But I kind of got freaked out that the envelopes might accidentally be thrown away!

Then I saw these wallets from Thrifty Zippers on Etsy

They are pretty attractive considering the material…oilcloth. 

You could throw these in a diaper bag without too much fuss.

There is a clear pocket for my driver’s licence, plus some other pockets for cards.

The most important feature is the six zippered envelopes.  There is a clear window on each envelope to write whatever label you want.

All in all, I’m pretty impressed!

Even better, I’m starting off 2013 being jazzed about frugal living.  I’m going to make up that $32.95 I spent on this wallet in no time.  I’ll also probably shave off a few pounds from not going out for ice cream so often.  😉

(P.S. In case you are wondering, I did not get this wallet for free as a blogger perk. I paid my money like everyone else.)