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Singapore vs. Right Start, an Afterschooler’s Dilemma

Afterschooling with Singapore Math?

Afterschooling with Singapore Math?

The other day I was at the teacher store buying Christmas presents (yes, I’m weird), when I  decided to take a look at the Singapore math section.

Long time readers will remember that I’ve blogged about Singapore math before. A couple of years ago, I used the fourth grade Singapore Standards book to help supplement my son Bruce’s math work afterschool.

A math balance is a fun way for kids to develop number sense.

From our Right Start kit.

But with my daughter Jenna(4), we’ve been working through Right Start Level A, because I love Right Start.

I love the manipulatives…I love the constructivist approach…I love that handwriting doesn’t have to get in the way of progress… Dr. Joan Cotter is my hero!

The downside of Right Start is that parents have to set up a lot of stuff. You can’t just open a workbook and hand your kid a pencil.

Right Start Level A also seems to stretch out into 1st grade territory. So right now, Jenna’s on lesson 30 (out of 77), and we’re pretty much treading water.  I need to wait a bit for her to developmentally catch up and be ready to continue.  Some kids would be able to move faster. Some kids would need to move slower. But Jenna’s only four, and there’s no rush.

So while I was at the teachers store I picked up a copy of the Singapore Math textbook A for Kindergartners. It’s colorful (some would argue cartoonish), and really engaging for a little girl like Jenna, who loves to do “homework”. She breezed through half of the book in a few days, of her own accord, and then polished off a lot more over the weekend.

Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics Textbook A (Standards Edition)

Now we’re at the point where Jenna really needs to learn to write the number 5 before she can finish up book A, and move on to book B. (Darn, that handwriting!)

Anyone familiar with Singapore can probably guess what we have not done this past week, which has allowed Jenna to breeze through those pages so quickly.

We haven’t been following all of the instructions that involve collecting toys to count, measuring objects in the house, or discussing potatoes as a food source.


That’s the real danger of using Singapore. It’s easy to skip all of the important, hands-on stuff, and just have your kid do workbook pages.

That doesn’t mean that I think Singapore is bad, I just think that parents need to be careful.

In our situation, I’m fine with Jenna using it as a fun workbook so that she can have “homework” like her brother. That’s because she’s been doing so many hands-on activities from Right Start.

But if Singapore was the only way I was supplementing math afterschool (or in this case before school), I would purchase the teacher’s guide and be a lot more careful.

Teaching is different than watching your kid to workbook pages, –even if you are drawing out dots for the number 5!

Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics Textbook A (Standards Edition)

Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics Textbook B (Standards Edition)

Coffee Table Science


Halloween is just a few days away, which means it’s almost time for rotting pumpkins!

Watching jack-o’-lanterns decompose in our front yard is an annual family tradition. This year we have a head start. One of our pie pumpkins was mysteriously stabbed, and the culprit has yet to confess.

I gathered the rotting pumpkin, as well as some other biological specimens, on our coffee table. Then I surrounded them with science books. Setting up a learning table right in our living room is an easy way to get kids interested in science.

It’s also a good lead-in for when we go to the Life Sciences Research Weekend at the Pacific Science Center.

From November 1st-3rd real scientists from all over Puget Sound are coming to meet families, lead demonstrations, and talk about how scientific research impacts our everyday lives. Entry to the event is included with an admission ticket.


Both of my kids love science, but finding time to set up experiments at home is hard. Some of the things we’ve done in the past include building atoms with marshmallows, discovering osmosis with food dye, and experimenting with desalination.

If I was a cooler mom, I’d be setting up a science experiment for my kids to do each week. In the meantime, I bet a day at the Pacific Science Center will provide lots of inspiration.

What NOT to do with Halloween Candy

What's in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20131027/BLOG5205/710279971/Halloween-candy-A-treat-for-kids-and-a-trick-on-parents

The Daniel Cure, by Susan Gregory and Dr. Richard J. Bloomer


Last week I read The Daniel Cure: The Daniel Fast Way to Vibrant Health by Susan Gregory and Dr. Richard J. Bloomer. I’ve been telling people about it every since.

The concept of the book is rooted in Daniel 1:11-13 and Daniel 10:2-3 when Daniel fasts, prays, and eats food from seeds. Susan Gregory came up with the idea of a 21 day modified fast based on these verses, where you eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds,and healthy fats. She called it “The Daniel Fast” and blogged about it here.

The Daniel Cure follows up with lots of science, sound nutritional information, recipes, a 21 day devotional, and some great charts to monitor your vitals.

None of this was new information to me, a green-smoothie-gluten-free- sometimes-vegan-regular exerciser, but I was impressed by how it was all laid out.

Basically, this is a book about following a bleeding heart liberal diet, written for the GOP. I could see a church lady in Texas reading this book and loving it, when maybe she never would have bought a book about being vegan. Brilliant!

Three weeks of clean eating combined with prayer and self-examination also sounds like a win-win idea.

It would be hard to follow the Daniel Fast and also be gluten-free, but the authors do talk about making modifications for people with allergies, food intolerances, and for women who are pregnant or nursing (p28).

I am definitely planning to try a 21 day Daniel Fast in the future. First I need to wean off of coffee. That’s easier said than done…

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

I review for BookSneeze®

What’s happening to Math Expressions?


Right now our school district uses the 2009 version of Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions. As math programs go, I like it. (Full review here.) Are there things I would like to change about Math Expressions? Yes. Do I think it’s horrible? No.

But here’s the thing. Washington State is fully implementing the Common Core State Standards Initiative in 2014. Knowing how these things work, I’m guessing that 2009 Math Expressions will be considered outdated, especially since Houghton Mifflin has come out with a new version of Math Expressions that is Common Core aligned.

It makes me feel sorry for our school district. Those poor people at the district office, trying to figure out how to find $1 million dollars to buy new books that hopefully won’t be outdated in four years… Yikes!

In the meantime, the 2009 Math Expressions books are really cheap. I ordered volume one of the 5th grade textbook for under ten dollars.

Math Expressions: Student Activity Book Softcover, Volume 1 Level 5 2009 (Math Expressions 2009 – 2012)

Why did I do this? It’s nice to have the book at home so that I can see what my son Bruce is learning in school. Sometimes 5 minutes of “Mom Math” can really make a difference.

There are also a lot of things in the textbook meant to be cut out, like game pieces and little flashcards. This can’t happen in an classroom environment where the books need to be saved for future years…or something.

Vocabulary words can be underlined, important numbers can be circled, concepts can be pretaught or reviewed as needed. This was ten dollars well spent!

Having the textbook at home makes me wish we could all think bigger and be better about collaborating. School Districts, Teachers, Parents, Students; if everyone was literally on the same page, we could make good things happen.

But that would take two things that are constantly in short supply when it comes to education: trust and money.

If a school district is struggling to buy new math books that become obsolete almost as soon as they are printed, how could it ever afford to buy a second set for kids to use at home (maybe) with their parents?

That was a rhetorical question. Homeschools, feel free to give yourselves a smug little pat on the back right about now.

P.S. If you are looking for a Khan Academy alternative. Houghton Mifflin also has some sort of free online-tutorial that I haven’t checked out yet called Go Math Academy.

Easy Halloween Game

All you need is cardboard

All you need is cardboard

Here’s a fun idea from my son’s Cub Scout book. You take a cardboard box, and set it up so that it becomes a pumpkin toss game.

Then grab some pennies or an old bean bag, and you’re all ready to play!

P.S. If you count the pennies as they go into the pumpkin’s mouth, then this becomes a learning activity for preschoolers.

Every Child is a Special Snowflake


Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column this morning, from The Everett Daily Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20131020/BLOG5205/710209979/Neither-children-nor-teachers-fit-into-neat-boxes

My heart really goes out to kids and teachers right now, who keep getting treated as cohorts with outliers (that must be dealt with!!!) as opposed to unique individuals with unlimited potential.

Every child deserves a personal learning plan. That’s why I believe Afterschooling is so important.


What’s in the pumpkin?

What's in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

What’s in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

Reading requires stamina. I get reminded of that over and over again every time my daughter Jenna(4) reads a  Bob Book.

Jenna knows her letters, she knows her sounds, and she can sound out words. But her first time reading any new Bob Book is extremely laborious. Pages 1-2 are great. Then by page 5 she’s rolling around on the couch.

Some teachers would take the “Hold off! She’s not developmentally ready!” approach. My opinion is that 5-10 minutes a day of phonics isn’t going to hurt a four-year-old.

I also know that the second and third time Jenna reads a Bob Book (the next day, and the day after that), she breezes through it.  So I don’t think this is about developmental readiness as much as about developing stamina.

Day one of introducing a new book, I’ve got to bring my A-game.


Building words is a good start.


Incentives can work too.

What your seeing up above is what’s in the pumpkin! I went to Target and bought ten items from the dollar spot.

What's in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

Now, every time Jenna finishes a new book from Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners, she gets to pick a new pumpkin surprise.

Amazingly, her reading stamina has improved over night. 😉

Yes, it’s important to use positive reinforcements with caution. Eventually I want Jenna to read because she loves reading, not because she wants a junky prize from China!

But right now, I want to her practice, practice, practice. I know from experience that by the time Jenna can get through Bob Books Set 3- Word Families, she’ll think reading is a lot of fun.

A Talent for Trouble, by Jen Turano

I just finished up the frothy and highly entertaining historical romance A Talent for Trouble, by Jen Turano. Like it’s predecessor, A Most Peculiar Circumstance, this book follows the adventures of a twentyish socialite living in turn-of-the century New York. This time it’s Felicia Murdock who gets entangled with a former opium trafficker.

I think both books are really fun, tame reading for high school girls on up. I appreciate the message of female empowerment that Jen Turano so skillfully captures.

I do still have a nagging wish that the books were more historically accurate. In A Talent for Trouble, the heroine Felicia Murdock does a lot of things that would get her kicked out of high society faster than you could say “The Age of Innocence”. But I did like the plotline surrounding the opium trade.

I would LOVE for Jen Turano to include some tidbits of the historical research she did to write her books on her website Jen Turano.com. That would make my day!

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

My guest post for What to Expect.com


For several years I’ve had something on my heart that I wanted to write but couldn’t put down on paper because it’s so hard to say.

I finally did and it’s a guest post on “What to Expect.com”. They’ve also shared it on their Facebook Page.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting was my go-to book for all of my pregnancies. So it means a lot to me that you can go onto “What to Expect.com”, type in the word miscarriage, and find my story. It means a lot to read all of the comments and responses to my article.

I hope in some small way I am able to help.

P.S. If you are new my blog, please click here to find out what Teaching My Baby to Read is all about.

Building Words from Bob Books


A dollar’s worth of pipe cleaners is all it takes to make phonics hands-on.  Right now my daughter Jenna(4) has been having fun building words from Bob Books.


We don’t build all of the words from each book, but one or two seems to be doing the trick. It’s an easy way to pre-teach new words.

For more ideas about Bob Books please click here.

Math through Osmosis

Try to ignore this while eating breakfast. I dare you!

There’s nowhere to hide from learning at our house!

Here’s a quick trick to help promote learning at home. If your kid is learning a new vocabulary term, post the definition somewhere he’ll see it during breakfast.

In this example, I’m including some Greek words for numbers that will be helpful when learning about decimeters.

Btw, there’s already been a debate at our house over whether or not I spelled these words correctly. In my defense, I copied the Greek straight from the math textbook. So If I spelled something wrong, blame Math Expressions.  🙂

How parents can use the “C.I.A. Approach to Reading” at home


The jump from learning to read to reading to learn is one of the toughest educational challenges kids face. As teachers and parents, it’s our job to make that transition as painless as possible so that children become bibliophiles.


That’s why I was excited to read Raising the Standards: Through Chapter Books: The C.I.A. Approach, by Sarah Collinge. I first heard of C.I.A. at of my son’s school. Several teachers are going to Read Side By Side’s upcoming training in October, and are writing grants to pay for new materials.

My son’s third grade class is using the C.I.A. methods already.  This is Bruce’s assessment of what it’s all about: “Basically it’s teaching you to read something and regurgitate information.  Then you regurgitate it again.” Considering that description is coming from an eight-year-old, it’s not too bad.

At its very heart, the C.I.A. approach teaches kids to understand, synthesize, and write about key information.

C.I.A. stands for “collect, interpret, and apply”. It dovetails on the Guided Reading approach and the classic book by Fountas and PinnelI, Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy.

Okay, so why should moms and dads care about any of this? Because, dear friends, after reading  Raising the Standards I’m really excited about ways that parents can incorporate many of Collinge’s ideas at home.

Turn bedtime read aloud into instructional read aloud

Turn bedtime read aloud into instructional read aloud

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1) Divide your next chapter book read aloud into four quadrants using post-it notes.

This is going to make a big-old chapter book seem less scary and more approachable. The C.I.A. method is all about helping kids develop the stamina to get through challenging material.

2) Use a “turn to talk” framework to help kids identify places in a book that give readers important information.

  • “When the book said__________ I inferred/visualized/predicted/thought_______________.”

3) At the end of quadrant one, help your kids identify the four corners of a story that hold the whole thing together:

  • character
  • setting
  • problem
  • main events

Quadrant one is the most laborious. The first quarter of a chapter books is when kids need the most support to understand what’s going on.

4) In quadrant two, start looking for the hidden and ambiguous. Keep your eye out for the following:

  • vocabulary
  • repeated words
  • author’s style
  • themes

Don’t forget to summarize what you know. This is especially important in bedtime read aloud, when you might not have read for a few nights. “Okay. Where were we? What just happened? Help me remember because I’m old and forgetful.” 🙂

5) In quadrant three, help your child identify the turning point of the novel.

Were you able to predict the turning point? What evidence enabled your prediction? What is the author trying to say? The more you can point out specific passages in books to ground your answer, the better.

6) In quadrant four, read quickly and with enjoyment.

The last part of the book should be the easiest. Kids understand what’s going on, and are excited to reach the conclusion.


I am very glad that Collinge sent me a copy of her book for review so that I could brag a little bit about this exciting pedagogy coming from Washington State.

For more information about the C.I.A. approach to reading, please check out Read Side By Side.

MyPlate on My Budget continues to make me think


Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today in The Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20131013/BLOG5205/710139973/Need-not-abuse-should-be-focus-of-debate-on-food-aid

For more information on the MyPlate on My Budget experiment, please check out the Pinterest board I created with Rose McAvoy of Our Lady of Second Helpings and Light for Life.

I have to add, I tried several times to write Rose’s name into my column from today, so that I could express my thanks for her help and support in March, but I kept running into a word count brick wall.

So let me say it now on my blog, Rose really helped tremendously during MyPlate on My Budget. I had her email address on speed dial!  Please be sure to click on over to her blogs and be inspired.

Mini-Pumpkin Math

There's math in here.  I know it!

There’s math in here. I know it!

Jenna(4) has been working on taking a large quantity of objects and organizing them to make the objects easier to quantify.  (See here for more info.)

Today she practice that skill using mini pumpkins.

How many pumpkins are there?

How many pumpkins are there?

One solution would be to line them up and count.

One solution would be to line them up and count.

Or you could make "five flowers" with pumpkins.

Or you could make “five flowers” with pumpkins.

Organizing mates it easier to visualize. Twenty Six!

Organizing makes it easier to visualize.

Can you see in one glance what the answer is?