Teaching My Baby To Read

Home » Just Starting Out

Category Archives: Just Starting Out

Why multisensory learning is awesomesauce


In the past two weeks, Jenna has made mind-blowing progress in her RUN, BUG, RUN! reader. I need to buy more star stickers!


Most of these stories are at a Guided Reading level of A or B, but a few of them, like “Get the Moth, Meg” and “The Sad Hog,” are at level C or perhaps D.

I apologize for sounding like I’ve drunk the All About Learning Kool-aid, (full disclosure: I am an affiliate), but committing to our All About Spelling materials twenty minutes a day has really made a difference.

As a former K-4 teacher, I’m still scratching my head about what’s going on. I’ve taught Jenna phonics since she was two years old. We’ve done multisensory lessons up the wazoo. (For a list of everything I’ve tried, click here.) All of my methods worked with Jenna…up to a point. Then she got glasses, which made a big difference.

Now, my daughter is presenting me with the opportunity of becoming a better teacher.

With my son Bruce, I could teach him a spelling pattern like “th,” “sh,” or “ch” and he could generalize that out to basically every word in existence. We could practice with 10 words, and he would be able to read 100.

With Jenna, I’ve discovered I need to explicitly teach all 10o words. Not only that, but it makes a big difference how I teach the words.


Flashcards are the least effective way for Jenna to learn new words.


Multisensory activities are a lot better.


Dictation helps too. She has exceptionally strong auditory skills, and can almost always sound out words properly–even though her handwriting is the subject of another post. In this picture, we are using raised lined paper and that helps a bit.

Too many words doesn’t help. Jenna does better when she can learn words one at a time. Then, if you present her with text where she knows almost all the words, she will be successful.


By the time Jenna has spelled out a word with tiles, and then written it down on paper, she does fine with the flash card version. When she encounters this word in text, she can sound it out.


Another thing that is really helping is the reading focus cards. I’m not sure if reduces eye-strain, improves tracking or what. But for Jenna, they were really worth purchasing and a lot better than the homemade versions I had used with her previously.

Reading windows make Bob Books pop.

My homemade reading windows didn’t have colored film, plus the scalloped edges were probably distracting. For Jenna, they didn’t work very well, although I’ve had them work beautifully for other students.

As a mom, I have 900 kid commitments I’m responsible for right now. As a writer I have a book coming out next year and a sequel following. As a newspaper columnist, I have a deadline every week. So unfortunately, tinkering with my blog is low on the list of my priorities.

Ideally however, I should go back through all my old posts and tag them as “visual,” “auditory,” or “kinesthetic.” I would also go through my main list of ideas and organize them differently. I think Jenna would have had more success earlier if I could have pinpointed her best-practices-learning-path. “If your child is a visual learner, start here.” “If your child is an auditory learner, this page is for you.” etc.

In the meantime, here’s a very cool visual from All About Learning.


Spelling Can Be Easy When It's Multisensory

Fun book for beginning readers

Looking for a book that fits somewhere between Level 2 Book Books and Level 3? Check out Early Bird by Toni Yuly. This is a bright, cheerful story for beginning readers that my own daughter really enjoyed. We found this book at our local library.

A fun aspect about Early Bird is that in addition to the lovely illustrations, the text is presented in an interesting way, so that the words  “pop” out to kids. My daughter and I enjoyed  Early Bird  a lot, and can’t wait to see the author’s new book, Night Owl, which comes out in a few days.


Attention Parents!

cropped-img_0934.jpgYou can teach your child a tremendous amount of academics, especially with some guidance.

My name is Jennifer Bardsley. Find out more about me here or here.

Where to Start  will give you ideas for toddlers and preschoolers, and Afterschooling is for Kindergarten on up. Every child deserves one-on-one instruction, and that experience can begin in your home.

Just say no to busy work!

Don't buy this at Costco!

Don’t buy this at Costco!

I had very low expectations for this latest Leap Frog purchase and I wasn’t disappointed.

Leap Frog’s Complete Kindergarten Learning Kit (Math, Printing, Language Building, Early Reading) (Grade K) was selling for $20 at Costco. (It’s $89 on Amazon!!!)

I didn’t want to buy it but my preschooler made me.

Okay, that’s not totally true. I was curious. The former Kindergarten teacher in me was begging to see what was in that box.

Save yourself $20 and just look at my picture:


Nothing in this box is bad exactly, it’s just that I don’t believe workbooks and flashcards are the answer.

Sometimes you’ll get kids like my daughter who “want” to do workbooks. Okay, fine. Whatever. We can get out the Leap Frog workbooks for fun.

But edutainment is different than education.

There are a hundred more meaningful things you could do with your emergent reader that would be more meaningful. Here’s roadmap of examples.

With flashcards, if you are going to use them selectively (as I sometimes do), they shouldn’t be confusing. Take a look at this:

Sooooo many numbers and soooooo confusing!

Sooooo many numbers and soooooo confusing!

That's a little bit better.

That’s a little bit better.

One thing the kit came with that I thought was pretty good were these dot cards:

These are awesome, but you could make them yourself for free.

These are awesome, but you could make them at home for free.

Here are some fun ideas for preschool math.

Final thoughts? Maybe the next time you are at Costco, you can save $20!

P.S. Leap Frog does have four products that I highly recommend:

LeapFrog: Letter Factory

LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory

LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory
LeapFrog: Word Caper

Fridge Words Magnetic Word Builder

Sadly all of the other Leap Frog products I have purchased haven’t been as good.

BLISS, a new way to celebrate birth

Watch out Baby Showers!  You've got some competition.

Watch out Baby Showers! You’ve got some competition.

No, I’m not pregnant!  (That ship has sailed.) But I’m still of the age where I have lots of pregnant friends.  I have my go-to baby gifts.  I have my stock set up congratulations cards and sentiments.

All those things seem a big haggard after reading Bliss: A guide to unique gift giving for the expectant mom, by Hava Skovron.

Skovron has created a new tradition for expectant mothers which she calls BLISS.  The idea is to start in month three, and then celebrate pregnancy with a new gift every month.  Each month gets a new theme; kind of like wedding anniversaries.

Month 3 = Paper

Month 4 = Lotion

Month 5 = Cotton

Month 6 = Photo

Month 7 = Wood

Month 8 = Silver

Month 9 = Food

The BLISS gifts can be as humble or expensive as your budget dictates.  A paper gift could be a homemade gift card or a spa certificate.  A wood gift could be a simple picture frame or a brand new crib.

Cool idea, right?  The book contains hundreds of ideas for each month.  There are also suggestions for how to organize a BLISS giving group, and how to deal with adoption.

Here’s the sad part.  I read this book today while still grieving over my friends’ loss of their newborn baby.  So all of Skovron’s ideas had added meaning for me.

A pregnancy after miscarriage or infant loss is/would be very scary.  BLISS gifts could be a great way to help a hopeful mom through her fear.  Instead of having a baby shower, you could follow BLISS and send comforting gifts for the mother instead.

Paper could be a note of encouragement.  Lotion could be hand cream.  Cotton could be a set of soft pillowcases for a good night’s sleep.  All the gifts could offer encouragement and understanding.

I really love this idea of BLISS.  Thank you Hava Skorvorn for your creativity, and for giving me a complimentary copy of your book so that I could review it.

Don’t Sound it Out!

Phonics Game for Kids

Phonics Game for Kids

Last year I made a game for my daughter called Put Your Socks and Shoes On.  It’s sooo easy to replicate, because all you need is construction paper and a pen.

Yesterday we brought the game out again and I’m happy to report that Jenna (3.5) was pretty much able to crush it.

The really exciting thing is that she can now say “J-am  JAM!” and “S-am  SAM!” instead of sounding out every single letter.  That got me to thinking about:

When you don’t want kids to sound something out!

It’s really tricky.  Teachers and parents give kids inordinate amounts of praise for sounding out letters.  Thats good!  (I’m not saying that’s bad.)  But then it gets to the point where you want kids to stop sounding out every letter, and start reading the word for Pete’s sake!

That transition can be rather tricky.

Here are some tips to make that easier:

  1. Stop praising your child for sounding out every letter.
  2. Ask “Can you read that faster?”
  3. Use a visual to show the relationship between word families, and present that visual super fast.  (See below.)

Kids with strong phonemic awareness to begin with, will make this transition faster.  So try to incorporate rhyming as much as possible in the rest of your day.

Make your kid think you are just being goofy all the time.  “We’re getting into the car/jar/tar/.  We’re driving to the store/bore/tore.   I’m making dinner/blinner/zinner.”

You can teach reading, when you aren’t even teaching reading!

Then when you come back to a game like this, your little reader will be ready to crush it too.

Reading with a Flashlight

Do your kids have random flashlights floating around the house? Don’t pack them away with the camping gear just yet!

Daily Sentences go from ho-hum to super-fun with a little illumination.

Here’s what we’ve been doing:

  • Write a new sentence each day and tape it on the wall.
  • Read every sentence each day.
  • Read the sentences to Daddy when he gets home.

An extra trick is to read vertically as well as horizontally.

We don’t just practice reading the sentences straight across, we also read down the chart too.  My daughter Jenna can read all of the words that say “on” for example.  She can also read all of the words that say “I”.  Shining the flashlight on each word she reads makes it extra fun.

The rule at our house is that sometimes mommy gets to shine the light on words and sometimes Jenna gets to.  We take turns!  That’s an important ground rule for any of this to work.  😉

A Sentence a Day

Have you ever seen my Where to Start page?  If so, you know that reading and writing a daily Morning Message is something I really encourage.

But sometimes what works for kid #1 does not work for kid #2.

Jenna keeps wrestling the pen from me every time I bring out the whiteboard.  It’s been like this for a while, so I’ve finally gave up on doing a Morning Message with her.  That meant I had to thinking of something else.

Daily Sentences to the rescue!!!!

I write a new sentence each day, and then we tape it to the wall.  When Jenna reads the sentence with me, she gets a gummy bear.  We also read the sentences from the previous day, and read them again to Daddy when my husband gets home from work.

Daily sentences strips aren’t nearly as good as a Morning Message, but they’re better than nothing.  The reason a Morning Message would still be better, is because kids see the thought process going into the formation of each word.  There’s also more content, and you can do some fancy underlining.

But maybe I’ll think of ideas to make Daily Sentences a bit better, as we go along.

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!


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.  🙂

How to Teach Young Children to Read

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

My methods are child-centered, child-directed, and based on my own experience. I am sharing them with you so that you can have a teacher-created road map of how to teach your son or daughter to read before Kindergarten.

All children are unique and learn at different rates. Please be patient with yourself and your children. These activities are meant to be practical and fun; not stressful. Not every child will developmentally be able to learn to read by five years old, but every child is capable of learning.

First give yourself and education. Find out about:

Then try out some age-based ideas that worked for me:

0-18 Months

  • Baby Signs
  • Lots of Reading with Mommy and Daddy!

18 Months on up (The Beginning)

To teach phonemic awareness and phonics, I suggest starting kids out on a really old-school video called “Rusty and Rosy ABC Sounds and Such”. Then move on to “Leap Frog”.

Yes, yes, I know TV can be evil! Please don’t blast me about the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that children under two shouldn’t watch television.

It’s not like I’m sitting my toddler in from of “Star Wars the Clone Wars” and then going off into the living room to drink a margarita. What I do, is I snuggle down with my daughter and watch as much of the video as she has the attention span at this point to get through. At first it is just two or three minutes, but I build her up to twenty. Each time a new letter or sound comes on, I make a big deal about. “Oh, that’s the letter S! Sssssssssss.”

More on the order of videos I suggest here.

24 Months on up (The Middle)

There is definitely a fuzzy gray area after a child has learned his letters and sounds, but before he is ready to actively start putting them together in CVC (consonant vowel consonant) words. This stage might take a long time.

36 months on up (Sealing the Deal)

Special Note:

Of course, we do lots of other things too, like play outside, play dress up, engage in imaginative play, sing songs, attend a play group etc. But I do believe in actively teaching toddlers letters and sounds.

At 21 months my daughter  knew almost all of her upper case letters, close to half of her lower case letters, and could put sounds together with letters if you prompted her. At 3 years old my son was reading level 1 Bob Books.

Every child will learn at a different rate, so be patient.

You can do it Moms and Dads! You can teach your children to read.

A fun way to practice name recognition

Yesterday my three year old found some glitter containers floating around our house. Thank goodness they weren’t opened! She really wanted to use glitter, so we headed outside and turned it into a learning activity to get her ready for preschool this fall.

All I did was write out her name in marker on a piece of construction paper, trace it with glue, and hand the glitter over. Jenna made many, many, many versions of this. Sometimes of the papers had her name on them, some said “Dad”. I tried to confuse her, but she was on to my tricks!

P.S. This activity would also work with beans.

Moving on to All About Spelling Level 1, Step 2!!!

Yeah! Jenna (35m) is ready to move on to All About Spelling Level 1, step 2! (The “y” and “qu” are not checked off yet, but I’m giving that a pass.) Honestly, this would be ten times easier if Jenna was almost 4 instead of almost 3, but it is still very much doable.

It is really hard as a parent not to compare your kids, but when my son Bruce was this age he was already reading simple consonant-vowel-consonant words. Jenna is just not there yet. She can do other things at two and a half that Bruce couldn’t however, like work on complex puzzles and kick her daddy’s behind at the Memory Game.

Jenna has also become a spontaneous rapper and rhymes words all of the time. As a teacher, I know that this means that her phonemic awareness skills are really high for her age. Phonemic awareness is the precursor to learning to read. It includes things like rhyming and being able to say “ball starts with buh”. She is also really strong with all of her upper case, and lower case sounds. All I need to do know is keep doing what I’m doing, and….wait. Ugh! Waiting is the hard part!!!

If I was new at this “teaching kids to read thing”, or if Jenna was my first born and I was on a rampant buying spree, I think I would purchase All About Reading right about now. If it is anything like All About Spelling, then I am sure it is awesome. If you want a program that is going to hold your hand the whole way through teaching your kids how to read, AAR would be it.  If you want a road-map of free things to try, then check out my Where to Start Page.

But I’m not new at teaching kids how to read. I do know what I’m doing. I just need to be patient with my own child. That of course, is easier said than done. 😉

A Very V Vacuum

Here’s a fun activity to do with your 2, 3, or 4 year old that is free, builds fine motor skills, and works on phonics all at the same time. Draw a letter V on a piece of paper. Then have your child cover the V with old stickers that have been floating around your house for a while.

When you are finished, tape the V to your vacuum. Don’t forget to make a lot of “Vroom-Vroom” sounds; the more histrionics the better. Very Pretty!  Very loud!  Vroooooooooom!

You could do this type of activity with any letter your child is currently working on. I chose the letter V because it’s one of the letters Jenna(2.5) still needs to check off her chart for All About Spelling Level 1, Step one.

This is what her chart looks like right now at 34 months. AAS has children learn multiple sounds for certain letters like A, E, I, O, U, Y, S etc. so that’s why it’s taking Jenna a while to complete the chart. By Leap Frog standards, she has known all of her letters and sounds for a while. If this chart was in upper case, and I was just asking for one sound per letter, it would have been completed months ago.

Another problem with our progress is that I’ve been a total slacker. We haven’t done our four cards a day in weeks! So, to help Jenna finish off these last sounds, I’m going to concentrate on one letter every few days. At least that’s the plan. 😉

Beach ABCs

Today, Jenna(2.5) woke up and spearheaded our entire family into donning boots, fleece and scarves to go to the beach this morning. In addition to a lot of fun playing…

…we also took a moment to write out words and letters in the sand.

Jenna and I both took turns writing with the stick, although her “letters” were just a bunch of scratches. She can write Os, Xs, and a few other letters, but writing letters in wet sand is really hard. It works a major amount of gross muscles that are really good for preschoolers to practice using.

To tap into fine motor muscles, I tried to have Jenna fill in the letters with rocks, but that didn’t last too long.

There were too many other fun things to do, like throwing rocks instead!

P.S. Keep that and picture in mind because I have a whole post to write about Dyslexia one of these days. Finding ways to make conjunctions and articles “concrete” is one of the tips I learned after reading The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis.