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# Category Archives: Just Starting Out

## Early Literacy on the Cheap

Even if your kids don’t have a Grandma who likes to shop, you can still give your kids a great head-start on learning an stay on budget.  If you have paper, markers, tape, and a library card, you can put some of my favorite ideas into action and start teaching your little ones how to read.   I start teaching my kids at about 18 months using the fun, interactive methods I share on my Where to Start page.  Most of these ideas don’t take any money to implement; just creativity and love.

If you have paper and markers:

If you have paper, markers, tape, and some random things from your house:

If you have a library card:

If you have a limited amount of money to spend buy:

P.S. I aso have ideas for Cheap Math.

## Quantity Identification and Adults

Last week when I posted about playing The Quarter Game with Jenna(2.5), Lia from One Mouthful posed an interesting question. What type of quantities are adults capable of visualizing? Unfortunately, I have no idea, even after trying to figure out the answer via Google! Instead, my son Bruce(6.5) and I have been conducting our own experiments on each other. I can visualize up to seven quarters within 3 seconds, and he can visualize 6. We still need to try this out on my husband.

Interestingly, when we used two or three different colors, we could both go a lot higher. This reminded me of some Right Start mathematics literature I read by Dr. Joan Cotter, which encourages teaching your child to recognize the quantity 5 as being two on each side with one in the middle. (I can’t remember the specific place where I read that, or I would include the link).

So for me as a parent who is trying to anneal my daughter’s math skills, once Jenna has the quantity 4 nailed, then I should start introducing 5 as four of one color, and one of another. As soon as Jenna can do that, then I’m going to start her out on the first few lessons of Right Start Level A. I tried this a couple of months ago, and she wasn’t ready back then. But I think she is going to be ready soon.

## Make Your Own Talking Words Factory

Calling Professor Quigley to the factory floor. Mr. Webster is on his way!

Today Jenna(2.5) said to me “I can’t go to the Talking Words Factory tonight because I’m going to Daddy Preschool”. It was a spontaneous bit of imagining on her part, but gave me the idea of actually building a pretend Taking Words Factory ala Leap Frog. So we set up the tunnels, got out every single letter toy we own (I’m very acquisitive of phonics products), and I blew up some copies of the DVD pictures on our printer. Voila!

Here’s our Talking Words Factory with the Word Whammer ready to go.

Here’s our Letter Factory complete with ABC cards and blocks.

We had fun crawling around our forts, sounding out letters, and attempting to blend words. I say attempting, because even though Jenna has known all of her letters and sounds for quite some time, she is still not quite ready for sounding out C-V-C words yet. But this was a really fun way to practice.

## Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds

As a douceur to convince Jenna(31m) to start blending C-V-C words, I’ve cracked open my wallet and loaded Preschool Prep’s “Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds” onto Bruce’s Kindle Fire. Let me tell you, as somebody who has turned green from watching Leap Frog videos about 100 times, and who can sing the “Rusty and Rosie” songs by heart, “Meet the Phonics” is a nice change of pace!

That being said, I don’t think that “Meet the Phonics” would make the best starter video for a young learner because it introduces a lot of information very quickly. Conceptually, “Meet the Phonics” teaches material covered in Leap Frog’s “Letter Factory”, “Talking Words Factory”, and “Talking Words Factor Two”, all put together.

What is really interesting to me as a parent, is right in the middle of “Meet the Phonics” when they start showing a slot machine that blends C-V-C words, Jenna starts to immediately lose interest and starts wildly touching the screen trying to change the Kindle over to something else. This is proof yet again that she is still not ready to blend…

I think my new preferred order for introducing letter and phonics sounds to young children through videos, starting at 18 months and going in three week intervals, would go like this:

1. Rusty and Rosie’s ABCs and Such
2. Rusty and Rosie’s Letter Sound Songs
3. Leap Frog’s Letter Factory
4. Leap Frog’s Phonics Farm (egad, it’s boring!)
5. Leap Frog’s Talking Word’s Factory
6. Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds
7. Talking Words Factory Two, Code Word Caper

For Bruce(6.5), the videos that made the most difference were “Rusty and Rosie Letter Sound Songs”, and “Talking Words Factory #1 and #2”.  Jenna on the other hand, has responded the most to the “Letter Factory” .  So I think it is worth trying all of these videos out, if you can get them at your local library for free.

## All About Spelling Level 1, Step 1

All About Spelling is certainly not meant for two year olds, but since I already have the materials this is what I am currently doing with them.  Right now Bruce(6.5) is on a break between Levels 2 and 3.  We will be starting up again when he turns seven.  Right now he is still doing Evan Moore Spelling Grade 2 through his public school.  In the interim, I decided to clear our AAS board and store the tiles so that they wouldn’t get lost, even though the board is usually safely stored behind our china cabinet.

In the middle of all of this, Jenna(2.5) still asks to “do spelling” quite frequently.  Previously when I have tried this with her, it has been a somewhat meaningful time-filling activity that usually degenerated into playing with the tiles and making a mess.  But I’ve had an “ah-ha” moment.  The problem was that the board was set up for Level 2, instead of Level 1, Step 1!  I realized this the first time Jenna and I “did spelling” with the board cleaned off.  Putting the whole alphabet on the board isn’t supposed to be introduced to children until Level 1, Step 3.

One of the first lessons in Level 1, Step 1 is to go through all of the Phonogram cards with your child, to see which sounds your child doesn’t know, and which you need to practice.  For some children, this first step could take several months, depending on what age you begin.  Since Jenna really wants to use the tiles and the board like her brother Bruce, we have been practicing with one letter tile at a time, instead of the Phonogram cards.

This has worked really well for a few weeks now. Sometimes we get through the whole alphabet, and sometimes we only get through 12 letters.  I let her natural attention span and curiosity at the moment, lead the lesson.  The only problem we run into is the “funny looking a”.  It is written a instead of a which makes things tricky at the moment, but will eventually fructify, by helping her make the transition to print books easier in the future.

Jenna and I are both enjoying “doing spelling” together and I’m glad that I have more sophisticated materials to work with than when Bruce was that age.  But I’m guessing we might be on Level 1, Step 1 for a long time.  She’s just not ready for blending consonant vowel consonant words yet, even though (sigh!) Bruce was already moving into that at the same age. Of course, there are lots of things that Jenna can do at two and a half that Bruce couldn’t.  Remembering to say please and thank is one example for starters! 🙂

## Leap Frog Phonics Farm Review

I have a confession to make.  When Bruce(6.5) is at school, Jenna(2.5) and I sometimes collogue together and then fire up Bruce’s Kindle Fire without his knowledge.

One of the videos I have downloaded on the Kindle for her to watch is “Leap Frog Phonics Farm”.  I think it is mind-numbingly boring, but Jenna likes it a lot. It covers the same topics as  “Leap Frog’s Letter Factory,” but in a less entertaining way.  The upper and lower case letters are introduced along with their corresponding sounds, and there is also a song about vowels.  It is probably good for Jenna to learn the same information in a different format.  But if you were only going to choose one video, “Letter Factory” would be a better pick.

As soon as we started watching “Phonics Farm”, Jenna has started asking to play her Word Whammer on a daily basis.  She also dragged out Bruce’s old Leap Pad from under my bed.  This is synchronicity in action in a good way.  It also makes me really happy that we’ve held off on Disney products until she was older.  Otherwise, instead of being branded with all things Leap Frog, she could be asking me for princess paraphilia at every turn.

## Find Your Name Game

This activity has the lingering residue of somebody who has read Teach My Baby to Read by Glenn Doman.  I was so much enamored and then disillusioned with the so called “Gentle Revolution” that one of my inspirations for starting this blog was that so I could write the post Glenn Doman and Magical Thinking

The premise of the book, that young children are capable of learning more than we give them credit for, especially when paired with an adult who is providing high quality instruction, is something that I still whole heartedly agree with.  In that sense it was a very didactic book for me to read.  But at least \$100 later, I was left with the impression that I was being led on.  “Buy the book and you can do this program for free.  But if you buy the cards it will be even better.  But if you buy the videos it will be even better.  But if you pay thousands of dollars to go to our training it will be even better. ”

I did end up buying the book, cards, and video, but thankfully never spent major moola to see the training.   What really bugged me was that even in the video, they never showed actual babies who could do these things.  They just left you with the impression that if you were to pay to come to Philadelphia, then you would finally see proof that young babies could read, look at dot cards, and do multiplication.

Even now, even after I taught my son Bruce to read at an early age using my own nearly free methods, there is still a part of me that wonders…If I had broken my piggy bank and paid to go to the training in Philadelphia, would I have finally seen proof that this works?  Would they have finally shown me babies who could read dot cards?  I wonder if people who have been deprogramed from a cult ever have lingering questions like this.  I’m sure I sound crazy even writing it.

But back to my new game for Jenna, this one is really easy, fun, and will work for your child eventually, but I can’t tell you an exact age of when.  Every child is developmentally different.  Jenna is 31 months old and it took her about 4 times, over two days, to reach 100% mastery.

The inspiration for this was that my husband reminded me that at age two and a half, my son Bruce was the first child in his coop preschool class to be able to pick out his name-tag off of the table, and other children’s name tags as well.  Was he really reading them yet?  Yes, from a Whole Language perspective, No from a Phonics perspective.  I teach from a Balanced Literacy pedagogy which incorporates multiple methods of teaching children how to read.  So I’m okay with doing some Whole Language activities, because I know that my kids are also getting a ton of Phonics.

For “Find Your Name”, I started out with about six cards, and worked up to twelve.  Jenna’s name was on more than one card, and meaningful names from her family were on the others.  Each time we played, I laid out the cards before her and asked her to hand them to me one at a time.  “Give me the card that says Mom”, “Give me the card that says Jenna”, etc.  If she missed a card two times in a row, then when I asked her a third time I pointed to the correct answer so that I could ensure her success.  This is a similar to how I was trained to deliver A-B-A therapy when I worked with children with Autism in college.  Back then it was called Lovsas Therapy or Discrete Trial Teaching.

After four 5-10 minute sessions Jenna could pick out all the names with 100% mastery.  The Psychology major in me found this really interesting. It was not necessarily easier to do this type of Discrete Trial Teaching with Jenna, a child who does not have Autism, but it worked a lot faster.  I’m wondering if there is someplace I can go next with this type of activity, and my teacher brain is still crunching things out.  Maybe this is how I can teach Jenna the quantity three

## Jenna’s Calico Critters Book

A great early reading activity for little ones that won’t cost you a king’s ransom is making homemade books. (For more information on the how and why of homemade books, please see here.) This is our most recent addition to our homemade book collection.

I’m not sure how this story line evolved into a judgmental mouse vs. bunny plot. To be honest, some days I’m more Mouse than Bunny myself!  Jenna had a lot of fun helping set up each scene.

# Jenna’s Little Critter Book

## Language Development at 15 months

On the very last day of 2011 I accomplished (rather belatedly) my 2011 New Year’s resolution, which was to complete Jenna(2.5)’s baby album.  As her mother, I take my role as fiduciary of her baby memories quite seriously, although that would be difficult to tell if you had seen my scrapbooking supplies piled on top of my armoire for an entire year!

While going through all of the little bits of memories and notes that I had written to myself to help with this task, I came across the following list of words and signs that Jenna knew at 15 months.  I decided to share this list for several reasons.  As a parent, there is always the temptation to compare your child’s development to other kids you know.  Socially, it’s really bad manners to start asking probing questions about what other kids can accomplish, but that certainly doesn’t squelch curiosity.  So here’s a reference point for you in case you too are curious about these matters.

The other interesting thing about this list is that it shows how many words parents of young children “count” that really aren’t fully formed words at all. I guess I was really relying on context cues to know what “ba” meant!

You can also see the clear relationship between teaching Jenna Baby Signs, and having those signs directly lead into spoken words.  My husband and I both think that Baby Signs was one of the best things we did to help promote early language with our children.  We didn’t pay for a class or anything, we just read the book.  You can probably check it out from the library.

Now at 2 and a half, Jenna is highly verbal, is an eager participant in conversation, and regularly says more-words-than-I-can-count sentences.   This is what she was like at 15 months:

Words:

1. Ma-ma:  Mom
3. Bra: Bruce
4. bo: boat
5. bo: bow
6. da: duck
7. da: doggie
8. Ba-Ba: Roomba
9. ba-ba: pacifier
10. yeah: yes
11. ba: book
12. ba: ball
13. bir: bird
15. Poh-Poh: Papa
16. uh: up
17. water
18. more
19. that

Baby Signs:

1. bath
2. eat
3. drink
4. milk
5. backpack
6. pacifier
7. book
8. dog
9. duck
10. cat
11. pig
12. bunny
13. horse
14. mouse
15. Roomba
16. ball
17. baby
18. toothbrush
19. apple
20. bird
21. Grandma
22. hug
23. up
24. kisses
25. music
26. potty
27. ice-cream
28. telephone
29. frog

As most of my readers know, I signed up a while to ago to be an All About Learning Affiliate because I have been so impressed by the All About Spelling curriculum, which I use with Bruce(6.5) and will someday use with Jenna(2) as well.

I’ve been getting some news in my inbox that All About Learning is launching their Level 1 reading kit today.  I have never tried it, so I cannot recommend whether or not it is worth purchasing or not.  (For all of my free ideas on how to teach young children to read, please see my Where to Start page.)

However, if a packaged kit sounds like a good idea to you, be sure to check All About Reading out. All of the Level 1 products are 10% off until midnight of December 6, plus you get free astronaut ice cream.

## What to do with your 2 year old

I have been blogging a lot recently about things we are doing with Bruce(6), so I thought I’d better offer a quick update on what we are doing with Jenna(2)  at home, to help support her learning as well.  She is not quite two and a half yet, and full of energy.

Of course there are all of the traditional things to do with two year olds; play-dough, paint, crayon scribbling, dress up, pretend play, blocks, reading books, etc.  We do all of things in abundance.  Jenna also spends four hours a week in a play-based two year olds class at our local community college with either my husband or I present.  Play-based means that there is very little direct instruction and children get to choose from a myriad of options of what to play.  On Wednesdays, we do a Kindermusik ABC Music and Me class.

But what are some of the non-traditional things we are doing with Jenna at this age?  What are some novel ways to support learning at home for your two year old?  Jenna is definitely in that fuzzy gray area after she has learned hers letters and sounds, but before she is ready to actively start putting them together in CVC (consonant vowel consonant) words. (For my complete list of things to do to help with this transition, please see my Where to Start Page.)  But at present, these are the specific things I am doing with Jenna right now:

All of these activities are things I did with Bruce when he was Jenna’s age, and he started sounding out CVC words by around two and a half.  By three and a half, he could read through the first couple of sets of Bob Books, and he finished Bob Book set 5 by the time he was a young age five.  I’m not sure if I will have similar results with Jenna because all children are different and develop at different rates.  But all of the extra learning time I give her represents one-on-one time with Mommy and that certainly cannot hurt!

## Homeschooling Your Two Year Old

Full Disclaimer: I titled this post to help with my Google crawl, because really we are an Afterschooling family and not Homeschoolers. But now that I have your attention… 🙂 Bruce(6) began his first day of first grade today, which leaves Jenna(25m) and I a lot of quality time together. My plan is to do about 10-20 minutes of seat-work with her each day. I’m keeping things fast and fun. Here’s what we did this morning:

I started things off with a Morning Message. Normally I do this on a mini-whiteboard, but today we just used paper. Notice that Jenna “helped” write the message with me. After we read the Morning Message several times, Jenna asked to write Os. I don’t have a picture of this, but we wrote a lot of Os!

Then I played secretary, and had Jenna tell me a story. This is the first story she has ever told me that I have written down verbatim. I’m not sure where she gets her inspiration. I am not pregnant!!!

Our next activity combined fine motor skills and pattern work. We used little post-it flags to create an A-B-A-B pattern. Picking up the flags is a great way to strengthen the muscles Jenna will eventually use to grasp a pencil. The picture above represents a lot of facilitation on my part to complete the pattern correctly.

This shot is Jenna making a pattern by herself. Or should I say “pattern”?

Finally, to wrap things up we sang “Yellow is the Sun” and laid out the sticks. This is from Dr. Joan Cotter’s outstanding Right Start Mathematics program. Hopefully in the next year or two Jenna will be ready for level A. Until then we are working on visulaization instead of just counting.

There you go! Jenna was sitting at the table for less than 20 minutes and now we are ready to play with toys, dress up, visit the library, and dig around in the backyard for the rest of the day. For more ideas on fun learning activities you can do with young children at home please see my Where to Start page.

## Bean Activity

Here is a classic preschool/Kindergarten activity that teaches letter recognition, sound, and also works on the fine motor skills necessary for writing.  The idea is to first trace the letter with glue, and then let your child glue the beans to the letter.  All the while you say:  “Wow!  The B says ‘buh’. Beans start with ‘buh’ too.  We are building with beans.  Buh-  buh-  buh.  You are building the letter B.”  I’m showing beans in this example because Jenna was working with the letter “B”.  You could also use feathers for the letter “F”, raisins for the letter “R”, walnuts for the letter “W” etc.  I would highly recommend doing this activity outside.

Usually I have only seen this activity done with younger children, but today I had Bruce join in and make the number 4.  This is one of the numbers that he commonly reverses.  I don’t know if this will help sear the right direction into his brain or not, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.  Plus, the pincher grasp needed to pick up beans is good fine motor work.  Since Bruce is six, I also had him do his own glue squeezing which also gives those fine motor muscles a workout!

## Don’t Waste your Money on this one…

I was so excited to see that our local Costco was currently carrying Leap Frog DVDs, because this doesn’t happen often.  We already own “The Letter Factory” and “The Talking Words Factory”, but we had never seen this one, “The Amazing Alphabet” before.  Oh my gosh, what a disappointment.  Please don’t waste your money on this one!  This definitely goes into the category of “edutainment”, meaning that there is too much cartoon and not enough learning.  (On a side note, the music from this video sounds a little bit like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.)

I also picked up “Code Word Capers” at Costco, which we had previously just borrowed from the library when Bruce was little. Jenna isn’t ready for “Code Word Capers” yet, but she hopefully will be by fall. I used it with Bruce and he still remembers it fondly. These are the Leap Frog videos that I think are worthwhile purchasing.  At Costco they are selling for just under \$7 each.

## ABC Practice

A couple of months ago I had purchased Pre K Hooked on Phonics kit.  It’s designed for 3 years on up, but I decided to buy it anyways, out of curiosity.  I was impressed with the DVD that came with it, and Jenna watched it about a dozen times before we moved on to “Leap Frog’s Letter Factory”.  We also have been reading two of the books, The Cereal Box and The Party.  For some reason, Jenna doesn’t want to read any of the other four books that came with the set.

At 23 months, Jenna is still too young to follow the Pre K Hooked on Phonics instructions.  She just stomped on the flashcards when I gave it a try today!  But that doesn’t mean that she can’t benefit from any of the materials, especially if I modify how I use them.

Today for example, after the ABC cards were thoruoughly trod upon, I threw in an on-the-fly phonemic awareness activity.  While Jenna was sitting still for all of three minutes, I whipped through as many of the cards as I could.

Showing the web:  “W-W-W-W- Web!”  Flip card over showing the letter  “W”

Showing the escalator going up:  “U-U-U-U Up!”  Flip card over showing the letter “U”

We are not doing this activity every day.  Rather, I have the boxes sitting in the living room, and when Jenna sees them and wants to get them out, we do and it’s really fun.  We read the two books, we play with the flashcards, and she gets a star sticker.  Eventually, we will be able to do some of the actual Hooked on Phonics games, but we aren’t quite there yet.