Teaching My Baby To Read

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Why multisensory learning is awesomesauce

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

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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.

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

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Multisensory activities are a lot better.

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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.

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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.

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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

My daughter’s breakthrough with “All About Reading”

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Last Saturday my daughter ran around the house saying “Pinch me. Is this a dream? I can read!” It was the cutest thing ever, but it also broke my heart a little bit. Two months ago we realized “Jenna” needed glasses. Now, we’re still regrouping.

First self portrait with glasses.

First self portrait with glasses.

One thing I know for sure is that Bob Books weren’t working for Jenna. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bob Books and have blogged about them often. But they weren’t working for Jenna, probably because she had developed an aversion to them because her eyes were hurting.

Since we already owned All About Spelling I decided to buy the All About Reading readers. (Full disclosure: I am an All About Learning affiliate.) All About Spelling and All About Reading are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which means teaching kids phonics in discrete, multisensory lessons that build upon each other. It’s the gold standard for helping kids with dyslexia. To be clear, I’m not supposing my daughter has dyslexia, but if she did, All About Learning products would be a recommended intervention.

Doing All About Spelling with my daughter has been a completely different experience than working through the program with my son.) You can read about “Bruce’s experience here.) Bruce blew through each step in a couple of days. Jenna does better spending one or two weeks on every step. She is fabulous at spelling out words with the tiles. Dictating words on paper is also a strength. But when it comes to flashcards, or simply reading the words from the book, she needs more time. I have to be patient.

So honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when we first opened RUN, BUG, RUN! Would this be a good fit?

It turns out, it wasn’t only a good fit, it was a home run. (And yes, I’m mixing metaphors!)

Every time Jenna reads a story we give her a star sticker. This picture shows how many stickers she’s earned in five days. Forty stickers!

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There is a combination of things going on that are contributing to Jenna’s success:

  1. She finally has glasses!
  2. The stories are at the exactly right level for Jenna. They don’t include any spelling patterns she hasn’t learned yet.
  3. The illustrations by Matt Chapman, Donna Goeddaeus and Dave LaTulippe are beyond charming.
  4. Reading focus cards seem to really help.
Fanciful pictures delight.

Fanciful pictures delight.

 

Reading focus cards help words pop-especially for a little girl who has struggled with her vision.

Reading focus cards help words pop-especially for a little girl who has struggled with her vision.

The other thing I should add is the $1 I spent on those star sticks was totally worth it Getting a star sticker is incredibly motivating and we’ve been celebrating every time Jenna earns ten stars.

As a mom, I feel a tremendous amount of relief to have a program that works. Sure, I have my whole litany of free strategies to teach kids to read but for some reason Jenna needed something different. I’m not sure if it was the undiagnosed vision problem, or something else. But now I feel like we are solidly back on track.

Go ahead and pinch me. I’m living the dream!

Put a window on it

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Get out your scissors, moms and dads. Here’s a trick straight from the classroom that will make it easier for you to teach your child to read. Give your young reader a special bookmark called a word window.

My daughter Jenna has just turned five-years old and is chugging along at a first grade reading level. She can read between 75 and 100 words but still get easily frustrated. Too many words on a page overwhelms her.

An easy solution for this is using a word window. A word window is a bookmark with a hole cut out in the middle. In the past I’ve made fancy ones out of construction paper and clear tape.  But simple word windows made out of plain white paper work well too.

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Eventually my daughter will outgrow word windows, but right now they are extremely helpful.

P.S. Got an older kid with reading issues? Word windows work for third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders too, especially if they have ADHD.

Why I’m impressed with Reading Eggs

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My broken wrist has really cramped our ordinary Afterschooling schedule. One bright spot has been Reading Eggs. I purchased a subscription through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op and have been extremely impressed.

Here’s why the former Kindergarten teacher in me loves Reading Eggs:

  • It’s systematic and sequential
  • It’s balanced, (phonics and sight words)
  • It’s diagnostic, (built in assessments keep kids on track)
  • It’s FUN!

The way Reading Eggs works is there are 12 maps with ten lessons each. Every lesson has 11 activities.  My daughter took the placement quiz and began on map 3. At the end of map 3 she passed a simple quiz to move on to map 4.

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Drawbacks:

    • Clicking with a mouse can be hard for little hands. We don’t have an iPad, but we do have a touch screen computer. That really helps. However, some of the activities work better with the screen and some work better with the mouse. I need to be on standby in case my preschooler becomes frustrated.

Jenna has been playing Reading Eggs for three weeks now and I’m already seeing a big difference. Level 3 Bob Books are a lot easier for her now, and she has more confidence when sounding out words.

For more information about Reading Eggs, please click here.

Math with a Hello Kitty stencil

For some reason a Hello Kitty stencil makes this more fun.

For some reason a Hello Kitty stencil makes this more fun.

Do you have any stencils or stickers laying around? Those are the types of things that breed in our playroom.

The other day my four-year-old found her Hello Kitty stencil. I told her, “Let’s do math with Hello Kitty,” and she was instantly intrigued.

Working on the number 9.

Working on the number 9.

For this activity we worked on building the number nine with stickers. This was also a chance to work on the commutative property; 4+5= 9 means that 5+4 = 9.

So unleash your random art junk! I bet “Math with Bob the Builder” would be fun too.

P.S. Can you see the spot on my camera? (I’m a pretty clueless photographer.) Ugh!

Butterfly Salad

Math on a plate.

Math on a plate.

Today my 4-year-old and I got out Cooking Is Cool: Heat-Free Recipes for Kids to Cook by Marianne Dambra. I am a little disappointed in the book because it doesn’t have step-by-step pictures for children to follow and it uses a lot of food coloring. But the full color illustrations of each recipe are nice.

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Here’s our version of Butterfly Salad. The actual recipe called for dyed cottage cheese, which I thought was gross, so we used grapes instead.

Ingredients:

  • lettuce leaf
  • pineapple rings
  • cottage cheese
  • grapes or berries
  • celery stalk (the body)
  • 1 olive (the head)
  • a carrot or bell pepper (the antennae)

Math Skills Involved:

  • counting
  • fractions (cut the pineapple rings in half)
  • comparisons (more cottage cheese, less cottage cheese)
  • ordinal numbers (first you do this, second you do that, etc.)
  • symmetry (the goal is to make the wings look the same)

This recipe took about twenty minutes to make. My daughter and I both had a lot of fun!


Cooking Is Cool: Heat-Free Recipes for Kids to Cook

The Magic School Bus Science Club, Solids, Liquids and Gases kit

The Magic School Bus "Solids, Liquids, and Gases" kit

The Magic School Bus “Solids, Liquids, and Gases” kit

“Santa” brought Jenna(4) a subscription to the Magic School Bus Science Club this year. It was a 50% off deal through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. That comes out to $12 a kit, which is totally worth it.

A lot of these experiments you can do at home for free. The only drawback is that you won’t have the teaching script to read from. I’m not going to lie, the script is pretty nice because it’s so foolproof. But if you go to the library and check out some books, you’ll probably be fine.

Here are some titles to look for:

The Magic School Bus Gets Baked in a Cake: A Book About Kitchen Chemistry

Solids, Liquids and Gases (Starting with Science)

Experiments with Solids, Liquids, and Gases (True Books)

Here are some experiments to get you started:

Dancing raisins. You need raisins and fizzy water.

Dancing raisins. You need raisins and fizzy water.

Drop the raisins in the water and watch what happens.

Drop the raisins in the water and watch what happens.

First the raisins sink because they are heavy. But then the gas bubbles (which are light) attach to the raisins and lift them up to the surface.

Blow up a balloon. You need at 2 liter bottle, vinegar, baking soda and a balloon.

Blow up a balloon. You need at 2 liter bottle, vinegar, baking soda and a balloon.

Drop baking soda and vinegar into the bottle and attach the balloon.

Drop baking soda and vinegar into the bottle and attach the balloon.

If we had used a 2 liter bottle this would have been better. What happens is that the baking soda and vinegar make carbon dioxide, which takes up room and forces the air out of the bottle up into the balloon. Our dinky little bottle didn’t have enough air in it to blow up the entire balloon. Note to self, buy 7-Up!

Fizzy tablets and water.

Fizzy tablets and water.

The citric acid and the baking soda inside the Alka Seltzer tablet react to produce the gas, which is lighter than water, so the bubbles rise to the surface.

Milk goop: you need milk and vinegar.

Milk goop. You need milk and vinegar.

Mix 4 parts milk, 1 part vinegar. Wait 10 minutes.

Mix 4 parts milk, 1 part vinegar. Wait 10 minutes.

The vinegar causes the protein casein to separate from the milk. The result is an ancient type of Egyptian glue.

More goop. You need cornstarch and water.

More goop. You need cornstarch and water.

Mix two parts cornstarch and one part water. Use your hands!

Mix two parts cornstarch and one part water. Use your hands!

This is an experiment you have to feel to understand. The result is not exactly a liquid, but not really a solid. It changes forms depending on how you squeeze it.

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That was a lot of  fun! We still have two more experiments to do before we finish the kit: making slime and a bouncy ball.

For more information about the Magic School Bus Science kits, visit the Young Scientists Club website.

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:

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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.

The final five

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You’re looking at the final five books my daughter Jenna needed to read to complete her reading challenge and earn an American Girl doll.

In the five months it took for Jenna to master three complete sets of Bob Books, she learned to read.

(Meanwhile, I’ve now watched three full seasons of Battle Star Galatica on Netflix, so if you came to this post because of the title, I’m winking at you!)

It took a lot of patience and creativity to get Jenna to this point, but wow! Yesterday morning when she saw those five books and knew that we could possibly go to the American Girl Store that afternoon, Jenna sat at the kitchen table and cranked through them.

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Then we got to the mall where we were volunteering for two hours at the holiday giving tree, and Jenna read through the books again.

You know what that means!

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By the time we left the AG store with Saige, a matching outfit for Jenna, and Saige’s accessories, I had spent $200.

It was worth it.

Not only is Jenna reading, but she also has the satisfaction of accomplishing something that took months of work to earn. That’s a great lesson to learn at four-years-old.

So please excuse the mommy-brag, but– Hurrah!

This Christmas, Level 3 Bob Books; next Christmas, Magic Treehouse.

I’m pretty sure it’s possible!

 

 

 

 

 

The Psychology of Bob Books

Keeping track of Bob Book progress

Keeping track of Bob Book progress

I have no research or data to back this theory up, but I think that 17 is the magic number for Bob Books.

The 17th book was when it all started coming together for my four-year-old daughter Jenna.  Before that, she needed a lot of scaffolding.

The first set of Book Books was the hardest. Then she started set 2 and stalled right around “Up Pup”.  At that point we purchased the Bob Books Sight Words set from Costco, along with a Princess Book for motivation.

Bribery works!

Bribery works!

Each Bob Book “unlocked” a Princess story. Jenna was incredibly determined to make this happens. She white-knuckled it through the first 5 books of the new set.

Then something magic happened.

After reading her 17th Bob Book, three times each, it became easier for her. Independent reading became enjoyable. Most importantly, Jenna started seeing herself as a reader. She started pointing out words everywhere and sounding them out.

Does this mean she’s polishing off the rest of the Bob Books yet? No, not at the moment. But Jenna’s reading the books she’s already mastered over and over and over again.

We have Bob Books floating around all over the house. It’s actually getting kind of annoying.

Two sizes of Bob Books

Two sizes of Bob Books

A funny thing is that Jenna is convinced that the bigger Bob Books are easier than the smaller ones, which isn’t necessarily true. The Bob Books Sight Words: Kindergarten set is on par with Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners. The larger format is from Costco, the smaller format is from Amazon.

But since things started “clicking” for Jenna with the bigger, Sight Words set, she thinks the larger format is easier. I bet if I went back to Costco and bought the larger version of Set 2, Jenna would think they were super easy too!

The take-home message here, is that if you’ve been using Bob Books at home, be patient, be creative, and be persistent.

Hold on until the 17th book! Then drop me a line and share your story. Was #17 magic for your child too?

Princess Bob Books

Bribery works!

Bribery works!

My 4-year-old daughter Jenna and I have been doing what we call “Princess Bob Books” every day this week.

She really, really, really wanted to get Princess Bedtime Stories (Storybook Collection)when we saw it at Costco. Frankly, it made me want to gouge out my eyes. But then I noticed that Costco also had Bob Books Sight Words Collection – Kindergarten and First Grade (Bob Books, Sight Words Collection), which we didn’t own.

So Jenna and I struck a deal. We’d buy both.

This week, every new Bob Book Jean reads “unlocks” a new princess story from her collection.  This has been very motivating.

Some phonics-fanatics freak out when they see the term “sight words”. Not me, because I’m a Balanced Literacy proponent.

These Bob Books still have a ton of phonics. If I had to guess, I’d say 95% of the words are decodable.  So if you’re afraid of sight-words, calm down! 😉

In terms of difficulty, BOB Books: Sight Words: Kindergarten seem to fall somewhere between Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers  and Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners. It’s a great fit for Jenna, and a great opportunity for me to read about my favorite Disney princesses–not!

 

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.

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Building words is a good start.

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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.


Building Words from Bob Books

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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.

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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.

Bob Books and Fingernail Polish

A special treat...and a captive audience!

A special treat…and a captive audience!

My four-year-old daughter Jenna is on the very last book in Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers.

She had been cranking away at Bob Books, and filling up her chart, but then she decided to take a break, and I honored that.

But today we cut a deal.  She’d work on the last Bob Book if I brought out the nail polish.

Jenna loves having her fingernails painted, but I’m not a fan, even though we have the supposedly eco-friendly polish.  Sitting around and waiting for fingernail polish to dry is the worst…but it also presents a very captive audience!

Next time I think I might have her Kindle charged, for a special showing of Meet the Phonics – Blends.

Another hard day at the office

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Putting your preschooler to work

Do you need a cheap and easy idea for a rainy day at home with your preschooler?  Give them their own “office”.  This activity is good for at least twenty minutes of play.  Maybe you’ll even have time to fold laundry!

All you need is a little desk (a coffee table would work too), and some office supplies. Here are some suggested items to get your started:

  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Stapler
  • Tape
  • Glue stick
  • Hole punch
  • envelopes
  • Scissors
  • Flowers
  • A cup of “coffee”
  • A toy computer

If you’re working over white carpet, I’d advise not to include a pencil sharpener.  I learned that the hard way.

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Here’s another arrangement from the archives.  Nobody but me knows it, but that Bob the Builder computer went to Goodwill a long time ago.  Shhhh!  It’s a secret.