Teaching My Baby To Read

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Building Sight Words

Building words you can't sound out.

Building words you can’t sound out.

Sight words, Dolch words, Outlaw words; whatever you want to call them they are all pretty much the same thing, high frequency words in the English language that may, or may not adhere to phonetic rules.  “The” is the perfect example.

I remember reading a loooooooong time ago in The Gift of Dyslexia, Revised and Expanded: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read…and How They Can Learn, that building words like “the” out of play-dough was a great way to master them.  At the time I read this, I thought “If  this works for children with learning disabilities, why doesn’t everyone do it?  It sounds like a great idea!”

So yesterday, my four-year-old daughter Jenna gave this idea a try building the word “the” out of beans.

(Unfortunately, I have an unexplained horrible aversion to play-dough, even the homemade stuff.  The smell makes me want to throw up.)


An added bonus to building “the” out of beans is that it is a fabulous fine motor activity.  Squeezing the bottle and picking up beans works the same muscles needed for good handwriting.


The downside?  Beans all over the kitchen floor.  You have been warned!  😉

A New Way to Play with the Memory Game

A New Way to Play with the Memory Game

A New Way to Play with the Memory Game

Do you have the Memory Game floating around your kid’s closet (or floor)  right now?  Great!  Here’s a way to use those cards to teach logic.

Set them out in groups of four where one picture doesn’t belong in the same category as the rest.  It’s like that old game from Sesame Street “Which of these things is not like the other?”

One of these things can't fly.

One of these things can’t fly.

Depending on the age of your child, you can make this game as easy or as hard as necessary.

Three of these things are symbols of weather.  One isn't.

Three of these things are symbols of weather. One isn’t.

If you’d like a book with premade activities like these, check out Can You Find Me.

Jenna(3.5) and I have been playing this book together while big brother Bruce takes guitar lessons.  I would describe it as meaningful busy work!

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.

Silent “E” Mini-Lesson

“When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.”

My daughter Jenna (3.5) has been watching a lot of Talking Words Factory 2, Code Word Caper.  So now I’m trying to incorporate some mini-lessons about the way silent E works into our everyday fun time.

Sometimes, on-the-fly phonics lessons can be really effective.  One minute you’re doodling, the next minute you slip some reading in there before your kid can say “Pass me the crayon”.

Yes, I’m a sneaky mom!

Preschool Math Game

“Make Me Dinner”

That’s what I’m calling this latest math game my daughter Jenna(3.5) and I have been playing lately.  This game is deceptively simple. It works on loads of math skills, through play.

Learning Objectives

  • quantity visualization
  • counting
  • matching


  • Divided plates
  • counters (we use square inch tiles)


  1. Mom makes the dinner on one plate
  2. The kid copies it.
  3. 3 rounds is plenty.  Don’t push it!

P.S.  If you’re interested in more math ideas for preschoolers, please click here.

Marshmallow Math

Yes, this looks disgusting.

My three year old daughter Jenna felt like she was missing out on the fun after her brother Bruce got to build atoms with marshmallows this weekend.  So I got out the food dye and made up an activity for the preschool set.

It would have been a lot easier to used colored marshmallows to begin with, but we didn’t have any.  The up side of the DIY version is that blue marshmallows look gross and nobody wanted to eat them.

Think of the calories saved!

The first thing we did was build the number 5 using blue and white marshmallows.  This is very similar to what we do with Right Start Level A and the abacus.

We also built shapes.  Jenna is learning about triangles, squares and rhombuses.

Hands-on, fun, easy and meaningful.  That’s how I like to do math with three year olds.

Stuffed Animal Math

How many times does your preschooler drag out her stuffed animals?  Probably a lot!

Here’s how I turned doggy-time into math-time.

First I brought out the craft sticks. 

There are five doggies and two random Beanie Babies.  So we laid out tally sticks for how many animals there were: 7.

Then we showed the number 7 with our hands.

We also made the number 7 on the abacus.

Then my daughter brought out all of the animal friends!

Jenna doesn’t understand the number 15 yet, but she does understand 5 and 5 and 5.

So that’s how many stuffed animals she has.  5 and 5 and 5.

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!

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!

Time Marches On

Today was Jenna’s chance to meet her new teachers at the Montessori school she will be attending a few days a week.  It’s hard to believe my baby girl is growing up!

Keeping Preschoolers Busy at Home

Remnants of the Sunday paper + 1 roll of tape + scissors + 1 preschooler = 1 hour of fun + a lot of fine motor skills practice!

I do wonder… Is it normal for a three-year-old to be able to concentrate on one activity for so long? Yay, or nay?

Scissors and Kids

I’m still practicing my relaxation breathing, because I just spent the past forty minutes helping Jeanna(2.5) learn to use scissors. This is the third time this week that she has practiced, and she LOVES it. Me? Not so much. 🙂

I almost had a major oops our first day when I didn’t know enough to put Jenna’s hair in a ponytail first. When Jenna looked down to cut out her first page, she almost gave herself an impromptu haircut.  That was never an issue with her brother Bruce!

It took me until day two to realize that Jenna moves her mouth up and down like she’s chewing gum every time she works the scissors. There must be some sort of brain connection in there that hasn’t matured yet.

We have been using an old I Can Cut book from when Bruce was little, but at this point Jenna is just butchering it. She’s just as happy to cut up our latest Zoo membership magazine. I’ll happy when I can someday trust her not to cut her own hair.  The stress is worth it though, because I know this is an important skill for my soon to be preschooler to learn.

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.

At Home Preschool…Ideas to Get You Started

Don’t be green with envy, but where we live high quality preschool is affordable. I have lots of options to choose from, and I don’t need to camp-out overnight on a doorstep to register for Montessori. When Jenna turns 3 and attends preschool in the fall, I’ll pay $300 a month for three days a week, three hours a day. But I understand that many of my blog readers in other parts of the country face a steeper financial burden to pay for preschool.

Some of my out-of-state friends have decided to join forces with other moms and sponsor coop preschools in their homes. Admittedly, my first thought is “Eeek! Three-year-olds painting over white carpet!” But really, I think with the right parents and enough planning, you could make an outstanding play-based preschool experience for your child at home. Here are some ideas that might help you get started:

Student/Teacher Ratio

  • Two Year Olds: 1 adult for every 2 children (including mobile siblings)
  • Three Year Olds: 1 adult for every 3 children (including mobile siblings)
  • Four Year Olds: 1 adult for every 4 children (including mobile siblings)

Emergency Preparedness

  • Make a backpack that includes first aid supplies, water, food, emergency contact information, and a change of clothes. This backpack should be with the adult in charge at all times, even if you are playing outside in the backyard.

Preschool Supply Box

  • Preschoolers need consistency and routine. If “school” is moving from house to house each week, then that is a lot of change for little guys to contend with. In order to counter this, you should have some materials and supplies that are ever-present and that children can count on. The Preschool Supply Box would travel to whatever home preschool was going to be located that week, so that the parent in charge would have everything necessary to set up the “classroom”.  It would contain: an easel, paints, paper, smocks, play dough, play dough tools, several picnic table cloths, Dixie cups, paper plates, a tub of chubby pencils, old stationary, a large white board with dry erase markers, scarves, bean-bags, musical instruments, the emergency backpack, and a dog bed.
  • Whoever had the Supply Box last would be in charge of cleaning and disinfecting the materials before they were sent to the next venue.


  • Before kids arrive, set up at least twice as many activity stations for the number of children you have attending. In order to provide consistency to your program, some of the stations should always be the same. One or two stations should be brand new every time. The constant stations could include: painting (with the picnic tablecloth underneath), play dough, a reading nest (that’s what the dog bed is for), a writing corner, a dress-up area, and blocks. Novel stations might include a toy kitchen, an office, watercolors, a Word Whammer, cooking, or bean activities.
  • During Centers/Stations time, the adults float through the room offering assistance and support.

Circle Time

  • During Circle Time I would write a very short Morning Message on the giant white board. Then I would bring out a sound box and let the children take turns guessing what was inside. After that we would read a story.
  • Circle Time is when the adult delivers direct instruction.

Two Hour Schedule

  • Arrival and free play (15 minutes)
  • Circle Time (10 minutes)
  • Centers/Stations (40 minutes)
  • Clean Up (5 minutes)
  • Snack (15 minutes)
  • Music (10 minutes)
  • Outside Play (25 minutes)

Bumping Things Up to a PreK Program for 4 Year Olds

  • Since every child learns at a different rate, I am very leery of “academic preschools” that have children sit down to crank out worksheets. In fact, I don’t think worksheets are a very good way to teach at all. But I do strongly believe in giving children the opportunity to learn academic content in a fun, engaging, one-on-one setting. I also believe in teaching children to read at a very young age. I think a really good way to do this in a home preschool setting would be to use the All About Reading or All About Spelling kits from All About Learning Press.
  • On days when there were at least two parents present in the preschool, one parent could pull children aside individually in 10-15 minute intervals to work on an AAR or AAS lesson. Some children might go through these programs slowly, whereas other will whiz through. That’s why you would teach them one-on-one.  The All About Learning Press teaching guides would make things really easy and accessible for the parent to lead, so all parents in the preschool could be confident that their children were receiving high quality reading lessons.
  • To incorporate a structured math program into the preschool, another parent could be in charge of conducting 10-15 minute lessons using Right Start Level A with children on an individual basis. As a whole class, you could also do a new cooking project each week.

A Word about Money$

Creating a home-based preschool for your child would certainly save a lot of money, but it would not be free because you would definitely need materials and supplies.  It would probably take at least $80 from each family to start the preschool up, and then $10-$20 a month for new art supplies and learning materials. If you decided to hire a professional preschool teacher, that would of course cost money too. Or, you could rely on a different parent to be the “teacher” each week.

If I was contemplating creating a home preschool with some other parents, and one of the other moms was constantly objecting to cost or trying to sacrifice quality for the sake of frugality, I would kindly tell her that we were not a good fit for each other. I want to be careful with my family’s financial resources, but I believe that my children’s education is worth paying for.  Any way you slice it, a good quality preschool still costs money.

Right Start Math Balance Fun

I could have also titled this post “How I Fold Laundry”. 🙂 You see, I have our Right Start Math box underneath my bed. About once a week, Jenna(2.5) likes to get out the box and play with the math manipulatives, while I’m folding laundry.

Pictured here is the math balance. Developmentally, Jenna’s not ready for all the learning skills the math balance can teach. But it is teaching her the concepts of “balanced” and “equals”. I guess one of the benefits to being a little sister is that there are extra cool things floating around the house to play with!