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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

My daughter’s breakthrough with “All About Reading”


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!


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!



This is exactly why we will be continuing with All About Spelling this summer. (Full disclaimer, I’m an affiliate for All About Learning.)

If a full on spelling program isn’t your thing, All About Learning has some great FREE ideas to keep kids busy this summer. I think I’m going to try the snacks.


All About Spelling, Back to Basics

All About Spelling, Level 1, Step 6

All About Spelling, Level 1, Step 6

The board is back in action!

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about All About Spelling. That’s because the materials have been sitting in my bedroom for about six months gathering dust. My son Bruce(8.5) has so much homework from school that we haven’t had time for AAS. 😦

Now [insert trumpet fanfare] Jenna(4) is a strong enough reader for Level 1. It’s so much fun to open the book, get out the deck of cards, and fall in love with AAS all over again! (More about my love affair here.)

A look at today's lesson, and Jenna's emergent handwriting.

A look at today’s lesson, and Jenna’s emergent handwriting.

All About Spelling is hands on, idiot proof, and fun. That’s why it’s worth finding time for. That’s why (disclaimer) I signed up to be an Affiliate.


Today I reviewed the Level 3 cards with Bruce and he aced them. Wow! He remembers!

Oil Spill Experiment

For week three of my A STEM Summer, we did a chemical engineering experiement about oil spills. The best part was, we had all of the needed materials in our house already. The full directions are right here, but that page is full of typos and weird writing errors. I’m not sure what was going on with that, but the instructions still worked just fine.


  • a glass bowl
  • water
  • cooking oil
  • cotton balls
  • cheese cloth
  • a hiking sock

First, a word about cheesecloth. Why the heck did I happen to have cheesecloth on hand? Well, it all goes back to a time period when my husband was into yogurt making, but that’s another story… 😉

If you don’t have cheesecloth on hand, you could probably use a rag or a paper towel.


Put some water and oil in a bowl and then let your kids try to sop up the oil using the different materials. Some helpful teaching tips would be to make sure each kid has his or her own bowl (less fighting that way) and have a plate ready to catch all the gross remains.

The polypropylene hiking sock really does turn out to be the clear winner. I’m not sure if my kids understand that the reason is because polypropylene and oil are both composed of carbon and hydrogen and therefore attract each other. But Bruce and Jenna definitely understand how hard it is to clean up oil, and why oil spills are so devastating to the environment.

Starting All About Spelling

Jenna is 32 months right now, and we are officially starting All About Spelling Level 1. I think the ideal time to begin AAS would be between 3.5 and 4 years old, but our situation is a little bit different. Since Jenna already knows her letters and sounds, and since we already own all of the Level 1 AAS materials, I figured that we might as well start now.

Right now we are going through all of the yellow Phonogram cards and I am quizzing Jenna to officially note which letters and sounds she can correctly identify. We only do four cards a day, and then we put a sticker up on the chart to celebrate each sound that is checked off. At most, we are spending about five minutes a day on AAS, which seems like a perfectly acceptable amount of time for a two and a half year old to concentrate. Level 1, step 1 might end up taking one or two months, but that’s okay. Jenna is so excited to “do spelling” just like her big brother Bruce, that this is a really meaningful and fun activity for the both of us to share together.

All About Spelling Level 3

Our All About Spelling Level 3 materials have arrived! I was planning on waiting until Bruce(6.5) went on Spring Break to get started with Level 3, but when he saw me punch out all of the cards he started to get excited too, and asked me if we could start now. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in our house one spelling lesson = 20 minutes of “screen time”. 🙂

There are 28 Steps in Level 3, and our plan is to do one step each week.  If we stay on track, Bruce would finish Level 3 right before he starts second grade.

This is what my box looks like with the Levels 1-3 now inside.

Here is our board set up for Level 3, including the special tags from Level 2 like the R controlled tag, and the open-door, closed-door syllable tags.

We began step one this morning while Jenna(2.5) watched half a Curious George episode on PBS kids. We still have about 5 minutes of the lesson left to complete, because we ran out of time before the school bus came.

AAS has imbedded review throughout the program, which is a really good thing since Bruce finished Level 2 almost two months ago! Today we reviewed some very important Key Cards, which we then got to see in action when Bruce built words that exemplified each spelling rule.

On a side note, it seems like every time I blog about AAS it is with a great deal of encomium. That’s not just because I signed up to be an AAS Affiliate. I signed up to be an Affiliate because I’m so impressed with the program, and because I have deep scars from living my whole life as a poor speller. That is what I do not want for my children.

All About Spelling Level 2

Bruce (6) finished All About Spelling Level 1 about a month ago, and since then we have been working through AAS Level 2. It continues to be a fabulous program, and (sadly) I am learning a lot too!

Here’s a peak at what the box looks like with the new AAS Level 2 cards inside. There are enough new cards that I was able to toss two of the blue Styrofoam spacers.

Here’s the accompanying progress chart. As you can see, Bruce is not very interested in stickers. He’s really taking the AAS Level 2 “Wild West” theme to heart, and drawing cowboy stick-figure vignettes over each step he completes.

Here are some of the other materials that come with Level 2. The jail is going to be introduced in an upcoming lesson, and is going to be where we put words that do not follow the rules. I’ve heard these referred to as Outlaw words before.

The spelling board is one of the really magical parts of this program, as far as I’m concerned. It allows children to learn how to spell in a kinesthetic way, without their handwriting holding them back. This doesn’t mean that writing out the words with pencil and paper isn’t part of AAS Level 2, because dictation is also a component of the program.

Here is Bruce’s work from Step #1. All of the Classical Education Homeschooling families reading this post are probably cringing right now, after seeing my son’s handwriting! As an Afterschooling family, I have not chosen to work on handwriting with Bruce at all, because it is a battle-ground area with us. He is supposed to be starting a formal handwriting program in his public school’s first grade.

By Step 4 you can see a little bit of improvement, at least in writing things on the lines. I am at least insisting on that.

What I am really noticing about AAS Level 2 is that each step is taking us longer to complete than Level 1. Bruce use to be able to finish off a Level 1 step in 15 minutes. With Level 2, each step is taking two to three 15 minute sessions. His progress is slower, but he is learning a lot. Bruce enjoys spelling, and regularly asks to do an AAS spelling lesson. Of course, I reward him with a bit of computer time afterward! All in all, I continue to be really impressed with this program, which is why (full disclaimer!) I signed up to be an Affiliate with the company.

Why I Can’t Spell

I should have titled this post “Why I Can’t Spel Worth Beens”. Finishing off All About Spelling Level 1 with Bruce really pointed out to me all of the spelling rules I do not know. It’s like if you learned how to read, but never learned how to pronounce the “th” sound. Sure, you’d be able to function in society but you would be making crazy mistakes your whole life and never know why.  You would probably feel pretty stupid too.

It is so sad to me that here I am in my 30s, having graduated from Stanford University for Pete’s sake, and yet I am still learning something from a Level 1 spelling book. I have tried my upmost for at least two decades to improve my spelling through rote memorization, and it just doesn’t work. Finally, I just gave up and figured that I would always be stupid about spelling. I am the family joke! My younger sister still likes to tease me about misspelling ‘very’ when I was in high school. (I thought it had two r’s, like ‘berry’.)

Now, I realize that I’m a poor speller because my spelling knowledge is like Swiss cheese. I need to systematically memorize specific spelling rules to plug those holes.  Moving the tiles around on the board along with my six year old is helping hard wire those rules into my brain.  I’m not stupid about spelling; there are just things I never learned for some reason.

Take Key Card #9 for example. “Which letters are often doubled after a single vowel at the end of a one-syllable rule?” The answer is f, l, and s. Sometimes this is called the Floss rule, because floss has all three letters in it and also follows the rule. This is an example of a spelling mistake I make all the time. I am always getting confused with double consonants. I’ve learned to compensate with spell check, and when that’s not available, choosing words that I am certain of spelling.

Hopefully by the end of taking two kids all the way through AAS Level 7, I’ll be a good speller too. After all of these years, there is new hope for me yet!

All About Spelling Level 1

I should have titled this post “Claire Was Right”, in that when my friend saw my initial post here she immediately commented that I should have purchased Level 2 for Bruce. Instead, I bought Level 1 which is indeed too easy. Interestingly enough however, we are going to do part of Level 1, specifically steps 10, 16, 18, 19, 23, and 24. So Level 1 is not entirely wasted on Bruce, and of course I will use it for Jenna once she turns three and a half or four. But I am getting way ahead of myself.

I am very new to the All About Spelling bandwagon, and really wish I had heard about it a long time ago. It is very similar to a program I used when teaching Kindergarten and First grade called Systematic Sequential Phonics they Use. Unfortunately, I have searched and searched for this book to no avail, because it must be out of print. Both programs end up teaching spelling and phonics at the same time in a very hands on, kinesthetic way. Here’s the link on Youtube explaining All about Spelling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLo8POyQKIc&feature=related.

As soon as I saw the video, the teacher in me was hooked and I immediately ordered Level 1. All of the materials arrived today, and here is what I got:

The basic startup kit.

The magnets put onto the letter tiles and then punched out.

The level 1 kit as well as the organizer box, divider cards and phoneme CD-ROM.

This is what the board looks like set up with magnets used near the end of Level one, which is where we are going to start with Bruce. There are a bunch of other magnets that I have in a bag to save for future levels. Unfortunately, (and I’m kicking myself right now), I bought the wrong darn size magnetic white board to go with all of this. I had to go back to Office Depot and buy one that was 2’x3′.

If you have followed my blog you know that I have a neurotic fear of magnets around young children, so even though these are pretty weak magnets I’m going to store the whole board behind my china cabinet when not in use. For once, having an old hand-me-down china cabinet and wall paper that needs to be replaced is a good thing. If they get scratched up by this gigantic whiteboard, no big deal!

The Level 1 cards punched out and organized in the box. I’m glad I bought that box! A word about the blue cards. Do you see them up there in the box? Each blue card contains a rule or generalization about spelling. Level 1 has 16 rule cards in it. This is how I was able to figure out what steps in Level 1 I still needed to cover with Bruce, even though almost all of Level 1 is too easy for him. I just sat down there in his room and asked him to answer the questions on each of the blue cards. The ones he didn’t know directed me to what step to do in the book.

Here’s a picture of the lesson plans I’ll used to do the first activity with Bruce which was really quick and fun. Even a horrible speller like me wasn’t able to mess this up!

Once again, the teacher in me wishes she had the whole box, Levels 1-7. What an amazing diagnostic tool those blue cards would be! I’m thinking of our church’s tutoring program for disadvantaged students… You could go in and figure out exactly where a third grade English Language Learner was at in terms of spelling and phonics just by going through those blue cards. Then you could go back to the lesson plans, and know exactly what to teach.

As a former teacher, when I come across materials like this it makes me super excited, but also sad because I know that there are educators all across the country teaching in impoverished districts that are desperate for meaningful tools to help teach reading and spelling. If only I had access to this back in East Palo Alto, when I was muddling through trying to use Open Court! I could have written a grant to the Peninsula Community Foundation for five sets of materials and then used them for small group instruction.

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