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Funny Costa Concordia Video

I am still in San Diego visiting my grandma, cousins, and old childhood memories. Last night we watched four hours of gripping family movies my grandpa took in the early 1980’s which included my aunt changing a light bulb, my dad watching a football game on TV, our family eating lunch, and my fourth birthday party in its entirety.

The funniest shots were when my grandpa would film what the contents of our houses looked like when I was little, including the stereo systems in all of their behemouth glory. Grandpa would have loved to get his hands on my cousin Steven’s high-tech equipment, and would be so proud that his grandson actually became a professional videographer.

Here’s a funny little clip that Steven put together just for fun. I can’t wait to go home and show it to Bruce(6.5) because I think it might inspire him to put his own stories to life too.   This summer I want to teach Bruce about technology by helping him craft his own little video from start to finish, and then upload it on YoutTube and my blog. It will teach creative writing, story organization, and technology all in one activity.   Video equipment is so affordable nowadays that I can just hand over an old IPod to my son and he can start filming at a picture quality my grandpa could only dream of.

I’m also issuing an invitation to my Teaching My Baby To Read audience.  If your children or teenagers create their own mini-movies on YouTube, please let me know and I can share the link for you.  I’m going to be crafting a complete STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) page in the future, and that would be a great place to share.

Kindle Fire vs. IPod Touch

Jenna(32m) and I just got back from her big brother Bruce’s Student of the Month assembly, and now she decided to fall asleep in my lap.  Thankfully, for the 30 minutes we were sitting on auditorium bleachers, I had back-up.  A yellow sucker that was soon covered in blond hair (yuck!), and Bruce’s Kindle Fire and headphones, which I had stashed in my purse.  Normally we have a NO DISNEY UNTIL AGE 3 policy in our household, but I had made the exception and loaded a princess movie onto the Kindle for this precise moment.

As my regular blog readers know, the Kindle was a Christmas gift to Bruce from my in-laws.  What I am finding as a mother, is that I’m stealing it all the time, without my son’s knowledge! 

I have a “Little Pim Spanish” on it right now, as well as Leap Frog’s “Phonics Farm” and Preschool Prep’s “Meet the Phonics“. The Kindle Fire is bigger than our IPod Touch (another gift from my in-laws) but far less cumbersome than a portable DVD player.  So I can just slip it in my bag and bring it out for Jenna in previously problematic situations like waiting in the doctor’s office or at Bruce’s swimming lessons.  Technically, I could have done this with the IPod Touch, but the screen is really too small for a preschooler to deal with, plus I don’t like having something that costs $400 banging around in my purse.

The big problem with the Kindle Fire is the lack of parental settings regarding the internet.  I have to make sure that our password for Wi-Fi is scrambled so Bruce can’t accidentally turn it on, and he has sworn up and down that he wouldn’t try anyway.  So that is still an issue, but not a big concern at the moment.  Hopefully future Kindle Fire generations fix that problem.

But I have to admit, this is my new “Mommy’s helper” of 2012.  If you have any ideas of other things to download, please let me know!

Kindle Fire for Kids

For Christmas this year my in-laws have very generously purchased Bruce(6.5) a Kindle Fire. My husband and I have been staying up late loading it up with books, music and educational aps for him, and are then going to give it back to my MIL to wrap. That way it will be all ready to go Christmas morning. It’s like the classic story of mom and dad staying up to put toys together the night before Christmas, but in the digital age. 🙂

I’ve read some reviews of the Kindle Fire criticizing it for not having any parental controls. This is a big issue for sure, but one that is easy to overcome. We are simply going to turn off the Wi-Fi before we hand the Kindle over to our son. That way, he can only access the media that we have loaded for him. So for me, the lack of a parental control setting is not a big deal. I am the parent, and I am in control!!!

Amazon has a large selection of classic books for children which are free to download: Black Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, etc. The same goes for Classical Music. There are also a number of free games such as chess, Sudoku, backgammon and more to load, as well as lots of educational games that only cost 99 cents. The one big splurge I added was the video Little Pims Spanish, which cost me $14.99. Yes, I have still got a little flicker of hope in me that Bruce will learn Spanish!

Our local library allows you to download ten children’s books for Kindle at a time, but only for 14 day periods. So when Bruce is ready for more titles, I’ll take the Kindle back, turn on the Wi-Fi, download some books that he chooses off of our library webpage, turn off the Wi-Fi, and give it back to him. Pretty cool, hunh?

TimezAttack Review


Last week in a post about XtraMath I mentioned that Bruce(6) has also been playing TimezAttack recently.  The version of TimezAttack that we have was free, and I downloaded it in just a few minutes.  The free version seems just fine for us at present.

Mathematically, TimezAttack is really awesome.  It’s tied to the Common Core Standards, and helps kids increase their mental recall of multiplication facts.  Graphically, TimezAttack is pretty cool too.  It looks like a real video game and is intense without actually being violent. 

But honestly, I have really mixed feelings about TimezAttack because it “revs” Bruce up every time he plays it.  80% of the time he is manically shrieking and jumping up in his chair has he smashes trolls, the other 20% of the time he misses a few problems and almost has a melt-down right there at the desk. 

If you contrast that with XtraMath, it’s night and day.  Bruce is now on day 8 of XtraMath and is bored to tears.  But it only lasts five minutes and doesn’t cause him to freak out.

This isn’t to say that either of these programs aren’t wonderful free options for families because they are.  Like with any screen activity though, you need supervision and discretion.

Tonight, Bruce tried playing some of the games at multiplication.com, as suggested by blog reader Aly in VA.  That might be a very happy medium, so thank you Aly!  I’ll review multiplication.com soon.


We had Bruce’s 1st grade parent teacher conference last week, and one of the suggestions his teacher had for him was to sign up for XtraMath.org to help him increase his metal recall of math facts.  I had never heard of XtraMath.org, but immediately looked it up when we got home.  Basically, it is a free online math program that children do for five minutes (and five minutes only!) a day. XtraMath also sends you weekly updates of your child’s progress.  Here is the little blurb from the welcome email they sent us:


Hi! You are receiving this email because you recently created an account for the XtraMath online math program, or someone created an account on your behalf. Welcome!

XtraMath is like a math vitamin. For best results your child should do XtraMath once per day as regularly as possible. It only takes a few minutes so make it a part of your daily routine. Math facts are the building blocks of your child’s math education and your child will be well-rewarded for the time they spend practicing on XtraMath.

You can sign in to your parent account to check on your child’s progress. Your child will need to do XtraMath several times over the course of a few days before any meaningful progress is reported.

XtraMath is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to math achievement for all. We do not charge for XtraMath nor do we have advertising on our site. Instead, we are supported by donations from parents like you. If you appreciate our program please make a tax-deductible donation. Your donation will help cover the cost of operating this website, make XtraMath available to more students where it is most needed, and improve the program for all.

Another way you can help is to let other people know about XtraMath, especially elementary-school teachers and parents with children in grades 2-5. An easy way to let people know about us is to become a fan of XtraMath on Facebook. We would appreciate it!

May you and your child have a very successful and rewarding school year.

David Jeschke


I have now had Bruce do XtraMath for four days now.  He skipped a few days over the weekend when my husband and I were out of town, and I immediately got a “We missed Bruce at XtraMath” email.  Bruce is so far not very impressed by XtraMath, and thinks it is boring.  However, since it only takes him five minutes to do, and actually makes you sign off when the five minute mark is hit, he is okay with our new rule that he has to do XtraMath before he gets computer time.   Doing XtraMath in the morning before school has also worked out for us a couple of times.  The five minute time limit is very reasonable, and easy to fit into an Afterschooling schedule.

To be clear, the new order of operations in our household for Bruce is: 

  1. Come home from school
  2. Eat snack
  3. Do homework
  4. Play
  5. XtraMath for 5 minutes
  6. 30 minutes of other screen time
  7. Dinner, etc.

Of course, I was thinking about this last night and realized that Bruce really does not need any help mastering his addition or subtraction facts at all, no matter what timed tests his third grade math teacher gives him.  I know that he knows them cold.  The problem is that he can’t write them down quickly enough, especially now that he is working so hard to not write down backwards numbers.  So I’m not sure that XtraMath is really going to help improve his performance on written timed tests at all.  But at five minutes a day, it can’t hurt.  Once he moves into the multiplication and division section it will be more useful.

P.S. Another great free online math facts program is TimezAttack, which I will review soon.  I’ve added both links to my Cheap Math page.

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.

Dreambox Confessions

A while back I posted my impressions of Dreambox.com, a math program which Bruce has played sporadically for over two years.  Bruce’s very nature is to become passionately interested in a subject or activity to the point of obsession, and then move on to something else.  So the way he has approached Dreambox might be a little bit out of the ordinary.  We usually sign up for Dreambox for one or two months at a time.  Bruce is usually beyond excited to play Dreambox in the initial weeks, and then his focus changes and he moves onto something else.  The last time I signed up Bruce for Dreambox was six months ago at Christmas, when I wanted to keep him busy over winter break. 

Remember how I titled this post Dreambox Confessions?  Well summer vacation starts this week and so I decided to sign Bruce(6 years old) up for Dreambox again.  He was very keen to play it, and I’m personally motivated to keep him occupied and busy this summer.  So on Monday, I signed him up.  Knowing his past history with Dreambox, I figured I’d let him him play as long as he wanted that first day (within reason).  As a former teacher, I was curious to see how much he really liked it, because it does cover some hard core math standards.

Here comes the really embarrassing part.  So Bruce is there at the kitchen computer playing Dreambox and Jenna (who’s 23 months old) and I were going about our day.  We read books…we counted blocks…we did a puzzle…we went outside…Jenna ate sand…I cleaned her up with the hose…we watered the garden…Jenna got all wet…I put her in clean clothes… You get the picture. 

Then I realized that through all of this Bruce was still playing Dreambox for three hours!  Which is so not okay in our household!  We have very strict rules about screen-time, and they usually involve reading or doing math to earn 30 minutes of PBS.  We also don’t own an Xbox or DS or anything.  So Bruce having 3 hours of screen-time (even though he was doing Dreambox) was a big goof on my part.  I was so distracted with Jenna that I wasn’t paying good enough attention.

But wait, it gets worse…  So an hour or two later my husband got home from work, our family ate dinner together, and then I took off to go for a run.  I came back home only to discover, you guessed it– Bruce playing Dreambox again!  Then came the very uncomfortable explanation to my husband.  Um… I had already let Bruce play Dreambox for three hours that day, bringing his current screen-time count up to four.  If I was the nanny, I would have been fired!

Not to redeem myself at all, but out of curiosity I went into the Parent Dashboard in Dreambox to see what Bruce was working on during my four hours of delinquent parenting and here is the cut-and-paste of what it said:

What’s Bruce learning now?

Bruce is skip counting forwards and backwards, for example jumping on a number line by threes: 3, 6, 9, 12, etc. This work will be helpful later when multiplication is introduced and common multiples are explored.

Bruce is using a fun tool called the Human CalculatorTM! DreamBox gives your child a column of numbers to add in a way that helps him look for patterns among the numbers and find pairs of numbers that equal multiples of ten. After mastering the Human CalculatorTM, Bruce is adding and subtracting 2- and 3-digit numbers. Our curriculum provides extensive scaffolding (support for gradual learning) and carefully crafted problems that develop powerful mental arithmetic strategies.

Bruce is learning a strategy that involves splitting numbers into friendlier pieces. When presented with challenging problem sets (like 43 + 36) he splits the numbers and rearranges the parts into tens and ones. Following this strategy, Bruce is learning a strategy to make addition problems friendlier by using our tool, Compensation BucketsTM. For example, initially turning the problem 29 + 64 into 30 + 63, and later adding 3-digit numbers with sums up to 200.

In general, I think that Dreambox is an excellent program, and highly worth checking out.  But I will definitely be setting the kitchen timer the next time I let Bruce log in.

The Froggy Computer (aka ClickStart)

I’ve been riffling through the garage trying to find the extra potty seat for Jenna (still no luck), and I found what Bruce use to refer to as “The Froggy Computer”.  Actually, it’s a Leap Frog ClickStart, but it is green.  I decided to drag it out and give it a try with Jenna, who is almost two years old.

My MIL bought this for Bruce when he was around two or three years old and had ripped off the “o” and “i”  off of my lap top.  (For a while there, all of my emails looked like this:  Hell0.  H0w are y0u?  1 am f1ne, but Bruce has r1pped 0ff the 0 0ff 0f my c0mputer.)

By the time Bruce had the froggy computer, he already knew all of his letters and sounds.  So while ClickStart wasn’t very useful in teaching him phonics, it was a great outlet for him to play with a keyboard and learn early mouse skills.  It’s a QWERTY keyboard, and thankfully the “o”s and “i”s are really stuck on there well!

At 23 months, Jenna is only interested in pounding on the keyboard for about five minutes, and watching the letters pop up on the television screen.  This is enough time for me to dust and pick up the family room, so I consider her first encounter with the froggy computer a success.  I probably won’t plug it in again for her until she is a couple of months older, though.  It’s really meant for 3 year olds.

Old-School Leap Pad


I dug up Bruce’s old LeapPad for Jenna this morning, to see what would happen.  I had bought the whole system, three boxes and the LeapPad, for $30 at a Fred Meyer several years ago.  I couldn’t find an identical package online, but I think it is similar to this:

It’s interesting because it has all of the characters as the Letter Factory and Talking Words Factory videos.  There’s Leap, Lilly, Professor Quiggley, and the Word Bammer.  They must have been meant to be used together.

It’s hard to tell how effective all of this will be with Jenna, who is currently 23 months old.  We were having a really special moment together when I got it all out, but then Bruce came in with his walkie talkies and caused a bit of a distraction.  I had to have a stern talk with him about not interrupting his sister’s learning time.  So, I’ll try again tomorrow when Jenna’s ready to pay attention again.

Scratch, a follow up

Last week I uploaded Scratch to our computer, and introduced it to Bruce.  http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/2011/04/28/scratch/  He’s worked with it several times since, and is interested in it, but not yet obsessed.  Bruce really wants to be able to use Scratch to create his own video game, but he still needs to get through the learning curve of how to use it first.

So far, he has made the cat move and say meow, and has also mastered the paint feature.  He really likes how the commands are lego based, meaning you snap the opperations together to make a complete unit.  (I’m sure there are correct computer programing terminology for that, but I have no idea what those vocab words would be!)  I think Bruce would be more interested in Scratch if it weren’t for his current fascination with “Stack the States“.  Right now, that’s his first choice to play when he has earned screen time.

This looks like New Hampshire

Here’s a follow up on the Ipod Touch App, “Stack the States”, that Bruce played while on our trip to San Diego.  http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/stack-the-states/id381342267?mt=8  Actually I should use the present tense here, because he’s still playing it under our usual two pages of math = 30 minutes of screen time agreement.  I wish I had a picture of Bruce playing this game on the airplane, but since my husband and I were so occupied with walking Jenna up and down the aisle of the airplane for three hours, I was too harried at the time to think of it.  (Yes, we were that family!)

Stack the States is simple but awesome.  Bruce really enjoys playing it, and has already learned a lot.  The other day he saw a torn piece of paper and remarked, “Hey mom, this looks like New Hampshire!”  He was right, it did.  But how many six year olds know that?  Learning states and capitals is traditionally a third and fourth grade skill, but this game is appropriate for any child with strong reading skills.  Bruce is constantly mispronouncing things, but he’s still learning.  He’ll probably have all of his states and capitals memorized in another month.  For $.99, this was totally worth it.


I’m a little behind in my blogging, because we just got back from a family vacation to San Diego.  Although, I’d use the term “vacation” rather loosely considering my husband and I had to take turns walking a cranky Jenna up and down the airplane aisle for two hours on the way home.

Anyhow, now that we are back I’m really excited to get Bruce started on Scratch, which I read about in “Gifted Child Today” while we were on our trip.  It’s a software program that teaches young children about computer programing.  The best part is that it is completely free!  I just downloaded it on our computer http://scratch.mit.edu/, and it does indeed look very cool.  I can’t wait to pick up Bruce from Kindergarten this afternoon, and get him started.

I Pod Touch Apps

This weekend we have a number of family get-togethers that have caused me to relent and purchase some game apps for our Ipod Touch.  As always, I tried to go the educational route so I loaded “Stack the States”, “Pizza Fractions” and “Oregon Train”.  The clear winner has been Oregon Trail.  I’ve had to keep and eagle eye on Bruce or else he will play it all day.  So in between visiting with my Grandma, Aunt and cousins, I’ve been checking in on him and making sure he read Barbara Park’s “Operation Dump the Chump” from start to finish, as well as sending him outside to play.  This really makes me glad we don’t have a DS.  One weekend with some Ipod games, and my six year-old is obsessed.

Twist and Shout Multiplication

Here’s the new toy in our household this week.  So far Bruce likes it a lot and has been playing it every day.  As for me, I like that it has a headphones jack in it, so I don’t need to listen to the annoying music.  As for efficacy, Bruce does seem to be learning his x 12’s, which is an area he was weak in before.

Super Why Spelling Wand

This isn’t the best picture of Jenna, but here she is with her “spelling wand” my MIL picked up for her.  If you are familiar with Super Why, you know that Princess Presto uses her spelling want to write words.  Jenna loves watching Super Why now, says “Wands up!”, and calls out the Super Letters along with the characters on tv.  I think it’s a fun and meaningful way for her to practice what she is learning.