Teaching My Baby To Read

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Moving on to All About Spelling Level 1, Step 2!!!

Yeah! Jenna (35m) is ready to move on to All About Spelling Level 1, step 2! (The “y” and “qu” are not checked off yet, but I’m giving that a pass.) Honestly, this would be ten times easier if Jenna was almost 4 instead of almost 3, but it is still very much doable.

It is really hard as a parent not to compare your kids, but when my son Bruce was this age he was already reading simple consonant-vowel-consonant words. Jenna is just not there yet. She can do other things at two and a half that Bruce couldn’t however, like work on complex puzzles and kick her daddy’s behind at the Memory Game.

Jenna has also become a spontaneous rapper and rhymes words all of the time. As a teacher, I know that this means that her phonemic awareness skills are really high for her age. Phonemic awareness is the precursor to learning to read. It includes things like rhyming and being able to say “ball starts with buh”. She is also really strong with all of her upper case, and lower case sounds. All I need to do know is keep doing what I’m doing, and….wait. Ugh! Waiting is the hard part!!!

If I was new at this “teaching kids to read thing”, or if Jenna was my first born and I was on a rampant buying spree, I think I would purchase All About Reading right about now. If it is anything like All About Spelling, then I am sure it is awesome. If you want a program that is going to hold your hand the whole way through teaching your kids how to read, AAR would be it.  If you want a road-map of free things to try, then check out my Where to Start Page.

But I’m not new at teaching kids how to read. I do know what I’m doing. I just need to be patient with my own child. That of course, is easier said than done. 😉

Lunchbox Notes Continued

One of the ways I try to sneak in extra learning for my son Bruce(7) is through lunchbox notes. Full confession—he’s not very thrilled. But I know that even if he chooses to crumple up the note each day, that he is still learning. How do I know this? because he usually tells me something sassy like “I’m not going to learn about Dwit Eisehow and you can’t make me!” With apologies to President Eisenhower, that garbled educational moment was coming from the US Presidents pack I picked up at the Target Dollar spot. I also deal from a Spanish and a musical instrument pack, pictured above.

Recently I read a great blog post written by a former SAT tutor on Explolring More that talked about the importance of building your child’s vocabulary starting from a young age. I’ve been trying to do this for both of my kids through Magic Word, our daily vocabulary calendar, and reading Building Language with Bruce. Another way to peck away at this is through lunchbox notes.

The only catch is that we have to go over the word thoroughly at breakfast, before Bruce heads off to school. That way, when he gets to lunch and takes the word out, he already knows what it means. Hopefully, the other kids at the table will learn the word too.  Either that, or they’ll find this whole idea really soporific.

First Words to Read

This morning at breakfast Bruce(6.5), Jenna(2.5) and I discovered our neighbor’s Alaskan Huskie standing on our deck and staring at us through the sliding glass door. I bet you can guess what our Morning Message was about today!

After we had dropped Bruce off at the bus stop, Jenna had a second go at breakfast, and we re-read the Morning Message together. While she sat there munching on her corn flakes, I whipped together two Consonant Vowel Consonant flip books to correspond with the morning’s adventures.

Before when I have made CVC books for Jenna, I have used construction paper, a stapler, and a little bit of thought and time. But today I just whipped them together in five minutes. If they only last a couple of days and then get recycled, that’s okay! They do not have to be perfect or last forever. Their direct correlation to the present is what makes them so powerful.

Here are some pictures from our -at book:

In a classroom setting I use to have store-bought CVC flip books for children to work with, but homemade ones are even better! We saw a dog in our backyard today. Jenna asked me to make a dog book. Then she asked me to make a cat book. These words have meaning to Jenna, and that is what makes this a fun and joyful Constructivist activity, as opposed to a generic, prepackaged reading lesson.

Leaps in Learning

Exciting things are going on in Jenna’s brain right now, I just know it.  We are definitely nearing the end, of what I call “The Middle”, in my Where To Start Page for teaching young children to read.

Jenna is 32 months old, and I can see the jumps in learning she is making right before my eyes.  It started last week with her spelling the word M-O-M.  Then yesterday she asked to get out the tunnels and build the Letter Factory in our living room.  She laid out all of the letters from the Word Whammer out on the coffee table and pretended to build words. 

Jenna has also been dragging out the old school Leap Pad we have from Bruce.  I think the real name for it is “The Leap Frog Easy Reader Phonics Kit”.  Jenna is showing me that she understands word-to-word correspondence because she can touch each word one at a time to make the book talk.  When she was younger, she would have just wildly started coloring on the page.

I don’t know if this happens with your children, but with both of mine it seems like when they make giant developmental leaps it coincides with a change in or a disturbance to sleep patterns.  Can I insert an exasperated sight here?  Argh!  Jenna is hardly taking any naps at all anymore, and she only seems to need about ten hours of sleep a day.  The cozy days of my little girl napping in my arms while I blog away one handed, are long gone. 

Blink and you’ll miss it.  Toddlers turn into Preschoolers really quickly.

Jennifer Bardsley, M-O-M

Yesterday was a celebratory moment for us. My daughter Jenna(32months) was sitting by the couch in the living room, and she looked over into the basket were the Word Whammer was laying upside-down. She looked at it for a moment, and said “Two Ms, like in mom.”

I was really surprised, because although Jenna has known her letters and sounds for about six months now, she hasn’t shown any interest in blending. So I got out the cookie sheet and turned it around. Then I offered her the choice between an O, and an E, and asked her to spell mom for me. She picked out the O on her first try! Then Jenna proceeded to read the word mom to me many times. That’s as far as she could go. As my husband asked when he got home that night, Jenna could not spell dad.

When my son Bruce was two and a half we were having a snack at the Nordstrom’s cafe together one day, and I started writing out letters on the menu to keep him busy while we waited for our food to arrive. It was in that moment that I realized that Bruce could read simple Consonant Vowel Consonant words. I was startled and surprised, even though we had spent hours and hours watching phonics videos together. I looked around the restaurant excitedly, like there would be somebody there to share my joy. Of course there wasn’t, and I kept my mouth shut.

You know how the first time your child uses the potty you want to shout it from the rooftops? Well, I feel that way too, about my daughter spelling and reading her first word. But for some reason, it’s not socially acceptable to be proud of your child’s reading accomplishments. I’ll share my M-O-M moment on my blog, and with my husband and the grandmas, but never with ordinary people I know in real life. That would be cloying. Pooping in the potty at age two is okay to talk about. Reading a word is not.

But this isn’t a case of “Oh, my daughter is SO smart.” It’s the result of the time we have spent together, and the types of play activities we have enjoyed. All of these ideas I share for free on my Where to Start page, so that families of all academic and ability levels can get a jump start on learning too.

I don’t expect that Jenna will be reading Harry Potter any time soon, but I do envision her slowly starting to pick out more and more words on her own. If she follows her brother’s path (maybe she will, maybe she won’t), by age three she might be able to read level 1 Bob Books. By age 4 she would hopefully complete the series, and turn into a full-fledged, reader-beader.

All children learn and develop at different rates though, and that’s okay. No matter where my children are at in reading, as their M-O-M, I can appreciate the W-O-W.

SAT Words for 2 Year Olds

As luck would have it, there has been an especially nice run of words on my tear-off daily calendar this week. A lot of the words are appropriate to teach to Jenna(2.5). If I want my daughter to someday have a vaunted vocabulary, then I need to be mindful of working new words into our ordinary conversation, every day.

Yesterday’s word was scour. That’s a really easy word to use with Jenna when we are playing with our toy kitchen. We really need to scour that sink out!

In a few days, the word will be inkling. I can use that word while Jenna is engaged in one of her new favorite activities, doing a simple magic trick from Bruce’s Magic Box.

Here’s the red fluffy ball.

Jenna puts it in the box.

She closes the box and makes the red fluffy ball disappear. I have no inkling how she does it! 😉

All About Spelling For Adults

I’ve made no secret that I am a horrible speller.  Even though I wrote down every single word on my spelling list 25 times (no joke), all through my childhood, I never learned to spell well.  This has caused no end of embarrassment, although I have learned a lot of coping strategies over the years.  On AP tests and during college finals, I would simply choose words that I knew how to spell, even if I really wanted to use bigger, better words that were more impressive.  I also heavily rely on spell check, but even that is not fool-proof.  When I was a third grade teacher, I was lucky that the parents in my classroom were very understanding when I once sent out a classroom email about the read aloud book we were doing, Loser by Jerry Spinelli, and spelled it L-O-O-S-E-R!

I really want things to be different for my own children, which is why I’m willing to count my pennies, and invest in All About Spelling.  So far Bruce(6.5) has completed Levels 1 and Level 2.  The strange thing is, I have been amazed at how much I have learned in the process. 

As parents it is really easy to give all of your time and resources to your children, but I decided to be a bit selfish, and do something daring last month.  It may sound crazy,but I bought AAS Level 6 for myself!  Deep down, there is still a flickering hope that I might be able to learn to spell, and I am hopeful that Level 6 is the vade mecum I am looking for. 

Since I am an adult using this program, I am doing thing a little bit differently.  For starters, I am using the green cards diagnostically to find out how many words I don’t know.  My teacher and quiz partner?  That would be my son Bruce, who loves his new role as spelling master!  We are going through 30 word sets at a time, and Bruce is really enjoying his power-trip.

I can already see how much I have learned from Levels 1 and 2, because  a lot of words that I have previously misspelled like “accident”, or “occupy”, I am now getting right.   I  can picture the AAS “open door”, “closed door” syllable tags in my head. For the first time, I understood why there are two Cs! I’m also picturing the tiles, moving around in my brain.  This is monumental for me, because I have never been a person who could see how a word was supposed to look before.  I still can’t visualize the whole word, but I can see the tiles for some reason.

As it turns out, most of Level 6 is too easy.  Level 7 would probably be a better choice for me once it is released this year.  But I’m still going to read and work through the lessons, because I am making so many new spelling connections that I can hardly believe it.  Just ripping out the green cards to begin with, taught me a lot because it showed me the patterns in words, and how I could use those patterns to be a stronger speller.

If I can spell “raccoon”, then I should be able to spell “account”.  If I know the difference between “angle” and “angel”, then I should also be able to spell “camel” and “nickel”, without reversing the E-L.  If I can picture all of those words as little blue and red tiles moving around in my head, then I don’t need to be a spelling L-O-O-S-E-R after all.  🙂

Cookie Sheets and the Word Whammer

If wandering Leap Frog magnets are a problem in your kitchen, check out this idea I stole from the mommy-pundit over at Teaching Stars.  You can use an old magnetic cookie sheet to organize and store the pieces, so they are all ready for the next time you play.  This is an excellent help in our family, because our magnets didn’t stick to our stainless steel refrigerator, and I had been keeping them in a bag. 

Now that Jenna is getting ready for the “Word Hunt” setting on her Word Whammer, it is really helpful to have the letters sorted by color.  Sometimes the Word Whammer prompts her to look for a letter that is a certain color, so this will be a definite channel factor towards success.  I could also try putting them in ABC order if that ends up being more helpful.  Very cool!

SAT Word A Day Blog

It is now 30 days into my Teaching My Baby to Read SAT challenge, and I figured it was time for an update. Bruce(6.5) is really excited about learning new words, and is exerting his will to keep me on track.  If I forget to use the Magic Word of the day, you better believe I hear about it from my son!  Jenna (2.5) on the other hand, really doesn’t know anything different is going on.  Her participation at this point is just hearing the rest of us incorporate the words into our everyday language.

Some words are easier to work with than others.  If you have the calendar and are following along on my blog, you might have noticed that sometimes I jump ahead and use a word a few days out, because it better meets the needs of that day’s post.  Other words, are too tricky to incorporate into my blog at all.  Today’s word for example is habeas corpus.  That’s a tough word to work with!

I have made a concerted effort to teach ten-dollar words to my kids before, but having the daily calendar is making things easier.  I consider it $7 well spent, and intend to keep this up all the way until Jenna takes the SAT someday.

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.

All About Spelling Level 2 Completed!

I’m writing this on the last day of my first grade son’s Christmas vacation. Bruce was halfway through AAS Level 2 when school got out, and after two weeks of working on this consistently every day, he has now finished the book. Since we are an Afterschooling family instead of a Homeschooling family, I told my son that we will hold off on Level 3 until Spring Break.

For the most part, Bruce has really enjoyed our AAS lessons. But admittedly, cranking through the book at breakneck speed these past two weeks hasn’t been the best way to go about it from a “fun” stand-point. As my Dad would say, “Tough noogies”.  I know that AAS is really helping Bruce, and a good compliment to the Evan More Grade Two spelling book he is doing at school (only way better).

At the start of vacation when we were still on Step 15 I quizzed Bruce on the remaining Word Cards in Level 2, and pulled the ones that he did not know how to spell. For me as a teacher, this is one of the truly amazing things about this program. I don’t know if the picture is big enough for you to see (you could try clicking on it), but that fan of cards was like a visual slice of Bruce’s spelling brain. I could tell just by looking at the cards, the type of words and word patterns Bruce needed the most help with. That didn’t mean that I only had to teach Steps 23, 24, and 25 though. The spelling rules and patterns that were important for those steps were introduced or “pretaught” in earlier Steps. So we still went through Level 2 step by step, but I was careful to put some extra emphasis on what was needed to complete Steps 23, 24, and 25.

My husband and I were having a causerie about AAS Level 2, and in our brief chat I told him about the fan I made from the green cards. I said I was tempted to purchase Level 6 and start using it myself! I am such a horrible speller, that I would love to see what the Level 6 fan of green cards I couldn’t spell would look like for me. The nice guy that he is, my husband  pointed out that only doing Level 6 wouldn’t help me very much, because there have been rules I have been unfamiliar with in both Levels 1 and Levels 2. Maybe by the time I’ve taught both Bruce and Jenna I’ll know longer feel so stupid. 🙂

Teaching My Baby To Read 2012 SAT Challenge


Calling Nerds of All Ages!

Are you ready for some fun? Starting January 1, 2012 I’ll be using one new SAT word in bold in every post I write. I will be pulling my words from Merriam-Webster’s 365 New Words a Year Page a Day Calendar.

If you have any interest in being as crazy as me, you can use this as an opportunity to start preparing your children now for the SAT. It doesn’t matter if they are toddlers or teenagers. I am constantly reminding my father-in-law that my two year old is capable of learning any word he says! So instead of learning the “saltier” words of the English language, I’m going to start expanding Jenna’s vocabulary now, with words that will someday help her crush the SAT.

All you have to do is slip the daily word into conversation with your child a few times a day. Build it into the words they are used to hearing, and you will add that word into their vocabulary.

If you really want to take this activity to the next level, you can get your own copy of the calendar, or else write the word on a slip of paper and post it somewhere in the house where your literate children are liable to see it. Slip it next to their cereal bowl, hang it on the fridge, or tuck the page into their lunch box with “Love Dad” written on the back. Make this a part of your daily habit, and brace yourself! The diction of this blog is going to become a bit grandiloquent in the new year. 🙂

All About Spelling, Organizing Your Materials

I’ve blogged for a while about how much I love All About Spelling, but I’ve never really described a basic aspect of the program that all AAS users have to contend with: where do you store all of the components that go with it? Since I have a 6 year old and a 2 year old in the house, this is a big issue. I’m very paranoid about my daughter eating magnets, and so I want to be sure I’m storing everything safely but still in a way that allows for easy access when it’s time for spelling lesson with my son.

Luckily, I have a very old china cabinet from the 1970s, combined with ugly 1980s wallpaper in the dining room that we haven’t gotten around to replacing. Together, they form the perfect AAS storage solution! Who cares if either the china cabinet or the wallpaper gets scratched? I keep the board behind the cabinet. Normally I push the board all the way behind it so my daughter can’t reach, but in this picture it is peaking out so you can get the idea that it’s back there.

I store the AAS books and card box on top of the china cabinet, next to the Right Start materials we are currently using. This makes for easy access whenever my son does homework on the dining room table.

All of our AAS cards are in the box, which was money well spent!

At the end of each lesson I make sure the entire letter tiles are accounted for and in their proper place on the board. I also prep the next lesson by pulling the cards and pieces and putting them in the teacher’s guide. That way, the next time Bruce says “Let’s do spelling”, I’m already to go before he loses interest.

Gosh that wall paper is hideous!   Decor wise, this isn’t the best solution. My 1970s/1980s dining room is really depressing. But I feel lucky that we have a good space to do schoolwork without worrying about messing up expensive furniture.

All About Spelling and my Two Year Old

As reported previously, we are now in week #2 of doing quick, ten minute All About Spelling lessons with my son Bruce(6) before he leaves for school in the morning.  The necessary evil in the arrangement is that I have to plug Jenna(27m) in front of PBS kids so that she will stay out of our way.  Otherwise, she wants to do spelling too.

Today Jenna wandered into our spelling lesson and really wanted to participate, so I told that as soon as we had dropped Bruce off at school we would come home and she would be able to have a spelling lesson too.  Since she is a very agreeable two year old, she of course agreed.  On my part, it was one of those blanket statements I often make to her such as; “Yes, I’ll put on a pretty dress.  But not today, maybe tomorrow.”, or “No, we can’t go to the ice cream store today, but maybe next week.”  I really didn’t think she would remember. 

Boy was I wrong!  Forty minutes later once we had dropped her brother off at school and had returned home, I was at the sink doing dishes when I heard Jenna yell “Help!  Help!” I rushed out to the dining room only to discover her trying to pull out the AAS white board from behind the china cabinet where it is stored.  I had forgotten my promise to do a spelling lesson, but Jenna remembered and was going to keep me to my word.

If Jenna was three and a half, or maybe even three, I would consider breaking out the AAS Level 1 book and giving it a go with her.  The whole first part of Level 1 is on letter and sound recognition.  The second part of the book spells simple consonant vowel consonant words.  Jenna already knows her letters and sounds, but she doesn’t necessarily have the attention span to blend words yet.  So instead, we played around with the letter tiles, calling out sounds and joking about the “funny a”.  (The A tile is written how you would see it in a book, as opposed to writing it by hand.)  Jenna also had fun using the letter tiles to make patterns and decorations.  She played with the spelling board for over twenty minutes, long past the time when I was ready to move onto something else.

I would not advocate buying any of the AAS materials for a child who was not old enough to use them, but if you happen to already own the supplies because you have older kids in the house, then that’s pretty swell.  Jenna felt so proud for doing a spelling lesson just like her brother, and she had a lot of fun too.  I’ll be getting the board out again with her the next time she asks.  And this time, I really mean it!