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Facebook can drive you crazy

Maybe it should have been “Your bat on Facebook”?

Here’s my I Brake for Moms column on the Weekly Herald this week.  Sadly, there are only three issues left before the Weekly Herald closes down, but you can still follow I Brake for Moms online, and perhaps in the Daily Herald too someday.

Sad News for Edmonds, Lynnwood, and Mountlake Terrace

My regular Teaching My Baby to Read readers already know this, but for the past three months I have been writing a column called “I Brake for Moms” in our local paper, The Weekly Herald. Sadly, this newspaper will be closing as of August 29th. (Full article here.) At present, “I Brake for Moms” will continue on Herald.Net. Maybe someday in the future I’ll be back in print in The Daily Herald, which would be a really exciting opportunity.

For my national and international blog readers who never got to see The Weekly Herald in hard copy, please let me tell you what a meaningful addition it has been to our community. Each week the paper highlighted people in the cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace who might have gone unnoticed, and shared the inspiring things they do every day. I don’t mean to sound trite, but The Weekly Herald was/is a paper with a lot of heart.

I still have oodles of column ideas floating around my head. “Help! My Daughter Likes Barbie” is just itching to get out. If you are interested in continuing to be an “I Brake for Moms” reader, please add: http://www.heraldnet.com/section/blog5205 to your roster.

Thank you for reading.

Leap Frog Scirrble and Write

Today has been a bit frustrating. We had to rush off to the doctor to get antibiotics because of an owie on Jenna’s hand that has become infected, the comments on my blog are only sometimes working, I found something blue and sticky on my living room couch, and just now when I was adding the Amazon Affiliate link for our latest Leap Frog purchase I noticed that Amazon is only charging $19 for it. I paid $25 at Toys R Us earlier this week! Argh!!!!  Okay, I’m taking a deep breath and letting it all go… 🙂

Back to the Scribble and Write, this one is a real winner. There are lots of Leap Frog items out there that are not worth it, but the Scribble and Write is almost as good as the Word Whammer.

The Scribble and Write is like an electronic Magna Doodle. Upper and lower case letters light up and your preschooler traces over it with the stylus. Then you pull the orange tab to erase. There aren’t any corrections offered, so if you write something incorrectly there is no feedback. But I’m okay with that, because 3 year olds don’t need any performance pressure. There are phonics lessons built in to the audio, so when the letter B appears it also gives the sound “buh”.

I’ve seen this toy on the shelf a whole bunch of times this past year but always held off on purchasing it because I’ve been burned on Leap Frog products before. Thankfully, the Scribble and Write seems to have been money well spent.

Really Nice Chirography

Here’s a letter that my son Bruce(6.5) wrote this weekend that I will not be mailing to my sister-in-law who is 9 months pregnant! It’s too bad he included that sentence about her looking funny (because she was so pregnant), because otherwise this is pretty good handwriting for Bruce considering that chirography has never been his strong suit.

For her part, my daughter Jenna(2.5) has started writing “O” and “I” on any writing surface she can find; writing paper, Magna Doodle, wallpaper, closet door, leather couch… you name it! We have to be very careful that all of the pens, pencils, and crayons are up high. This is really hard to do with an older brother in the house.

Another interesting thing to note (which you can see in this picture), is that Jenna is very clearly left-handed like her brother. My husband and I both find this interesting because we are each right handed. I’m not sure developmentally when hand dominance is supposed to be settled, but we have been watching Jenna for a long time now, and are 100% sure that she is a leftie.

Writing Sample, Six Months Later

Six months ago I wrote about Bruce (then 6) coming into the kitchen like a popinjay and posting “Pizza Wanted” signs all over the walls. Now, six months later he is issuing new demands, this time handing over his “Declaration of Independence Two”.

This would be an example of his rough draft writing, because it has not adult input or editing in it whatsoever. At six and a half, there are still a lot of spelling mistakes, spacing issues, and punctuation irregularities. But you can definitely tell that he is working on D’Nelian handwriting, and that he has been reading a lot of books about the Revolutionary War recently. Bruce’s “voice” is also coming in loud and clear. Will he “snap the word into shape” when it gets handed over? The jury is still out on that one.

How to Write A Five Paragraph Essay

Bruce(6) was home from school today with a nasty cough, but he wasn’t too sick to boss me around. 🙂 He came into the kitchen while I was making lunch and told me that we were going to do a five paragraph writing contest. He told me that a paragraph has five sentences with periods in it, and that I better get busy. The next twenty minutes were spent with us both writing and trying to protect our papers from Jenna(27m) and her crayons. Here is a sample of what Bruce produced. He did indeed write five paragraphs worth of material, although each paragraph was on a different topic:

Since I was being forced into an impromptu writing test, I decided that I’d whip something up that would be didactic. So after Bruce read me his composition I showed him my outline of how I crafted a five paragraph essay. Mostly this lesson went straight over his head, but at least the idea has been planted that there is an organizational strategy to writing a five paragraph essay.

Please note that this is not my best work, and that I struggled a bit with the D’nealian script. I’m also a naturally horrible speller, so have fun catching my mistakes!

My color-coded outline:

My Essay: I’ve color-coded some of the sentences in case you want to use this as an example when teaching your own children how to write essays.

The basic formula for writing a perfectly serviceable (but boring) five paragraph essay is as follows:

1) Introduction Paragraph.

Thesis statement


Reason #2

Reason #3

Restate thesis in new way


2) Second Paragraph

Reason #1 statement

Supporting detail 1.1

Supporting detail 1.2

Supporting detail 1.3


3) Third Paragraph

Reason #2 statement

Supporting detail 2.1

Supporting detail 2.2

Supporting detail 2.3


4) Fourth Paragraph

Reason #3 statement

Supporting detail 3.1

Supporting detail 3.2

Supporting detail 3.3


5) Conclusion Paragraph

Restate thesis statement in new way

Restate reason #1

Restate reason #2

Restate reason #3

Final conclusion sentence

Right now I am pretty happy that Bruce likes to write at all. As a first grader, he is focusing on putting down thoughts to paper and perfecting his handwriting and spelling. But some day when he is ready, maybe the summer before fourth grade, I’m going to teach him how to bang out a five paragraph essay in his sleep. It is a skill that will serve him well on standardized tests in the future.

D’Nealian Handwriting Makes a Difference

When I taught Kindergarten, first, third and fourth grade I was an awesome handwriting teacher! I’d do a kinesthetic lesson, put on some classical music, and turn the kids loose on their Handwriting Without Tears books. I was always a champion of teaching cursive, even if it meant pleading the case for cursive with parents and other teachers.

But as the mom to Bruce(6), I have basically been a failure at teaching handwriting. It has always been a battle ground issue between the two of us, and so I have never pushed handwriting practice at home. His Montessori preschool teachers made a lot of headway with Bruce, and now his first grade public school teacher is teaching him the D’nealian script. Actually, although the term “D’nealian” is being used, the actual practice sheets I am seeing coming home from school look like they might be from the Evan Moore modern manuscript book. That is probably a lot cheaper for the school to purchase.

Bruce has been doing a ton of handwriting at school each day, and I am already noticing a huge difference. Here is a sample from his Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions work from today:

Compare that to this sample of his writing from just two weeks ago:

That’s a pretty amazing jump in skills in just two weeks! I am very impressed with how Bruce’s first grade teacher has motivated him to improve his handwriting skills, and given him the time in which to do so. My husband and I are both so thankful that we live in a good school district where teachers like this abound.

The Unintended Consequences of Letter Writing

When I was a teacher and parents asked me how to help develop their children’s writing abilities at home, I always gave these four suggestions: create a special writing corner, make a personal dictionary, buy your child a journal, and give them lots of stationary supplies including their own personalized address labels.  Of course, one of the unintended consequences of all of this writing is that you end up with some really special childhood keepsakes.  Here is a letter my mom recently found that my Grandma Gerry  wrote me when I was six years old, after I mailed off a letter to her on that I composed on my own stationary:

Pizza Wanted!

Bruce has been apparently unhappy with my cooking lately. I came downstairs to find the following taped to the kitchen wall.

“Pizza Wanted.  Award: Get to eat it and get $100”  Notice the Zs are backwards, and the $ sign is still in the wrong place.  For more information on letter reversals and what is considered normal, please see my previous post.

The companion poster, of course!  I guess I should probably take a night off from cooking…

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Do it Yourself book

Bruce is a big fan of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.  My grandma purchased the companion diary for Bruce a couple of months ago, and he loves it.  He’s filled out almost all of the pages already, in his little Kindergartener handwriting.  This is going to be such a treasure later on!  It reminds me of the Ramona Quimby Age 8 Diary that I have from when I was little.  Reading this series has also inspired Bruce to create his own graphic novels.

Thank You Letters

Today was a big day for me as a parent.  Bruce wrote four thank you letters all by himself, with no help from me!  It has taken six years to get to this point, but oh was it worth it. 

This one says: “Thank you for the Lego racers.  They are awesome!”

Message for the Tooth Fairy

Bruce lost his first tooth!  Here is his message for the Tooth Fairy:  “Dear Tooth Fairy.  I want to keep my tooth.  Ok”.

Older Brother Helping Out?

Bruce came up to me yesterday with this worksheet he made for Jenna.  Jenna has since scribbled all over it!

Sorre Letter

Here’s a letter Bruce worked on last night to deliver to one of the kids in his class tomorrow.  It says: “Sorry Jordan for being mean.  I won’t do that in the future.  Next half of the note for the parents.  I like the way you handled it.  I am happy you didn’t tell Mr. Sacket.  From Bruce.”

As you can see, there are a lot of things going on in this letter that pop out at you; letter reversals, phonetic spelling, and words that end mid letter on the right of the page, and then pick up again on the left.  But since Bruce is still just five and a half, this is all completely normal and doesn’t worry me at all.  I didn’t harp on anything, or make him change something, because I did not want to interfere with his creative flow.  He spent a good twenty minutes on this and really worked hard.

One thing I will try to start having some mini-lessons on however, is this business of running out of space for a word on the right, and then finishing it off on the left.  I really need to teach him about putting finger spaces between each word.

Be Your Child’s Secretary

Bruce got a bee in his bonnet today to write a book.  Mainly, I think he was inspired by our new three-hole punch, and wanted to try it out.  He gathered up some paper, asked me for a ball of yarn and went to work.  Then he sat down and started on his story Sock Numerous and the Lost City together.  But after five minutes spent on the cover, Bruce was losing steam and said, “Mom?  Will you be the secretary?”  This is a practice we employ often, both in writing and sometimes even in math.

Being your child’s secretary is when you take control of the pencil but let your son or daughter be the boss, and tell you what to write down no editing allowed.  It is an extremely effective way of helping children tell stories, and is useful all the way up to third grade. When Bruce was four years old and had great difficulty in writing numbers, I would sometimes be his secretary then too.  This allowed his math skills to develop, regardless of his handwriting, which is still quite average. 

It’s important for children to practice writing on their own most of the time, but being your child’s secretary can be a very useful too, especially if you sense that your son or daughter is on the verge of becoming overly frustrated.