Teaching My Baby To Read

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Every PTA in America should screen this film


Last night my husband and I watched The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia a documentary that digs deep into dyslexia. What is dyslexia? Does it go away? Are there advantages to having a dyslexic brain? How can teachers and parents help?

Unfortunately, like many teachers, I received very little training in how to help dyslexic children as part of my credentialing process. My first real encounter with dyslexia was when a beautiful third grader named Maricella grabbed my wrist and asked me to hold the flashcard steady because the words were moving. “Holy crap,” I remember thinking. “I have no idea what to do.”

Ever since that moment I’ve read everything I could about dyslexia, even now when I’m not longer a teacher. Many of the methods used to help dyslexic children are good ideas that can be used for all students. Be patient. Figure out what you are actually testing–reading speed or thinking? Teach kids how to take notes in a way that makes sense to each individual brain. Use technology to accentuate learning. Most importantly, empower kids to “own” their education.

What I loved about The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is that it is inspiring. Big names like Charles Schwab and Sir Richard Branson share how the gifts of dyslexia have helped them in life. At the same time, all of the cast is upfront about the challenges they have had to overcome.

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is a movie all teachers should watch. Since 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, parents should absolutely see this film too.

It all comes back to good teaching. There are a million ways to learn and the move paths to success we offer children, the faster they will succeed.

Find a way to make words pop.

Find a way to make words pop.

Divide and conquer.

Divide and conquer.

Building words you can't sound out.

Build words you can’t sound out.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Hands on math whenever possible.

Do hands on math whenever possible.

Try to understand a child's state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Try to understand a child’s state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Bob Books with cookies.

Bob Books with cookies.

Encourage creativity.

Encourage creativity.

Learn from audio books.

Learn from audio books.

Seek out new tech like  the Bookboard library.

Seek out new tech like the Bookboard library.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Use math manipulatives.

Use math manipulatives.

An abacus is your friend!

An abacus is your friend!

Advocate for all learners.

Advocate for all learners.

Dream big!

Dream big!

 

Half-Day Kindergarten Afterschooling Plan

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In our neighborhood, full-day Kindergarten costs $3,600. Half-day Kindergarten is free, but is only two hours and 40 minutes.  All of the research I’ve read says that full-day Kindergarten makes a difference. I have an “I Brake for Moms” column coming out next Sunday, explaining the issue.

If you’d like to take a look at the research yourself, here you go:

Education.com’s Full-Day vs. Half-Day

Fact Sheet from the Children’s Defense Fund

Full-Day vs. Half-Dad Kindergarten; In Which Program Do Children Learn More?

In our neighborhood, if you take out all of the minutes from lunch and recess, full-day Kindergarten means 5 hours and 15 minutes of instructional time per day. Half-day Kindergarten is 2 hours and 25 minutes. (Please note, I don’t mean to be dismissive of the importance of recess. Children learn a lot on the playground.)

So if we were to chose half-day Kindergarten, could I somehow Afterschool enough to get in the extra 2 hours and 50 minutes a day? Yes; definitely! Here’s how:

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

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Language Arts Block, 60 minutes

*** Alternative*** One Reading Eggs lesson combined with 30 minutes of parent read aloud

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Choice Time, 30 minutes

  • Full-day kinders would likely be getting this at school. This thirty minute block would be a chance for my child (and I) to unwind while I got the next activities set up.

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Math, 30 minutes

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Specials, 30 minutes

Homework (from school), 20 minutes

TOTAL TIME = 2 hours and 50 minutes!

The cost of this Afterschooling plan would be about $350, including the uber-expensive science kits. I could splurge and get the Highlights kits too, and still come in way under $600. Or I could go the other way, and do the whole plan for practically nothing. I’d just swap about the math section for this page of free activities here.

What’s half-day Kindergarten like in your state? Are you stressing out about registering your child for Kindergarten too?

The Working Mom’s Afterschooling Plan

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Afterschooling isn’t just for stay-at-home parents. There are a lot of ways you can provide meaningful instruction to your children using what would otherwise be dead-time.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to offer teens yet, but here are some ideas for K-8:

  1. Carschooling –so easy, so effective. Ask the grandparents to buy CDs for Christmas, or else check them out from your local library.
  2. Dreambox Math –perfect for K-5. Have your kids play Dreambox while you get dinner on the table. Consider making 15 minutes of Dreambox a requirement to earn screen time.
  3. ClickN’ Read Phonics— K-3 phonics curriculum on the computer. I haven’t tried this, but it gets good reviews.
  4. Bedtime read alouds –be sneaky! For young readers, Bob Books can “unlock” stories you hate. For older readers, try using the CIA approach on your next chapter book.
  5. Hands On Equations –definitely worth the time. For older kids, if you can find an extra twenty minutes a week, Hands on Equations is really worth it. It will give them such an advantage in algebra, that you won’t believe it. Of all the math things I’ve blogged about, this is the curriculum that impresses me the most.
  6. Science Kits by mail— be a cool science mom, without having to plan anything. Seriously, almost everything you need (including a script) comes in the mail, ready for 30 minutes of fun. The catch is the kits are expensive, so you should wait for a Groupon or good deal on Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. Sign up for my Facebook page, and I’ll keep you posted.
  7. Highlights Top Secret Adventure Kits –project based geography that come in the mail. Your 7-12 year-old solves puzzles, looks for clues, and reveals the villain while learning about that month’s county. Unfortunately, like the Young Scientist Club Kits, these are really expensive, so you’d want to watch for a special deal.
  8. Story of the World Audio CDs –history kids probably won’t get at school. SOTW is a borrow from the homeschooling world. A college professor named Susan Wise Bauer has written four volumes of world history specifically for children. They cover ancient times to the present century. These CDs can be used grades K-8. I want my kids to listen to them every two years. I have a strong suspicion SOTW will help with AP tests someday.
Don't feel guilty that you're strapped for time!

Strapped for time but with a plan, that sounds like an awesome mom to me!

Don’t be confused by Reading Levels

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How do you know what reading level your child is on? For parents that’s a tough question but for teachers it’s easy.

Parents are bombarded by books from the library that all have their own system. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these books are great. But “I Can Read” is different from “Step into Reading” which is different from  “Bob Books”. So saying your kid can read “level 2” is pretty meaningless. Level 2 of what?

Teachers are bombarded too. There are a gazillion ways to measure reading level. But if you have the right tool, it’s easy. Here are some examples:

As a former teacher/parent, I’m most interested in my kids’ Guided Reading Level. I even have many of our books marked. If my kid can read a book marked J, then I immediately know he’s at the J reading level.

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But let’s make things even easier! Here are some guidelines to help you ferret out your child’s reading level in general.

Entering Kindergarten: Knows many letters and a few sounds.

Exiting Kindergarten: Able to read about 25 words. A good goal would be to be able to read Level 1 Bob Books.

First Grade: Able to read simple sentences. Not a lot of stamina. A good goal would be to read Bob Books Levels 2-4 or some of Dr. Seuss.

Second Grade: Working on stamina. A good goal would be to read “Frog and Toad are Friends” by Christmas, and “Magic Tree House” by June.

Third Grade: This is a BIG year! Third grade is when kids jump from “learning to read” to “reading to learn“. By third grade, kids should be able to read chapter books like “Ramona Quimby Age 8”.

Fourth Grade: Chapter books with deeper complexity. The books are harder and the critical thinking capabilities are too. Check out The CIA Approach for more ideas.

All kids progress at different levels. So don’t freak out if your child is progressing in a way that’s different from the spectrum I just presented. But if you do have further concerns, click here for help.

Why I’m impressed with Reading Eggs

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My broken wrist has really cramped our ordinary Afterschooling schedule. One bright spot has been Reading Eggs. I purchased a subscription through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op and have been extremely impressed.

Here’s why the former Kindergarten teacher in me loves Reading Eggs:

  • It’s systematic and sequential
  • It’s balanced, (phonics and sight words)
  • It’s diagnostic, (built in assessments keep kids on track)
  • It’s FUN!

The way Reading Eggs works is there are 12 maps with ten lessons each. Every lesson has 11 activities.  My daughter took the placement quiz and began on map 3. At the end of map 3 she passed a simple quiz to move on to map 4.

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Drawbacks:

    • Clicking with a mouse can be hard for little hands. We don’t have an iPad, but we do have a touch screen computer. That really helps. However, some of the activities work better with the screen and some work better with the mouse. I need to be on standby in case my preschooler becomes frustrated.

Jenna has been playing Reading Eggs for three weeks now and I’m already seeing a big difference. Level 3 Bob Books are a lot easier for her now, and she has more confidence when sounding out words.

For more information about Reading Eggs, please click here.

Afterschooling Plan for Working Moms

IMG_3083

Afterschooling isn’t just for stay-at-home parents. There are a lot of ways you can provide meaningful instruction to your children using what would otherwise be dead-time.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to offer teens yet, but here are some ideas for K-8:

  1. Carschooling –so easy, so effective. Ask the grandparents to buy CDs for Christmas, or else check them out from your local library.
  2. Dreambox Math –perfect for K-5. Have your kids play Dreambox while you get dinner on the table. Consider making 15 minutes of Dreambox a requirement to earn screen time.
  3. ClickN’ Read Phonics— K-3 phonics curriculum on the computer. I haven’t tried this, but it gets good reviews.
  4. Bedtime read alouds –be sneaky! For young readers, Bob Books can “unlock” stories you hate. For older readers, try using the CIA approach on your next chapter book.
  5. Hands On Equations –definitely worth the time. For older kids, if you can find an extra twenty minutes a week, Hands on Equations is really worth it. It will give them such an advantage in algebra, that you won’t believe it. Of all the math things I’ve blogged about, this is the curriculum that impresses me the most.
  6. Science Kits by mail— be a cool science mom, without having to plan anything. Seriously, almost everything you need (including a script) comes in the mail, ready for 30 minutes of fun. The catch is the kits are expensive, so you should wait for a Groupon or good deal on Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. Sign up for my Facebook page, and I’ll keep you posted.
  7. Highlights Top Secret Adventure Kits –project based geography that come in the mail. Your 7-12 year-old solves puzzles, looks for clues, and reveals the villain while learning about that month’s county. Unfortunately, like the Young Scientist Club Kits, these are really expensive, so you’d want to watch for a special deal.
  8. Story of the World Audio CDs –history kids probably won’t get at school. SOTW is a borrow from the homeschooling world. A college professor named Susan Wise Bauer has written four volumes of world history specifically for children. They cover ancient times to the present century. These CDs can be used grades K-8. I want my kids to listen to them every two years. I have a strong suspicion SOTW will help with AP tests someday.
Don't feel guilty that you're strapped for time!

Strapped for time but with a plan, that sounds like an awesome mom to me!

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

In our neighborhood, full-day Kindergarten costs $3,600. Half-day Kindergarten is free, but is only two hours and 40 minutes.  All of the research I’ve read says that full-day Kindergarten makes a difference. I have an “I Brake for Moms” column coming out next Sunday, explaining the issue.

If you’d like to take a look at the research yourself, here you go:

Education.com’s Full-Day vs. Half-Day

Fact Sheet from the Children’s Defense Fund

Full-Day vs. Half-Dad Kindergarten; In Which Program Do Children Learn More?

In our neighborhood, if you take out all of the minutes from lunch and recess, full-day Kindergarten means 5 hours and 15 minutes of instructional time per day. Half-day Kindergarten is 2 hours and 25 minutes. (Please note, I don’t mean to be dismissive of the importance of recess. Children learn a lot on the playground.)

So if we were to chose half-day Kindergarten, could I somehow Afterschool enough to get in the extra 2 hours and 50 minutes a day? Yes; definitely! Here’s how:

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

IMG_3261

Language Arts Block, 60 minutes

IMG_1882

Choice Time, 30 minutes

  • Full-day kinders would likely be getting this at school. This thirty minute block would be a chance for my child (and I) to unwind while I got the next activities set up.

IMG_3168

Math, 30 minutes

IMG_0015

Specials, 30 minutes

Homework (from school), 20 minutes

TOTAL TIME = 2 hours and 50 minutes!

The cost of this Afterschooling plan would be about $350, including the uber-expensive science kits. I could splurge and get the Highlights kits too, and still come in way under $600. Or I could go the other way, and do the whole plan for practically nothing. I’d just swap about the math section for this page of free activities here.

What’s half-day Kindergarten like in your state? Are you stressing out about registering your child for Kindergarten too?

Can you teach your child to read? You bet!

The bottom line is you can teach your child a tremendous amount before Kindergarten, especially if you know where to start!

My methods are child-centered, child-directed, and based on my own experience. I am sharing them with you so that you can have a teacher-created road map of how to teach your son or daughter to read before Kindergarten.

All children are unique and learn at different rates. Please be patient with yourself and your children. These activities are meant to be practical and fun; not stressful. Not every child will developmentally be able to learn to read by five years old, but every child is capable of learning.

First give yourself and education. Find out about:

Then try out some age-based ideas that worked for me:

0-18 Months

  • Baby Signs
  • Lots of Reading with Mommy and Daddy!

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18 Months on up (The Beginning)

To teach phonemic awareness and phonics, I suggest starting kids out on a really old-school video called “Rusty and Rosy ABC Sounds and Such“. Then move on to “Leap Frog“.

Yes, yes, I know TV can be evil! Please don’t blast me about the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that children under two shouldn’t watch television.

It’s not like I’m sitting my toddler in from of “Star Wars the Clone Wars” and then going off into the living room to drink a margarita. What I do, is I snuggle down with Jenna and watch as much of the video as she has the attention span at this point to get through. At first it is just two or three minutes, but I build her up to twenty. Each time a new letter or sound comes on, I make a big deal about. “Oh, that’s the letter S! Sssssssssss.” Sometimes Bruce sits with us, and plays along.
More on the order of videos I suggest here.

24 Months on up (The Middle)

There is definitely a fuzzy gray area after a child has learned his letters and sounds, but before he is ready to actively start putting them together in CVC (consonant vowel consonant) words. This stage might take a long time.

36 months on up (Sealing the Deal)

Special Note:

Of course, we do lots of other things too, like play outside, play dress up, engage in imaginative play, sing songs, attend a play group etc. But I do believe in actively teaching toddlers letters and sounds. By 21 months both my kids knew their upper case letters, close to half of their lower case letters, and could put sounds together with letters if you prompted them. At 3.5 years my kids were starting on Set 1 Bob Books. They were reading set 3 by age 4.

Every child will learn at a different rate, so be patient.

You can do it Moms and Dads! You can teach your children to read.

The final five

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You’re looking at the final five books my daughter Jenna needed to read to complete her reading challenge and earn an American Girl doll.

In the five months it took for Jenna to master three complete sets of Bob Books, she learned to read.

(Meanwhile, I’ve now watched three full seasons of Battle Star Galatica on Netflix, so if you came to this post because of the title, I’m winking at you!)

It took a lot of patience and creativity to get Jenna to this point, but wow! Yesterday morning when she saw those five books and knew that we could possibly go to the American Girl Store that afternoon, Jenna sat at the kitchen table and cranked through them.

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Then we got to the mall where we were volunteering for two hours at the holiday giving tree, and Jenna read through the books again.

You know what that means!

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By the time we left the AG store with Saige, a matching outfit for Jenna, and Saige’s accessories, I had spent $200.

It was worth it.

Not only is Jenna reading, but she also has the satisfaction of accomplishing something that took months of work to earn. That’s a great lesson to learn at four-years-old.

So please excuse the mommy-brag, but– Hurrah!

This Christmas, Level 3 Bob Books; next Christmas, Magic Treehouse.

I’m pretty sure it’s possible!

 

 

 

 

 

Create a Cozy Reading Nook

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Don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t one of those fabulous ideas you find on Pinterest where people have turned a closet into an amazing, built-in bookshelf bonanza.

This post is about a $30 chair from IKEA, an old baby blanket and a box.

That’s all you need to create a special area in your house that’s just for kids, and just for reading.

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Here are the four essentials:

  1. Something to sit on (chair, beanbag, pillow, sleeping bag)
  2. A warm blanket
  3. A listening audience of stuffed animals
  4. A box with super easy books

How easy should the books be? That depends on your child. You want the books to be ones that your son or daughter can easily read independently. In my daughter’s case, we add Homemade Books and Bob Books that she’s already mastered.

On a personal note, this is the first time in four years that our reading nook has had a chair in it, instead of only a pillow. I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but our nook is up in a landing, which would be otherwise unusable space. For years I’ve been afraid of kids falling over the banister. I didn’t want anything up there they could climb.

But (knock on wood), I think it’s safe now. Jenna’s almost four-and-a-half years old. It’s hard to believe! Time goes by so fast…

Killing time becomes “learning time”

This purse is packed for action!

This purse is packed for action!

The curse of the younger sibling: always being dragged along to something. Soccer, baseball, guitar, talent show rehearsals; you name it, it’s boring.

As an Afterschooling mom on the go, I try to be prepared. Killing time can become learning time with the proper materials.

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Right now our kit is stocked with Bob Books, money, an abacus, tally sticks, counters, a pad of paper and a pencil. This is enough equipment to do lots of fun things.

I know December can be crazy. It’s easy for us all to feel stressed…

But sometimes the thing that you really want (your child’s mind to be enriched) can also be the thing that makes life easier (keep your kid busy).

All you need is a Ziplock bag!

What’s in the pumpkin?

What's in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

What’s in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

Reading requires stamina. I get reminded of that over and over again every time my daughter Jenna(4) reads a  Bob Book.

Jenna knows her letters, she knows her sounds, and she can sound out words. But her first time reading any new Bob Book is extremely laborious. Pages 1-2 are great. Then by page 5 she’s rolling around on the couch.

Some teachers would take the “Hold off! She’s not developmentally ready!” approach. My opinion is that 5-10 minutes a day of phonics isn’t going to hurt a four-year-old.

I also know that the second and third time Jenna reads a Bob Book (the next day, and the day after that), she breezes through it.  So I don’t think this is about developmental readiness as much as about developing stamina.

Day one of introducing a new book, I’ve got to bring my A-game.

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Building words is a good start.

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Incentives can work too.

What your seeing up above is what’s in the pumpkin! I went to Target and bought ten items from the dollar spot.

What's in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

Now, every time Jenna finishes a new book from Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners, she gets to pick a new pumpkin surprise.

Amazingly, her reading stamina has improved over night. 😉

Yes, it’s important to use positive reinforcements with caution. Eventually I want Jenna to read because she loves reading, not because she wants a junky prize from China!

But right now, I want to her practice, practice, practice. I know from experience that by the time Jenna can get through Bob Books Set 3- Word Families, she’ll think reading is a lot of fun.


Reading Window Wands

Reading windows make Bob Books pop.

Reading windows make Bob Books pop.

The great slog through Bob Books, Set 1
continues.  Nobody promised these would be fun, right?  I don’t know about you, but I could really give a rip about Muff, Ruff, and the 10 Cut Ups.

But I can handle 5-7 minutes a day of reading Bob Books, and so can my daughter.  Be tough, Muff and Ruff!

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A learning tool I introduced to Jenna(4) today was her brand new reading window wand.

This is a classic Kindergarten teacher trick.  Grab a popsicle stick, cut out a piece of paper, use some glitter; whatever.  The most important thing is to make a window with clear masking tape. 

For some reason the “window” is what makes these so exciting to children.

You could also jazz things up further by making a bunch of reading window wands that all looked different.  Then, every morning you could let your child choose which wand to use that day.

Using a reading window wand allows children to isolate words, which helps some brains concentrate better.

In Jenna’s case, she  can concentrate just fine.  In fact, her concentration abilities are working against her decoding skills because Jenna relies a lot on picture cues and sentence patterns to help her read.

Those strengths are going to come in really handy when she’s a second grade reader, but right now I want Jenna to master sounding words out.

Using Incentivites (aka bribes)

At the end of the third box of Bob Books, we are going to the AG store!

At the end of the third box of Bob Books, we are going to the AG store!

Sometimes early readers just need a little push.  No, that doesn’t make you a tiger mom.  I know from experience that this happens with teachers in Kindergarten classrooms too.  Sometimes early readers need a push.

They’ve got the skills.  They know phonics.  They can sound out words.  But it’s still a bit hard.

That’s why it’s helpful to make it worth their while.  The more practice kids get, the easier it will be to read.  The easier it will be to read, the more they will enjoy reading.  The more they enjoy reading, the faster they will develop advanced skills.

Incentives, bribery, whatever.  I don’t care what you want to call it.  But I know it works.

With my son Bruce I offered a new Star Wars book for every 6 Bob Books he read.  But it’s been harder to find an equally attractive book incentive for Jenna(4).  So finally we paged through the American Girl catalogue and looked for something exciting.  Hence our new chart featuring Rebecca Rubin.

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but I used a dot stamper to represent each Bob Book twice.  The chart includes all of the books from sets one, two and three.  So once Jenna has read every Bob Book in sets one, two and three twice, she’ll earn Rebecca. I’m crossing them out as we go along.

Getting through the third set of Bob Books would mean having first grade reading skills.  To me, that’s worth $110!

Whole Language at Home

Have you ever hit a wall with phonics?

Have you ever hit a wall with phonics?

My teacher credentialing program was grounded in Balanced Literacy Instruction.  That means taking the best of Whole Language and Phonics, smashing them together, and teaching kids to read. (If you’re interested in more info about Balanced Literacy Instruction, click here.)

I like Balanced Literacy Instruction because I’m a big believer in flexibility.  Yes, I love phonics.  Yes, my kids have known their letters and sounds since they were two.  But that doesn’t mean that Whole Language doesn’t have some tricks to offer.

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One of those ideas from the Whole Language world is to label everything (and I mean everything!) in your classroom.

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So I was thinking, why not try this at home?

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My daughter Jenna is 4 years old now and can read Bob Books #1-3 on her own independently.  But by book #4, she’s bored. 

I don’t push her.  Jenna will tell me when she’s ready to read.

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But in the meantime, I can be as sneaky as I want.  She might come home from a Grandma day and find the whole house labeled for her!

Even the steamer on our wood stove gets a label.

Even the steamer on our wood stove gets a label.

So come on baby girl!  I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve that might pique your interest in becoming an independent reader.  It’s a long way to Kindergarten and I’ve got a whole bunch of fun things planned.