Teaching My Baby To Read

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Afterschooling for dyslexia with All About Reading

eggs“Never put your eggs all in one basket.” How many times have you heard that expression?  As a former teacher, this is how I view educational methods. My children are too precious to trust their brains to any one teacher, curriculum, or program.

This is especially true for my child with dyslexia.

If you are a parent of a dyslexic child you’ve probably heard promises before. “Spend $20,000 at our institute and your son will be on grade level!” Or what about that mom in your book club who says, “I heard cranial manipulation can solve dyslexia. Have you found a massage practitioner?” Yikes!

When you are trying to get help for your child with dyslexia it’s hard to know what to do.

My guiding principal is to spend time and money on evidence-based solutions my family can afford. That means no, we will not refinance the house to pay for private dyslexia school, but yes, we will forgo family vacations so we can pay for two hours a week of  tutoring with a certified Orton Gillingham and Wired for Reading teacher. No, we will not waste money on some crack-pot theory. Yes, we will flood our child with audio books via our subscription to Learning Ally.

But what if all that support still isn’t enough?AAS - Symptoms of Dyslexia Checklist

I’m a credentialed teacher, but a lot of the teaching methods I tried with my dyslexic child were not very effective. However, whenever I brought out the All About Spelling and All About Reading materials, they seemed to make a difference. Once I started researching dyslexia I realized why. Marie Rippel is an expert on dyslexia! She’s a member of the International Dyslexia Association, and incorporates a lot of the Orton Gillingham approach into her curriculum.

“Okay, great,” I thought. “All About Learning Press is helping my child but I have no idea how to fit this into our busy lives. We are not homeschoolers. I’m not going to start homeschooling anytime soon, so don’t even suggest it.” Instead of radical life changes, I went for easy modifications instead.

Here’s how to incorporate All About Reading into your everyday lives in a way that has produced real results for my child:

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#1: Read the Teacher’s Manual cover to cover and then give yourself permission not to follow it exactly.

What makes All About Reading a fool-proof homeschooling program is that it’s scripted. Marie tells you exactly what to say, word for word. Follow her instructions and you won’t screw up. But my kids are already in school all day. When they come home we have Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, gymnastics, ballet, guitar lessons, and dyslexia tutoring, depending on what day it is. Plus they need to do stuff like eat dinner, walk the poodle, and play.

When I first started incorporating All About Reading into our schedule, I tried to follow the Level 1 manual exactly, just like I do with All About Spelling over the summer. But there was never enough time to finish a lesson, and it was hard to be consistent without stressing the whole family out. So I decided to go off script, and that’s when it became a heck of a lot easier to turn a homeschooling curriculum into something practical for afterschooling.

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#2: Smoosh All About Reading into your child’s bedtime rituals.

We read at bedtime no matter what. Generally we have a fun chapter book going, like the “Cupcake Girls.” (Do those girls ever pay taxes? I’ve never been able to figure that one out.) Before we get to the read aloud, we do kid-reading first. There are two possible choices: the primer book or flashcards.

Right now the primer book we are working on is “What Am I?” It’s always there, right on the nightstand, ready to go. Easy! The flashcards live on the nightstand too. The reading glasses are often lost somewhere in the house, but that’s another story…

star stickers

 

#3: Repetition is your friend, and stickers make repetition fun.

Every time my child reads one of the short stories, a new sticker pops up in the table of contents. This helps us keep track of progress. We try not to read the same story two nights in a row so that memorization doesn’t remove the need for phonics. When the entire book is finished there is a major reward like a new toy.

Astute All About Reading veterans will probably wonder, “How do you know what lesson you are on in the teaching manual?”  The answer is I don’t. Shock! Gasp! Horror! I can kind-of tell from the flashcards, but I don’t pay that much attention.

What I’ve discovered is that the All About Reading materials are so well crafted, that my child can’t progress through the flashcards unless she’s ready. She can’t move up in the short stories unless she’s capable. The two components work together to keep her at the right pace.

flip books

 

#4 Prep the workbook activities and store them in your purse.

My purse is a giant mess of fluency worksheets, flip books, and other scraps of paper I intend to work on that week. We squeeze out time when we can. Waiting during the guitar lesson. Waiting in the car to pick a sibling up. Waiting in line at Costco. If we have five minutes to spare, then we work those five minutes.

For our situation, this means I also have to have a set of my kid’s reading glasses in my purse. I actually bought a cheap pair on Zenni for this exact purpose.

Do we try to do the activities that correspond with the stories and flashcards? Yes. Sort-of. I do the best I can to be consistent, but I give myself permission to not be perfect.

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#5 Don’t forget about the spelling board!

I am such a horrible speller (with a potentially undiagnosed spelling learning disability) that there’s no way I would risk going off scrip when it comes to All About Spelling. I keep that teacher’s manual right by our white board. The trick is fitting in spelling lessons each week. Generally we save these for the weekends.

Summer is when we hit All About Spelling hard. Whenever I feel like I’m failing as an Afterschooling mom, I remember that in summer we’ll rack up major learning hours when other families are watching TV.

 

BetterBingo

 

#6 Bring out the big bucks because bribery works!

The best way I’ve found to keep our schedule chugging along is by posting a new bingo board on the wall every week. Complete a row and earn a prize, it’s that simple.

Notice how our bingo chart mixes in All About Learning Press materials with the Handwriting Without Tears App, Learning Ally audio books, Dreambox Math, and Nessy. Margaret the tutor is also on the chart! This is a reflection of my guiding principle, don’t put all my trust in any one solution. All About Learning Press is wonderful and I love it so much I’ve been an affiliate for years, but it’s not the only method I’m using to seek help for my child.

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Conclusion: Is All About Reading making a difference?

Yes! A resounding Yes!

I’ve been saying “my child” instead of “my son” or “my daughter” because over the years I’ve become more conservative about what I reveal publicly about my children. I write a weekly newspaper column so I need to be extra careful about their privacy.

But…I have some pretty astonishing before and after pictures of writing samples I could share, as well as Dibels results, and sight words assessments.

My child is at grade level and does well at school. My child is achieving so much that the school district will not offer any special education services, only a 504 plan for disability. All of this success is directly related to help that happens afterschool.

Grandparents are also noticing a huge difference. Last summer they listened to my child painfully read from “Run, Bug, Run.” Now “What Am I?” is a comfortable reading level. That’s flippin’ awesome!

Finally, my child’s confidence is huge, and that’s a worth that is difficult to measure but the foundation for a happy life. Believe and achieve.

As I mentioned before I am an All About Learning Press affiliate, but I didn’t share any of this out of a desire to earn money. I typed it up because I know how scary it is when you  desperately want to help your child overcome dyslexia, and you don’t even know where to start. If you’d like more information about the specifics of my Afterschooling plan, please click here. To find out more about All About Reading or All About Spelling, click on the links below.

Nessy.com Review

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Over the years I’ve reviewed a lot of computer-based phonics programs for kids, but I’ve never seen one specifically designed for children with dyslexia until now. Nessy comes from England and bills itself as “Everything you need to help children with dyslexia and reading disabilities.” A subscription for one student costs $10 a month or $100 a year. That’s significantly cheaper than a private dyslexia tutor, but slightly more expensive than programs such as Reading Eggs or Starfall.

(My Reading Eggs review)

(My Starfall mini-review)

Three big questions in my mind when I bought a Nessy subscription several weeks ago were 1) How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics programs? 2) Is it worth the time and money? and #3) What should parents know about Nessy?

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#1 How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics program?

If you want to read the official list describing the fundamentals of Nessy, click here to go to the company website. My observations are not nearly as scientific. I’m telling you what I see as former K-4 teacher.

Nessy is slower and more systematic than other programs I’ve reviewed. It introduces sight-words in a way that is more user-friendly for kids with dyslexia. If a kid is learning the “th” sound for example, all the games are about the “th” sound. It doesn’t switch from “th” to sight-words, to review, to “ch,” to something else, and so on. Instead, it’s “th,” “th,” “th,” “th,” until the kids really understands.

My familiarity with the homeschooling program All About Reading which is based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham immediately helped me see that Nessy is also based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham. In fact, the student I am tutoring is working on the same phonemes in both AAR and Nessy. The embedded assessments in Nessy aligned perfectly with AAR. Both programs said she was at the same level of phoneme development. (Full disclaimer, I am an AAR affiliate.)

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#2 Is Nessy worth the time and money?

Yes! A resounding Yes! The child I’m working with loves Nessy. She was hitting the wall with other computer games we tried. Nessy seems to make sense to her, and for that I’m really grateful. We are using Nessy in conjunction with All About Reading and All About Spelling. Nessy is not the only intervention happening, but it is one significant piece.

I also think Nessy would be good for children who do not yet have an official diagnosis of dyslexia. The wait to get assessed can take months if not years. In the meantime, kids could be doing Nessy just in case. Neurytypical kids would probably benefit too.

Nessy

#3 What should parents know about Nessy?

When Nessy works, it really, really works well. But sometimes, there will be technical glitches.

It’s important to go into the settings and choose your location and the type of English you want. For me, that meant USA with an American accent. If you don’t do this, the loading time will be way too slow. Plus the accent could confuse your student.

We’ve experienced loading differences on the computer versus the iPad. On the computer, sometimes the videos are blocked by “loading” symbols. On the iPad, the sound occasionally cuts out, and I have to turn the game off and bring it back on again.

The glitches can be frustrating, but not enough to outweigh all of the benefits.

Final thoughts.

My experience with Nessy revolves around a first grader, who seems to be the perfect age for this program. They say it’s suitable for 5-12 years of age, but fourth graders on up might think Nessy is babyish. That’s not to say a nine year old wouldn’t learn a lot from Nessy, just that it doesn’t have a cool “tween” vibe.

As an Afterschooling program, Nessy is an excellent supplement to other dyslexia interventions already in place.

For more information please visit their website at: http://www.nessy.com/us/

Why multisensory learning is awesomesauce

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In the past two weeks, Jenna has made mind-blowing progress in her RUN, BUG, RUN! reader. I need to buy more star stickers!

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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.

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Flashcards are the least effective way for Jenna to learn new words.

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Multisensory activities are a lot better.

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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.

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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.

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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”

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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!

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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!

How I realized my daughter needed glasses

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This is a hard post to write without sounding like a Tiger Mom. My daughter “Jenna” is 5-and-a-half years-old and reads at Guided Reading level D, which is roughly 1st grade. She is witty, articulate, cheerful and loves to draw. Jenna has been immersed in language since she was a baby and learned her letters and sounds by 20 months.

The thing is, my son “Bruce” was reading Harry Potter when he was five-years-old. With both kids I followed the same reading plan.

These past few months I found myself wide awake at 1 a.m. and wondering: “Am I doing something wrong? What is happening? Is this just a case of two kids being developmentally different?”

I understand about developmental difference. I taught K-4 for six years and saw it every day. Some kids learn at different rates and that’s okay.

But my “mom radar” kept telling me that something was odd and I couldn’t figure out what.  Jenna has an abundance of natural intelligence and profound reading comprehension. With Bob Books however, she was hitting a wall. Even so, she was technically reading above grade level. For me to be worried about her progress made me feel like a scary Tiger Mom. I kept pushing my worry down and it stressed me out.

Then in piano Jenna hit another wall too. Her teacher was concerned because she couldn’t tell the difference between line and space notes. She’d keep Jenna on the same boring song for three weeks in a row and not let her move on. I knew that if I wrote the letters in clear handwriting next to each note, Jenna could play the entire primer book on sight. However, her teacher was not onboard with this accommodation.

So I did three things: #1 I canceled piano lessons, #2 I started teaching Jenna piano myself, and #3 I took Jenna for a complete vision examination.

To be clear, we don’t have vision insurance and that appointment cost $250. Basically, I scheduled it on a hunch. Something is wrong … I think.

As the appointment loomed on the calendar I had a lot of self-doubt. So many mothers would be thrilled if their kindergartener was reading slightly ahead of grade level. I on the other hand, was bothered that she wasn’t extremely ahead of grade level. What type of sick person was I?

Yet I had this nagging worry that wouldn’t go away and I was willing to spend $250 to put it to rest.

As it turns out, the eye exam revealed that Jenna is farsighted, both eyes see differently, and she has extreme difficulty tracking. The verdict? She needed prescription reading glasses ASAP.

When we got the glasses the change in piano was immediate. Jenna now loves to play.

Reading has been a bit slower but Jenna’s eyes are growing stronger each day. I purchased reading focus cards to help her track. We also use the cards and glasses when we do read aloud. I want Jenna to be able to focus on the words as I read them to her. She’s probably been missing out on this important learning opportunity for years because she couldn’t properly see the print.

No wonder her auditory reading comprehension is so high!

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Another thing we are doing with renewed vigor is All About Spelling. We are on Level one Step 13. (Full disclosure, I am an AAS affiliate.)

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The beauty of All About Spelling is that it is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. If you were to Google how best to help kids with dyslexia, the Orton-Gillingham approach is mentioned over and over again. I don’t think Jenna has dyslexia, but it’s interesting to note that if she did have some sort of processing disorder, we’re already using one of the best methods to help.

I’ve ordered the Level 1 readers that go with All About Spelling so that we can try something different than Bob Books. I love Bob Books, but Jenna is tired of them. I can see how Jenna might have developed an aversion to them since she has struggled to see the print this whole past year.

Which brings me to guilt. I have a lot of guilt that I didn’t recognize Jenna needed glasses earlier. I have guilt that I have been asking her to read each day and her eyes were hurting. When I look through her glasses I get an instant headache. I have guilt that my child was silently struggling and I didn’t understand why.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months. My primary focus is making “mom school” fun and doing a little bit each day in a systematic sequential way. Right now on February 25, 2015 Jenna is reading a Guided Reading Level D. Check back with me in June and let’s see what happens!

Teach a Three Year Old to Read

My daughter Jenna is almost three and a half.  I’ve been teaching her about letters and sounds since she was about 18 months old.

(Full explanation here.)

I used the same methods with her older brother, and by the time he was three he was reading Bob Books.  But every kid is different, and that’s okay.

Jenna knows all of her letters and sounds, and can sound out several words on her own.  More importantly, Jenna is super excited to “do reading”.  She’s pulling out materials, and asking to practice on a regular basis.

Game on!

Here are some of the things we have been doing:

Modified Ziggy games

I’ve previously mentioned how I bought the Ziggy game book from All About Reading, even though we aren’t actually using AAR.  At this point, the learning goals of the games are way too easy for her, but Jenna still really loves Ziggy.  So I’m bringing out the file folders and also pulling out some word cards.

The  way we play the game is that I hide the game pieces under high-frequency words that can be sounded out.  “Ziggy” asks Jenna to hand him the word that says _____.  Underneath the word is a game piece.  Jenna picks up the appropriate word, gives the card to me, and gives the game piece to Ziggy.  Simple?  Yes!  But for some reason Jenna loves this.

I have been pulling cards from this deck of words I already own.  It says “sight words”, but we have only been using the words that are decodable, like: but, and, cut, man etc. Then I realized that I could be making my own flashcards from the AAR activity book I purchased a while back.

Blast Off to Reading book

I purchased the AAR level 1 activity book because I was curious.  I’m a former Kindergarten teacher and I don’t believe that you need to buy a special program to teach kids to read.  That’s the whole purpose of my blog!  But I love All About Spelling, and so I really wanted to see a little bit of what All About Reading was like.  Plus (full disclaimer) I’m an AAL affiliate.

Anyhow, yada, yada, yada, AAR appears to be just as good as AAS.  If you really want a program to hold your hand through the whole teaching process, then AAR would be a really good choice.  I’m not personally going to use the full AAR program, but the activity book dovetails into what I’m already doing.

Leap Frog Easy Reader Phonics Kit

We have a really old Leap Pad kit that I had purchased for Jenna’s brother a long time ago for $30 at Fred Meyer.  Jenna’s the perfect level for it now, and thankfully it still works!  It uses the same characters as the Leap Frog Talking Words Factory videos, which is cool.

Please note, I’m including the links to Amazon for this kit at the bottom of the post, but that’s just so you can see what they look like.  I bought all three kits for $30!  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that deal on Amazon.  I bet there are people selling these on Ebay though.  Once again, they are called “Leap Frog Easy Reader Phonics Kits”.

Talking Word Factory Videos

These are the two videos that I really credit teaching my son Bruce how to read.  Unfortunately, they weren’t a magic wand for Jenna.  But she still does ask to watch them every once in a while.  You can probably find these videos for free at your local library.


Starfall Learn to Read

Starfall

What really seems to work for Jenna (but what her older brother Bruce was totally uninterested in), is Starfall.com.  That’s been a really big help, and we’ve uprgraded to the $35/per year premium level.

Homemade Books

Custom books tailor-made for my child?  Did I mention they are free?  All I have to do is make them myself.  Jenna now has over thirty books that tell the story of her life.  How awesome is that?

That’s my update for now.  Hopefully we will be ready for Bob Books soon!

Ziggy Game Book

Full disclaimer: I am an All About Learning Press Affiliate. You can find out more about how much money my blog makes (yes I share real numbers) here.

For the past week Jenna(3) and I have been playing games from Adventures in Reading with the Zigzag Zebra, a Ziggy Game Book. This is a supplement to the All About Reading program published by the same company as All About Spelling.

I LOVE All About Spelling, and need to get going with it again with Bruce(7) now that school has started again. It is so much better than weekly spelling tests, and really makes a difference. So I’m sure that the complete All About Reading program would be really good too.

I’ve opted not to purchase AAR however, because I have my own free methods which I share on my Where to Start Page. However, if I had a first or second grader who wasn’t reading at grade level, I would probably take a lot of comfort in a program like AAR. Or if I felt unsteady as a teacher to begin with, then a systematic program like AAR would really help hold my hand.

But back to the Ziggy Game Book, it was under $20 and looked like it might be a good fit with what I already do. As a teacher, I was already familiar with the concept of “file folder games”. This means that ahead of time, you rip out the pages from the book and paste them onto file folders. Laminating is optional, but not necessary. I chose not to since I’m just working with one child. In a classroom setting however, laminating would be a must.

The Ziggy Game Book includes 9 games. Almost all of them use the Phonogram Cards, Word Cards, or letter tiles from the AAR kit. These pieces are not included with the activity book and must be purchased separately. But since we already own all of the AAS spelling materials, we were pretty much good to go. We have just been using the AAS cards and tiles instead.

Jenna has been asking to “play Siggy games” every single day since I first brought them out. They are not magically teaching her to read. But they are encouraging her to practice a little bit each day. She still isn’t blending, although she knows all of her letters and sounds. She also definitely understands the difference between vowels and consonants. That’s not bad for a three year old, if I do say so myself. And I do! 🙂

All About Reading Level 1

 As most of my readers know, I signed up a while to ago to be an All About Learning Affiliate because I have been so impressed by the All About Spelling curriculum, which I use with Bruce(6.5) and will someday use with Jenna(2) as well.

I’ve been getting some news in my inbox that All About Learning is launching their Level 1 reading kit today.  I have never tried it, so I cannot recommend whether or not it is worth purchasing or not.  (For all of my free ideas on how to teach young children to read, please see my Where to Start page.)

However, if a packaged kit sounds like a good idea to you, be sure to check All About Reading out. All of the Level 1 products are 10% off until midnight of December 6, plus you get free astronaut ice cream.