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The final five


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.


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!


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


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.


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…

Princess Bob Books

Bribery works!

Bribery works!

My 4-year-old daughter Jenna and I have been doing what we call “Princess Bob Books” every day this week.

She really, really, really wanted to get Princess Bedtime Stories (Storybook Collection)when we saw it at Costco. Frankly, it made me want to gouge out my eyes. But then I noticed that Costco also had Bob Books Sight Words Collection – Kindergarten and First Grade (Bob Books, Sight Words Collection), which we didn’t own.

So Jenna and I struck a deal. We’d buy both.

This week, every new Bob Book Jean reads “unlocks” a new princess story from her collection.  This has been very motivating.

Some phonics-fanatics freak out when they see the term “sight words”. Not me, because I’m a Balanced Literacy proponent.

These Bob Books still have a ton of phonics. If I had to guess, I’d say 95% of the words are decodable.  So if you’re afraid of sight-words, calm down! 😉

In terms of difficulty, BOB Books: Sight Words: Kindergarten seem to fall somewhere between Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers  and Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners. It’s a great fit for Jenna, and a great opportunity for me to read about my favorite Disney princesses–not!


Building Words from Bob Books


A dollar’s worth of pipe cleaners is all it takes to make phonics hands-on.  Right now my daughter Jenna(4) has been having fun building words from Bob Books.


We don’t build all of the words from each book, but one or two seems to be doing the trick. It’s an easy way to pre-teach new words.

For more ideas about Bob Books please click here.

Bob Books and Fingernail Polish

A special treat...and a captive audience!

A special treat…and a captive audience!

My four-year-old daughter Jenna is on the very last book in Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers.

She had been cranking away at Bob Books, and filling up her chart, but then she decided to take a break, and I honored that.

But today we cut a deal.  She’d work on the last Bob Book if I brought out the nail polish.

Jenna loves having her fingernails painted, but I’m not a fan, even though we have the supposedly eco-friendly polish.  Sitting around and waiting for fingernail polish to dry is the worst…but it also presents a very captive audience!

Next time I think I might have her Kindle charged, for a special showing of Meet the Phonics – Blends.

Bob Books with Cookies

Bob Books with cookies.

Bob Books with cookies.

Here’s a not-so-perfect idea to make Bob Books, Set 1 more exciting.  Pick up a tub of Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies from Trader Joe’s, and practice making words with cookies before your child even opens the book.

Why is this idea not-so-perfect? There’re several reasons:

  1. The cookies are uppercase.
  2. They’re not enough vowels.
  3. You have to be very careful with cookie management.


I tried to solve #1 and #2 by using an M, and turning it on its side to become an e.  I’m not exactly sure why I thought that would help.  Sigh…

But cookies or no cookies, seven minutes a day of Bob Books is completely doable.  Jenna(4) and I are cranking at it, and she’s almost done with the first set!  Whoo hoo!

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!


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.

DIY Bob Book Games

Bob Books; boring but brilliant.

That’s one one of my blog’s original posts almost two years ago.  Back then, my son Bruce was in Kindergarten independently cranking through Magic Tree House books.  Part of that success was due to his solid understanding of phonics, and the confidence he gained by reading Bob Books, by Bobby Lynn Maslen.

It’s not rocket science; it’s just phonics.

(Check out my Where to Start page if you are intrigued.)

Fast forward to the present and my daughter Jenna is now 3.5 and beginning her own Bob Books adventure.  The original games I made for her brother are a bit dog-eared, but sill in working order.

This is how they work:

This is the envelope I made to go with Set 1, Book 8, Muff and Ruff.  Inside the envelope are all of the letters you need to make every word in the book.  Vowels get their own color.  The sight-word “for” gets its own color too.

The envelope is not a game piece!  It is just to remind me of the words my daughter needs to spell.

This is how you play:

Find the letter that says “ttttt”.

Find the letter that says “uh”.

Find the letter that says “gggg”.

Put them together “t-u-g”.

What does that spell?

We do this for each word on the list.  Once I know that my daughter can read all of the words from the story, then we get out the book.

I’m showing envelope #8 here because that was the cleanest.  (I did say they were a bit dog-eared, right?)  But right now, Jenna is still on book #4.

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

On the back of some of the envelopes I wrote when Bruce had read each book!

I know it’s wrong to compare your children, but I’m finding this really fascinating. This tells me that Bruce read book #6 when he had just turned four years old.  Meaning, he and his sister are roughly on the same track, even though they keep reaching different milestones at different points.

This is important information, because it shows me that my methods are working! 

Yeah for Bob Books!

Princess Pat Books

I have always said that Bob Books are boring but brilliant. They worked like a charm with my son Bruce when he was three and four years old. While attempting to introduce set 1, book 1 of the Bob Books to Jenna(3) however, I just felt like I needed something more “princess-y” to grab her attention. So I got out some paper and crayons while she was taking a nap the other day, and tried to see if I could come up with something pinker.  Princess Pat books were born.

Admittedly I am THE WORST ARTIST EVER! By sharing this, I’m exposing myself to PUBLIC HUMILIATION! But since the mission of my blog is to help you ensure that your child is academically advantaged regardless of age, ability, or socio-economic level, I figured that I ought to post this latest endeavor. When I’m done with my Princess Pat books, I’ll have created a free set of easy phonics readers for you to print out on cardstock.

Of course, if anyone would like to take pity on me and actually draw some real pictures for this project, please email me jpgegs at: teachingmybabytoread at gmail dot com. 🙂

Princess Pat Book #1

Princess Pat Book #2

Princess Pat Book #3

Princess Pat Book #4

Hooked On Phonics

Recently, my friend C. suggested looking into the Hooked on Phonics books, as colorful, more interesting alternatives to the Bob Books.  C suggested buying them on ebay, or else buying then one by one on the Hooked On Phonics website.  I can see how this would be a good way to go, because the complete kits are quite expensive.

I had never looked at Hooked on Phonics before,  but I respect C’s opinion so I decided to look at the website.  I do remember hearing that Hooked on Phonics got its big break during the Whole Language movement in the 1990s, when parents across the country were frustrated with reading instruction in their children’s schools and decided to take matters into their own hands.  For more on the Whole Language controversy, please see my post at:


Mainly out of my own curiosity as an educator, I decided to purchase the Pre K kit for Jenna.  The kit says it is for 3-4 year olds, and Jenna is only 19 months, but it covers content we have already been working on; phonemic awareness, letter identification, and letter sounds.  The total price was about $45 and included two workbooks, two sheets of stickers, two packs of flashcards, six books, and two dvds. It arrived in the mail yesterday.

The official instructions say to have your child alternate between pages in the workbook, flash card games, read aloud books, and corresponding segments of the dvd.  It really does spoon-feed parents how to teach… a three year old.  But obviously I wouldn’t have my toddler sit down and do a workbook page every day.  I’m not even sure if she is right or left handed!  We will however, look at a few workbook pages together, read the books, and play some of the flash card games.  I’ll follow Jenna’s lead in these pursuits, and let her interest guide our instruction.

What I’m really excited about however, are the movies.  They are fun, engaging, and appropriately paced for young children.  And let me tell you, I am so sick of watching “Rusty and Rosy’s Letter Sound Songs”!   These Hooked on Phonics movies are going to be a nice change.  I’m still a believer in “Rusty and Rosy”, but I’m going to alternate days with the Hooked on Phonics videos.

All of these materials are still new to me, so I’m not sure if I would recommend them or not.  At first glance, I think they are overpriced but useful.  I think C’s idea of buying the K, 1st and 2nd grade reading books piecemeal off of Ebay is a very good idea.  If they are anything like the Pre K books, they are probably a lot more engaging than Bob Books.  I’m still a big fan of Bob Books though, and they are a lot cheaper and easier to acquire.