Teaching My Baby To Read

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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!

A Guided Reading Update

Here’s an update on what we’ve been doing for Guided Reading these past few weeks, with Bruce (age 6).  Bruce is reading at an exiting fourth, entering fifth grade independent reading level right now.  (For more information on choosing the right level for your child, please see: http://home.comcast.net/~ngiansante/index.html )

At the end of June we read Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh, which is a level L/M (2nd grade) book.  This took us two nights.  I read the first couple of chapters to Bruce at bedtime, and then he read ahead after I said goodnight.  The next night, I quizzed Bruce on what had happened in the story, then I read him the next part.  Since I was reading part of the book and Bruce was reading part of the book, and we were having a discussion about the text, I consider this to be a Guided Reading activity and not just Read Aloud.  For those of you unfamiliar with Bears on Hemlock Mountain, it’s a really easy and fun read, plus it’s a Newbery Honor book.

Last week we moved on to Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, which is a level R (4th grade) book.  I’ve always thought this book should be leveled much lower, but for some reasons most lists put it in the fourth grade.  Anyhow, it’s also a fun read, and has the added bonus of taking place during summertime.

This week we read Ramona and her Mother by Beverly Cleary, which is a level O (third grade) book.  The “Ramona” series is a childhood favorite of mine, and Ramona and her Mother is the only “Ramona” book Bruce and I hadn’t read yet.  He loved it!  In fact, Bruce just pulled out Ramona the Brave to read independently.

On one of the last pages of Ramona and her Mother, Ramon’s teacher calls Ramona “her little sparkler”, and Ramona reminisces about Fourth of July.  As luck would have it (I swear this was unplanned), Bruce and I read this last page on the Fourth of July.  So here is a picture of my own little sparkler, headed to our hometown parade.

When Sophie Get’s Angry…

This is one of my absolute favorite books for young children to learn about recognizing and managing their emotions.  (That’s called Social Emotional Learning in teacher-speak.)   This book is an SEL classic!  It’s called When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry… and it’s by Molly Bang.

My husband and I read this book over and over to Bruce when he was little.  Just like Sophie, Bruce is often “a volcano ready to explode”.  When Bruce was little, we talked with him about how he often felt like Sophie and got really, really angry.  But we also talked about how Sophie learned to calm down, and rejoin her family in a positive way.

Jenna is such a different child and temperament than Bruce, that it is truly remarkable that they are both my children!  When we read Sophie to Jenna, we talk about how she relates to the little sister in the book, who has to deal with her older sibling Sophie getting angry.  It’s so interesting how both of my kids are gaining insight from the same book, but in entirely different ways.

This is definitely a good book for Guided Reading.  Simply reading it aloud to children doesn’t do it justice.  The conversation and the personal connections to their real life are what make Sophie so meaningful.

What are the Three Types of Reading?

(This is a refresher, from an earlier post.)

Teachers know that there are three different types of reading: Independent Reading, Guided Reading, and Read Aloud.  Knowing the difference, helps teachers choose appropriate books for children that will continue to stretch their abilities and interests.  Teachers also know that it is important for children to be engaged in the three different types of reading every day.  This is contrary to the message popular culture keeps promoting “Read to your child!”  Reading to your child is of course essential, but that’s just hitting upon one type of reading.

Independent Reading, is when a child can sit down by himself and read a book.  For Jenna, this means sitting down by herself, paging through books, and looking at pictures.  For Bruce, it means staying up until 9:30 because he’s insisting on finishing Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger

Guided Reading is when you and your child are both engaged in reading a book together, and sharing your thinking and opinions as you go along.  Guided Reading may involve reading silently inside your head, or reading aloud.  When Bruce and I were reading the Little House on the Prairie series last summer, I’d often have him read the left hand pages, and I would read the right.  We’d talk about the story as it went along.  Jenna can’t really do Guided Reading yet, but she’s beginning to a little bit when I ask her to point out letters or pictures she can name in the books we read together.

Read Aloud is when the adult reads the book to the child.  This is what most parents do very well.  A few months ago my husband read The Hobbit to Bruce, and we read dozens of picture books to Jenna each day.  

When choosing books for your child you should remember Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Read Aloud books should be too hard for your child to read on their own.  Independent Reading books should be too soft (meaning easy).  Guided Reading books should be just right.

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Artemis Fowl

Bruce read  J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with my husband last month, and so it was my turn to do bedtime read aloud with Bruce.  Sometimes we let Bruce pick the book, but sometimes my husband or I choose as a way of introducing him to new material.  This time, I chose  Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, a book I had in my collection but had never read.  http://www.artemisfowl.com/

We are about 100 pages into it, and it is right up Bruce’s alley.  There’s magic, blaster weapons, an evil kid-genius master mind, and lot’s of spying.  There are also a lot superfluous references to Disneyland, attributed to the fact the publisher is owned by Disney, I think.  So far, the book is pretty entertaining, but nowhere nearly as good as Harry Potter.

The first night we were reading Bruce tried his usual trick of reading ahead several chapters by himself after he was supposed to go to bed, but the next night he asked me to go back and read from where he left off.  He said he didn’t really understand what was going on in the pages he read.  So today I looked up what Guided Reading Level Artemis Fowl is, and it is level Y, which means 6th grade.  No wonder it was too hard for the little guy!

Reading Assessments

Have you ever wondered what reading level your child is on? The easiest and cheapest way to assess this is to find a book your child is already able to read easily, and then to look up its corresponding level on a Guided Reading site.  You can find more information about how to do this in one of my previous posts: https://teachingmybabytoread.com/2011/03/01/guided-reading-levels/

If you want a more formal assessment, or if you are keeping a record book of your child’s progress, you might want to invest in an official reading assessment book.  These will provide you with several three minute assessments where your child reads a passage aloud and you mark down errors and mistakes on a corresponding piece of paper.  This can also help you analyze any error patterns your child might be making.

Here is an example of an assessment book that I have at home:


3-Minute Reading Assessments: Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension: Grades 1-4 (Three-minute Reading Assessments)

One caveat about this book, and these types of assessments, is that they often show a child reading a grade level above what they would actually be able to do in real life.  For example, Bruce tested at the fourth grade level on one of these tests, back in fall when I knew as a teacher he was only reading at the entering second grade level.  Just because he could sustain a fourth grade passage for three minutes, did not mean (at that point) that he could read an entire fourth grade chapter  book to himself.

Guided Reading Levels

How do you know what grade level your child is reading at?  The answer is to figure out their Guided Reading Level.  Find a book that your child can read all by himself.  Then look up the book on a Guided Reading resource page, such as the following: http://home.comcast.net/~ngiansante/index.html  This will tell you what grade level your child is currently able to read.

The great thing about knowing your child’s Guided Reading level, is that it will help you and your child pick appropriate books.  If your son or daughter is an eager Reader-Beader like Bruce, selecting books at the exact Guided Reading level is fine.  But if you child is an emergent or reluctant reader, choose a level or two below for when your child is going to be reading independently.  Easy success will bring confidence.

The Three Types of Reading

Teachers know that there are three different types of reading: Independent Reading, Guided Reading, and Read Aloud.

Knowing the difference, helps teachers choose appropriate books for children that will continue to stretch their abilities and interests.  Teachers also know that it is important for children to be engaged in the three different types of reading every day.  This is contrary to the message popular culture keeps promoting “Read to your child!”

Reading to your child is of course essential, but that’s just hitting upon one type of reading.

Independent Reading, is when a child can sit down by himself and read a book. 

For Jenna, this means sitting down by herself, paging through books, and looking at pictures.  For Bruce, it means staying up until 9:30 because he’s insisting on finishing Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger.

Guided Reading is when you and your child are both engaged in reading a book together, and sharing your thinking and opinions as you go along.

Guided Reading may involve reading silently inside your head, or reading aloud.  When Bruce and I were reading the Little House on the Prairie series last summer, I’d often have him read the left hand pages, and I would read the right.  We’d talk about the story as it went along.  Jenna can’t really do Guided Reading yet, but she’s beginning to a little bit when I ask her to point out letters or pictures she can name in the books we read together.

Read Aloud is when the adult reads the book to the child. 

This is what most parents do very well.  Right now my husband is reading The Hobbit to Bruce, and we read dozens of picture books to Jenna each day.

When choosing books for your child you should remember Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

Read Aloud books should be too hard for your child to read on their own.  Independent Reading books should be too soft (meaning easy).  Guided Reading books should be just right.