Teaching My Baby To Read

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Just say no to busy work!

Don't buy this at Costco!

Don’t buy this at Costco!

I had very low expectations for this latest Leap Frog purchase and I wasn’t disappointed.

Leap Frog’s Complete Kindergarten Learning Kit (Math, Printing, Language Building, Early Reading) (Grade K) was selling for $20 at Costco. (It’s $89 on Amazon!!!)

I didn’t want to buy it but my preschooler made me.

Okay, that’s not totally true. I was curious. The former Kindergarten teacher in me was begging to see what was in that box.

Save yourself $20 and just look at my picture:


Nothing in this box is bad exactly, it’s just that I don’t believe workbooks and flashcards are the answer.

Sometimes you’ll get kids like my daughter who “want” to do workbooks. Okay, fine. Whatever. We can get out the Leap Frog workbooks for fun.

But edutainment is different than education.

There are a hundred more meaningful things you could do with your emergent reader that would be more meaningful. Here’s roadmap of examples.

With flashcards, if you are going to use them selectively (as I sometimes do), they shouldn’t be confusing. Take a look at this:

Sooooo many numbers and soooooo confusing!

Sooooo many numbers and soooooo confusing!

That's a little bit better.

That’s a little bit better.

One thing the kit came with that I thought was pretty good were these dot cards:

These are awesome, but you could make them yourself for free.

These are awesome, but you could make them at home for free.

Here are some fun ideas for preschool math.

Final thoughts? Maybe the next time you are at Costco, you can save $20!

P.S. Leap Frog does have four products that I highly recommend:

LeapFrog: Letter Factory

LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory

LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory
LeapFrog: Word Caper

Fridge Words Magnetic Word Builder

Sadly all of the other Leap Frog products I have purchased haven’t been as good.

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


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!

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.

Make Your Own Talking Words Factory

Calling Professor Quigley to the factory floor. Mr. Webster is on his way!

Today Jenna(2.5) said to me “I can’t go to the Talking Words Factory tonight because I’m going to Daddy Preschool”. It was a spontaneous bit of imagining on her part, but gave me the idea of actually building a pretend Taking Words Factory ala Leap Frog. So we set up the tunnels, got out every single letter toy we own (I’m very acquisitive of phonics products), and I blew up some copies of the DVD pictures on our printer. Voila!

Here’s our Talking Words Factory with the Word Whammer ready to go.

Here’s our Letter Factory complete with ABC cards and blocks.

We had fun crawling around our forts, sounding out letters, and attempting to blend words. I say attempting, because even though Jenna has known all of her letters and sounds for quite some time, she is still not quite ready for sounding out C-V-C words yet. But this was a really fun way to practice.

Leap Frog Phonics Farm Review

I have a confession to make.  When Bruce(6.5) is at school, Jenna(2.5) and I sometimes collogue together and then fire up Bruce’s Kindle Fire without his knowledge. 

One of the videos I have downloaded on the Kindle for her to watch is “Leap Frog Phonics Farm”.  I think it is mind-numbingly boring, but Jenna likes it a lot. It covers the same topics as  “Leap Frog’s Letter Factory,” but in a less entertaining way.  The upper and lower case letters are introduced along with their corresponding sounds, and there is also a song about vowels.  It is probably good for Jenna to learn the same information in a different format.  But if you were only going to choose one video, “Letter Factory” would be a better pick. 

As soon as we started watching “Phonics Farm”, Jenna has started asking to play her Word Whammer on a daily basis.  She also dragged out Bruce’s old Leap Pad from under my bed.  This is synchronicity in action in a good way.  It also makes me really happy that we’ve held off on Disney products until she was older.  Otherwise, instead of being branded with all things Leap Frog, she could be asking me for princess paraphilia at every turn.

Don’t Waste your Money on this one…

I was so excited to see that our local Costco was currently carrying Leap Frog DVDs, because this doesn’t happen often.  We already own “The Letter Factory” and “The Talking Words Factory”, but we had never seen this one, “The Amazing Alphabet” before.  Oh my gosh, what a disappointment.  Please don’t waste your money on this one!  This definitely goes into the category of “edutainment”, meaning that there is too much cartoon and not enough learning.  (On a side note, the music from this video sounds a little bit like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.)

I also picked up “Code Word Capers” at Costco, which we had previously just borrowed from the library when Bruce was little. Jenna isn’t ready for “Code Word Capers” yet, but she hopefully will be by fall. I used it with Bruce and he still remembers it fondly. These are the Leap Frog videos that I think are worthwhile purchasing.  At Costco they are selling for just under $7 each.

Leap Frog Word Whammer

I purchased this Leap Frog Word Whammer set for Jenna’s upcoming second birthday.  Two days into summer break however, I busted it out early because the kids and I are already getting bored.  I know, I know… we should be playing outside all summer.  But it was 63 degrees and raining!

Anyhow, I’m so glad I brought this out early because Jenna is absolutely enthralled with it.  The first day she played with it for 30 minutes straight.  It is really helping her master identifying lower case letters, and reinforcing all of the sounds she has learned through the “Letter Factory” video.  I made this purchase on the recommendation of my friend (and sorority sister) Claire, and boy was she right on the money about this one!  In fact, I’m going to go back and add it to my “Where to Start” page, in the section for children who already know their upper case letters.

I don’t know if you can tell from the picture but there are three different settings.  Right now, Jenna is happiest playing the first setting, which works on letter identification and sounds.  The next two settings practice building and spelling words.  There is also a yellow “paw” button that lets you play the ABC song, over and over and over and over and over and over again.  (Can you tell what Jenna’s favorite button is?)

Another cool feature of the Word Whammer which is a big improvement over the telephonics toys we have, (have I reviewed that yet?), is the mechanical feedback delay.  I say mechanical, because the letter chips are shaped in such a way that they have arches on the top, but are flat on the bottom.  So you can’t just cram any letter in there, you have to have it right side up.  That takes Jenna just long enough to figure out, that the sound chip has time to play the whole letter sound of the previous letter.  I’m not explaining this very well, but it prevents her from just making it go “The B says- The B says- The B says-” etc.  Instead, it has time to finish saying “The B says buh” before she has forced it to play the next chip.

One big caveat of this toy is that it is made of super strong magnets!  That’s probably why the box says “for 3 years on up”.  I am being extra careful to put all of the pieces in a ziplock bag, and then put the toy up high so Jenna can’t reach it.  This has the added bonus of making the letters extra special when we get them down to play with.

The Froggy Computer (aka ClickStart)

I’ve been riffling through the garage trying to find the extra potty seat for Jenna (still no luck), and I found what Bruce use to refer to as “The Froggy Computer”.  Actually, it’s a Leap Frog ClickStart, but it is green.  I decided to drag it out and give it a try with Jenna, who is almost two years old.

My MIL bought this for Bruce when he was around two or three years old and had ripped off the “o” and “i”  off of my lap top.  (For a while there, all of my emails looked like this:  Hell0.  H0w are y0u?  1 am f1ne, but Bruce has r1pped 0ff the 0 0ff 0f my c0mputer.)

By the time Bruce had the froggy computer, he already knew all of his letters and sounds.  So while ClickStart wasn’t very useful in teaching him phonics, it was a great outlet for him to play with a keyboard and learn early mouse skills.  It’s a QWERTY keyboard, and thankfully the “o”s and “i”s are really stuck on there well!

At 23 months, Jenna is only interested in pounding on the keyboard for about five minutes, and watching the letters pop up on the television screen.  This is enough time for me to dust and pick up the family room, so I consider her first encounter with the froggy computer a success.  I probably won’t plug it in again for her until she is a couple of months older, though.  It’s really meant for 3 year olds.

Old-School Leap Pad


I dug up Bruce’s old LeapPad for Jenna this morning, to see what would happen.  I had bought the whole system, three boxes and the LeapPad, for $30 at a Fred Meyer several years ago.  I couldn’t find an identical package online, but I think it is similar to this:

It’s interesting because it has all of the characters as the Letter Factory and Talking Words Factory videos.  There’s Leap, Lilly, Professor Quiggley, and the Word Bammer.  They must have been meant to be used together.

It’s hard to tell how effective all of this will be with Jenna, who is currently 23 months old.  We were having a really special moment together when I got it all out, but then Bruce came in with his walkie talkies and caused a bit of a distraction.  I had to have a stern talk with him about not interrupting his sister’s learning time.  So, I’ll try again tomorrow when Jenna’s ready to pay attention again.

Leap Frog Videos

Yipee!  Our Leap Frog Letter Factory videos finally came.  We are starting with the Letter Factory video, and Jenna has watched in 3 times over the past week.  It is 35 minutes long, and very well done.  It’s a good progression from Rusty and Rosy because there is more plot, and because it introduces letters and their sounds in a new way.  It’s a little too heavy on uppercase letters, but that’s okay.  Jenna is almost 21 months old now, and she has the attention span for the video, but either Bruce, my husband, or I will always watch it with her to reinforce the concepts.

Moving on to Super Why

“Who’s got the power, the power to read?”  Dang that song is catchy!  If you have even seen Super Why then you know what I’m talking about.

Today was Jenna’s last day of watching Rusty and Rosy, for a long time.  She is 20.5 months old now, and has been watching it for almost two months.  I’ll still bring it Rusty and Rosy every once in a while if she asks for it, but we are now moving on.  Ideally, I’d like her to watch Leapfrog’s Letter and Talking Words Factory.  http://www.amazon.com/LeapFrog-Talking-Roy-Allen-Smith/dp/B0000INU6I  But our library’s computer system is being upgraded and I can’t put it on hold yet.  So in the meantime, we are going to start watching Super Why on PBS.  http://pbskids.org/superwhy/

Super Why has improved a lot over the past few years.  The first season it only used upper case letters as I recall.  Now they do a whole bunch with lower case, which is great.  I’m aiming to have Jenna watch Super Why once a day, with myself sitting next to her encouraging her to identify letters.