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Mommy Blogs scare me, and I say that having blogged for four years. Once you write something on the Internet, it is there forever–even if you delete it. No post is worth hurting your child’s feelings. No amount of “likes” or “followers” makes up for a positive relationship between yourself and your child.
As my life continues to bleed over into the public sphere with my newspaper column, book deal, website, and Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr accounts, I’ve reigned back on what I share about my children “Bruce” and “Jenna” who are now 10 and 6 years old.
I know for many of you, Teaching My Baby to Read has been a source of lesson-plan ideas and a vehicle to connect with other parents who are equally committed to education. I am thrilled every time somebody emails me or leaves a positive comment. Parenting can be isolating, and for me, blogging has been a way to share what I learned as a teacher and a parent.
Now, I’m in a tough position because there is so much about education I still want to share. I want to tell you about Bruce’s life in fourth grade, or Jenna’s experiences in Kindergarten. I want to tell you specific data about how they are succeeding academically, or in some cases, falling behind. I want to share how I feel burnt out after approximately 1,800 hours of Afterschooling. I want to explain why, after all these years, I’m more committed to Afterschooling than ever.
But at the same time I want to protect the sacredness of my children’s privacy for what little bit of childhood they have left. The years go by so fast. I blink and another school year is gone.
Can you teach your baby/child to read? Yes. Here’s how. Can you make math fun? Absolutely. Check these ideas out. Did my ideas work for my own children? You bet–even in the face of giftedness and a potential learning disability. Both my kids were reading ahead of grade level by the end of Kindergarten.
When I first started blogging I wrote new posts every day. Now I barely post once a week. That’s mainly due to of self-censorship. It’s also because I’ve shifted my focus into studying Young Adult fiction. If you are a parent of a teenager who struggles to screen what your kid reads, please check out my website The YA Gal or my YA Gal Facebook Page. You can always ask me the “clean-teen” rating of a particular book, and if I haven’t read it one of my YA Gal followers probably has.
I am still blogging. I am still here. I’m just a lot more careful about what I share.
In the past two weeks, Jenna has made mind-blowing progress in her RUN, BUG, RUN! reader. I need to buy more star stickers!
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.
Flashcards are the least effective way for Jenna to learn new words.
Multisensory activities are a lot better.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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!
Here’s a great idea from my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher: a lesson on informational writing. First she read the kids several “how-to” books and discussed the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Then she launched writer’s workshop.
Give the kids three choices to write about.
- How to brush your teeth.
- How to plant a seed.
- How to make a sandwich.
Offer rectangular pieces of paper already divided into four sections.
Let the children use words or pictures to create their how-to writing.
In a classroom setting, there will be kids at every ability level. Some will be able to write sentences, some will express their ideas in pictures. In an Afterschooling setting, this lesson works well too. A four year old could draw pictures while an eight year old writes paragraphs.
See why I was impressed? My daughter’s Kindergarten teacher rocks!
“My kid writes upside down and backward!” Should you freak out?
Answer: Is your child mid third grade or older? Then yes, be concerned and look into it. Younger than third grade? Don’t sweat it.
My daughter is a classic emergent writer. All of the pictures in this blog post come from the past two weeks. I didn’t help her spell or write anything. The words come from her 5 year-old brain.
Here’s a picture of reverse writing, starting from the bottom and working it’s way up:
In this card to her uncle, she experiments with punctuation:
Here she starts writing in the middle of the page, but runs out of room for [with me] so she adds “wis me” at the top.
Here she starts at the top left–yay!– but then decides to go right to left again.
I wasn’t present when she wrote this one so I’m not 100% sure what it says. It looks like another bottom to top piece.
I’m a certificated, experienced K-4 teacher, and I’m telling you, this is what normal looks like for four and five year olds. So if your child is writing like this too, don’t freak out and think your child has a learning disability.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to help kids move past this stage. The #1 tip is provide lots of opportunities to write. It’s also helpful to focus on three types of writing:
- Free writing (pictured above)
- Scaffold writing (with dot letters or tracing)
- Handwriting practice (worksheets that only focus on proper letter formation)
And Remember! By winter of third grade, if your child is still doing reversed or backwards letters, that is the time to seek evaluation for a possible learning disability. I’ve consulted dozens of teachers on this, and that is the general consensus. By the end of third grade, backwards letters should be gone.
Half-day Kindergarten is only 2 hours and 40 minutes in Washington State. So every day after Kindergarten my daughter and I do “Mom School”. (Check out my full plan here.) On Tuesday we took Mom School to the beach.
One of the great things about sand is that it works on fine motor skills as well as gross muscle work. So even though my daughter wasn’t doing handwriting worksheets, she was still learning. Plus, practicing your a-b-c’s in sand is a whole lot more fun!
What’s so great about doing science experiments at home with your kids? Watching them fall in love with science. What’s even better than that? Sitting on the couch reading a book while your spouse leads the activity. 😉
For the past few weeks my husband and kids have been obsessed with a book called Candy Experiments by WA author Loralee Leavitt.
Every evening when Dad comes home, he brings new candy from the office vending machine. They’ve done over twenty experiments so far. I don’t necessarily have blog-worthy pictures of all of them, but my husband did snap a few shots:
Right now Taffy, Tootsie Rolls and a Peppermint Patty are dissolving in water on my kitchen counter. Apparently chocolate won’t dissolve in water but caramel, sugar or mint will. The kids have also experimented with cutting candy in half and then trying to dissolve it.
Really, the possibilities for experimentation are endless. Now for an extra good brush of the teeth!
Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to make a coffee table book display of all of the wonderful children’s books about Islam I’ve collected. Just because I’m Christian doesn’t mean I want my children to grow up ignorant about other religions!
In my “I Brake for Moms” column last Sunday called Ramadan is an opportunity to learn about Islam I mentioned three special children’s books:
- Muslim Child: Understanding Islam Through Stories and Poems by Rukhsana Khan
- Muhammad by Demi
- The Usborne Encyclopedia of World Religions: Internet-linked (World Cultures)
Here are a few more books that we own, that I didn’t mention in my column:
Hopefully I’ll find time to review those soon!
P.S. If you’re interested in finding even more books about Islam for children, the author Rukhsana Khan has a wonderful list of “vetted” books:
I hope you are enjoying the third annual Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour. The following is a guest post from a homeschooling mom:
From Kindergarten to College, Parenting a Twice Exceptional Child is an Adventure
Being the antithesis of a Tiger Mom and embracing a completely ”go with the flow” philosophy toward education, I was completely caught off guard when our family’s babbling brook homeschool turned into a confused chaos of babbling brook, flowing river, multi-level white water rapids, and trapping eddies.
It all started rather innocently. I was baking cookies with my son, then 6. As we were putting the cookies on the cookie sheet, he looked up at me smiling and said, “Did you know if we put them in 5 rows and we put 4 in each row that there will be 20 cookies?” It was a startling conversation.
Educationally, I had been so focused on how little progress he was making in reading that I had never even noticed that his first grade math book wasn’t even the slightest bit challenging for him. So our babbling brook entered into the white water world of 2E.
Those two words, twice exceptional, unlock a unique combination of amazing gifts combined with significant struggles that our son both possesses and has overcome. While his uncanny visual-spatial skills and constant questioning shout exceptional talent, when he was young, they were often over-shadowed by an equally visible deficit, dyslexia, and a real struggle in learning to how to read.
The advantages of homeschooling rise quickly to the surface when teaching a 2E child. I could read advanced word problems for him to solve while he was still working on basic decoding skills. As he progressed quickly through mathematical concepts, he equally slogged through phonics, decoding, and spelling. He could discuss complex science concepts while still unable to write on grade level because his reading skills were so lacking.
Learning how to select appropriate resources became a necessity. Literature intense language arts programs were not going to work because he couldn’t read on grade level selections, yet neither would simple lower grade level materials work because intellectually he was ready for far more complex materials. It became a balancing act of selecting on-his-level readers combined with audio books which actually matched his abilities. So while he might have been reading a 5th grade level reader, he was listening to the Iliad.
By the time his reading level finally caught up to his grade level when he was around 10, he was already completing algebra. His writing skills were radically behind because of his spelling and reading skills. When he was finally ready to write something that was decipherable, his instruction needed to be significantly beyond introductory level writing. Because he was used to discussing and analyzing literature, he was able to quickly move beyond basic writing skills to analytical writing. By the time he was in high school, he was functioning above grade level in all areas, but he still faced, and continues to face, the major obstacle of slow reading speed.
As he approached college applications this past fall, he kept his reading speed in mind. He opted to not apply to many of the schools that appealed to his math and science side. He was concerned that schools that function on the quarter system versus the traditional semester system would overwhelm his ability to keep up with the reading.
The entire college application process was a roller coaster. The mantra is to find a university which fits the student. Reality, being what it is, means that the school also has to fit a family’s financial situation, not just student abilities. Our family’s situation matches what is described as the “donut hole.” The donut hole means we make too much money to qualify for much financial aid, but we don’t actually have the financial resources to pay for our expected family contribution. So, finances ended up driving our son’s decisions. Because I am sure our situation is not unique, here is what our son learned through this process.
Financial safeties are schools which a family can afford. Many universities are financial safeties because they offer scholarship money to top students to attract them to attend their institutions. These schools are not the top universities in the country, but they offer unique opportunities to attract top talent. These opportunities range from honors colleges to specialized honors programs. Our son was accepted into a specialized honors program which provides research opportunities for the 40 students accepted each year. The program guarantees the individual students the opportunity to participate in research in a field of their choice. Since our son’s goal is grad school and research, this program really attracted his attention during the application process.
When he traveled to the finalist weekend, he came home impressed. He said the students he had met during the finalist weekend were every bit on par with the friends he had made at The Summer Science Program. He felt the upperclassmen already involved in the program and the high school seniors there interviewing were definitely his intellectual peers and that collectively they represented a wealth of talent. The awards that participants in the program have received testify to the accuracy of his assessment. The program has Hollings, Goldwater, Mitchell, and Truman scholars. So, while this school might not have been at first glance a “fit” intellectually, through this honors program, our son is convinced that it is.
In addition, our son has been blessed by the generosity of this university. It allows students to stack scholarships. Stacking means that additional scholarships do not decrease the value of other scholarships. Not all universities allow stacking and will reduce monetary awards when other scholarships are earned. All in all, our son won four different scholarships from this university which translates into him attending full-ride. The cost differential between attending this school full-ride versus higher ranked schools with partial scholarship or institutional aid was between $100,000-$160,000 over four years.
Another factor that advanced students need to weigh is how universities view college credits earned in high school. For students like our son, those cumulative hours may be considerable. Since our son has completed numerous upper level math and physics courses, he will have enough credit hours transferring in that he is only a few hours short of being a college junior. In choosing a college, understanding how different schools view dual enrolled credit needs to be considered. Since the school our son has chosen allows the transferring in of credit, it opens the door for him to triple major without undue burden because he has already completed so many of the “in major” requirements.
Looking back over the past 13 years of our son’s homeschooling venture, I could never have anticipated the journey we took. I know that homeschooling allowed our son to thrive and never feel like he was incapable of succeeding. He never felt like a failure because he struggled. He was allowed to be himself and thrive where he was. Dr. Seuss penned, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Homeschooling has allowed that to be true for our son.
Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column about Common Core Math in today’s Daily Herald:
If you’re looking for ways to support your children’s math development at home, here are some of my favorite activities:
The truth about teacher gifts is that all of them are appreciated but some of them are better loved than others.
When I taught at an inner-city school families would bring me homemade tamales, small figurines from the dollar store and fresh flowers from their yards. Sometimes the 8-year-old girls would come back from recess with bunches of Oxalis, a pretty yellow weed from the playground. These inexpensive gestures made me feel well loved.
When I taught at a school in an upper-class neighborhood families would bring me chocolate, homemade dinners and beautifully arranged photo albums with children’s letters. At Christmas and the school year’s end I would also receive over $200 worth of gift cards. Once again, I felt very well loved.
My point is, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to say “Thank you,” but if you do, that’s nice too.
There are many ways to show appreciation, but here is a no-fail list:
- homegrown flowers
- notes of appreciation–consider sending a copy to the principal
- student artwork
- store-bought flowers
- gift cards
Notice I didn’t mention food.
Personally, I loved the candy, home cooked meals, and other baked goods I received from families. But that was me. Your child’s teacher might be on a special diet or have food allergies you don’t know about. It’s simpler to give her a gift card to Starbucks.
So what does my family give to teachers each year? We start saving early so that we can buy gift cards to Nordstrom’s. I owe my kids’ teachers a debt that can never be repaid.