Teaching My Baby To Read

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A New Take on the Morning Message

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Reading and Writing a daily Morning Message is a great way to teach young children to read. But when kids get bored, effectiveness goes out the window.

So here’s an alternative–personalized letters. It takes more effort but is very impactful.

What you do is write two or three letters to your child to read each day. Make sure to use similar sentence patterns in each set of letters.

Example:

  • Letter #1: We are going to eat breakfast. We are going to make beds. We are going to get dressed.
  • Letter #2: We are going to the park. We are going to put on sunscreen. We are going to play on the swings.
  • Letter #3: We are going to eat dinner. We are going to read books. We are going to snuggle at bedtime.

The first time your child encounters the sentence pattern it will be difficult and he’ll need more help. By the third letter, he will hopefully be able to read everything independently.

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The picture I took isn’t the best example because it shows letter for two days. The letters on the right follow one sentence pattern, and the letter on the left went with a different set.

More Tips and Tricks:

  • Write up three days worth of letters at a time. That makes it easier.
  • Use clip art to provide picture clues. A grocery cart for going to the grocery store, etc.
  • Comic Sans is my favorite font for preschool and Kindergarten because the a looks like a printed a.
  • If you have a child who struggles with transitioning from one activity to the next, these letters can work to your advantage.

Oh! One more thing… Kids love to get mail, right? If you really want to make a splash you could send a couple of letters via post.

Why I’m impressed with Reading Eggs

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My broken wrist has really cramped our ordinary Afterschooling schedule. One bright spot has been Reading Eggs. I purchased a subscription through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op and have been extremely impressed.

Here’s why the former Kindergarten teacher in me loves Reading Eggs:

  • It’s systematic and sequential
  • It’s balanced, (phonics and sight words)
  • It’s diagnostic, (built in assessments keep kids on track)
  • It’s FUN!

The way Reading Eggs works is there are 12 maps with ten lessons each. Every lesson has 11 activities.  My daughter took the placement quiz and began on map 3. At the end of map 3 she passed a simple quiz to move on to map 4.

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Drawbacks:

    • Clicking with a mouse can be hard for little hands. We don’t have an iPad, but we do have a touch screen computer. That really helps. However, some of the activities work better with the screen and some work better with the mouse. I need to be on standby in case my preschooler becomes frustrated.

Jenna has been playing Reading Eggs for three weeks now and I’m already seeing a big difference. Level 3 Bob Books are a lot easier for her now, and she has more confidence when sounding out words.

For more information about Reading Eggs, please click here.

Hot Rocks and Old Crayons

An easy art project for all ages.

An easy art project for all ages.

Got some old crayons laying around? Turn them into masterpieces!

Heat rocks from your garden in the oven at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. (Smooth rocks work best.) The rocks will be hot to the touch, but not dangerously so. Use hot pads just in case, to protect your kitchen table.

Then color with old crayons. The wax will melt on contact, producing a beautiful paint-like effect.

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Butterfly Salad

Math on a plate.

Math on a plate.

Today my 4-year-old and I got out Cooking Is Cool: Heat-Free Recipes for Kids to Cook by Marianne Dambra. I am a little disappointed in the book because it doesn’t have step-by-step pictures for children to follow and it uses a lot of food coloring. But the full color illustrations of each recipe are nice.

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Here’s our version of Butterfly Salad. The actual recipe called for dyed cottage cheese, which I thought was gross, so we used grapes instead.

Ingredients:

  • lettuce leaf
  • pineapple rings
  • cottage cheese
  • grapes or berries
  • celery stalk (the body)
  • 1 olive (the head)
  • a carrot or bell pepper (the antennae)

Math Skills Involved:

  • counting
  • fractions (cut the pineapple rings in half)
  • comparisons (more cottage cheese, less cottage cheese)
  • ordinal numbers (first you do this, second you do that, etc.)
  • symmetry (the goal is to make the wings look the same)

This recipe took about twenty minutes to make. My daughter and I both had a lot of fun!


Cooking Is Cool: Heat-Free Recipes for Kids to Cook

Three Year Olds Can Do Math

In the above picture you see my daughter Jenna learning the greater than/less than symbol, at age two.  She thought she was playing “Hungry Guy”, but really she was learning a first and second grade skill.

I believe that children as young as two and three can do real math.   The trick is to teach them mathematical concepts in a way that makes sense to them. 

Play-based math will get results!

(Click here for some free activities to try.)

Jenna is three and a half now, and I felt like she was ready for something more formal.  So three weeks ago, we begin using Right Start Mathematics Level A I have no affiliation whatsoever with Right Start.  I’m just a die-hard Joan Cotter fan.

We are on lesson 7 now, and I am thrilled.  All of the activities are easy to set up, play-based, and conceptually very deep.

Jenna does between 5 -10 minutes of math every day, but only if she wants to.

Here is a sample of what we have done so far:

We made triangles and quadrilaterals out of craft sticks.

We learned about comparison words like long and longest.

We did ordering work of longest to shortest. (This is the before picture.)

We began to explore the abacus.

This is exciting.  This is fun.  This is easy.

The teacher in me wishes every child in America was benefiting from Dr. Joan Cotter’s wisdom.  The mom in me wishes I had know about Right Start when Bruce was this age!

My Thoughts on Play-Based Preschools

Between my two kids I am entering my fourth year of parent participation in a play-based preschool. I am familiar with the research that supports play-based learning, and think it is fine—for children coming from middle class and beyond homes.

But if you have ever faced down a classroom of third graders living in poverty, where some of them didn’t even know their ABCs, you might reconsider the research saying play-based preschools are best, just like I did.

Looking back at my experience as a Psychology student at Stanford’s Bing Nursery school, a play-based preschool where a lot of early childhood research is conducted, I can remember that even though the professors strongly encouraged the parents not to “teach” their children at home, many of the families were doing this anyway. One three year old girl in my class even had a reading tutor.

The English Language Learner kids from East Palo Alto who were at Bing to help “normalize” the data pool? Well, their parents were savvy enough to get them into Bing, right? How typical is that? Most of the parents I knew in the Ravenswood School District loved their children deeply, but none of them knew how to “work the system”.

The East Palo Alto students I taught spent their preschool years playing in the front yard with their cousins, pit bulls, a garden hose and their pet squirrel. They had play-based formative years, but that didn’t mean they entered Kindergarten ready to learn. Some of them didn’t even go to Kindergarten at all, because Kindergarten wasn’t mandatory in the state of California at that time.

So fine academia… Keep telling me how wonderful play-based education is for all learners. I’ll view all of your research with the wisdom of my own personal experience.

For the record, I think Montessori preschools would be a much better choice. They are a hybrid of choice, exploration, reading, counting, painting, real-life skills, and cultural compassion and understanding. Maria Montessori’s very first classroom in the slums of Italy proved that her methods could help all children learn, regardless of socio-economic level. I’d be happy to pay more taxes to fund that.