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!

Parenting Poll: Let’s talk about reading!

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Put a window on it

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Get out your scissors, moms and dads. Here’s a trick straight from the classroom that will make it easier for you to teach your child to read. Give your young reader a special bookmark called a word window.

My daughter Jenna has just turned five-years old and is chugging along at a first grade reading level. She can read between 75 and 100 words but still get easily frustrated. Too many words on a page overwhelms her.

An easy solution for this is using a word window. A word window is a bookmark with a hole cut out in the middle. In the past I’ve made fancy ones out of construction paper and clear tape.  But simple word windows made out of plain white paper work well too.

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Eventually my daughter will outgrow word windows, but right now they are extremely helpful.

P.S. Got an older kid with reading issues? Word windows work for third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders too, especially if they have ADHD.

Set up a Sensory Reading Corner

A sensory reading corner

A sensory reading corner

Got a reluctant reader? Try turning reading into a sensory experience. Set up a corner with fidget toys, a cozy blanket, and a warm, weighted lavender pillow. Also works for stressed out moms!

This is a nice alternative to the other reading corner in our house, which is smaller and a bit more intimate.

A $20 net from IKEA makes a big splash!

A $20 net from IKEA makes a big splash!

 

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

Why this Kindergarten teacher is confused by Kindergarten

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Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Everett Herald. We decided to register our daughter for half-day Kindergarten with an intent to Afterschool.

http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140216/BLOG5205/140219461/Kindergarten-options-put-parents-in-a-tough-spot

Afterschooling Plan for Working Moms

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Afterschooling isn’t just for stay-at-home parents. There are a lot of ways you can provide meaningful instruction to your children using what would otherwise be dead-time.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to offer teens yet, but here are some ideas for K-8:

  1. Carschooling –so easy, so effective. Ask the grandparents to buy CDs for Christmas, or else check them out from your local library.
  2. Dreambox Math –perfect for K-5. Have your kids play Dreambox while you get dinner on the table. Consider making 15 minutes of Dreambox a requirement to earn screen time.
  3. ClickN’ Read Phonics— K-3 phonics curriculum on the computer. I haven’t tried this, but it gets good reviews.
  4. Bedtime read alouds –be sneaky! For young readers, Bob Books can “unlock” stories you hate. For older readers, try using the CIA approach on your next chapter book.
  5. Hands On Equations –definitely worth the time. For older kids, if you can find an extra twenty minutes a week, Hands on Equations is really worth it. It will give them such an advantage in algebra, that you won’t believe it. Of all the math things I’ve blogged about, this is the curriculum that impresses me the most.
  6. Science Kits by mail— be a cool science mom, without having to plan anything. Seriously, almost everything you need (including a script) comes in the mail, ready for 30 minutes of fun. The catch is the kits are expensive, so you should wait for a Groupon or good deal on Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. Sign up for my Facebook page, and I’ll keep you posted.
  7. Highlights Top Secret Adventure Kits –project based geography that come in the mail. Your 7-12 year-old solves puzzles, looks for clues, and reveals the villain while learning about that month’s county. Unfortunately, like the Young Scientist Club Kits, these are really expensive, so you’d want to watch for a special deal.
  8. Story of the World Audio CDs –history kids probably won’t get at school. SOTW is a borrow from the homeschooling world. A college professor named Susan Wise Bauer has written four volumes of world history specifically for children. They cover ancient times to the present century. These CDs can be used grades K-8. I want my kids to listen to them every two years. I have a strong suspicion SOTW will help with AP tests someday.
Don't feel guilty that you're strapped for time!

Strapped for time but with a plan, that sounds like an awesome mom to me!

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

In our neighborhood, full-day Kindergarten costs $3,600. Half-day Kindergarten is free, but is only two hours and 40 minutes.  All of the research I’ve read says that full-day Kindergarten makes a difference. I have an “I Brake for Moms” column coming out next Sunday, explaining the issue.

If you’d like to take a look at the research yourself, here you go:

Education.com’s Full-Day vs. Half-Day

Fact Sheet from the Children’s Defense Fund

Full-Day vs. Half-Dad Kindergarten; In Which Program Do Children Learn More?

In our neighborhood, if you take out all of the minutes from lunch and recess, full-day Kindergarten means 5 hours and 15 minutes of instructional time per day. Half-day Kindergarten is 2 hours and 25 minutes. (Please note, I don’t mean to be dismissive of the importance of recess. Children learn a lot on the playground.)

So if we were to chose half-day Kindergarten, could I somehow Afterschool enough to get in the extra 2 hours and 50 minutes a day? Yes; definitely! Here’s how:

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

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Language Arts Block, 60 minutes

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Choice Time, 30 minutes

  • Full-day kinders would likely be getting this at school. This thirty minute block would be a chance for my child (and I) to unwind while I got the next activities set up.

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Math, 30 minutes

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Specials, 30 minutes

Homework (from school), 20 minutes

TOTAL TIME = 2 hours and 50 minutes!

The cost of this Afterschooling plan would be about $350, including the uber-expensive science kits. I could splurge and get the Highlights kits too, and still come in way under $600. Or I could go the other way, and do the whole plan for practically nothing. I’d just swap about the math section for this page of free activities here.

What’s half-day Kindergarten like in your state? Are you stressing out about registering your child for Kindergarten too?

What’s in the pumpkin?

What's in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

What’s in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

Reading requires stamina. I get reminded of that over and over again every time my daughter Jenna(4) reads a  Bob Book.

Jenna knows her letters, she knows her sounds, and she can sound out words. But her first time reading any new Bob Book is extremely laborious. Pages 1-2 are great. Then by page 5 she’s rolling around on the couch.

Some teachers would take the “Hold off! She’s not developmentally ready!” approach. My opinion is that 5-10 minutes a day of phonics isn’t going to hurt a four-year-old.

I also know that the second and third time Jenna reads a Bob Book (the next day, and the day after that), she breezes through it.  So I don’t think this is about developmental readiness as much as about developing stamina.

Day one of introducing a new book, I’ve got to bring my A-game.

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Building words is a good start.

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Incentives can work too.

What your seeing up above is what’s in the pumpkin! I went to Target and bought ten items from the dollar spot.

What's in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

Now, every time Jenna finishes a new book from Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners, she gets to pick a new pumpkin surprise.

Amazingly, her reading stamina has improved over night. 😉

Yes, it’s important to use positive reinforcements with caution. Eventually I want Jenna to read because she loves reading, not because she wants a junky prize from China!

But right now, I want to her practice, practice, practice. I know from experience that by the time Jenna can get through Bob Books Set 3- Word Families, she’ll think reading is a lot of fun.


Whole Language at Home

Have you ever hit a wall with phonics?

Have you ever hit a wall with phonics?

My teacher credentialing program was grounded in Balanced Literacy Instruction.  That means taking the best of Whole Language and Phonics, smashing them together, and teaching kids to read. (If you’re interested in more info about Balanced Literacy Instruction, click here.)

I like Balanced Literacy Instruction because I’m a big believer in flexibility.  Yes, I love phonics.  Yes, my kids have known their letters and sounds since they were two.  But that doesn’t mean that Whole Language doesn’t have some tricks to offer.

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One of those ideas from the Whole Language world is to label everything (and I mean everything!) in your classroom.

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So I was thinking, why not try this at home?

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My daughter Jenna is 4 years old now and can read Bob Books #1-3 on her own independently.  But by book #4, she’s bored. 

I don’t push her.  Jenna will tell me when she’s ready to read.

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But in the meantime, I can be as sneaky as I want.  She might come home from a Grandma day and find the whole house labeled for her!

Even the steamer on our wood stove gets a label.

Even the steamer on our wood stove gets a label.

So come on baby girl!  I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve that might pique your interest in becoming an independent reader.  It’s a long way to Kindergarten and I’ve got a whole bunch of fun things planned.

Kindergarten to First Grade Summer Bridge

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Summer should be fun, full of lots of free time, and enriched with the opportunity to experience boredom. But you can also use summer as a way to give your child the one-on-one targeted academic attention she might be missing out on during the regular school year.

Here is what I would do for a neurotypical 6 year old:

Morning Message

  • I sound like a broken record on this one, but writing a daily Morning Message on a little white board while your kids eat breakfast is a great way to teach phonics, reading, writing and punctuation. Use your own intuition to level this activity according to your child’s individual needs.

Homemade books

  • Go to the store and buy a whole bunch of paper and special art supplies. Put them in a big box or bag, but don’t let your child use any of it. When he is asleep, staple together a whole bunch of homemade blank books. The next day, tell him that he can each make one book every day all summer using the special art supplies.
  • The trick will be that you need to heavily facilitate the writing of the books. The child is the author and illustrator, but you are the secretary. (This is like the grown up version of the homemade books I’m making with Jenna.)
  • Make sure you are writing sentences that your child will be able to read 95% himself. At the end of the summer you should have a big box of 50 or 60 books that your child has authored, and is proud to read independentely, or to Grandma and Grandpa.

Structured Math Lessons

  • If you can afford it, I would use summer as a way to teach structured, hands-on math lessons to your child every day all summer. I think that Right Start, is a great way to go. (Oh, how I wish they were paying me money to say that!) There is a really good online placement test to help you pick out which kit to get.
  • Right Start is a bit of an investment, because you’ll need all of the math manipulatives, but you can use those tools later on to help your child understand their public school homework all the way up to at least fourth grade. Right Start would be a substantial improvement than any regular “workbook” you could buy at Costco.


Computer Time

  • I can’t say it enough, but those darn Reader Rabbit programs really helped Bruce learn math. I like them a lot better than the Jump Start series. For entering first graders, I’d recommend “Reader Rabbit 2nd grade math”, which has a good range on it, even though it has 2nd grade in the title.
  • It would also be worth checking out, at least for the first 2 week free trial, Dreambox math. Bruce has really enjoyed Dreambox in the past.
  • There’s also Houghton Mifflin’s free online Eduplace math games.
  • Here’s an extra sneaky trick we use in our house. Bruce has to do 2 pages of math to earn screen time. Then the computer things he plays are all educational. What a racket!


TV Time

  • Television? Yes, because you’ve got to be able to make dinner sometime! If you haven’t already seen it, set your DVR to tape PBS’s The Electric Company. It’s a big step up from “Super Why” in terms of plot line, but still teaches a ton of phonics. It really helped solidify Bruce’s reading skills when he was four and five.
  • If you still sense a weakness in your child’s phonics skills, check out “Leap Frog Talking Words Factory #2” from the library. It goes over lots of serious phonics rules in a fun way.
  • Once again, in our house Bruce has to do 2 pages of math to earn screen time! But you could modify this to 30 minutes of independent reading time, or whatever you need.

DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read)

  • Studies have shown that the more words on a page your child is exposed to and tries to read himself, the better his reading level abilities will be. High word count and practice is a better predictor of reading success than even teaching phonics or reading aloud to a child. So if you have an emergent or reluctant reader, it’s imperative that your make sure your child does Independent Reading every day, even if you have to resort to bribery!
  • Set up a cozy reading corner somewhere in your house, and stock it with a box of books you know are at an easy reading level for your child. You could even let your child munch on crackers or something, while she reads. Set the timer at 10 minutes, and slowly build up to 30 minutes by the end of summer.


Read Aloud

  • If I could recommend just one read aloud book for the summer before first grade, I’d suggest reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. You could read it together at bedtime, or check out the audio book on CD and take it with you to listen to in the car on your next camping trip. I’d choose this book for so many reasons, but mainly because it’s an American classic, and also because I think boys especially should be hooked on to this series before they think it’s too “girly” and refuse to read it.

Those are all of my main ideas, but I’m sure there are lots of other good ones out there. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, and to forward along the link to this page to anyone you think might be interested. Have a fun summer!

Candy and Words

I’m not above resorting to bribery.

My daughter Jenna is almost three and a half years old.  We’ve been doing a lot of activities recently to support her burgeoning knowledge of sounding out words.  Here is one more.

The Candy Game

Before we start, I count out twenty five chocolate chips and mini marshmallows in the cup.  It’s really not that much candy, but enough to be super motivating.  Then I grab the deck of words we are currently working with.  I made this deck from our All About Reading level 1 activity book.

Then we just go for it. Old-school, flash card quizzing.  Every card Jenna sounds out earns her a a small piece of candy.  We play the game for no more six minutes.

My son Bruce was able to do this type of activity when he little too.  So now I’m completely jaded and this seems normal.  But the teacher in me remembers working with five, six, and even seven year olds to accomplish this same learning objective.

There is definitely a huge range for when a child will developmentally be able to sound out three letter words.  But I think that there are probably loads of children out there who could be reading before they entered Kindergarten, if parents had more guidance in how to help teach their children at home.  That’s the whole mission of my blog!

Jenna and Bruce have been working with letters, sounds, and words since they were each eighteen months old.  Almost all of this is documented on my Where to Start page.  Most of my ideas are free.  All of them are child-centered.

The bottom line is you can teach your child a tremendous amount before Kindergarten, especially if you know where to start!