Saturday, July 27, 2013

I am an artist - five in a row style

We didn't do as much with our Before Five in a Row book this week.  In fact, I think we only read the actual book, I Am An Artist, three times.  I think it was little above my kids, even though there were just a few words on each page.  Bubby and I did have a good chat about reflections in the water because of one page in the book, and we talked about some new words in context with sunsets.

Early in the week we did cloud painting with white paint on blue paper using marshmallows and pompoms. I had to keep Bugaboo from eating the marshmallows since we had just had s'mores last week at our friends' house. We had painted a polar bear using the same supplies last winter, and I think that project was a little more fun than this one.


I had planned on doing a nature walk with the boys, but between my baby-sitting and Bugaboo's therapy schedule this week, it did not happen. I improvised, and we talked about things like the shapes of the cloud as we drove places.  Then on Friday, it was a rainy morning, so we all piled in bed and listened to the rain for a little bit. That was my favorite part of the week.

We read lots of books on art and nature and weather and clouds, and most of them were just so-so.  We did enjoy Little Cloud by Eric Carle, but I can't even recommend any of the other dozen books we read. Quite a bummer.

Yesterday, we did another art project just for fun using different sized circle objects (cups, lids, toilet paper rolls) to stamp on our papers. I think both boys liked that once I was able to get Bubby to understand the importance of sharing the paint.


Next week it looks like we are reading My Blue Boat. I have some other cute fiction picture books to go along with that, as well as books about the ocean since Bubby is always asking about sharks and squids and such.

Disclosure: Post includes Amazon affiliate links. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How (and why) I'm teaching my four year old to read

Over the last month a few friends and one of Bug's therapists have asked me questions about reading. Specifically how to help their young children read. I gave them a couple of general suggestions or some books to try. Honestly I don't think there is one answer for everybody. Every family and child is different.


I am teaching Bubby to read because he is interested, and he is able. He has known his letter sounds for a long time. He could identify his letters before he was two. Letters and words are a strength of his, so I have been trying to find a balance in not pushing him but not holding him back either.



So how does this look in our house, and what advice can I offer?

  • I have read to both boys almost every single day since the day they were born. Even in the NICU we would bring books to read - our favorite then was Are You My Mother? Each of my boys in their toddler years have fixated on Brown Bear, Brown Bear - a book I honestly hate because it reminds me of my year I taught first grade. But since they liked it, I keep reading it. All of that to say - read. 


  • Read aloud to your children daily. Throughout the day. Read the same books over and over again, and introduce new ones.
  • Another thing I know that has been important in our house is for them to see The Hubs reading. Not only do the boys see The Hubs read his Bible in the morning, but they also see him studying, they see his "books for enjoyment" around, and The Hubs reads to the boys.

  • Go to the library at least once a week. Let them pick out their own books. The pick out books for them, too. Our library has a great online system, so I use that and go to the library drive-thru probably three times a week to pick up our new books.
  • Get letter magnets. Find both capital and lowercase if possible and play with them together. Point letters out everywhere and what sounds they make.  

  • I am not a huge fan of many "educational" toys/movies, BUT the LeapFrog Letter Factory was given to the boys, and they both have loved the repetitive song with the letter sounds. They also have liked the LeapFrog bus and magnets. I haven't found the other LeapFrog movies as helpful, though, but maybe that is just our family.
  • Speaking of movies, I strongly believe in limiting tv time.  We watch DVDs here because quite honestly, there are times when Mommy needs a break. But the boys know that unless it is a sick day, they won't get to watch more than one show a day. Some days we don't watch any. But we will always read!


That's all nice, but how do you teach them to read?

If you are reading to them regularly and they recognize letters, you can probably start if they are interested.
Start with teaching the letter sounds.  Then when they have those down work on sounding out three letter words with a consonant-vowel-consonant. ("CVC words")  We did this a lot with Bubby with his letter magnets - changing the first letter or having him change it. (for example: -at words: cat, bat, sat, rat; -ad words: dad, bad, sad, mad, etc.) Once they get good at that game, you could probably begin with simple phonics readers or a program.

I've started Bubby on lessons from Ordinary Parents Guide To Reading. The first 26 lessons are about the letter sounds - we didn't do all of those since he knew them. About lesson 30, I figured out Bubby would do well with these lessons if I I wrote them out in my own handwriting. (The print is kind of small for a three/four year old.) It is a pain, but it works so much better for us.  I'm hopeful that someday soon I can transition back to reading from the book.  We average a lesson a week, but I usually do a lesson more than once with him. Repetition is a very good thing.

We are also reading some of the BOB books. He likes the simple pictures, and it really helps his confidence. Often the books that are labeled "easy readers" are not for true beginner readers. I would recommend not starting with those. I am a strong believer in focusing on phonics more than sight words. (Though sight words do have a place). As Bubby has learned to sound out words, the words he sees more often he has started knowing by sight.

As wonderful as it was to have lightbulb moments with my students back in my teaching days, there is nothing like watching your own child learn something new - whether that be reading new words, riding a bike, or singing a song.




I'll end by saying this. I think there is a lot of pressure on parents and kids to be the best or the first or both at everything. It is hard not to get sucked in. Children do not need to know how to read at four or five or even six. As long as you are providing consistent, natural opportunities (and there isn't some learning/developmental issue), your child will learn to read in his/her time. Just keep reading, let your child learn to enjoy reading, but most of all become a student of your own child and enjoy him/her.

Disclosure: There are Amazon affiliate links in this post.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

We're Going on a Bear Hunt - Five in a Row Style

Disclosure: Many of the book titles are linked to affiliate links. That said, all opinions/recommendations on books are because of my love of the books. 
Also links to sources for my ideas for this weeks activities are hyperlinked.

There are a lot of books about bears in the Before Five in A Row and Five in a Row manuals.  I decided to keep with the bear theme this week by rowing one of Bubby's old favorites, We're Going on a Bear Hunt. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he still liked it. I think it will become one of Bug's favorites, too.

We started our week's activities with making a B is for Bear picture.  I probably learned more from this activity than the boys did. I have not done any formal letter of the week stuff with my kids, but I think they both like letter-themed activities, so I will probably continue this as weeks naturally lend itself to that.


We had Teddy Graham snacks from a Babushka care-package a couple of times this week.  I attempted to do a pre-made lapbook with Bubby, but I don't know that it is really our thing. We didn't even end up completing that project. It felt much too worksheet-y to me. I don't mind worksheets for some purposes, but this just didn't seem like a good fit for us. I know other families who love lapbooks, so maybe I did it wrong.

On Thursday we did a sequence art project for the story. The boys and the girl I baby-sit (Miss C) each created wavy grass (great scissor skill time for Bubby making fringe on green paper), a crepe paper blue river, painted brown mud, painted trees,  a snowstorm with scrapbook paper, glue and glitter, and a felt bear cave.  I think I get mommy bonus points for getting out glitter with a preschooler and two toddlers, right?



Both boys LOVED the Michael Rosen (author) telling the story on YouTube. I have to say, I quite enjoyed it, too. We will be rewatching from time to time. Today I reread the story while the boys sat with The Hubs and three teddy bears. It was a sweet moment before naptime.

I had Bubby do a couple of do-a-dot papers for B/b. He likes those. We also did a b letter maze to help reinforce his learning the difference between b and d.  Other than that, we also read a whole lot of books about bears. They were mostly fiction, but I did get one or two non-fiction ones read as well. Our favorite additional bear books this week were:

Bears in the Night (similar feel to Bear Hunt)
The Bear Went Over the Mountain (great for talking about seasons and senses, too)
Brown Bear (non-fiction, not the beloved Eric Carle book)
Bear Says Thanks (We had not read this specific Wilson/Chapman one yet - we love their Bear books!)
Bear Cubs (this was a very simple reader for Bubby to practice some of his reading skills on)


This upcoming week we are going to be reading I Am An Artist, which looks to be much different than our usual choice of books. It is a stretch for me, too, because of its emphasis on nature... and I am an indoors kind of a gal.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

deciding to be vulnerable

I spent two hours on paperwork tonight. Tomorrow night I will finish it up. My head is spinning with checklists, family histories, and inventories on every behavior one could possibly think of. But more than that, my heart hurts...
(the rest of the story is at my main blog, Wandering On Purpose)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

process over product

It is easy to get stressed out as a parent. Usually tangled in that stress is the comparison game. It serves no one well, especially the children we compare.

I have been blessed that both of my boys have been fans of books/reading.  We spend a lot of time together with books, and at nap/rest time they each have books in bed with them.  Letters and pictures and music - these are things that go well for us.  The motor skills have been a struggle - partly because of physical/developmental issues for both of my children, and partly because it is something I struggle with myself.  I half-jokingly put on Facebook the other day that I would teach someone's child to read if they would teach mine to swim or pedal a bike.


I can say I don't compare my kids, but I sometimes I do. I think it is an intrinsic struggle for most of us. For me it isn't so much about what my kids are (not) doing, but really about how I (feel) I am failing them as a mother. Isn't that ridiculous? My responsibility is to love them and care for them, to guide them and to teach them - not to turn them into something they are not.

I realized I still struggle with comparison the other day when I was working on a simple art project with the boys.  Bugaboo obviously needs more support with the activity, but I was giving Bubby step by step directions on how to put together a letter B bear. I can say that I want creative, think-outside of the box kids, but the moment Bubby wanted to pick big googly eyes instead of the recommended smaller eyes, I unsuccessfully tried to redirect his choice. He liked the big eyes - why did that matter to me? Then after drawing on the mouth, he wanted to add feet to the bear (even though that wasn't on the sample). He added stick feet and then some other markings all over the bear.

I questioned, "Why did you do that?"  His response, "I wanted to draw it."Thankfully, I stopped there to prevent further crushing my child.


I was more worried about how the project would look yesterday than his enjoyment and expression with the project. I was missing the point. I was turning into a craft-control-mom that I never want to be.

I will hang that bear project on the fridge for awhile, and I hope that it will remind me that the process is usually more important than the product.  The child is always more important than the image I want to project.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Blueberries for Sal - Five in a Row Style

(Disclosure: Some of the links to books on this post are affiliate links.)

Awhile back I came across the books/concept called "Five in a Row."  I loved the idea of reading quality literature to the boys as well as having some simple activities to do with them. As they get a little older, I know the activities, vocabulary development, and discussion will get more in depth, but even at this age it is fun and rewarding.  
"To use  Five in a Row, just pick one of the 70 books used in Five in a Row, locate the corresponding lesson plan in your teacher’s guide, read the story aloud each day during the week and use Jane’s suggestions and lesson plans to lead your children on a wonderful learning adventure. It’s that simple!" (from the FIAR website)
Earlier this summer we spent a week with The Story About Ping and had a lot of fun.  This week we read Blueberries for Sal.  I was surprised at how much both boys liked listening to the story each day. Beyond the Five in a Row book for a reference, bloggers on Pinterest also gave me some great ideas.  Here is what we did this week to go along with Blueberries for Sal.




We used finger paint to make a blueberry patch. We used different shades of greens and blues.  Bugaboo was not content with just those colors, so he ended up with a free-for-all with all of the colors of the rainbow.




Bubby helped me make one of our favorite blueberry recipes - blueberry cake.  It is supposed to be a breakfast dish, I think, but we eat it for breakfast or dessert.  The Hubs is a huge fan of this recipe!


Bubby worked on finding lowercase letter b's on this blueberry paper.  We used pom-poms of all kinds of colors since I didn't have many in the color blue. Bugaboo just played with the pom-poms.



We made a paper blueberry pie.  Bubby worked on cutting things in half to make the strips.  Both boys worked on their gluing skills.  They also got a chance to use the do-a-dot markers.  Bubby loaded his pie up with blueberries.



This fun number activity we did a few times, and I will keep it to do again in the days ahead.  First I made Bubby put the numbers in order. Then we worked on sounding out the number words and beginning to recognize the number words that will have to be known by sight.  The second day we did this I was impressed with how independently he was able to do most of the words!




The favorite thing for Bubby about reading this story each day is that this library book came with a cd. I didn't know that he would like listening to a recording, but throughout the week he asked to use the cd instead of having me read it to him. Each time he sat attentively listening for the sound that told him to turn the page.  

Even though Bubby knows his letters/sounds, this week and next we are working on some letter B activities for both boys.  We will also be rowing one of our favorite books, We're Going on a Bear Hunt, each day.



Thursday, July 11, 2013

easy color sort for motor skills

I am the type of mom who likes to keep things very simple. If I have to print something or cut and glue something, most of the time I will not add the idea to my "to do" list. I have enough on my plate. So I was thrilled when I threw together this activity with items we had in the boys' room to work on several skills for Bugaboo.

Bugaboo (age 2 1/2) is currently working on being able to sort colors. Additionally, we are always working on his gross and fine motor skills as well as his speech and language development.

Earlier this week I was about to work on sorting Duplos into color piles with Bugaboo. Color sorting is not something he really enjoys doing with me. I was just about to start when I remembered that Bubby received a bunch of foam paper in bright colors for his birthday.

I put the four different colored papers around the room, and then I put a pile of matching blocks on the floor. I made Bugaboo squat to pick up and place on the correct paper (gross motor). I also made him repeat the color words each time (speech). He sorted the blocks better than he ever had before and was very pleased with the praise I gave him.  The foam paper was nice because it matched almost perfectly with the blocks and was durable for the two-year-old hands that kept touching it.



In addition to the boys' favorite book on colors (Brown Bear, Brown Bear), we also read a new-to-us book several times.

Later this week, I realized that Bubby also received foam sticker dinosaurs that were the same color as the paper/blocks.  So Bugaboo and I worked on sorting these much of the same way as we did the blocks. However, this time I just let him sit instead of standing and squatting down. We focused on fine motor since the stickers were small.  After the sorting I let both boys decorate a piece of the foam paper with the stickers.   Thanks, Babushka, for the fun art supplies for Bubby that doubled up as learning experience for Bugaboo!


Disclosure: Some of the links to books are through my amazon affiliate account. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

the decision to do life: ungraded

In recent weeks we discovered Bugaboo knows most of his capital letters. I have never sat down with him and had formal letter lessons. We read ABC books from time to time. There are magnet letters that both boys play with. The LeapFrog DVD has played every now and then.  My sweet 2 1/2 year old who has trouble communicating, who is developmentally delayed not only in speech but also in fine and gross motor skills, can name letters.  We are baffled, but in a good way.

I don't know how to get what is going on in his head to come out of his mouth or through manipulating things with his hands. He has meltdowns about random things, some of which we can figure out, and some of which we cannot. Bugaboo loves music. When we catch him singing, we can recognize the tune but often not the words. He loves swinging and spinning, but he hates being upside down. I know there is an incredible journey ahead with him, and even though I don't know what it will look like, I will take it one step at a time.

Therefore, I have made the decision to go with what he is interested in learning, what he seems to be learning, even though on all of the assessments he is still coming up under two years old.  We are still working on all of the things we have to do for his therapies, but there is a world to unlock for my youngest son.

Bubby turned four in May, and he can sound out simple CVC words. He has always loved books and being read to. He hates to color, but he loves to paint. Because he loves words and is always asking me how to spell things, I thought I would work on writing letters with him. But he hates tracing. He hates holding the pencil the way he needs to. So I find there is no rush or push this.  He quotes things from Veggie Tales, and asks a million questions a day. A high school band came to his preschool this year, and according to his teaching, he named most of the instruments.  He likes going to the pool, but he hates getting his face or head wet. He screams when we try to teach him how to swim. He gags on all vegetables except for peas.

Academically he is ready for kindergarten a year early (minus some of the motor and social skills). I don't want to push him too fast, but I don't want him to miss out on learning or get bored. So we have started working on reading and math on days when he wants to. Mostly we learn through play and books.

My boys have such different and yet some similar strengths and weaknesses. I doubt either of them will ever fit into a "grade one" or a "fourth grade" box. They will excel in some areas and struggle in others. So I will continue doing what I have been doing for the last four years - teaching them at home, with intentionality at times and just through life moments at others.

"Life: Ungraded" has a lot of different meanings to me:
  •  I don't have to stick my children in a grade level because they are a certain age. I can teach them what they need (and want) to know at the pace that best fits them. 
  • I also don't have to give them a grade on an assignment and move on. I can teach the mastery of skills and concepts. 
  • Our lives are not being graded. I am not being graded as a mom, as a teacher, as a person. I can live in grace and enjoy this time of learning with my children.