ABC Scavenger Hunt

As I mentioned the other day, I had big plans to help Em learn her name by creating an ABC Obstacle Course, but that was a bit too advanced for her (but rocked for big brother!).  Since my intention was to work with her, not him, I made a quick adjustment and concluded that instead of having her follow a trail of yarn, I could have them both work together to follow a map.  If I do say so myself, it was brilliant.

My map was as basic and cartoonish as you could fathom.  I identified the big ticket items on the house, drew them in roughly the correct shape, location, and color, and added a red 1-7 on various places on the map where the kids would find the missing letters of Em’s name.  I wrote them on little squares of paper and hid them around the exterior of our house.  They did not find the letters in order, so at the end, she would have to unscramble them and sort the letters of her own name, hopefully helping her get a handle on it in a kinesthetic way.

I made them stop and look at the map together and agree before they (aka Jax) raced off to find the next letter.  I wish I had made them hold hands because he was always faster than her, although he did not always spot the letter first.  Then they would consult the map, find the next number (so I guess it was good for sequencing and for number recognition, too) and then hurry off.

They had so much fun they had me hide the letters 3 times and had dinner 45 minutes later than usual!  This is a big deal for my chubby-cheeked children!

At the end of every round, we’d lay the letters out and she would try to unscramble them to spell her name.  Luckily (and I say this with heaviest sarcasm), Jax was there to tell her exactly which letters went where.  I finally had to give him another job so that he would leave her alone and little sister could hear herself think!  He’s a sweet boy, but he is a bit of a know-it-all!

This activity was really so fun, and I think it would work just as well inside as out.  There was a lot of good things going on while they figured this one out: cooperation, communication, taking turns, patience, cheering each other on.  Not to mention helping Emerson learn how to spell her name!

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Letter Practice

Even though I love our local Waldorf School, and at times wish we could send our kids there for nursery school, I do have some Montessori moments. In fact, as far as nursery, sometimes I wonder if Montessori would have been a better fit for Jax.  However, since neither options are in our future, we can integrate the methods and ideology into our everyday learning and fun, for free!

I have been intrigued by the notion of helping Jax learn to shape his letters by using his fingers to create them in salt.  Writing is not something that Jax is particularly interested in, so I thought this might be a different way to give him some help in that arena.  You know, make learning fun and all that.

I got this box when I bought this Melissa & Doug Animal Pattern Blocks Set.  I saved the box for just this purpose and waited until Jax and I had a moment and he was in the mood.  I pulled out our dollar store ABC flashcards and put one in the smaller section of the box, and Jax traced the letter in the salt on the other side.  After he spelled his name and his sister’s, he wanted to move on to words.  We could just fit three letters in the top part, but he didn’t care.

What a diligent little guy.

This didn’t last terribly long, but even just fifteen minutes of fine motor skills and reading fun is worth the effort!

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Have A Reading Picnic!

Sometimes it’s mid-afternoon and I think to myself with my pregnant brain, have I read to them yet today?  That’s when the guilt sets in and I know I have to drag my butt off the couch (or drag a basket of books over TO the couch), but sometimes even that seems like a task.  You know, when I’m folding laundry, putting away dishes, editing photos, blogging, and I just desperately want Thing 1 and Thing 2 to entertain themselves!  Then I remember a brilliant idea that a good friend of mine gave me that promotes not just independent play but also literacy and the joy of reading.  Have a reading picnic!

Yes, my kids are reading rockstars, but even if yours aren’t, this is a great way to start.  Don’t forget to make reading fun and change up the material, the setting, the time of day–keep them interested!  My kids orchestrated this picnic on their own–they were playing on the deck and then they came in and started dragging stuff outside.  When I asked them what was up, they said they wanted to have a picnic.  I asked them if they needed some books and they yelled, “Yes!” over their shoulders as they dragged the blanket onto the grass.  Books plus raisins plus water bottles equaled a quiet half hour of exploring their books, reading to each other, narrating pictures, and just surrounding themselves with words.

And you know how I needed that half hour to myself?  Well, suddenly, whatever Mommy things I was doing inside didn’t seem as important as the fun going on outside.

And don’t forget–indoor reading picnics are just as fun, especially if you can get Daddy to join in!  It’s important for kids to see men modeling good reading, too, so see if you can get the men in your life to pick up a book, a magazine, anything (try to have it be non-computer/Kindle/Ipad-related because it’s just not the same in kids’ brains; they’ll just assume Daddy’s playing Angry Birds again).  JDubbs read the sports section of the newspaper one day on a reading picnic and before I knew it Jax was on his lap and they were discussing the box scores!

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Play-Doh Number Line

Remember my commitment to increasing my kids’ number awareness instead of just focusing on literacy?  Well we’re taking baby steps around here–in fact, I started with the very basic idea of literal number awareness: can they recognize and organize numerals in a number line, or do they just know how to count?

I was certain Jax could identify the numbers 1-12, but the teens can be a bit tricky.  And I didn’t know if Em knew her numbers at all!  So I wrote the numbers 1-10 on craft popsicle sticks for Em, and numbers 1-20 for Jax.

Then they chose some Play-Doh and we rolled them into snakes (which took forever–every time we had ones ready, they’d rip them up as soon as my back was turned).  Finally they were ready and the number organizing could begin.

Em really surprised me–up until then I really hadn’t thought she knew her numbers.  She can count but I didn’t think she knew her numerals at all.  But she did!   She knew them all!  And with a little help from me helping her count the order, she finished her number line in no time.

Jax, on the other hand, got held up a bit around 14–although I think it was more because of laziness than lack of understanding–so I made him a list of the last few numbers so he could sort them out on his own.

Which he did, and when he was done, he was really proud!

Meanwhile, Em was getting bored waiting for him, but was still interested in the idea, so I just flipped her sticks over and made a new challenge for her to keep her busy.  Differentiated, I guess you could say.

This required a little help from big brother because I don’t think she even realized that colors have an order, plus she had to stop to have a bunny break.

But eventually they worked as a team to put the sticks in rainbow order.  Then the lure of the markers was too much for them and they abandoned the mathematical ship.  However, it was fun while it lasted, and I saved the sticks for another rainy day, when I remember that there’s more to life than reading!

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Spring Sight Words

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Jax is definitely a visual learner.  He just stares at something often and long enough until suddenly he has it committed to memory.  That’s why something like a word wall would be a big success for him, but I honestly haven’t taken the time to make one.  I kind of prefer the kind of learning that can be tucked away and brought back out on a rainy day so it’s always fresh and interesting; I think if my kids see something every day they eventually become oblivious to it (half of their toys fall into this category).  So when I pulled out Jax’s ABC clothespins and sight word box, he was excited to play with me because we haven’t used it in about a month.  Plus the fact that I had found some great spring sight words to add to the mix, we had a really great time learning together while having fun!

We did the same thing as last time–Jax organized his clothespins…

…and then we took a look at his cool new spring words.

This time he tried to find a word for every letter, instead of choosing the word first.  He had a few different words going at the same time but it was a bit more challenging–he had to think about which words he was going to focus on so he didn’t have twenty different words; he focused on two or three and soon was able to complete each one.

Proud of himself for a job well done!

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Spin & Spell

Here’s the play-by-play to make your very own Spin & Spell, for less than three dollars.  First, take a quick trip to your local hardware store to get a carriage bolt, some hex nuts, and a stop nut.  We got two bolts, one for each kid–although I must admit Emmy really wanted nothing to do with this project.  I think her fine motor skills are still a little weak for this kind of maneuvering.

Something to consider: For one bolt, I got the appropriately-sized nuts that required actual spinning on the threads of the bolt.  I don’t recommend this strategy–even I had trouble getting them on and off.  For the other I went one or two sizes up so the nuts slid on and off with ease.  I figure their fingers were getting a workout regardless–no need to be mean and frustrating.

So the brilliant source of this idea, used stickers to add her letters to the nuts.  I shunned this idea as requiring an extra stop at a store, so I put mine on with a black Sharpie.  As usual, follow the original source and don’t be lazy like me.  The Sharpie came off MUCH easier than I expected; a few good twists and the letters were practically erased.  So I recommend stickers if you’re serious about making a Spin & Spell that will last for more than one use.

Then you just let your kid and your imagination drive the rest.  It was fun having two bolts because I said, “Let’s see who can spell fish first,” and we had to shuffle through our nuts to find the correct letters and put them on our bolts in order quickly.  The difficulty was that I wasn’t sure which letters were on which nut, so I was afraid I would ask him to spell a word that he physically could not because of the letter combination.  But he enjoyed it anyway, and liked creating words of his own.

There was also a bit of just free fine motor fun, stacking the nuts and sorting them by size–bigger and smaller.  I love how kids don’t even know that they’re learning; they’re just having fun.  Little does he know he’s actually doing a million things that are making him smarter and more capable and a better critical thinker all at once, not to mention improving his dexterity!  I’m such a happy, dorky mom.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that Jax didn’t go crazy for this literacy tool as he did for others, like the sight word train or using clothespins to spell out sight words.  He got distracted from our actual purpose and started using the bolt as a rocket and started crashing on top of the nuts.  But I think if your kid is a kinesthetic learner, a Home Depot junkie, or likes to fiddle with nuts and bolts, this is an activity that is worth its weight in gold.  It’s a game changer.  Imagine storing this in your purse or diaper bag and pulling it out in a restaurant instead of your phone–small changes like that are what readers are made of.

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Be A Reading Rockstar!

So here I am, ready to brag.  This blog is part baby book, so I have to document all major milestones in my kiddos’ development, and this is a big one for me.  Friday night the English teacher within me melted into a pool of literary happiness when my dear, sweet, brilliant son Jax read a book to us cover to cover.  And it’s not a board book or one he has memorized.  It’s an actual big boy book.

Go, Dog. Go! is a 72-page book that is geared for ages 4-8, and according to, is written at a Grade 1.4 reading level.  And our little 3-year-old guy just plugged along, decoding and sounding words out, using the pictures for context clues, and generally rocked our world.  JDubbs and I sat with bated breath to see if he was actually going to finish reading the entire book, and he most certainly did!  Granted, the book has only 75 different words mixed throughout the book, so its repetition is a blessed thing, and we have read this book before–although it is a library book and not one we own, so it’s not a matter of having memorized it.  He just straight up READ the damn thing, and I could not have been prouder.

If you’re wondering what you can do start your kid down the path to being a rockstar reader, I found the Scholastic website to be pretty helpful, mostly with ideas the average parent is familiar with and is probably already doing.  I don’t have a lot of advice on this topic, other than what a brilliant friend of mine who is a literacy specialist passes on to me, but in case you’re interested, here is what we do and what I know from experience with my little guy and his little sister who is happily following in his footsteps.

1.  When they’re asking for it and into it, embrace the moment and read!!  There is hardly ever a time that I blow my kids off if they are asking to read a book–we read in the morning before we go downstairs, we read over meals–breakfast especially–and that has really cut down on the behavior issues at the kitchen table remarkably!  We read before naptime and bedtime, and any time in between.  Remember that if a kid reads for 10 minutes 10 times a day, that’s 100 minutes of reading!  Before long, their attention span will increase; just let them know that you’re there and ready to read when they are, and believe me, they will.

2.  Have a print rich environment.  That means, have books everywhere.  Not just in their bedroom, especially if their bedroom is not the area where they play most often.  Have baskets of books in child-accessible spots in as many rooms in your house as ones your kids are allowed to roam free in.  My kids have over 200 books just themselves, and they are constantly underfoot.  They love to grab their basket and head to the heater in the kitchen and camp out while I’m cooking breakfast, warming up and reading a good book or two.  They’ll look at them together, separately, or Jax will read aloud to Em. It’s no surprise that they have this kind of behavior–reading is a part of our day, just like any other.  And you don’t have to invest a small fortune in books to have this kind of environment–I just bought 6 books today at a used book store for less than $10 and we all have access to a library, which is free.

3.  Enforce appropriate reading behavior.  My kids know how to behave in a book store or a library because we go there once a week. It’s part of our routine, just like the grocery store or gymnastics.  They love the librarians, respect the library and hate to leave.  We replenish our stockpile of books every week with a few new ones, just to keep the interest alive.  And while we’re there, we get holiday books, non-fiction books, poetry books–whatever speaks to us that day. And don’t blame the library if yours isn’t up to par–ours isn’t, so we pay a yearly fee to be a member of the library in Woodstock, VT.  Its staff love my kids, encourage them, and are another set of adults who teach my kids not only about reading and a love of books, but about proper behavior, good manners, and having fun.  Pretty much one of our favorite places to be, any day.  Also, my kids know how to treat a book, and don’t take them for granted.  They pay dearly if they rip pages, especially if it’s a library book.  Teach them to treat books with respect, and they’ll understand books are something to value.

4.  Model good reading behavior.  This is easy enough.  READ in front of your kids.  I read aloud to JDubbs in the car, if you can believe it.  Talk to them about what you’re reading.  Show them that reading is not just something boring to do to lull you to sleep before bedtime.  We have reading picnics as a family, where we camp out on the floor and all of us read–and NOT on our computers or phones.  JDubbs will read the newspaper, I always have something I can catch up on, and the kids each have a basket.  It’s good to teach them to play with books on their own, too.  Exploring a book is just as fun as any other toy!

5.  Change it up.  If your kids have lost interest in their books, move them around the house.  I mean literally.  Move the upstairs books downstairs.  Put the bedroom books in the bathroom.  Put a stack of books in the kitchen.  Just like toys they haven’t seen in a while, if you put books in a new spot, your kids will gravitate toward them without you having to say a word.  Just watch.  And then pull out a book of your own and read, too.  Don’t forget chapter books!  As soon as your kids can sit for a long picture book, they may be interested in sharing a chapter book every night.  Jax and I have read Stuart Little, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and are in the middle of Winnie-the-Pooh.  Changes it up a bit every now and then.

6.  Let your kids read in their bed.  Whether it’s by the light of the nightlight, a reading light, or the hall light, whatever.  Half of the words Jax learned by sight were words he memorized by staring at them in bed.  He would have a book memorized, like Gossie and Gertie, or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and he would stare at the pages, knowing what each page said already.  Soon he’d figure out that that word “bear” was bear, and that word “see” was see, because we read together and he understands how books work.  So after a while, he not only had the story memorized, but the words that corresponded with the stories, too.  And he is a very busy guy–he isn’t going to do this kind of in-depth study during the day, but at night for 20 minutes before he falls asleep, he is studying a very large stack of books that lay next to him in bed.  We hear thump, thump, thump as he tosses each aside as he finishes reading them, and before long, I realized he was learning as much, if not more, at night, than he was with me during the day.

7. Word World & Super Why.  Yes, you heard me.  One of the best ways my kids have learned to read is through PBS.  These two TV shows have given me more than one fabulous trick to teaching Jax a way to sound out a difficult word (like how -ing make the sound of ING!  Great song).  But that requires you to watch with them so you learn the tricks, too, so it’s not great for times when you need to take a shower or want to check your email.  Super Why helps on a higher level of cognition, such as the way sentences work and rhyming, but it does help nonetheless.  And they love them!  I mean, Jax was Super Why for Halloween for goodness sake!

8.  Make reading fun.  There are a zillion ways to intrigue kids about letters, words, and reading.  Jax learned how to read several words just by sharing the words that surround us, in stores and in the car.  Home, food, stop, go, zone, east, west, baby are all words he knows just by seeing them while we shop, and by taking the time the talk about our world, I can help reinforce the words around him.  You can’t have conversations with your kids like this if you’re listening to music all the time and talking on the phone–I’m just sayin’.   Steal my ideas and steal other’s–that’s what’s so great about blogs!  There are more ways to teach a kid the alphabet than you think.  Start small and have fun.  Your kid will thank you for it.

9.  Know when they’ve had enough.  If your kid isn’t digging it, then drop it.  Don’t push it.  Come back and try to intrigue them next week.  We did flash cards because Jax asked for them, not because I was pushing him to learn to read before he was ready.  The kid loves letters, more than cars and trucks.  He always has.  But the drill-and-kill method doesn’t work well with him, and it probably won’t with yours.  Keep it interesting, and they’ll stay interested.

10.  Don’t give up.  That being said, think of it this way.  Learning and loving to read is not an option.  My kids did not have the choice, and Em fought me the hardest.  But it didn’t matter if I had to introduce books to her every half hour; the girl loves to read, and will probably surpass her brother just in the fact that she wants to read what he’s reading–not a surprise–so even though she’s not even two, she prefers lengthy picture books to board books any day.  Unless they’re about princesses.  Then she doesn’t care if they’re printed on toilet paper; she’s into it.

So take my advice and teach your kids to love reading as much as you teach them to love the Red Sox.  There’s room for both, and this comes from a Boston girl!  Educate yourself and keep yourself interested–reading the same old board books is not going to inspire anybody–so do your best to spice it up!  And when you have a minute, read this book:  The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  It was shared with me by my aforementioned brilliant friend, and I can’t thank her enough for it.  Empowering, validating, and encouraging.  So worth ten bucks.

Go forth and read!  Share the news far and wide!  Your kids will love to read, damnit! And if you read this entire post,then you’re obviously the kind of parent who gives a damn.  I’ll be reading your success stories before you know it!

Now I’ve got to go see “The Hunger Games”–opening night tonight!  Even my husband read it!  See what a print rich environment can do for you?  Get you a hot date!

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