Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Why I'm Teaching My 2nd Baby to Read

When Xander was a baby, a good friend introduced me to the books by Glenn Doman, and therefore, the world of early learning.  From there, I ate up all the information I could find, joined some early learning parents groups and our activities (and the blog) evolved as I learned. (I've also started writing reviews of several of the books I read that you can check out here).
Now with my second baby, I've had some experience and acquired more knowledge about early education.  The question wasn't if I was going to teach him to read, it was when and how I would start!  Every family is different and each parent needs to decide what works for their family.  Here, however, are five reasons I'm going to start teaching my second baby to read.
1.  It Gives Us Something Fun to Do Together:
First of all, I love having meaningful time with my kids.  I love playing with Archer and making him smile.  I adore watching his curiosity and effort to learn to do things.  However, little babies are a bit limited in what they can do, so teaching him to read gives us a set of activities that is fun for both of us.  He is much happier when he is engaged and I'm thrilled to engage with him in ways that will be beneficial.  The time I spent teaching Xander was some of the most memorable bonding time we had.

Furthermore, I am very type A.  I have to feel productive to be happy.  I'm the kind of person that makes myself color coded weekly planner pages and likes to feel like I got a lot done at the end of the day.  Being a mother to an infant is kind of the opposite. So much of the day is spent nursing and rocking him, or doing piles of laundry.  While these things are important, feeling like he and I had some great bonding time that also taught him something valuable, helps keep me feeling like I accomplished more at the end of the day than a stack of dishes.
Sneaking books into his bed instead of sleeping.
2.  It Works
We know from experience that teaching babies to read works.  Since testing takes away from the fun, I wasn't sure at first.  I figured out Xander could read words when he was about 18 months while playing a game, he was reading easy readers by 2 and when he was evaluated in kindergaten, they stopped the evaluation when he reached 5th grade level fluency.  We're not sure where his reading level actually was at the time.    Babies are primed to learn language.  They learn to speak their native language almost effortlessly.  Reading is just another language, arguably an easier one to learn.  When babies learn spoken language, they have to content with accents, varying volumes and inflections and figuring out where one word ends and another begins.  Written language is much more consistent.  (You can see my post about teaching my first baby to read here).
3.  Babies Love Learning and Teaching Them is Easy
Look at any baby and you will see a tiny human who is constantly learning and exploring. Their brains are learning faster than they ever will again in their lives.  The younger they are, the faster they learn.  Teaching Xander took some organization, but less than 10 minutes a day (in addition to reading stories together or letting him watch a DVD).  He loved it.  I literally could not make new materials for him as fast as he wanted to learn them.  Even when he could read, he still loved watching reading lessons on Little Reader or Your Baby Can Read.  I literally had to hide the DVDs.  The other nice thing, is the content is so much more age appropriate when the learn as babies.  Six year olds aren't that impressed with books about the cat that sat on the mat.
4.  I'm Happy With the Results
Gearing up this time is so much easier, knowing the potential outcome.  Xander LOVES to read.  He could easily spend hours a day reading and often does.  He almost always has a book with him in the car, often takes one when we're on errands or when we have to wait in waiting rooms.  He gets so excited about his new books, that when the school book order comes, he pretty much doesn't talk to me for the rest of the night (mixed blessing).  This summer, he received the Heroes of Olympus series and that first afternoon he was pretty upset we made him put down his book to eat lunch.  Since then he's read them all again and again.  I love watching him get excited about acquiring the next book in a series or our trips to the library.  With reports of crazy percentages of kids struggling to read, it is so reassuring to have a who has is proficient.  I know it will help him in every school subject.
5.  Reading Opens Up New Worlds of Knowledge and Creativity
When a child can read independently, they are no longer dependent on an adult to introduce them to stories and ideas (we parents have to get laundry and dishes done sometime, right?).  On their own, they can explore a variety of adventures and information, finding their own interests and preferences.  I try hard to let him read whatever he likes, as long as it doesn't contain inappropriate content.  Sometimes that means he reads graphic novels, sometimes he reads encyclopedias.  Xander's head is full of a crazy amount of random facts from reading.  When he plays with friends or with toys, he has an imense imagination, because he has so many fantasy worlds from which to draw.  His vocabulary is phenomenal for his age, because he was exposed to so new words in his novels.  Sometimes stories have sparked an interest that has driven a lot of non-fiction reading as well (like his current mythology obsession).  Basically, he had YEARS of extra knowledge that he would not have had if he had waited until school to learn to read.

Friday, August 3, 2018

2.5 Month Learning Activities

I thought I'd share what learning activities we're doing with Archer now that he's about two and a half months.  He's still pretty young, so most learning comes from just normal baby life.  We spend a lot of time snuggling, nursing, bouncing, singing songs and reading books.
We're still using the baby gym and crawling track.  Archer LOVES the gym and is getting so much better at reaching for the toys (I usually use the toys I made in this post).  He likes when he can get them swinging or we swing them for him.  I still put books beside him to look at when he gets tired of the toys. Archer tolerates the crawling track.  Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he hates it, a lot of times he gets very frustrated he can't go where he wants to go yet, but I am glad he tries.
During the toddler years, I updated Xander's work shelves weekly.  Since Archer is still so young, I plan on keeping his shelves up for several weeks.
On the left we have a simple rainbow stacker.  He's too little to use it, but we sometimes show him the different colored rings to occupy him.  Oddly, having it out must be tempting, because I'll find that Xander has been playing with it from time to time.  We also have a little car track.  Archer can't actually use it on his own yet, but we push the cars off for him to watch and listen to.  He seems to be interested and I like the eye tracking aspect.  They make an even bigger one, and now I kind of wish I'd purchased that one instead.

On the top right we have some baby paper.  He really seems to like this when he's in his car seat, but it is also nice incentive for him during tummy time.
In the top basket I have a bunch of noise music makers.  I play each one for him, but vary where I play it.  For instance, I play it to the right side of him, or above his head, etc.  That way he has to look around for the sound.  His eye tracking has gotten so much better.  He loves this game and always rewards me with HUGE smiles.
Xander likes to get in on the game too.  

The second basket has various balls in it.  The little ones make different noises and the big ones are easy for him to grab.  I place these next to him when he's lying on the floor so he can try to grab them of move them.  Sometimes I will put them around him while he is in his baby gym.
We recently started having Archer watch Tweedlewink.  A lot of the parents in my Online Early Learning groups swear by them, so we thought we'd invest in them for him.  They definitely follow the Right Brain approach to learning, using whole words and relatively fast display of information.  They cover a huge variety of subjects, but are simple enough so as not to overstimulate tiny brains.  As you can see from the picture below, Archer LOVES them.  Each lesson is about 8 minutes, and we let him watch one a day.  He sits very attentively the whole time, sometimes talking to the TV.   Xander usually insists on watching with him, also.  We will see what we think of them as he grows. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

New School/Playroom

As I've mentioned, we recently moved.  One of the things I absolutely love about the new house, is that it gave us room to have a dedicated school/play room (we gave up having a formal dining room for it). It is where we will do learning shelves with Archer, where we put Xander's desk and where we will leave a big open area for building and playing.  The "work" on the shelves will rotate, as well as the toys stored in here.  I find toys get played with more if I don't have them all in sight at the same time.  The rest of the toys are in the basement. 

The woods don't all match, but I was trying to go with what we already had.  The only furniture I purchased for the room was the white IKEA BESTA shelves on the left that we will use for Archer's "work."
For now, we have the baby gym and crawling track out in the main area.  We have the stimulation cards in the crawling track and it is elevated using a Hilltop (I bought these on super sale intending them for Archer in the future, but Xander plays with them quite a bit too).
The far wall has our old shelving unit with bins for toy storage.  On the open shelves I have a bunch of board books.  The two light colored shelves are IKEA TROFAST shelves we used previously.  The one on the left has mostly sensory bin tools and some empty space I am sure we will fill.  The right one has school supplies, Xander's workbooks and worksheets, some activity books and Archer's stimulation cards.  The top has a white board  I got on clearance from Target a while back.
To the right is Xander's desk.  Although, to be honest, he's getting a bit big for it.  Soon, I'm sure he'll do most of his school work at the kitchen table and Archer will take over the small table.  Next to the desk are our Magna-Tiles (and a bunch of other accessories from other brands).  That tub won't live there always, but we brought it up from the basement since Xander has been using them a lot lately.  The baby gate blocks off the kitchen and stairs, so that the dogs can't get in to the play room and the baby won't be able to get out.
The playroom leads into what Xander calls the "Library."  It is intended to be a formal living room, but we made more of an office/library.  My desk is in there, so that I can use the computer while the boys play (or at least that's the intention once Archer is playing more independently).  It has two sets of IKEA BILLY bookcases, where we still our books like I talked about in this post.  We've had to add a third bookcase to the basement, in addition the books in both of the boys' rooms.  Some women buy designer clothes/bags, I buy books for my kids. Luckily my husband is a nerd too, and encourages the book buying.
I'm sure I'll adapt these rooms as out needs change in the future.  I feel beyond blessed to have the space for the kids where we can focus on playing and learning together.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Xander Update 7.5 Years

I've been doing a lot of updates on Archer lately, and realized I haven't updated about Xander in quite a while.
Xander is seven and a half and just finished second grade (you can read about his transition to kindergarten/first grade here).  He liked school, for the most part, but definitely wasn't challenged enough, even with a special MTSS group he was in.  His teachers were wonderful, but also human and having to deal with a room full of kids.  Honestly, I should have done more to supplement at home, but between having a new class, being pregnant and moving, I dropped the ball.
This summer, we've stepped up our game again.  Here are some of the supplemental things we're doing.

He did a lot of STMath, for which he has a subscription through school.  He also continued to do his Christian Light Education workbooks.  For the summer we bought him a subscription to Elephant Learning.  It claims to advance students 1 year of math.  I'm not sure how accurate the claim is, but Xander really seems to enjoy it.  We have not yet decided if we will continue it during the school year when he has access to STMath again.
Xander LOVES to read.  He will easily spend hours a day doing it (below are pictures of how I typically find him on a summer day).  He always takes a book or two with us when we run errands.  Recently, he has been devouring the Rick Riordan books.  Because he tends to speed read, I purchased some reading comprehension worksheets he does occasionally, just to make sure he's comprehending what he reads.

When he has the patience for it, we also do read-alouds.  Currently, we're working out way through Harry Potter.  We haven't made it that far, because he'd usually rather just read himself.
The media specialist at his school (who is also his MTSS teacher) said that while she has him work with Chromebooks, she is not allowed to teach the kids keyboarding because it is something they do in middle school.  I thought that is a bit ridiculous, since I want him to learn good habits from the beginning.  We got him a one year subscription to Keyboarding Without Tears.
Xander has started piano lessons.  He used to watch a lot of Hoffman Academy videos and we had Teaching Little Fingers to Play books, so his teacher was able to bump him to the second level right away.

I've recently introduced Xander to grid style logic puzzles.  He loves them and is getting better all the time! (We've been using Logic Safari Book 2).  He also has a lot of logic games like Rush Hour and the Laser Maze that he plays.

Games and Movies:
We still try to play a lot of games as a family.  Moving and a new baby have made it hard, but we're getting back into it.  (You can see just a few of the games we play in my Games for Brains series of posts).  My dad plays chess or cards with Xander most weekends.  Xander and my husband have also become a little obsessed with the Perplexus balls.  I'm afraid they're going to want to beat them all!  Xander still watches a lot of his educational DVDs and shows on Netflix.  I'm a big fan of the Disney Imagineering ones and he loves Mathtacular (even though I find them very dull).

Friday, July 20, 2018

Cookie Colosseum

Xander has been reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the Heroes of Olympus series (again and again and again).  He has become a little obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology.  To try to feed this interest, I suggested we try to build a Parthenon out of cookies.  He liked the idea, but decided he'd rather build a Colosseum.

We started out by Googling some pictures of the Colosseum.  I also found an illustration in our Encyclopedia of the Ancient World and dug out our toy Colosseum from his World Landmarks Toob.  We also found a two episode documentary on the Colosseum on Amazon Video that we watched.
We used the Betty Crocker Gingerbread House Frosting recipe as our mortar and wafer cookies are our stones.
I had him start by trimming some down and start figuring out a layout before actually frosting them together. Then it was time to start building!  He ended up cutting the wafers into thirds for supports and then using a whole wafer with the corners trimmed as the top of the arch.
He was pretty proud of his final creation. It was a little wonky looking, but I was impressed with how long it was able to hold his attention.  He is not a kid who loves arts and crafts.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

2 Month Update

Two Months!  It doesn't sound like that long at all, but I still feel like keeping a tiny, helpless human alive that long is an accomplishment.  Babies are hard, but SO worth it!

 We still haven't started any sort of formal early learning plan yet (although, I just ordered some PlayWisely home curriculum and am excited to start).  We just kind of do "learning" activities depending on his mood (although, honestly, at this point, he's learning no matter what he does).

Social/Language Development:

Archer is so much more fun now.  He makes good eye contact and will often light up when he sees me.  He becomes very engaged when I sing him songs, particularly ones that have arm motions (itsy bitsy spider, the elephant song, etc.).   He also really likes it when I sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes to him and point to his body parts along with the song. Sometimes, he likes being read to, but only if I'm very animated.  I also try to narrate or describe a lot of what I'm doing, partially for vocabulary exposure and partially because it is weird to be interacting all day with someone who doesn't speak.

He wants SO badly to talk.  He is getting better at cooing, although, sometimes you can see that he really has to struggle to get the sounds out.  His little brow will furrow and he'll scrunch up til he can do it.  We're working on turn taking, where he'll coo and then we'll respond and so on.

Physical Development:

He still goes in his crawling track, just not as much as he "should."  Spit-up is still an issue.   In general, I'm trying to avoid putting him in baby "holders" all the time.  Unless he's sleeping or we're out and about, I try to either be holding him or have him on the ground.  That way he can move and learn how to use his arms and legs.  I'm definitely not perfect, though!  The bouncer has gotten us through a lot of meals.
He loves looking at his mirror.  It is one of the things I can do to make tummy time more tolerable for him.  Looking at his stimulation cards can also hold his attention for a while.  My friend got him some baby paper, which is awesome.  I put that down next to him to encourage him to use his hands while on his tummy.  He's also got a couple of the Taggies crinkle toys.
 Archer does seem to really enjoy his baby gym.  He's working on being able to hit the toys on purpose (he does it on accident a lot).  

Visual Development:

We use the crawling track and baby gym for this a lot too.  I usually prop some books up for him to look at while he's in there. He really seems to like his book of animals, which surprised me, since I thought it might be a little hard for him to make them out.  I try to do either black and white images or real photos.  Cartoons are just such an abstract concept, that I try to avoid them when I can.

We've also been working on eye tracking.  I use a toy or something in which he is interested, then move it back and forth for him to track.  I also go up and down.  He is getting so much smoother and rarely goes cross-eyed anymore!

I've noticed that when we do these kinds of focused activities, Archer is so much more content.  Maybe he gets bored if he doesn't have enough stimulation?  Regardless, we're having a blast watching him learn and develop!  

I'd love to hear what activities your babies have enjoyed at this age.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Archer Update - 6 Weeks

Baby Boy is now 6 weeks!  Crazy how it seems like he's been in our lives forever, even though it hasn't been that long.  

We've mostly spent these weeks snuggling and loving on him.  We sing songs, read stories and chat with him.  Unfortunately, he's not a very good sleeper and spits up more than any baby I've ever known, which makes tummy time particularly difficult.  Usually he ends up with spit up in his eyes and nose when we try tummy time.  We're still doing what we can, but not nearly as much as I could with big brother.
He does like playing with toys while lying on his back.  He particularly likes toys he can try to grab (like his Skwish and Winkle  I really want the elephant version of the Winkle, but can't justify it when we already have one :P).
Whenever we do get him on his tummy, we try to have nice high contrast things to look at.  I also make an effort to get done on the ground with him and encourage every time he lifts his head.
This week he has gotten VERY interested in his mirror.  Sometimes we can get him interested in the bathroom mirrors, but he can't get as close to those.
We have also been using toys to try to practice eye tracking.  We wiggle a toy in front of him and then try to get him to follow it with his eyes.  Sometimes he does great, sometimes he's too busy sucking on his fist.

I'm loving watching him learn and grow!  Can't wait til he can interact a bit more (and maybe spit up less and sleep more).

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