Sunday, June 30, 2013

Builder Boy and Mama's Snap Circuit Adventure, Part 2

Hey, remember how in December I was going to blog about teaching electricity to a 1st grader and using Snap Circuits? Yeah, I didn't remember either. Because around Christmas time is when the "morning" sickness hit full force and I was hovering over a bowl for the entire month... and the month after that....and then we moved to another state....I was on virtual bed rest for two months...and the Snap Circuits didn't get unpacked. But today another homeschooling mom was asking about teaching electricity and using Snap Circuits with her young son and I remembered that I had a list of resources I could share and if I'd had it in a blog post instead of random links all over the place it would have been easier. So I'm posting it now, even though it's been a while since we actually did anything with it.

Back in December I found this wonderful book Switch On, Switch Off at our local library. It explained electricity in a simple enough way that my 6 year old could understand, yet had things in it that I had never learned before. It was a great introduction to the subject and Builder Boy liked it so much that we read it together many times before returning it. I highly recommend it.

Once we'd been introduced to the topic we tried out some sites that I can't remember how I found. Here are the links:

These are all games that teach about electricity in the home, where it comes from, and electricity safety. The top three are UK sites, so there is some British terminology that might need to be explained to your kids.

Since we've moved the boys have also watched a great Magic School Bus episode on electrical circuits and a Bill Nye episode on electricity. The Magic School Bus episode is "Get Charged." The one we watched on youtube disappeared, but I found another channel hosting it. The Magic School Bus episode "Gets Energized" is a great one to watch afterwards. It explores sources of energy generation, like gravity and water wheels.

I haven't read The Magic School Bus And The Electric Field Trip, but after looking at the preview on Amazon, I really want to now.

For some more ideas, check out: How to Teach Young Children About the Simple Electrical Circuit at I also started a Pinterest board on Electricity, but I don't have many pins yet.

I don't get paid for reviews; I do get a small percentage if you purchase something on after clicking on one of my links.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What 32 Weeks Means to Me

Today I am officially at week 32 of my pregnancy. This milestone means a lot to me because it was at 32 weeks exactly with my last pregnancy that I collapsed with severe preeclampsia and had to go to the hospital and have an emergency c-section. That means every day after today is "breaking" the record of my last pregnancy.
First time we got to hold Early Bird (a week after he was born)

When Early Bird was in the NICU, even before he came home, I struggled with the question of whether or not we would have another baby. We had planned on more, we wanted a medium sized family (in our view that was 3 or 4 kids.) But I had just had emergency c-sections twice now, and this one was premature. Should we really risk it again?

That choice is individual and personal for every couple to consider for themselves. For us it took three and a half years of talking with each other, thinking, and praying about it. For a long time we didn't feel like we had the spiritual "go ahead" signal. And then, we did. I had intended seeing a OB for a consultation before starting to try to get pregnant for a third time, but that didn't end up happening.

I could still end up with a premature baby. We're not out of the woods yet. This time around I made sure I am being watched by a High Risk OB and I'm monitoring myself very carefully. But every day after today I'm going to feel just a little bit easier.

Friday, June 28, 2013

LTR 2 RTL Part 2: Our Home Library and Guided Reading Levels

Our home library. Before we moved I had three full bookshelves in the master bedroom, two half-sized bookshelves in the boys' room (one held toys,) and shelves downstairs for homeschooling books. None of the full bookshelves survived the trip in the moving van. Two completely fell apart (they were the put together yourself sets from Walmart) and the third split in half with one half okay and the other in pieces. Of the three half-sized bookshelves we had, two survived mostly intact, one fell apart. (And when I say "fell apart" I mean there's no putting these things back together.) And because of the move, we're broke until the next tax return next year, so no replacement shelves for almost a year. (I'm not buying cheep this time around!) With 1/3 the book holding capacity that we used to have, that means all of "my" books are staying in boxes. The homeschooling books are in an armoire in the play room and the kids' books are the only ones who get any shelf space. Because I've been so sick, there are still a LOT of unpacked boxes hanging around. And some of them must be unlabeled holding kid books, because I know I have to have more than what's on the shelves now (and what's in the boys' room bedtime reading basket and in Builder Boy's bed. Yup, you read that right, my 6 year old insists on sleeping with his nine Magic School Bus books.)
Builder Boy's Bed of Books

Thursday I sat down in front of my home library to label the books with their Guided Reading Level. I got this idea from Jen at and her "Learning to Read' to 'Reading to Learn" suggestions. However, my past super pickiness when it comes to purchasing books and the fact that I'm still missing some boxes of books means that I didn't have many books on the list I was suppose to be working from. So instead of taking a book off the shelf and looking it up on the alphabetical list, I scanned the 1st and 2nd grade lists by level and when I saw the title of a book I knew I had I pulled it off the shelf and labeled it. That may not work for most people, and certainly not for someone who has more common books than I do, but it worked for me. I don't have enough books that I felt I needed to Organize My Home Library like Jen suggests; but when I acquire more books and my kids get older, I probably will. For now, what I have works for me. I do love her idea of having a "return" basket so the books are returned to their proper place and as a way to keep track of what your child is reading independently. Trouble is, my kids don't read independently. Yet. That's one of the things we're going to be working on. And now that I have at least a few books labeled with their levels, I can more confidently say to Builder Boy "I know you can read this all on your own; I really want you to try."

I was hoping that I could use the Guided Reading Levels books to further assess Builder Boy's reading level, but labeling the books left me somewhat skeptical. So far the various assessments I have used seems to place Builder Boy at a late 2nd grade/beginning 3rd grade level. But looking at the levels they placed some of the books we have, the list seems to have a higher expectation of 1st and 2nd graders than the other assessments I was using. Part of this is probably because I am very strict about phonics only because of my sight word phobia. But when I put several books next to each other that were labeled with the same level, I was even more skeptical.

Is Hop on Pop really the same level as a Franklin book? Early Bird could read Hop on Pop....eons ago! (Okay, maybe just a year or so ago.) Does that mean he can also read a whole Franklin book? He read half of Franklin's Halloween to me the other night, but there were still words in there he didn't know. Hop on Pop is all decodable phonics with short sentences, big type, and only two sentences at the most on a page. Franklin books are much smaller print with paragraphs on every other page, and a lot of more advanced/complex words. (These are level J, beginning of 2nd grade)

Then I saw that Doctor De Soto and the Magic Tree House books were considered the same level (level M, 2.75) and I really couldn't believe it! That little picture book was the same level as a chapter book? But when I sat down with Builder Boy and read it I remembered that there are a lot of technical terms in that book. That made a bit more sense, and then I wondered if the average 2nd grader really could read it on their own.

Builder Boy is currently very close to loosing a tooth, and this has made him extra emotional and getting him to read a "whole" one of these books to assess his Guided Reading Level has not happened. It's made me realize that while he has a good reading vocabulary, his fluency, expression, and stamina have been neglected. I haven't encouraged independent reading before now because I wanted to make sure he was reading all the words right and wasn't skipping. But I need to step back and encourage him to start reading on his own or I'm going to inhibit him and keep him from developing confidence in his abilities. In that sense, this assessment has probably taught me more about myself and my parenting/teaching than it has about what Builder Boy is capable of. Most of all, it's giving me a good idea of some gaps and what I need to work on.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Learning to Read" to "Reading to Learn" Part 1: Assessments

So, on my way to figuring out how I'm going to help Builder Boy make the transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn," (hereto after shortened to "LTR 2 RTL") I realized I should probably start with knowing where exactly he is now. But how?

Reading Eggs has a Parent's Dashboard where parents can keep track of what their kids are doing on the program and where developmentally the program thinks your kid is. The problem for me, however, is that the Reading Eggs levels only go up to what they consider to be "age 7." That doesn't give me a grade level, and I already know that these levels were nothing new for Builder Boy.

Looking to my curriculum isn't much help either. We use The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and supplement with Hooked on Phonics. Unfortunately, OPGTR doesn't come with grade levels labeled, even though it is described as a complete K-4 curriculum. I did a match up of the two, using HOP to decide where grade levels in OPGTR is, but HOP only goes through 2nd grade. And both kids finished those 6 months ago. (Interestingly, those HOP levels cover pretty much the same stuff as Reading Eggs, which puts Reading Eggs at a K-2 level as well.)

A few weeks ago or so I was reading something on The Well Trained Mind Forum and saw a link to the San Diego Quick Reading Assessment. It gives you a list of ten words per grade level and has kids read them. If they get 9/10, they "pass" that level of reading. Personally, that seems a bit....incomplete for a reading "assessment," not to mention that it seems to be mainly sight words since they have "play, see, look, here" on the pre-school level! Out of curiosity I showed it to the boys (independent of each other) and they both passed the 2nd grade level, but not the 3rd (which had words like "frightened" and "exclaimed.")

At the beginning of our "school year" I purchased 3-Minute Reading Assessments: Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension: Grades 1-4 at the referral of Jen at Teaching My Baby to Read. This book of assessments is MUCH more thorough than the Sand Diego Quick Assessment. It is intended for classroom use, but as it's one-on-one it works just fine for a homeschool setting (assuming you can get your other kids to leave you and the one child alone for 5 minutes.) It has four different reading passages per grade level, so you're always testing them on something they haven't read before. There are clear directions on what to listen for, how to conduct the assessment, and scoring charts and record keeping devices that are very nice. The pages don't tear out, so it's a bit of a pain to scan in the pages perfectly straight, but the book isn't all that thick, so as long as you don't have a problem with breaking the bindings on books like this, you're fine. They recommend that you give the assessment at different times throughout the school year so you can track improvement and spot areas that need working on. I gave this test to Builder Boy at the beginning of the "school year" and then with the move and being sick from being pregnant forgot about it until last week. I gave a 1st grade assessment to each of the boys (again, individually) since tecniclly we're still "1st grade" and they both passed on word recognition accuracy and reading fluency-automaticity, but I forgot to rate their expression or test their comprehension. Since they did so well I gave Builder Boy a 2nd grade assessment informally. I just had him read the passage to me out of the book without me keeping track of every mistake and he did very well on that as well. (Early Bird got distracted by something and didn't want to go on when it was his turn.) I will probably next Monday give him another of the 2nd grade assessment tests formally, and try to make sure I rate his expression and comprehension as well.

Since I'm trying to follow the steps (just maybe not in order) that Jen lays out in her "LTR 2 RTL" blog post, as part of assessment I also need to figure out Builder Boy's Guided Reading Level. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Going From Reading Eggs to Reading Eggspress

Builder Boy has been racing ahead in Reading Eggs with the intent of finishing the maps and starting the Reading Eggspress level. Because everything in the Reading Eggs lessons have been review for him, I've been letting him go ahead with two lessons a day. Today he finished the last two lessons on the very last map. He was so proud of himself! He went right into Reading Eggspress with all the eager anticipation of an explorer and braved the assessment test, even though he did not like getting answers wrong. Thankfully we tried the spelling assessment test last week on the Reading Eggs level. This was his first time with an assessment test that he didn't know all the answers to. He cried and got very upset. (Probably my fault for not introducing him to something like this before now.) I calmed him down and explained that it was okay that he didn't know the answer because it was something he hadn't learned yet, and getting it wrong taught the computer what he didn't know yet so it could teach him. Knowing his response to the last assessment test helped me better prepare Builder Boy for the Reading Eggspress comprehension assessment test, and this time he didn't cry when he got the answers wrong.

It placed him at the beginning, which was just fine with me. Eager to get started, Builder Boy chose a book titled "Trains." Right away it started asking him questions about what he thought the book would be about, giving him several different options. I am not sure if he was reading all the options, or if he didn't understand the question, but right away we had a problem. This was a BIG difference from Reading Eggs, and seems like a really big leap! There is no easing into it, no in between steps or teaching how. This was discouraging for Builder Boy, and right now, for this week, we're going to go back to Reading Eggs and work on the spelling lessons that we didn't figure out until last week and he will finish the storyland paths.

I will also be reading up on Jen Bardsly's "From 'Learning to Read' to 'Reading to Learn'" suggestions at and will blog about implementing them and how they work out for us.

I'm really not sure what I'm going to do with Early Bird and Reading Eggs now. He's been working hard to catch up with Builder Boy on the maps, and will finish the last lesson by the end of the week. Though they have the same reading vocabulary level, I don't think Early Bird is mature enough for the "Learning to Read to Reading to Learn" developmental leap. I'm really glad I got those codes so that we could figure this all out before we have to start paying for it....

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When A Flower Blooms

When A Flower Blooms

By Winter Jorgenson

My hands were full of dishes and soap when I turned to see her crawling towards me grinning from ear to ear.  I reached for the camera, precariously held it while I looked through the view finder and, in horror, watched as it slipped from my hand, fell and bounced on the floor.  I didn’t pause.  I didn’t put the dishes down or wipe my slick hands because my beautiful baby was still crawling towards me.   I picked the camera up, snapped the picture and dropped it a second time.  This time it broke.  In the aftermath, I grieved not for the camera but for all the moments that would be lost from memory because I could not possibly record them all.  I wanted to celebrate each moment over and over again.

In those early days of motherhood, I openly shared and celebrated my child and all her milestones.  Unfortunately, snarky comments quieted my sharing.  An acquaintance asked “Did she really say that?” when I shared about a precocious witty comment my little girl made.  Another time a parent snapped at me, “Have you had her tested yet?  She could have Aspergers.”  With the exception of a small group of family and friends, I do not discuss my everyday experiences with many people anymore.  The omission seems dishonest and I believe my children, all children, deserve better from their parents and community.

I believe all children deserve be celebrated.

We celebrate to give thanks, to show support, to welcome someone home or into the family, to show someone that they are valued and loved, to build community, to uphold a tradition, to acknowledge effort or an accomplishment.  Our celebrations can range from extravagant events, to simple words, to quietly inhaling the moment.  When we celebrate a child, we tell him that we are thankful for him, that he is welcomed in the community, that he is valued.  Likewise, when we only celebrate some children and refuse to celebrate others, we are saying that “only some children are welcomed here, only some children are valued, only some children deserve community support.”

It is easy to preach “celebrate every child” but it is difficult to practice, even within a loving family.  When my eldest started reading, I took her to the local coffee shop and we celebrated with a mommy/daughter date.  I waited to tell people outside of our small circle of friends until I was certain other children were reading.  I did not mention that my two year old son had started reading before my four year old.  I did not celebrate his milestone.  Instead, I hid it from everyone including his sister because I feared his intuitive grasp of how to read would undermine her accomplishment.  In doing so, I missed an opportunity to support him for the child he is and to teach him not to hide his abilities.  I also missed an opportunity to teach my daughter to be gracious about others’ accomplishments and that her worth is not dependent upon comparisons or being first.

I missed something else as well.  I remember the reading coffee date with my daughter.  She remembers it.  We have pictures of the event that we can look at fondly for years and years.  In contrast, my memory of my son’s first reading is blurry and loaded with mixed emotions.  If I had chosen to celebrate, then we would have a fond memory for him as well.  Growing up is hard.  Parenting is hard.  It is easy to remember the timeouts and the tantrums because those raw moments demand our full attention and push our limits.  It is more difficult to remember quieter times, small moments of growth and subtle changes.  If we stop to celebrate them, we create maps of positive memories to look back on, maps that will define our time together when we are all older.

I have an iPhone now that I have dropped many times trying to photograph a moment with my children.  Thankfully, the phone seems unbreakable.  Out the window, I can see the kids smelling flowers through slanted sunlight.  It’s a sight worth remembering.  From spring until fall, different plants will flower and the kids will press their noses into them all not caring if a flower is an early or late bloomer.  They do this because that is what you do when a flower blooms.  You take a moment and celebrate.

Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour 2013: Day 7

Today is the last day of the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour 2013!

Check out the contributions at Homeschooling Hatters about “Just Let Him Be a Kid,” and the last post is a guest post here at Sceleratus Classical Academy titled “When a Flower Blooms.”

I hope you enjoyed the blog tour this year! If you're interested in contributing next year, keep an eye out for an announcement next May in the Accelerated Learner's Board at the Well Trained Mind Forum, or contact Jennifer Bardsley at Teaching My Baby to Read.

Special thanks to Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well Trained Mind and sponsor of the Well Trained Mind Forum.
Special thanks also to Jennifer Bardsley at Teaching My Baby to Read for coming up with the idea of and arranging the blog tour for two years in a row now!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour 2013: Day 2

Today is the second day of the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour 2013!

Check out the contributions at Only Passionate Curiosity about “Maturity vs. Ability; It’s a Big Deal,” and at Childhood Inspired about “Nurturing Other Aspects of Giftedness Besides Academics”.

This blog tour will be going on for a week so check it out!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Red is Bad!

My first pregnancy ended in HELLPS preeclampsia. I didn't have any of the outward, obvious symptoms of preeclampsia. I was overdue by two weeks, in the hospital with contractions but not progressing for 12 hours. They were going to send me home when the bloodwork came back: your liver is failing, you and the baby could both die if we don't get him out now; emergency c-section less than 10 minutes later.

My second pregnancy I collapsed after dinner at my in-laws house (who are retired EMTs) with high blood pressure. This time with a history of preeclampsia I went in to the hospital. Overnight, my blood pressure remained high (I don't remember the top number, but my bottom number never went below 100 and that was lying down for hours.) In the morning they transferred me to another hospital that specialized in premature babies. My oxygen saturation levels started dropping rapidly, there were concerns of fluid in my lungs and further complications if we waited, so another emergency c-section a short time later and I had a premature baby who only weighted 3lb 1 oz.

This time when we found out I was pregnant we immediately purchased a computerized/automatic blood pressure cuff. (Maybe $40 at CVS.) I was unhappy with the way my OB with my second pregnancy had not monitored me seriously (I was in her office the day before I collapsed with high blood pressure) and had dismissed my concerns (I tried to tell her I thought I was swelling at that appointment!) So I was determined that this time around I was going to get a doctor who dealt with high risk pregnancies and I was going to keep myself well monitored with the blood pressure cuff.

The blood pressure cuff I got comes with a green to yellow to red indicator to let you know how your blood pressure rates. Green is good, red is bad. They have two levels of green, one of yellow, and three of red. So when the night before last I couldn't sleep because of horrible spiking pain, vomiting, urge to "push," and blood pressure in the second level of red, I got really worried. When it didn't go away, and I kept vomiting and being in horrible pain and my blood pressure stayed in that red zone, I went in to Labor and Delivery after talking with the on call doctor. We didn't get there until after this had been going on for 8 hours so by the time I was hooked up to the monitors, the contractions/pain spikes were done, and my blood pressure was, I don't know what it was, but the nurse and doctor weren't concerned by it. Turns out I was really dehydrated, which brought on the pain and problems I was having. They hydrated me with an IV and sent me home.

Before we left, I showed my doctor the readings I'd had at home (I took my blood pressure about 5 times throughout the night) and he said that the top number wasn't high enough to be considered preeclampsia. I was too out of it to think to ask what was high enough to get worried about. After all, my blood pressure cuff said I was in the red zone! According to WebMD, the top number of 160 or a bottom number of 110 is the real RED ZONE. My highest reading for the night was "only" 132/102, so I wasn't there. That would have been nice to know before this all happened, but now that I know I'm going to ignore the colors on my cuff unless it's at the top red zone.

But I would like to share something sweet that did come out of all of this. I was holding it together just fine emotionally until we got into the L&D room and I was supposed to put on the gown. Then I lost it and became a crying, blubbering mess. My husband tried to comfort me, but I just needed to let it out. But that really upset the boys, especially Builder Boy, who looked like he was about to cry, too (we're new to the area and don't know anyone who could babysit, which is why the boys were at the hospital with us.) Once I made it in the gown and on the bed he took my hand and all on his own prayed for me and after that I didn't have any contractions and my pain level never went back to above a 4 (it had been spiking at a 7 before then.) It was such a beautiful comfort to see my child turn to God when he knew I was in need of help that he (Builder Boy) could not give me. A little while later Early Bird followed his example and did the same thing. 

I am so grateful for all the family, friends, and church members who got the message out and were praying for us. We felt those prayers, and every one of them was answered in the way we wanted them to be. Here's hoping for no more drama or worries until August 20th, the date of my scheduled c-section. Only 2 months and 6 days away!

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

All parents at some time, at least once, have quietly compared their child to another. Whether it's a baby "milestone" chart or another kid in the park or our best friend's child who's the same age as ours, it happens. In some cases it can even be a good thing. Milestone charts can give us a good idea of what we should be working on with our kids. Kids at the park can give us an idea of if our child is learning the proper societal norms and behaviors. Our best friend's kid can sometimes give us a clue if something is "wrong" with ours. But comparisons can also lead to a lot of problems for parents. And I think it's even worse for parents of gifted children.

I'm not talking about other people comparing their children to recognized gifted kids. I think we all are aware of the disaster that is. I'm talking about how impossible it is for parents of gifted children to compare them to anyone else. After all, depending on your definition of gifted, that's really only 5% of the population-or less. Given the wide differences in abilities between Gifted, Highly Gifted, Phenomenally Gifted, etc. You'd have to reduce it down even further. And what about the Twice Exceptional kids or the ones with a learning disability or those on the Autism or Asperger's spectrum? What about the kids who are gifted in one subject more than another? Or interested in something completely unthought of? What age are you going to compare your gifted kid to? Gifted kids his own age, average kids of an older age? When it comes to atypical, un-average kids, there really isn't anyone enough like your child to compare to. Which can be scary because that means there's no scale or measure to determine if you're doing a good enough job parenting (and especially homeschooling) your child. We have to figure that out all on our own, and individually for each child if you have more than one gifted child.

When you look at the it that way, it may seem obvious. But if you're the parent of a young, early learner, it's not so obvious at first. And I'm speaking from personal experience. I admit, I did a lot of comparing my oldest with other kids. Especially my best friend's daughter, who was four months older than my son. Baby milestones, when did they first crawl, walk, talk, talk clearly; I was completely guilty of it. And it didn't help that I was comparing a baby boy to a baby girl, even knowing that baby boys and girls develop much differently. But I was an insecure parent (aren't we all a little bit at one time or another?) and I didn't have any other experience to base whether or not I was doing a good enough job parenting my child. The fact that my little boy was not nearly as verbal as her little girl did not help.

When Early Bird came around I was then comparing his milestones to his brother's, adjusted for gestational age for the first two years since he was born premature. But when he started reading six weeks before he turned 3, I gave up on comparing him to what his older brother's records were. When two months later he was reading at the same level as his 5 year old brother, I started trying to compare Early Bird with where his brother was then. That didn't work out so well either. Because there is a lot more to development than reading, and treating a 3 year old like a 5 year old, even if he is advanced in several areas, is not the best move. I ended up frustrated at times because I was forgetting that 3 year olds act like 3 year olds sometimes; and sometimes like 2 year olds. Eventually I gave up/broke the habit of trying to figure out where this child "should be" developmentally and just tried to meet him where he was. I'm not sure how well I've done with that because he's 4 years old now and I'm still struggling to figure out where he "should be." Am I missing gaps in his education? Am I babying him too much emotionally? Am I challenging him enough? I have no idea, no standard, no guide. He's happy; I know that much at least.

This lesson took more time for my husband to learn though. Even with Early Bird doing things way before other kids his age, he still wanted to make sure we weren't forgetting anything. And he was looking for a guide for that, something to measure Early Bird's progress against. My "ah ha!" moment came when I told my husband "there isn't anyone to compare him to!"

Since our discovery last year that Early Bird is an early learner, I've had the opportunity (thanks to the Accelerated Learner Board at Well Trained Mind) to come across other parents who are making the same discoveries about their children that I was. When they ask what my #1 piece of advice is, (after Calm Down and Breathe) it is that comparisons are useless and will make your life miserable.

I am currently pregnant with my third child. I'm going to have a chance to really put what I've said into practice. There will be temptations; I'll have two other babyhoods to compare hers to, and my sister just had a baby girl a month ago, so we'll have two baby girls just 3 months apart. Whether she turns out to be gifted, average, or challenged, I hope I have learned well enough what Early Bird has taught me: to just enjoy my child for who they are, to work with them at their speed, and to not worry about what everyone else's kids are doing.

This is my contribution for the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour 2013. I'll post links to the next blog posts on the tour on their days, or you can click here for the original announcement and links to the participating blogs. I had a wonderful time reading the contributions last year, and I'm looking forward to this year's.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Had a trip to Labor and Delivery this morning. Thankfully it was a false alarm, if a very painful and scary false alarm. I'll write more about it when I'm feeling better, but I would appreciate prayers. And I want to say how thankful I am, both for my wonderful husband and for my children's examples of faith today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My friend who got us started with Reading Eggs over at We're All Mad Here wrote a Reading Eggs review, too! Since she uses it as primary instruction and the whole-words memorization works really well for her son, I thought it would be interesting for people to see another side of the program. Check it out!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The baby is NOT in my stomach....

So, my kids are only 6 and 4 years old. As we don't live on a farm, they haven't had the "birds and bees" talk yet. There's been some expansion of their education of the female body since I've become pregnant, but I've kept it rather vague. I've been very clear that the baby is not in my stomach, but in my womb, a "special place that only mommies have." Builder Boy hasn't asked how the baby got in my "special place;" we've read to them God Gave Us You and I'm thinking he thinks that God put the baby there; and right now, I'm okay with that. (Yes, I am running away from the inevitable conversation we're going to have to have....)

Early Bird, on the other hand, has his own conclusions. A month or so ago he was talking to me about "Squishy" when I was resting and we were talking about her growing and getting bigger. He told me he thought she got into me through my mouth and down my esophogus and into my stomach (he knows about the digestive system thanks to Magic School Bus.) I told him no, that's not how she got inside me and he said "then where's the beginning?"

I admit it: I panicked. I probably looked like a deer caught in the headlights. I was NOT prepared to explain to my 4 year old the "beginning." I ummed, and hawed, and gave a general "down there" with a wave. Not satisfied with that he examined my exposed tummy and asked if she got in through my belly button. I realized he was NOT going to let this drop, so I told him she got into me down in my underwear area. I forget his exact, very funny words, but the gist was he thought that was a weird answer and I don't think he really believed me, because since then he's said repeatedly that when she was big enough I am going to burp her out of my mouth.

It probably doesn't help that when I was going through my crazy cravings I was saying things like "the baby doesn't like ______" or "the baby really wants ______."

I searched online for some sort of picture that showed the stomach and the uterus in the same picture, but all the pictures I found were either of the digestive system or the reproductive system, not both. I asked around and someone wonderful was able to direct me to a short clip that illustrates the uterus with the baby expanding and pushing aside the other internal organs including the stomach! (THANK YOU Museum of Science and Industry!) It even shows how food goes from the mother's mouth through her system and into the placenta-umbilical cord-baby. I showed it to the boys tonight and I think Early Bird finally believes me.

Since Early Bird was focused on how the baby was going to come out (which I am much more comfortable talking about than how she got in) I explained briefly how most babies came out, but I also told them about how there were complications with their births (I have mentioned that to them before) and that the doctor had to cut them out. I showed them my incision scar and after thinking about it for a minute, Builder Boy declared that they came out "the shortcut way!"

Oh, and here's a picture of Squishy from the ultrasound two months ago. :)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reading Eggs Review: Starting Up and a Walk Though Lesson 88

10 days ago I signed the boys up for a free trial of I had heard of it mentioned before on homeschooling blogs, forums, and sites, and heard other parents mention it. I knew you had to pay for it, and since we had already paid $35 for a year's subscription to, I wasn't looking for something else to buy. Early Bird was perfectly content with MoreStarfall, even though he wasn't learning anything new reading wise (it only goes through a 1st grade level, but it stops teaching after the basics) and I wasn't really sure how much he was getting out of the math games he played.

It's the past six months of this pregnancy a lot of schoolwork has gotten dropped; more than I'd like to admit. That has slowed the kids' reading progress down, though they keep picking things up. Then two weeks ago a friend posted a screenshot of one of her son's Reading Eggs lessons, and I was impressed because not only did it have much higher level words than I had ever seen on Starfall, but it had her kid matching the words to picture, working on understanding what the word meant and not just the ability to be able to read it. So I messaged her for a link and she had Reading Eggs send me an e-mail with a 14 day free trial (you can get the free trial on your own, but by doing it through her she got to "earn" a few more free weeks herself.) She also sent me some codes she had found around the internet that got me to 70 days free before I'm going to have to decided to pay or not. (I'll post those codes at the bottom of the post.)

I don't like starting the kids on something that I don't know if I'm going to want them to continue. What if they get super excited about it, but I'm really unhappy with it, and then it has to go away? I know disappointments are a part of life, but that's not a situation I put my kids in if I can at all help it. So I'm going to write a review (actually, I'm going to write several since there are a lot of parts to this website) that is the kind of review I would have liked to see before signing up.

I started the process with Early Bird. It was a simple sign up and did not require a credit card number to get the free trial. It offered to let Early Bird start at the beginning (which I'm assuming is learning letters and sounds) or if I wanted to I could let him take a placement test. Early Bird has never done anything like that before, but I let him try. The multiple choice test that says the question progressively got harder as he went along. At any time once you got three questions wrong the test would stop and it would place you accordingly. Early Bird made it through all 40 questions, getting only one wrong and needing me to re-phrase the question (we've never used the term "word family" before) three times. Out of 120 lessons that placed him at lesson 71. (Builder Boy took the test later, missed two, and it put him on the same lesson, so I'm assuming that's the ceiling level for the test.) There is a picture map for every ten lessons. Lesson 71 was the first lesson on Map 8. At the end of the path on each map there is a 15 question quiz that goes over what was covered in that map. You must get (I think) 11 correct to move on to the next map. Because they tested ahead on the path, all the other lessons and maps that came before 71 were unlocked, but your child has to finish a lesson before continuing on.

Each lesson is made up of several smaller parts that are interactive instructions or practice type games. Each part has to be completed with a certain level of accuracy (I really like that condition) before the next part of the lesson can be unlocked, but you can go back and play/work on anything that you have unlocked. The below is Early Bird working through Lesson 88 (the last lesson he did today.)

Part 1

Part 1 of Lesson 88 introduced the "th" blend. First it had him just click on "th" as it said the sound. Then it had him select the "th" out of three blend options. Then it had him take turns clicking on Shelley Shark and then Charlie Chimp to push the two parts of the word together to make a word. It did that with several 'th-' words. When Builder Boy did this lesson a few days ago (he's going a bit faster than Early Bird, for reasons I'll mention in another Reading Eggs review) he was annoyed about how many times he had to click on both of them to make them come together. But for a new reader, I can see how that's an important step.

Part 2

Part 2 of Lesson 88 is a simple matching the word to the picture game. Once they have done it correctly the words are taken back and mix them up and the kids do it two more times so they are putting the words up because they know it, not just because they guessed right. Kids are not expected to be able to read these words (I think?) When the mouse is over the word it does say it out loud for the kid.

If my kids were not already able to read these words, I would have a problem with this. I am very strict about systematic phonic instruction and have a fear of just memorizing words as "sight words. Now knowing that they introduce words this way long before the kids know the "rules" for why these words are pronounced the way they are, I would not use Reading Eggs as my main means of instruction, and I am glad I did not put my kids on Reading Eggs before they were already reading these words on their own. But I know that not all parents are as ridged about this as I am. (Jen over at Teaching My Baby to Read wrote a great blog post about it if you'd like to read more about why people think the mixed approach that Reading Eggs is using works well.)

Part 3

Part 3 of Lesson 88 had Early Bird read a word and then decide which letter blend lane the word belongs in. Early Bird had a hard time with this game the first time because he clicked on the sign above the lane instead of the lane with the pins, so sometimes it went wrong; and if you get too many wrong, you have to re-do it. So, being only 4 years old, he insists he needs help on this one, even though all I do is remind him to click on the pins.

This game is an example of why I decided that even though the test didn't get the full extent of the boys' reading abilities, I'm glad it placed them where it did. When they first stated playing the Reading Egg lesson games, the instructions were a short description at the beginning, and that's it. They assume that you've gone through all the maps to get to this point and that this is not the first time you're doing them, so you should know what to do. The first day they boys played Reading Eggs I sat with them and helped them figure out what they were suppose to do. There are a lot of different practice formats and there was at least one that took me a long time to figure out what exactly they were looking for. But ten days in the kids have got it all figured out, mostly.

Part 4

Part 4 of Lesson 88 did not impress me. Early Bird was given a word that I knew he could read, but Reading Eggs had no reason to think he could. They told him what it was, then had him pick it out of a group with two other words that, again, I knew he could read, but they had no reason to think he could. 16 different times with different, all complex, big words around "his" word. I'm not going to write anything more about this because I don't want to come off like a ranting psycho-mom, but there is no way this is the way I would chose to teach reading to a child.

Part 5

Part 5 of Lesson 88 once again had kids working with words that they had not been taught the "rules" for. In this practice game they were given a word one at a time and were suppose to match it to the available words. It did not expect kids to be able to read them; when you hovered over a word it said it for you. That was the extent of the "teaching" in this part of the lesson.

Part 6

Part 6 of Lesson 88 has an activity that I can't quiet make up my mind about. It starts with a book that they have read/had read to them at the end of a recent lesson before this. The lower maps/lessons have books with less options of words to choose from. As the kids have only heard/read this book once before, they seem to expect them to remember a lot, or else be able to infer a lot. This is one of the lessons/games that I get called over to help with the most. I had really hoped that the boys could use Reading Eggs completely on their own; maybe after another ten days they won't "need" me anymore.

Part 7

Part 7 of Lesson 88 I really like. It's a gentle way to introduce dictation, which is something that the boys are going to be encountering in later levels of our planned writing curriculum, but isn't something they have done before. The words (sometimes they're owls on a fence, I've also see them as bricks in a wall) start up and in the correct order. The game slowly reads the words, highlighting each word as it's being read. It then asks the kid to read the words as it slowly highlights them. Then they scramble the words and take them down and ask the child to put the words back in the correct order. Here is where the kids really needed to pay attention because it expects you to remember the correct order. Like many of the other games/lesson in Reading Eggs, and unlike the games in Starfall, there is no repeat/say again button for the kids to press. So if they weren't paying attention, they're going to have a more difficult time. I think this has been good for the boys, and over the past ten days they have gotten better at this game. They are given several sentences, one after another, and some of the sentences are longer than the one pictured.

Part 8
Part 8 of Lesson 88 tests kids' words per minute speed (actually, it's words per two minutes.) Here they only use words that have had the phonetic rules explained and practiced before. They also use a limited number of words, repeating words and changing around the picture placements as you go along. Nether of my boys had any timed reading or speed pressure put on them before, but they do very well. Sometimes Early Bird panics if he can't find the picture right away and insists he needs help, but he does fine. I like that once again they are connecting the words that they are reading to a picture of it, improving comprehension.  

On a previous lesson I had noticed that they had the word "peg" and the picture they matched it to was of a wooden clothes pin. I was confused by that, but I explained that that was the picture they were looking for, and after a few reminders the kids correctly select that picture for the word "peg" from then on. On this lesson they had the word "chips" but the picture they wanted was a picture of what we in America know as "french fries." Thankfully I am a Doctor Who fan, so I had an idea of where that came from. I looked it up and apparently Reading Eggs was originally created in Australia, which explains the chips/french fries and their British accent option. This is only the second time in twenty lessons I have encountered a British/Australian/American discrepancy that had to be explained to the boys, though I don't watch every lesson.

Part 9

Part 9 of Lesson 88 was the last part of the lesson. Lessons in Map 8 (where we started) tended to have shorter lesson parts, but more of them. Lessons from Map 9 and 10 seem to have fewer lesson parts, but they take longer. All lessons end with a book. You can choose to turn the audio off, or have it "read" it to you.

Egg Hatching
Along the path for each lesson is an unhatched egg. Once the child has completed the whole lesson there is a short animation of a creature hatching from the egg . When you go back to the map the creature is there instead of the egg. If you hover over it it will move a little bit, but as far as I can tell, they don't do anything else.

So that's a walk through a whole lesson at Level 3. From Reading Eggs' website:

"The Stepping Stones Reading lessons are the core of the Reading Eggs learn-to-read program. Each lesson builds on the previous one to build skills in the five key areas needed to become a good reader: phonemic awareness and phonics, sight words, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. The lessons are presented in three broad levels with 40 lessons in each level.
Level 1 Starting Out for absolute beginners, lesson 1-40.
Level 2 Beginning to Read for emerging readers, lessons 41-80.
Level 3 Building confidence for early readers, lessons 81-120."

I have not seen any of the lessons for the Level 1, so I do not know how well it would work for a young beginner. While searching for more information for this review (after I has almost completed this post) I found the "Try Sample Lesson" option on It offers two lessons from Level 1 and one from Level 2.

Overall, I personally would not use this program as the only source of instruction; and I would not sign up a beginner reader who I did not want being exposed to complex words with no instruction context. For example, in a previous lesson I watched them introduce -ide words, but no explanation of the Silent E Rule. So kids would memorize the "ide" sound, but not apply that an "e" at the end of the word makes the "i" say it's name and that's why. But I can also see how this would work for other parents and kids who don't have the same learning to read philosophy as I do.

We are ten days into our free trial and I am still not sure if I am going to pay for it once our time is up. The kids love it, there's no getting around that. But they want $50 for a 6 month subscription, just for one kid! And another $25 for a second kid. That's $75 for just 6 months! There are a lot of other features that Reading Eggs offer that comes with that price that I will review in other posts (I've worked on this post long enough, I want to get this up already.) Here are the codes I used that got me the extra 7 weeks free on top of the original 2 week trial. (You can only use two codes a year.) 5ABCSHOP & ABC88EGG. (ETA: these codes are now expired.)

ETA: My friend who got us started with Reading Eggs over at We're All Mad Here wrote a Reading Eggs review, too! Since she uses it as primary instruction and the whole-words memorization works really well for her son, I thought it would be interesting for people to see another side of this.

I was not asked to review Reading Eggs and was not compensated to do so. I put the time and effort into this review because I wish I could have read something like this before I started it with my kids. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pregnancy Product Review: Belly Band

At my 5 month OB appointment I mentioned to my doctor that I had been dealing with groin pain, mostly when I walked distances longer than half the length of my house. He said that was within the range of normal for pregnancy and that there really wasn't anything he or I could do about it. The ultrasound tech (a woman) noticed I was having some pain and recommended a belly band. After the appointment we went to Walmart, but apparently our local Walmart doesn't carry any maternity wear or products. Since we're still new in town I had no idea where else to look, and I wasn't feeling well enough to walk around searching, so I stopped thinking about it.

But the pain kept getting worse. If I had to walk up the stairs more than once a day I ended up limping/hobbling. Doing anything more than just sitting reclined in my arm chair became a painful struggle. And leaving the house and going to church ended with me in tears from the pain trying to make it back to the van. Which really stank because here I was finally not throwing up every other day, no longer completely immobilized by nausea, and now I couldn't walk.

I was helpless, in pain, and at my 6 month appointment my doctor was in such a hurry because of an emergency c-section on another patient that I wasn't able to talk to him about it. I ended up needing a wheelchair to get back to our van from the doctor's office because I just couldn't take another step. On our way home we tried looking for a belly band at Target, since they had one online. But the local store didn't have them. A person there recommended Babies R Us.

A few days later my visiting mother in law drove me the 25 minutes to Babies R Us and we finally found some belly bands. There weren't many different options to choose from; I ended up getting the Babies R Us brand Maternity Support.
I should tell you that a bathroom stall with nothing to place the instructions on is not the best place to try putting this on for the first time. There are 3 different pieces and 4 step directions. But I got it on eventually and we headed out.

The first thing I noticed was in the car ride back I was much less uncomfortable than I was on the car ride there. I continued wearing it that evening and even though I had walked through a Babies R Us (and have you ever been in a small Babies R Us?) I was feeling some pain but I was still able to walk at the end of the day. The next day I wore it I was able to walk around even more; again, with a small amount of pain, but nothing compared to what it had been. I've been wearing it all day long for a week now and I've had at least two days of complete freedom from pain and increased mobility in all the days I've worn it. Yay!

Cons to this product:
  • sometimes it has to be adjusted several times, depending on your position and activity. What helps for walking around is often too tight for long periods of sitting. Luckily it is easy to adjust. Unluckily, the Velcro can be loud when adjusting, especially if you're sitting in a movie theater. (But hey, I made it to the theater and through an whole movie with my husband! Yay!)
  • because it squeezes you some (especially if you put it on too tight) it can lead to even more pushing up on your internal organs, which in turn can push up on your lungs and diaphragm and you might noticed that and worry you're having trouble breathing, raise your blood pressure a bit, and then freak out and worry about pre-eclampsia. (Which is totally fixed by taking it off, drinking fluids when you realize you're dehydrated, and lying down for half an hour.) Not that that happened to me or anything....
  • it's an extra layer under your clothes holding heat and sweat against your body; and I'm going to be wearing this in in the summer time.
  • it has to be hand washed. They made a pregnancy item, needed most in the last trimester, that needs to be hand washed. Really?!

But other than that, I am really glad I got this product. I'd still be a painful mess without it. I've recovered enough this week that I'm going to try to get back to teaching Space School again. 
I did not get paid for this review, all opinions are my own. For an Amazon link for a similar product try the Soft Form Maternity Support Belt .

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Binky Buddy

This is the Binky Buddy.

(My kids don't use binkies/pacifiers/soothers anymore, this is a FYI DIY blog post for my sister.) Sadly I can not remember who it was who told me about this idea four years ago, so I cannot credit them as they deserve. But this thing really saved my nights.

I don't remember what age Early Bird was when I made it, but I do know he was at least nine months old when I posted about it on Facebook. I was having to get up in the middle of the night a LOT because he kept losing his binky. Someone, can't remember who, recommended that I sew a pacifier to a small stuffed animal (I used a Beanie Baby because of the size and weight.) That way when the binky came out of the mouth is was much easier to find and put back in (by the baby) and it couldn't be flung to some random, hard to reach corner of the floor under the crib.

All I did was sew it on the mouth of the koala. I used thicker embroidery thread (because I'm insecure about my sewing abilities sometimes) and went round and around it a bunch to times to make sure it was secure. That's it. It is important to have a loop on the pacifier to make this work (though if someone successfully attached one without a loop I'd love to hear about it in the comments.)

Hope this helps someone out there like it did me. I got a lot more sleep during the night once Early Bird was popping it back in on his own.
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