Inside the Mommyvan

Homeschooling & Life Inside the Mommyvan - an old dog learning new tricks



I love All About Reading and its companion, All About Spelling. from All About Learning Press.

We started with AAS 1 last year, and AAR 2 (since my kids already had some phonics under their belt) earlier this school year. The results have been nothing short of amazing. J has gone from a reluctant reader of one-line-per-page books to a kid who enjoys reading not only the stories that go with the AAR lessons, but all sorts of other books as well.


This is what our reading notebook pages look like right now. The kids copy the book’s title and author and the date they read (or finished) it, and then draw a picture from the book with a caption.

I tell them that the picture has to be “something from the book,” but the books stay closed — they can’t just copy an illustration. I am not too picky beyond that. This isn’t a handwriting lesson either, so I don’t require them to stay within the lines on this type of notebook paper.

Sometimes that big shopping trip just can’t be put off any longer. Yesterday was the day. I know my kids need something to keep them occupied when it’s a giant fill-the-cart trip. I know that copywork is usually about the most tedious, boring schoolwork ever, but it’s one thing that requires very little of my attention, so I can focus on little things like expiration dates and sale prices.

To my surprise, this exercise went over really well. I did offer an incentive, the one who created the “best” (note my careful use of weasel words here) list would get to pick out a package of cookies. Beyond that, though, the kids seemed to have fun with the freedom to choose their own words to copy and the time to do a little exploring of their own in the aisles.

We started out with our wonderful clipboards from The Trip Clip. Disclaimer: I am acquainted with the proprietor, but that makes these no less marvelous. These are sturdy kid-sized clipboards with attached 4-color pens, and customizable activities that you can print from the website.

supermarket copywork

For this trip, I cut a stack of early-writer paper in half to fit the Trip Clips. I told my little students that they could copy any words they could find, on signs, packages, or anywhere else — yes, even in the meat case. I let them know when I was stopping to study prices or pick up several items from one aisle, then alerted them when I was about to get moving again, so they weren’t trying to write and walk at the same time.

To my surprise and delight, even my most reluctant writer put down over twenty words, and not just short ones or easy letters!  They read some of the words on their own, and asked me to pronounce the ones they couldn’t (sugar… how am I supposed to explain that spelling, right on the heels of learning to read ‘sh’ words?)

In the end, they all won the cookies — can’t ever have too many cookies in the house, right? 😉 — and I won a great new teaching tool to add to my bag of traveling tricks.

Faced with the ever-present challenge of motivating my little darlings to do schoolwork instead of, oh, watching endless episodes of My Little Pony (thank you, Netflix :p ), I had an idea. Time will tell if it actually works, but my most reluctant reader is excited (and was, in fact, the first to add a title to his “stage”), so I am hopeful.

Today we made a Reading Rocket! When all three kids fill up their “stages,” we will have a field trip to Kennedy Space Center to see some real rockets and maybe even meet an astronaut or see a launch.

For those of you who don’t have a space center as a day trip, the rocket could be any shape representing a fun  field trip: a Book Bunny (for a petting farm visit) or Reading Rollercoaster would do the trick just as well.

My charts have space for the title, author, and date read, and I am requiring 25 books fo each child to earn the trip. The recordkeeping and requirements to count a book “read” can of course be adjusted to fit your students’ reading levels, and you could easily use this with readers of different levels.

Get started by downloading my reading record chart (PDF).

We all know those “reading comprehension” worksheets — the ones that have a paragraph or two at the top, or a textbook reading assignment, followed by a number of questions to see if you are paying attention to what you read.

One predicament I face is supervising three beginning readers all at once. I want them to become more independent in their reading, and I want to help them understand the words and the story instead of just making the sounds. This type of worksheet seems ideal for the same reasons it’s used in a traditional classroom setting: it can both encourage and assess the student’s understanding of the reading material, with less direct interaction from the teacher (me). I tried a reading comprehension worksheet designed for slightly more advanced readers, and although I had to help them along the way, they seemed to enjoy the exercise overall. They took some pride in being able to answer questions about the material they’d just read, just as they do when I ask questions about the books I read aloud to them.

Right now, Bob Books are ideal for their independent reading. They can sight read or easily sound out all of the words in the first several sets. Just as important, they know what the words mean as well — they rarely have to ask for definitions while reading these stories.

Putting 2 and 2 together (sorry for mixing a math metaphor into a reading lesson :)), I broke out the “Sight Words – Kindergarten” set and sat down to make up some questions. I realized that I had to make sure my questions were as easy to read and understand as the books themselves, and I kept the answers short so the writing wouldn’t become a stumbling block.

I handed each child a different book and question page, ensuring that one little reader wouldn’t be shortchanged by overhearing another’s reading or thinking out loud. I wrote three questions for each of the ten books, which you can download below:

Free PDF download: Reading Comprehension Questions for Bob Books

The first two pages list all of the questions for your reference, the remaining pages have one book per page with larger type and enough blank space for little ones to write their answers.

Of course we still do plenty of reading, questioning, and discussion both one-on-one and as a group, but there are times I want to have them working independently and this adds another method to my toolbox that works for those times. Leave a comment and tell me if these are useful to you, and what your kids think of them!

If you don’t have the Bob Books yet, here are the four sets we’re using right now (the Sight Words set is the last one):

A fun activity that exercises many different skills and ends up with a nice portfolio piece! The level of the work can be easily adjusted from preschool on up.

You need:

  • 2 (or more) sheets of sturdy paper or cardstock
  • Old magazines
  • Glue or glue stick
  • Pencil
  • Ruler or straight edge
  • Binding materials (see below)
  • Enbellishments (optional – see below)

Lay the paper in front of you with a long edge nearest you, and fold it in half from left to right, making a sharp crease. Place one piece of folded paper inside the other and secure temporarily with one or two small pieces of tape. This is the basic ‘book’ that I used for my kids (K – 1st grade level). For older students, you might use a cardstock cover with multiple inside pages of plain paper, and adjust the number of pictures and length of story sections to match.

Have your child cut out several pictures from the magazines, thinking up a story to go with the images as they work. Next, they will decide on one picture for their cover, along with a title for their story. Glue the selected picture onto the front page of the book, and have them write the title. Below the title goes ‘by Child’s Name‘. This is a good time to reinforce title, author, illustrator and the parts of a book.

Next, your budding author will think about their story’s beginning, middle, and end. They will glue onto the first inside spread (two pages) the pictures that go with the beginning of the story, leaving room for writing. Using a ruler or straight edge, make light guidelines for writing, working around the pictures. The child will then come up with one to three sentences (again, adjusting for level) to write on these pages. I had my children dictate their sentences to me, I wrote them on a portable white board, and then they copied the words into the book. As we worked, we also reviewed sentence structure, capitalization, and punctuation.

Repeat this process for the middle of the story (center spread) and the end of the story (last two pages). The back cover can be left blank or decorated. One of my children wrote Easy Reader on the back of her book, just like the tags on their library books. This is a project that allows for a lot of creativity and imagination!

For the book’s binding, there are numerous options. You can simply tape or (with a long-reach stapler) staple the pages together. We chose to sew our pages: I punched holes every 1/2″ or so down the center fold, the kids sewed using embroidery floss and a tapestry needle. There are other options as well, consult some scrapbooking resources or come up with your (or your children’s) own ideas!

Finishing touches can now be added. Embellishments, anything from colored markers to stickers to glue-on beads and baubles, can be put on the cover. Inside, your young authors may want to add some extra color to their pages or erase guidelines (if they have written in pen or marker).

Once the story books were finished, we made a show of sitting in the living room and having each child read their book aloud, showing the pictures on each page as they read. They had so much fun making the books and were so proud of their creations, I’m not sure they even realized they were “doing school” much less exercising their fine motor skills (cutting, gluing, sewing), creative expression, organizing thoughts, grammar & punctuation, handwriting, and reading & presentation skills all in one project!

My kids just played Word Racer, with a little bit of help from me, for nearly an hour. Yes, you read that right, an HOUR. They were 20121008-100342.jpgreading and choosing grammatically correct sentences, learning new phonics rules & sight words, and they had fun doing it. I sweetened the pot a little with points on our chart for everyone who reached the finish line (and a couple of warnings that bad behavior would put them out of the game), but once we got into the game I think they would have finished even if I took the points out of the picture.

The gameplay is simple, each player has a car token on a straight racetrack of about 15 spaces. There are a few bonus and hazard spaces (move forward/back or miss a turn). On their turn, each player draws a card from the pile — 50 cards are provided, and you could easily make more of your own. The card has a short sentence with a blank somewhere in it, and two words beneath it from which to choose. The player picks a word and turns the 20121008-100332.jpgcard over to see if their choice is correct and how many spaces to “race ahead” if so. The game ends when one (or all, depending on how you like to play) players reach the finish line.

I’m not sure where I picked up this game, it’s been on the shelf for a while waiting for their reading and grammar skills to reach the level needed to play. We tried it once or twice before with me reading the words and sentences, but it didn’t work quite as well that way. Now that they are sounding out most simple words and some long vowels and sight words, it’s perfect. I provided a little coaching on the digraphs and some of the sight words, but the game keeps things nicely in reach of a strong beginning reader.

Buy it from Amazon here:

OK, so it’s not a terribly exciting field trip for an adult (unless you are, like me, a book geek), but for the kids it’s a pretty big deal. Getting library cards with their own names on them made it even better. With a little bit of paperwork and some help from a kind librarian, they each had a shiny new card onto which they carefully printed their names. I had a happy moment of nostalgia, remembering my own well-used childhood library card (which may well be somewhere in my parents’ house still :)).

On many of our library visits, the kids are more interested in the toys that populate the play alcove than in picking out books, but that all changed yesterday. On a previous visit, I had showed them the aisle with all of the ‘Easy Reader’ labeled books, but they were happy to let me pick books out for them.

This time, new library cards in hand, we raced straight to the Easy Reader aisle and they browsed the titles and cover illustrations for something interesting. After they had each chosen a book, we went back up front and they learned how to use the barcode scanner to check out their books (libraries have come a long way since I was their age!).

Libraries vary in their policies and requirements for children to have a card of their own, but in most cases there will just have to be a parent or responsible adult to sign for their cards and be responsible for books they check out. If your kids are anything like mine, they will be eager to begin reading ‘their own’ library books even if they’re not yet fluent (or even interested) readers.

Several months ago, we started reading aloud from the “chapter books” that came with the Sonlight curriculum package. Some have been very engaging all by themselves, others are a little more dry from a 5 year-old perspective.20120821-132355.jpg

Today I tried adding a little something to keep the kiddos interested in and really listening to the story I was reading (in this case, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes). I had them sit down with their Doodle-Pro boards and draw pictures that came to mind as they listened to the story. Nothing specific, just whatever they thought of, or saw in their imagination, as I read.

This not only kept their hands busy and their bodies quiet as I read, it also encouraged them to listen and absorb the story as I read. Their pictures were not masterpieces by any means, but they were a great insight into what they heard… sometimes very different from what I take away at the end of the chapter.

I am trying very hard to make school more than just reading, lectures, and worksheets. Sometimes that takes great effort on my part, other times it just falls in my lap and I just have to have my eyes (and mind) open enough to see it. Today was a great example of the latter.

It was time to do our reading, which all too often elicits a trio of whining and complaints, plus a plethora of excuses as to why each of my little students should not be the first to read. I don’t want my children to grow up thinking of reading as a chore, I want them to dive in and love it the way I do.

Today was my lucky day.

The girls had arranged chairs into a ‘house’ in the kitchen and were having a tea party with their stuffed animals. Something clicked in my brain and I said, “Let’s have a book club tea party!” I explained that grownups sometimes have book clubs where they all read the same book and then talk about it together. They loved it. Cups of milk and snacks of all kinds appeared, and all three kids eagerly awaited their turn to read a couple of lines. Just like a real book club, I told them, we would discuss the stories we’d just read. And they did, happily!

We will definitely do this more often at snack time… pull out a book and enjoy another meeting of our Book Club Tea Party.