Can Babies REALLY Read?

Have you ever heard the phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know?”

Or perhaps, “When you know better, you do better?”

These phrases have never been more true than when it comes to teaching babies how to read! Most parents don’t even have a clue that babies are capable of reading. But when they finally DO accept out that infant literacy is the real-deal, they recognize that it’s obviously the best choice to make for their child.

Parents just like you go through a few stages and beliefs when embarking on this journey. Let’s be real, you wouldn’t have found this website otherwise. Just sayin’.

Stage One: EVERYONE KNOWS BABIES CAN’T READ! That’s impossible and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool or trying to scam you.

Stage Two: I watched a few youtube videos, but I still don’t believe it. They are just TRAINING the baby like you would train a dog. Unbelievable. The kid doesn’t even know what they are doing! They don’t even know what it means! It’s not REAL reading. It’s just a parlor trick…nothing more.

Stage Three: But wait, the kid in that video is sounding out words phonetically? Huh? And the other one is reading an entire storybook. Surely, he can’t have memorized the ENTIRE thing? It’s pages and pages long…could there be something to this after all?

Stage Four: Okay, wow. I don’t know how this is true, but I’ve looked into it enough and I’m feeling pretty dumbfounded right now. I’ve seen some really little kids actually reading.

How could this even be true? And why in the heck did no one tell me about this? How is this not common knowledge? Surely ALL those parents can’t be faking ALL those YouTube videos? But hang on, I don’t want to be some pushy parent. Even if this IS possible, is it something I SHOULD be doing?

Stage Five: I really don’t know what I’m doing but my kid means the world to me. I know it sounds crazy. But if there is a CHANCE this might work for my baby, I am going to try and give them the best headstart in life. I can’t tell anyone about this, they’ll think I’m either nuts, stupid or both.

But if I can somehow do this, the payoff for my child is just too big to walk away from. If the experiment fails, so what? But if it works….wow, how amazing would that be for my kid?! I am not 100% convinced it’s even going to work for us, but I guess I’m willing to give it a shot…

Stage Six: Now how the heck do I do this?

Does any of that sound familiar?

I, too, didn’t believe babies that could actually read. I actually found out that they are natural-born learners completely by accident. Way-back-when, my father bought the original Your Baby Can Read VIDEO CASSETTES for my sister when my niece was born. (Yes, actual VHS tapes…the kind you put in a VCR!)

You see, my brother struggled in school. BIG TIME. I’ll write more about that and my own childhood role in his education another day, but let’s just say that the school system failed him and he didn’t get a fair shake at life. Not even close.

When my father saw the Your Baby Can Read videotapes on an infomercial, he wasn’t fully convinced it was real but thought, “If this could somehow work, I could potentially save my grandchildren from the same fate suffered by my youngest son.”

Maybe he was just trying to redeem himself, I don’t know. But he bought them. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination and they were not cheap. But after the turmoil of dealing with my brother’s reading struggles for years, he figured a few hundred dollars would be well-worth it, IF the program somehow worked.

My sister wasn’t particularly convinced and never did much with them. She was an overwhelmed first-time parent and reading was pretty much the last thing on her list. I think she made a set of homemade flashcards once that she had laminated (expensively!) at Kinko’s Copy Shop and never did it again.

She realized it was going to take a bit of effort on her part to do the program, without any guarantee that it would even be worth her while. She got busy with life, abandoned the Your Baby Can Read tapes, and put Barney on repeat instead.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently WRONG with Barney. “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family” and all that. But what we’re talking about here is OPPORTUNITY COST. Every minute spent on that big purple dinosaur was a minute my baby niece could have been TRULY benefiting from early learning. She later started, and struggled with, learning to read in elementary school as so many kids do.

Fast forward to a few years later and my husband and I were expecting our firstborn, Lily. My sister handed me the tapes and said “I don’t really know what to do with these, you’ve always been a big fan of education so maybe you want to use them?”

I remember looking them over when my daughter was just one or two months old. I flipped through the booklet and read that I might have to use them for months before I could even know if it was working? Who could even wait that long?! It seemed like I was supposed to wait until my kid could TALK to know if I was wasting my time or not? I think not.

It just sounded like way more effort than it was worth, especially since I was exhausted from raising a newborn. I mean, it probably didn’t even work anyway! I tried to research it online but couldn’t get any real confirmation that it was legit. Instead, I found a lot of sites that said it was a scam. I put the tapes back in the closet and forgot about them.

I cringe now looking back on this moment.

A dear friend of mine had her second baby around the same time as I had my first. She was an established mom and already had a “Mommy & Me” playgroup that she met up with for playdates and such. My friend mentioned in passing that one of the toddlers in particular at the playgroup was “really smart.”

Now, my sister was correct in her earlier observation that I DO highly value education. And my friend’s comment certainly piqued my interest. So I asked her — what exactly did the parents do to make their baby so smart? She said that she didn’t know all the details, but she knew for sure they taught her baby sign language with a program called “Baby Signing Time.”

Aha! So NOW I had some information I could work with! A first-hand, unbiased testament. Sweet! I immediately ordered the DVDs.

At that point, Lily was three months old and my husband had to leave on a very long work trip for many months. In the meantime, I had to juggle raising a baby by myself and still somehow take a few minutes for self-care. Like, actually take a shower! 

My solution was to set up the Baby Signing Time videos on a TV near the bathroom and to put my daughter in the Exersaucer to watch them. I could still peek out from behind the shower curtain and check on her while she was being entertained. 

After a while, I attempted to communicate with her using baby sign language over and over and again to no avail. I might as well have been speaking Chinese. I truly had her best intentions at heart when I spent money on a program that I THOUGHT would benefit her. I couldn’t help but think – what gives?

She gave zero indication of understanding what I signed to her. Even for MILK! Clearly, it was not working. I guess my kid just wasn’t as smart as the little playgroup genius.

Oh well. I shrugged it off and stopped attempting to sign with her. I wasn’t going to force the issue, after all, I wasn’t THAT kind of mom! Okay, so despite my best intentions, it turned out my kid was NOT genius…so what? Whoop-dee-doo. Moving on.

But even if the program wasn’t actually working like it was SUPPOSED to, the fact is that I still needed to take a shower. She liked the songs on the DVDs and they kept her occupied for a few minutes while I handled my business, so I just continued to play them for her every day. What’s the harm, right?

(I know, I know. Electronic babysitting at it’s finest! But hey, “a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.” Don’t judge my journey, bro!)

My husband finally returned from his way-too-long long work trip overseas when Lily was about 12 months old. Thankfully, she heard his voice, looked at him curiously, and immediately recognized him from all the Skype calls.

About a week or two after he got back, Lily was having a little temper tantrum, as one-year-olds are known to do. I had literally not attempted to sign with her for MONTHS by that point. I had given up on that a LONG time ago.

But in a random gesture to distract her and calm her down, my husband asked her- “Lily, what’s the sign for bird?”

The little stinker. I couldn’t believe it. She signed it right back to him, plain as day. Like it was nothing. Shocked, he asked her another. And another. And another.

She knew them ALL. Every single one. Four DVDs worth of friggin’ baby sign language came pouring out all at once. What the heck!? I had no idea she knew even ONE sign, let alone all of them?! And she just treated the whole interaction like a no-big-deal, really fun game with her dad!

Maybe I had eagerly signed too early in the process when she hadn’t fully learned them yet? Maybe she just didn’t “feel like it” when I tried to sign with her? Who knows.

Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. This was a huge breakthrough in our house! This was PROOF, no question about it, that babies absolutely COULD learn. EVEN IF there was no outward indication that anything was actually sinking in!

I immediately upgraded our ancient Your Baby Can Read VHS tapes to DVD’s and started using them. Within a month, Lily was recognizing words on flashcards and matching them with toy animals. We played word games every day and she loved it. Holy smokes, this stuff was actually working!

We introduced letters, shapes, colors, and numbers using the Preschool Prep program. She BURNED through the curriculum and could not get enough. We did board books, flap books, flashcards, you name it. She was learning the Preschool Prep program so quickly that I had to look for new material as she was nearing the end soon.

When I stumbled on Little Reader software, we unknowingly hit the learning jackpot. While the Your Baby Can Read DVD set introduces 200 words, Little Reader teaches 3,000 words and is customizable to add even more.

I downloaded the free trial and we started using it with her right away. It kept her engaged and she seemed to enjoy it. We made it part of our daily routine every morning.

When Lily was 17 months old, my mother was visiting and she was helping give Lily a bath. I was demonstrating how to sound out three-letter words using foam bath letters while Lily splashed around.

I stuck a new set of letters to the side of the tub but before I got a chance to announce them, Lily pointed and said “wwww……aaaaaa….xxxxx.”

Whaaaat?! My 17-month-old had just sounded out the word WAX!!? Phonetically AND unprompted?!

Not only did she sound out a word for the first time, it was a novel word she had never before encountered in her lessons. Wow!

If my mother hadn’t witnessed it, I’m not sure I would have believed my own eyes and ears. I knew at some point she was going to transition from “whole word” sight-reading to phonetic reading, but I didn’t think it was going to be before she turned TWO?!

She’s been soaking up knowledge like a sponge ever since. No, CORRECTION: She has ALWAYS been soaking up knowledge like a sponge since DAY ONE, but I was just too blind to believe or recognize it in the beginning!

It was then I realized that it didn’t matter WHAT the experts claimed was or wasn’t possible…all the “proof” I needed was my own sweet daughter splashing around in the tub! Babies are simply capable of so much more than we collectively give them credit for.

I later repeated the process with my son Owen and teaching him to read was even easier than teaching Lily. “DOG” was the first word he read and he signed it to me long before he could talk. He later read the word CRIME while viewing a Hoooked on Phonics DVD. I think he was around 15 months old at the time and I KNEW I had never introduced that word before.

Here’s one of my favorite videos of Owen’s early reading progress taken on Christmas Day just before he turned 3. All he wanted from Santa was Angry Birds and a race car. As you can tell, he was over the moon with his presents. He was reading all kinds of peculiar words that I clearly never “trained” him on and he was so excited that he could barely get the words out!

I began this early education journey because I wanted to give my child a boost, just like the “smart kid from the playgroup.”

But in the end, my children didn’t learn how to read early BECAUSE they were smart. They are smart BECAUSE they learned to read early!

I am “just a mom”…not a trained teacher in any capacity. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just winging it. Even so, I was able to give my children the gift of early literacy because I cared enough to try, as crazy as it sounded at the time, and you can, too!

Click HERE to download a free trial of the Little Reader with no credit card or future billing required. Simply select the green SHOP tab and click the red TRIAL tab to get started today!

Give your child a LOVE OF READING






My Top Software and DVD Recommendations to Teach Babies & Toddlers How to Read

If you are looking to teach your little one to read but don’t know where to begin, here are my top recommendations to make it as EASY as possible. I taught both of my kids how to read as during their infant/toddler years and they were able to sound out novel three-letter words by ages 15-18 months old. You can begin teaching reading from around age 3-6 months and up.


Little Reader software is hands down THE most versatile reading program I know of. If I could only use one program, this would be it. It offers tons of vocabulary (3,000 words), pattern phonics, is customizable and infinitely expandable. Basically, you just sit down with your child for 10 minutes a day and go through the interactive lessons on your computer or iPad. It’s a pretty comprehensive program. You can take a free trial from this BrillKids link, no credit card required, and get a discount with this code if you decide to purchase the full version.

Once you’ve set up an account, you have the option to enable it on your iPad, as well. You can also plug your laptop or iPad into a big-screen TV with an HDMI cable and make the font HUGE for a very small baby. This is really the ideal setup for a child under 1 or 2 years old as it makes the learning so straightforward and really catches their attention. 

Regardless, the more CONSISTENT you are and the more you LAYER the learning, the quicker you will see results. Like a gym membership, you have to actually USE it, not just buy it. 🙂 Having said that, I definitely applied the “immersion method” to literacy. I didn’t just use software…I used software, books, flashcards during most mealtimes, youtube videos, DVDs, labeled anything and everything in my house, etc., which made the whole process was relatively quick and easy as a result of the constant reinforcement.

We INTEGRATED early learning into our daily life and well, my house resembled a small preschool for a while! If you opt to just do just 10 minutes a day of Little Reader lessons without any additional reinforcement, the program will still work for your child but at a slower pace than if you created a truly immersive learning environment. 


I had my kids watch about 3 minutes of youtube phonics songs 3-5 times a day for a month or so and they learned all of their basic letter sounds.  You can use the phonics playlist here on my youtube channel or this one from Super Simple Songs.

You do not need to buy all of these programs below, but it’s nice to have a couple and rotate them. Your library may carry some, so check out your local branch. When your child has mastered the material, let them graduate and move on! Retire it and learn something else with a new DVD.


I LOOOOOVE pretty much all of the leapfrog videos. They teach phonics, blending, even math concepts. Be sure to get the flashcards too for reinforcement or print your own here if you’re the DIY type.

Top picks for teaching letter sounds are Phonics Farm for the under 2 crowd and Talking Letter Factory for ages 2+. The whole set is an awesome investment and your child will learn so much more than anything shown on broadcast TV.  Every close friend I know with older toddlers and preschoolers report that it took their child 1 month to as little as 1 WEEK to learn their letter sounds with Leapfrog! I am also a huge fan of their Tag pen, too that reads aloud to the child.



My Montessori House videos are great because they have *tons* of blending examples. I especially love their demonstrations of silent e words in level 2 (kit/kite, rob/robe, and so on) and all of the wonderful unique shapes they teach on the shapes and colors DVD (the words are also blended sound by sound on screen).

Preschool Prep

Preschool Prep videos tend to be simplified and slower, I like them because there is no storyline really, just fun, memorable characters. They are easy to follow and especially great for teeny, tiny little ones, especially although any child can use them.

Their Meet the Sight Words DVDs 1, 2, and 3 are super for kids who are learning their most common sight words. Their easy reader books are excellent, too. The font is much larger than most typical kids books and that is a HUGE plus. I am a big fan and I think I own everything they’ve ever sold! They started offering a full range of apps, as well. 


Your Child Can Read

This is the sequel to the ever-popular “Your Baby Can Read,” although it has since been renamed to “Your Child Can Learn.” Your Baby Can Read Reviews are all over the internet, but BrillKids Little Reader covers all of the YBCR words (a few hundred) and many, many more (a few thousand). So I would say that yes, it’s a good program, it’s just a bit limited. If money is no concern, then sure, go ahead and get it and add it to your DVD rotation. Just know that the Little Reader software and Your Baby Can Read programs directly overlap. It’s a great program for your child, but if you are budget-conscious, then go with Little Reader.

Now, Your CHILD Can Read? It’s great and is full of really cute phonics songs. The pace is pretty quick, it covers *tons* of words in each DVD with lots of sentences and song lyrics being flashed on the screen. It’s entertaining and informative but will need to be watched many times before it all sinks in.  Overall, it’s really good and we love it! I wouldn’t start a brand new baby on it first, but it’s excellent for after a child finishes Little Reader or Your Baby Can Read (aka Your Baby Can Learn).


There are so many other options out there, but these are just a few that we have used and can personally recommend from experience. You can also look into using free online resources such as Starfall, Reading Bear, and Teach Your Monster to Read. There are tons of learning apps out now, too. Overall, just immerse your child in layered literacy opportunities and you will be shocked at how quickly they learn! 



Creating Consistent Habits

Nothing in your life will really change until your daily habits change.

The easiest way to maintain a consistent reading program with your baby is to TIE the new, desired routines to CURRENTLY EXISTING parts of your day.

In my house, that meant we would “wake up and read” every day. The first thing I would do when I got the baby out of the crib was to grab a basket of books, snuggle, and read with them on my big bed.

We read lots of books, but we especially loved the BrillKids and Preschool Prep book series. We used BrillKids paperback books to teach classic fables in a simplified, child-friendly way and to reinforce high-frequency words.

We used Preschool Prep board books and “lift the flap” books to teach colors, shapes, letters, and numbers. My kids loved Touch and Feel books that offered different textures for them to explore.

Later on, I also introduced the Preschool Prep Easy Readers and Meet the Sight words series. The font is generously sized and they have limited text per page, which makes them ideal for teaching little ones.

We read many others, including lots of homemade books, but those mentioned above were particularly beneficial for my kids.

Whenever I read to my kids, I ran my finger along under text to help them make the connection between written words and spoken words. As their own skills developed, it was adorable to watch them imitate what I had been modeling.

They would babble and interact with the book using their own tiny little fingers!

I also read to them excitedly and with inflection, trying out different voices for each character, which they particularly enjoyed. Later in life, I would discover that they never went through that phase of struggling to sound out words while reading in a flat, monotone voice, as many kids do.

They had intuitively learned to use natural rising and falling voice patterns when reading out loud.

Our “wake up and read” sessions lasted maybe just 5 or 10 minutes in the beginning, depending on their attention span that day. They were always freshest first thing in the morning and in a good mood, so it was a great time for positive interaction.

After reading time, we would head downstairs for breakfast and Little Reader lessons while they ate. I would hook up the laptop to the TV nearby, so the font was MASSIVE and perfect for a baby.

They were still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and they were going to eat breakfast every day anyway, so I figured I might as well show them their lessons in the process. They would watch a 5 minute Little Reader lesson from their high chair and maybe a quick youtube phonics video or two afterward.

When waking up from an afternoon nap, we repeated the book basket and snuggle time routine on my bed.

If there was a day I might have considering skipping it, they might toddle over to the basket and bring ME a book. I knew we had successfully built a routine because the kids actually helped reinforce it.

I would quickly show them the ABCs with flashcards during lunch time or let them watch a learning DVD right before naptime. They were tired so their bodies were still, and they would often cuddle their favorite blanket and doze off to it.

Of course, there were other learning moments sprinkled throughout our day, but these were the core behaviors that helped us stay on track.

And then there were days when someone was sick or maybe our schedule was unusual and we were rushing out the door, but I tried to make those days the exception and not the rule.

So what steps can YOU take to build a successful early learning routine for your child?

  1. Determine what time of day that your child is in a great mood and responds well to deliberate early learning interactions. Also, note when they are cranky and SKIP those times, for sure!

  2. Prepare your environment in advance. Prep a basket with the chosen books you would like to read the following morning. Make sure the tablet or laptop is charged and plugged into the big-screen TV so it’s ready to go.

  3. For the first month of building your new routine, put a star on your calendar for every day you stuck to the plan. It takes a dedicated parent to faithfully implement a learning program, so don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you follow through!

  4. As your program grows, look for other teachable moments throughout the day. Those hidden opportunities might present themselves in the form of counting rocks your child found in the backyard or sounding out the name of the grocery store.

By implementing a learning routine that is tied to naturally occurring parts of your day, both you and your child will grow to EXPECT it.

So no matter how crazy your day gets or how swamped you are trying to catch up on laundry, at least your child will have benefitted from those specific, built-in times already set aside to bond and learn.

Happy Teaching!


“Need More Input!”

Do you remember an old movie from the ’80s called “Short Circuit?” It’s a tale of a military robot, a.k.a. “Johnny 5,” who got struck by lightning and somehow gained human consciousness in the process.

Johnny 5 spends a good chunk of the movie trying to decode the mysteries of his new environment, which included everything from operating his own robot body to learning about his new habitat and figuring out human interactions.

One of my favorite scenes of the movie was when the robot was speed reading a dictionary, yet was still clamoring for “More input! More input!”

This was basically my kid! When we figured out that our firstborn was actually capable of learning, we went out of our way to CREATE a home environment that would stimulate her brain. But it seemed the more literacy and sensory-play opportunities she experienced, the more she wanted.

It was an awesome snowball effect! We would chuckle and lovingly refer to her as our little “Johnny 5” now and again on account of her always needing “More Input!”

The thing is, as her mother, I was the one with the choice. I was in charge of the screens and quality of toys in the house, not the toddler. I had the privilege and responsibility of deciding what APPROPRIATE and BENEFICIAL content was going to be!

If you ask kids what they want to eat, most don’t choose candy over broccoli. One is going nourish their body, the other….not so much. But certainly, you’re not going to let your child eat candy for every meal! That would be toxic to the body!

So why do the equivalent with their brain?

Poor quality screen time is not much different than junk food. A deliberate, healthy choice must be presented or the default “junk food” setting will easily take over. And that snowball will gain momentum and leave your child craving “More Input” of the same!

Like constant broadcast TV with ridiculous advertising aimed at kids or unfiltered access to youtube channels with nonsensical content. Unwittingly exposing your child to values that don’t align with your own. Once you start those habits, it’s very difficult to put the cat back in the bag!

Sure you can plop your child in front of any old screen without careful consideration and it will pacify them, no doubt. Maybe it will let you finally “get some stuff done around the house.”

And admittedly, some of those traditional kids’ cartoons can be MESMERIZING to a child! Much more so than a slower-paced learning DVD, on account of their rapidly flashing scenes, loud voices, and familiar pop-culture characters.

But are you feeding their brain broccoli or candy? Are you after immediate gratification or are you playing the “long game” when it comes to your child’s education?

By far, the EASIEST thing to do is NOT to introduce junk screen time to begin with! At least not until they are much older and the literacy foundation has been laid. And if they’ve never viewed junk shows in the first place, they won’t know the difference.

But if typical kids’ cartoons are currently airing in your house and you are already regretting your decision, try to at least scale it back. Maybe just let them watch their favorite one weekly as a special treat on Fridays instead of every day. Prep some popcorn and make it an event. Perhaps choose to watch that cartoon in a targeted second language; Netflix now offers lots of language options. Even better, create some matching flashcards and use your child’s favorite cartoon character to their advantage!

So what can you do as a parent to ensure your child is getting the quality input they deserve?

  1. Turn OFF broadcast TV and invest in high-quality educational programs. You can let your child choose, but make sure ALL choices are parent-approved choices!

  2. Restrict youtube access to specifically curated playlists and keep a very close eye on it while they are watching. Perhaps “push” that playlist from your phone to a big-screen TV or connect your laptop using an HDMI cable, versus just handing a device over to your child.

  3. Use the “guided access” feature on your iPad to prevent your child from exiting the educational app of your choosing. Or dedicate one specific tablet just for them (to use in moderation) with all app choices being great choices.

  4. Interact with them as much as you can! Talk to them constantly, long before they can respond, even if you look a little crazy while you are pushing the stroller down the block! Look for “teachable moments” to explain things and help them decipher the world around them, all while continuing to improve the parent-child bond.

  5. And of course, read, read, read! Keep a basket of books in every room in the house. Digital books like Tumblebooks are a great way to balance screen time with literacy, it’s worth checking if your local library offers free access.

The bottom line? Avoiding junk programming and replacing it with high-quality input will make a MASSIVE difference in your child’s early education.

Happy Teaching!


Learning Soroban – Japanese Abacus

A while ago I posted about making a homemade soroban for my kids out of a Melissa & Doug abacus. The bead size of a traditional abacus was just too small to be truly effective for my son, age 3. My daughter did alright with a small abacus, but in general bigger is still better with my kids while they are young. It makes the learning more “obvious.”

I thought the adapted Melissa and Doug abacus would be sufficient but the design didn’t turn out as well I planned, I unknowingly cut the rods too short. Whenever my overzealous son manipulated the beads, he used too much force and the beads would bounce back instead of staying in place against the answer bar. Darn it. 
We started out by using my iPhone to teach the kids to count to 100 on the soroban using the Talking Abacus app. They have it for the iPad as well. It worked out beautifully because the kids were able to learn without me standing over their shoulders and I could easily hear how they were doing nearby.
They already knew how to count to 100 from memory, so the app provided immediate feedback. It announces each number when they set the beads. My daughter self initiated some skip counting practice on it, as well. After they learned to count to 100, we then began the Abacus Adventure app (iPad only) which parents on the BrillKids early learning forum had highly recommended.
It was an immediate hit! The kids loved the idea of saving the princess level by level and were motivated to play it. I can actually hear my son on the couch playing Abacus Adventure as I type this, although we do it together most often. 🙂 Overall, I am really pleased with it and it’s finally allowed us to make some progress in this subject. It’s a little buggy and does freeze up from time to time when the kids get “scroll happy” going up and down too quickly, but they know not to do that now for the most part. If it happens, we have to reboot the machine and it works fine again.
There are a couple of hurdles we needed to get over for my kids to be successful with this. One of them is the Mental Math visualization levels. They are starting to learn soroban relatively young and while they are picking it up nicely, they are still working on their visualization skills. They are not yet able to solve all of the problems in their head, which makes the mental math levels a challenge.
Not being able to advance through these levels would greatly dampen their interest until their visualization skills caught up with them. I feared with that kind of stall, they would lose momentum and motivation. So to get around that, we utilize the pause button to solve the problem on a physical abacus (with more time and Mom’s help, if needed), then resume play and enter the answer. We fit in their visualization practice at other times.
However, as I mentioned our homemade soroban wasn’t working out too well, and my daughter’s cheapie $5 eBay special was too small for my son to enjoy. It’s okay, but it fell apart the very first day, no joke! LOL We had to pick up every  single bead and reassemble it with packing tape. At the time when I bought it, I wasn’t sure how this was going to go so I didn’t want to put out a lot of cash. I liked how the longer rods gave her more room to work, but the edges of the beads are not smooth and it’s just very lightweight. While it’s closer to junk than quality merchandise, it will get the job done for an absolute novice.
So, I went back to the drawing board and took apart our 100 bead abacus, rigged it up with a zip tie, and used that until my brand spankin’ new super duper fantastically beautiful teacher soroban arrived from Japan! ::swoon!::
If I hadn’t ordered the new one, I would have chopped the base in half so it lays flat, removed some of the rods (which can be done by wiggling then in a circular motion, and bought a piece of wood to attach for the answer bar. But, I was ready to invest the money and be done with it, and I am very glad I did. And man this thing is BEAUTIFUL! The craftsmanship is just spectacular, I was just in awe after I really sat down to inspect it. At $163, it was much more than I wanted to spend, but it is very high quality. The kids LOVE IT! And I do too. 🙂 Already it’s got some minor dings in it here and there from being knocked in the fireplace, etc, but I would rather it be loved and used by my kids than stay pristine stored in a closet. I added some adhesive felt circles to the bottom and back to protect it as much as possible.
I love that I can stand it up and show both kids at once, but the kids need to lay it down so they don’t knock it over. I don’t think this is going to help them develop speed by any means, but it is absolutely better for my kids to manipulate at this stage. My daughter could have gotten by without it, but my son is just taking off and I think even passing her now in enthusiasm and skill at the moment. My only regret is not buying it sooner!
It took about 7-10 days to arrive from Tomoe Soroban in Japan and the customer service is excellent. They responded to my question over email quickly. When the kids are ready for an abacus with more rods, I will not hesitate to order from them again. I believe this was the company recommended by SorobanTom, as well.
The second challenge I had to figure out was the issue of the knowing number bonds of 5 & 10 by heart to advance through the levels of Abacus Adventure. A dear BrillKids friend was kind enough to give me some spare Cuisenaire math rods she had a while ago, so I dedicated a few of them for use with the abacus. I am so grateful to her for giving them to me because my kids really enjoy them! And I probably wouldn’t have had a reason to get them otherwise.
I used my label maker and scotch tape to attach them together, and now we keep our big and little “friend sticks” in a Ziploc to use during abacus time for quick reference. They are mostly for Owen because Lily has been exposed to the concept of number bonds with Singapore Math, but soon enough he won’t need them at all. I think of them as abacus training wheels. 🙂
Alternatively to creating number bond sticks, you could just use a 100 bead abacus to figure out the “friends” each time. Since mine was rigged up and in use, this was an easy fix. You could also make some homemade out of popsicle sticks or just use Unifix cubes. However, I know my kids and those interlocking cubes can be a distraction because they’re just so fun to take apart! 🙂
We have been dabbling in the Nurture Minds workbook but it’s a bit slow and my kids are so techy, they seem to prefer the iPad. I am still kicking around getting some instructional videos to help reinforce concepts, we’ll see. Math Genie offers addition and subtraction now but will release multiplication and division in the next 3-6 months. They were very nice on the phone and said if you get stuck, just email them for coaching/questions as you go. They recommend one lesson a day. We still use Math Secret off and on (and I do intend for the kids to work through the curriculum one day independently, even if it’s a review at that point) but for the moment our current approach is working well.
Anyway, that’s been our abacus experience thus far. The kids have made such great progress in a short amount of time and the above tools have really helped ME understand this subject and teach them better. Remember, you don’t have to be able to calculate 14 digit numbers in your head to teach this….just stay one step ahead. 🙂
Happy Teaching!

Teaching Place Value the DIY Montessori Way

Recently I came across a video from a fellow YouTube Mom who demonstrated the Montessori way of teaching place value through layered cards. So I got inspired and stayed up a little bit late to make a set of my own. I happened to have a few stacks of blank “Word Strips” from the Dollar Tree laying around. They have traditional lines on one side and they are blank on the other. I chose to use the blank side because I figured it would be less distracting. You can cut your own cards from cardstock or poster board, but I found it to be much easier to just have to cut the length.

Initially, I thought about nice they would be if I printed them in color on the computer, used my paper cutter (which is packed away at the moment), laminated them, etc… and then I realized that a DONE project is better than a PERFECT project! So I whipped it out in just an hour or two and while it’s not perfect, it’s still effective and that’s what matters.

I color-coded mine in  Do Re Mi colors since my kids are already familiar with the sequence and I figured it would help them remember the order better. The cards weren’t long enough for some of the bigger numbers, so I wrote on them first and then used packing tape to tape them together. They are relatively sturdy.

I included a small chart to set next to it to simplify reading the columns. My kids knew some of these already, but not up to a million. I measured out two-inch lines to create a guide, which I laid next to each card as I wrote on it. It’s important that each column is covered up properly when layering the cards so the numbers needed to be sorta-kinda straight and evenly spaced. 🙂

Happy teaching!


Hooked on Phonics & Hooked on Spelling Review

As long as people learn to read, the “reading wars” will continue! You may be wondering if you should teach your child through the whole words or phonics method. For me, the answer is pretty clear- use both!

We started our kids on sight-reading when they were still learning to talk. Sight-word or whole word reading is typically easier to begin with when teaching a small baby, rather than introducing phonics right off the bat. It’s like showing them a whole building versus handing them a single brick, which better enables them to see the big picture. After they get a grip that text is a symbolic representation of spoken words, THEN show them the bricks (phonics) and how to build them soon after. Some kids can learn to read from sight words alone, but I believe phonics should not be ignored. You can easily teach both at the same time.

My favorite reading product overall,  Little Reader, combines the whole word method with pattern phonics. However, it is intended for young children and I would say it leans more in the direction of whole words overall. It is simply AMAZING for whole word vocabulary building, in particular, no doubt, and kids are exposed to 3,000 words with corresponding pictures, actual videos, and animations over the course of a year. That vocabulary exposure alone is worth doing the program and most kids end up with a much larger spoken vocabulary and clearer speech as a result.

But for direct phonics instruction, one of my favorite programs is Hooked on Phonics!

If you are a parent that wants a clear cut “cookbook” approach to teaching your child phonics, this is it. The program is broken up into 3 steps: Lesson, Practice, Read. It’s a no-brainer and you truly don’t need to know a THING about teaching a child to read to use this program, just follow the steps in the book. I took advantage of their monthly payment plan and never looked back. To see my daughter finish a SECOND GRADE curriculum at 2 years old and love every second of it makes this program worth its weight in gold to me!

Hooked on Phonics is great to use with young children because it teaches through example rather than explanation. My two year old would never have understood “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking” if I tried to explain it to her. Your child may very well be ready for the DVD’s before the workbooks, and that is fine! And you can use the phonics readers as well and just shelve the workbooks for a while. I didn’t need to “explain” phonics to Lily…with a combination of videos, workbooks, and activity sheets that we used as coloring pages (I wrote in the words ahead of time and we talked about the page while we colored it), just teaching her the words worked beautifully for us! No long explanations needed, just a clear demonstration.

I will never forget when Lily was about 24 months old and she toddled over the drawer where I kept the program. She opened the drawer, which was no small feat for her, and then brought it to me on the couch where I was chatting with a guest and said “do phonics, Mama?”  I told her we could play Hooked on Phonics after our company left but she would have to wait. Her little lip puffed out and began to quiver, her eyes welled with tears, and a fire engine wail soon followed. My friend and I were so entertained by this scene…my 2-year-old was having a temper because I told her she couldn’t do phonics!!

Lily at 24 months old doing her Hooked on Phonics Workbook:

The full pre-K to second grade “Learn to Read” kit:


  • 8 DVDs
  • 36 original storybooks
  • 8 workbooks
  • Flashcards
  • Motivation stickers
  • Interactive online tools
  • The Quick Start Guide Book and video
  • Bonus Fun Pack
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  • Money Back Guarantee

The Hooked on Phonics program greatly improved my daughter’s reading stamina, it naturally discouraged word guessing (something most kids go through), gave her lots of confidence, and allowed me to scan for holes in her decoding skills. As it turns out, there were hardly any! But, the program was invaluable to us. In the beginning, we only did a single *page* at a time but by the time she finished the series, she was speeding through 2 entire lessons in a sitting. It was an investment that was very well worth my time and money, she just grew leaps and bounds.

My son watched the Hooked on Phonics DVD’s from a very young age so I never needed to do the workbooks with him as a result of being exposed to the lessons so young. he already knew how to read all of the words in them so there was simply no need! The DVD portion was actually the main reason I bought the program because at the time Lily was too little for workbook based phonics instruction.

We typically watched one DVD lesson directly in the morning (about 5 minutes long) during breakfast and then I might turn the lessons on in the background while they played using the “repeat all” feature on my DVD player. The chapters do not have a built-in auto-advance as this is not how the program was originally intended to be used. But it works well that way with little kids.

Owen decoded the word “crime” at about 17 months old while watching a Hooked on Phonics DVD before the word was even announced on screen, and that was a word I KNEW I never personally taught him!

Since finishing the Learn to Read program, we are now using Hooked on Spelling and Hooked on Phonics Master Reader. I am happy with all of them! Here’s a Hooked on Spelling video demo and some footage of my son using the software.

The Hooked on Spelling materials:

We adjusted the Master Reader program somewhat to better fit my kids, for example, skipping the chapter books because they are simply too long at the moment. But they are very capable of doing the Master Reader software and my daughter also does the double-sided reading cards.

Hooked on Phonics Master Reader materials:

I think so highly of this company and when the kids finish their current programs, I plan to go hunt down an out of print “classic” version of Hooked On Phonics Reading Power SRA on ebay. I saw it once at a thrift shop and have kicked myself ever since for not buying it! The Reading Power program focuses on reading comprehension and will be the next logical step for them to continue to develop their skills.

All in all, I definitely recommend checking the Hooked on Phonics trial. It’s been an amazing part of my children’s literacy journey and I hope it helps your children, too!

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Other Subjects

Learning Skeleton Anatomy

A while ago I came across a printout of the bones in the human body. You can find the file on my Pinterest board here. It prints on 6 pages and you simply tape it all together. I have been meaning to do the activity with my kids since Halloween but life got in the way.  Well, in the last month we began watching some Amamaniacs learning songs on Youtube that I remembered from my childhood. Just search “Animaniacs bones” on youtube, with or without written lyrics, as you prefer.

The kids love it! They are fun and we are starting to learn the words although they are sung very quickly, so you might want to play it at the .75 speed setting. Although not all of the names match up exactly (they say finger bones vs. phalanges, etc) many of them do and it’s greatly boosted their interest in learning the names of the bones! (Note- The word evolution is mentioned once in the song for those that are sensitive to secular influences.)

I printed out the skeleton on cardstock and then added a colored dot on every place that needed labeling to serve as a visual cue. I then created labels using my label maker for simplicity, but of course you can just write them directly on the printout, on blank labels, or you could get creative and even make your own magnet labels for repeated use.

The kids matched up the labels using an answer key and generally had a great time! I have been reinforcing the bone names with Owen especially whenever we pass through the kitchen and it usually ends in tickling, giggles, and lots of hugs. 🙂 “Where is Owen’s frontal bone? Where is Mommy’s patella?” and so on.  The only downside is that the refrigerator is a dangerous place to hang paper in regards to spills and things, but I don’t intend for it to last forever so I didn’t bother laminating it. Overall, it’s been a super project and we are having fun solidifying their knowledge of the bones. Give it a try with your kids!

Other Subjects

Free Infant Visual Stimulation Flashcards

Did you know that stimulating your baby’s VISION is a great way to stimulate their BRAIN?

Newborn babies are born with retinas that are not fully developed. Your retina helps you differentiate color in the world around you, but a baby’s immature retina can only detect high contrasts between black and white, or light and dark objects. Those sweet baby pinks and blues you picked out to decorate the nursery? Your little one just sees them as one great big pastel blur!

So what can you do? You can provide your baby with lots of black and white images to enjoy, such as these: FREE PRINTABLE FLASHCARDS

From there, simply click the yellow BrillBaby tab as shown here:

And then scroll down to the bottom of the page.

If you prefer, durable glossy versions of the infant stimulation cards are available in the forum shop for $15.

Babies crave input to stimulate their brain development and the brain builds itself by forming connections. Of all the five senses, vision takes the longest to develop but it also has the highest impact on the brain. The more visual stimulation your child receives, the more their neural network will expand and connect. A well connected brains results in a smart baby! With continual stimulation, your baby’s retina, optical nerve, and visual parts of the brain will blossom from the use of high contrast images.

Happy Teaching!


DIY “Right Start” Abacus & Soroban

Lately we have been practicing more skip counting with the kids using Little Math and reinforcing the lessons with our abacus. We also use some youtube videos, as well. There are a few learning playlists available on my channel, including skip counting, at

While you can count with any manipulatives or household items, what I like about the abacus was that there is no mess to clean up afterward. However, the abacus just didn’t seem to be as effective as it could be.

I decided a long time ago I should paint it, but I finally buckled down and took a few hours out of my morning to actually do it. I used one of the kids’ paintbrushes and it’s definitely a mediocre, amateur paint job. I suppose I could have just replaced the beads with colored beads from a craft store, but instead, I used what I had on hand didn’t cost me a cent out of pocket.

It started out looking like this-

I originally started to paint it with the beads on, I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to go through the hassle of trying to take the thing apart. However, right away I could tell that it was going to be a pain and was better off taking it apart. Turns out, it only required a screwdriver and about a minute to easily disassemble it.

Plus, this allowed me to separate the beads to paint the lighter colored beads yellow and the darker colored beads blue. I slid them on bamboo barbeque skewers to dry and spray with a clear coat. I could have used any color paint I suppose, but I chose Right Start colors in case I decided to use their iPhone/iPad app or official workbooks in the future things would match.

Using the supplies you have around the house will save you money if that’s important to you, but using spray paint versus a brush will speed up the process a lot and save the frustration of multiple coats to cover the red, for example. I happened to find some spray primer in the shed AFTER the fact and it would have really helped to get the paint to stick easier, I wish I had found it sooner.

The results of this paint job were profound and instantaneous! I highly recommend dismantling a rainbow abacus you may have at home to paint or slide on new beads. It really helps my kids learn to think in 5’s and 10’s and it also helps ME teach more effectively when sliding the beads around for skip counting.

It is sooooo much easier to count on this thing now! The kids’ interest in math has risen dramatically from just a few coats of paint. It was time well spent and I only regret not doing it sooner. It’s perfect to let my daughter use it to help her solve equations in her early learning math workbooks. It’s so sturdy that I have no qualms about letting the kids play with it until their heart’s content and today Lily was happily “teaching Daddy.”  Here is the finished product:

So, go be inspired and take apart your abacus that is just collecting dust and slap some paint on it! You’ll be glad you did.  


Just the other day I decided to do this again, this time modifying a Melissa & Doug Abacus into a Japanese soroban. It’s not ideal, but they are traditionally just a bit too small for my son’s hands right now as he is still building up his fine motor skills more and more every day (he’s almost 3).  I had to enlist my husband’s help as a handyman but of course, I did all the painting. They were infinitely easier to paint with spraypaint! And although it’s difficult to tell in the picture, they look soooo much prettier compared to the first one where I used a paintbrush. Here’s the finished product-

I painted the beads to match the bead colors. You can download their e-book and practice on the web-based program for 10 minutes daily at no cost. Simply create an account and then add multiple students in it so each child’s progress is tracked separately for the timed tests on each level. “However, do NOT get their “free, you only pay to ship, too good to be true” abacus. It’s JUNK.