Author - Nina Cordoba

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My interests are varied and I'm likely to write anything from funny to poignant to informational, so my blogs are organized by topic. Just choose your favorite topic on the left. I'd love to hear from you in the comments section or go to Contact and email me privately if you like. Thanks for coming by!

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9/16/2020 9:23:09 PM

How I’m Getting Out of Bed in the Morning and (Mostly) Keeping it Together During the Pandemic

Note: I do not own, operate or benefit financially from any of the organizations mentioned here and am not responsible for their actions. Please do your own research and/or consult medical professionals when appropriate before proceeding with any of these activities.

After I sent out the newsletter a few weeks ago asking how I could help during the pandemic, some of you replied, requesting that I share anything that might help you get up in the morning or get through the day.

 This is such a strange time we’re living through, and we’re really not built for it. Studies show, over and over, that we’re social animals who need relationships and human interactions in our lives in order to feel emotionally healthy.

 Many people who didn’t have depression or anxiety to a serious degree are now having trouble getting up in the morning, are drinking more (and earlier) in the day than they used to, or feel riddled with anxiety and dread.

 I didn’t need a pandemic to put me in this zone. It’s something I inherited that has gotten worse over time, so I’ve been struggling to find ways to cope for a while. This may sound strange to you if you’ve read my books, which tend to include a lot of humor. However, after reading many memoirs and listening to a lot of podcast interviews, it seems that most comedians suffer from depression, too. The humor gives people like us doses of positive brain chemicals to boost our moods. If only it would last longer!

 Here are some free and paid ways that I keep myself functioning. They may not be exactly what you need, but I’m hoping you can at least find some ideas and inspiration from the list:

 Podcasts (Free)

 *If you are a younger person, you probably already know how to find podcasts, so you can skip down to my list of favorites.

 A podcast is similar to a radio talk show, only you get to choose when to listen to it. For several years, I kept hearing about people I was interested in having podcasts, but I had no idea how to find a podcast. I would ask members of my family and they’d say things like, “Oh, you can get them all kinds of places.” (Not helpful.)

 Finally, my husband showed me that I could get them from the Spotify app on my phone. Many (maybe most?) podcasts are available on several different apps, so if you tap the App Store icon on your phone and type “Podcasts” into the search field, you’ll see: Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, and others.

 Once you’ve got a podcast app on your phone, you can search for specific podcasts or people. For instance, if you’re a big fan of particular celebrities, when you type the names into the search field, you may see a bunch of different podcasts where they were interviewed or you might find that they already have their own podcast. Tap on the episode and listen. I often find my new favorite podcast because there’s an ad for it during the podcast I’m currently listening to.

 Nowadays, I use them to help me get out of bed in the morning, which is when I feel the worst. Instead of getting up immediately, I start listening to some of my podcast “friends” talking. They make me feel better but don’t expect me to answer them first thing in the morning like in-person humans do. (Mr. Nina is one of those dreaded morning people who wakes up happy and chatty, but, luckily, we are on different morning schedules right now.) I also use podcasts and audiobooks to keep me from getting anxious or angry when I’m in the kitchen. (I REALLY hate cooking.)

My Favorite Podcasts (Free):

 Armchair Experts-Dax Shepard and Monica Padman are interested in a lot of different things, like I am. They are very open about their own life struggles and often go deep with their guests, while still maintaining their senses of humor. They have some celebrity guests, but they also have really interesting authors, academics, and scientists on the show. It’s both entertaining and informative.

I also love the familial relationship they’ve developed. Monica started out as nanny for Dax and his wife Kristen Bell, then became Kristen’s assistant. Now, they’ve all adopted each other as family. Dax and Monica sometimes get mad at each other as family members do. They often confess their bad behavior or thoughts on the podcast and apologize to each other, which I like hearing. I guess I feel like there isn’t enough apologizing in the world, considering how often people act badly. Regardless of the topic, these two usually cheer me up and make it easier for me to start my day.

 Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend-This podcast brings me a lot of joy. It’s often hilarious, especially when the guest has comedy improv experience. I wasn’t a particular fan of Conan’s TV shows, but I love his podcast because there’s so much more time to get into interesting and/or hilarious conversations with interesting and/or hilarious people.

 Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell- Rather than having guests, Malcolm Gladwell has a well-researched, well-produced true story to tell you about things in history that were overlooked or misunderstood.

 The Michelle Obama Podcast-WAIT! Before you pass this one up, let me clarify that it is not about politics. Michelle Obama hasn’t ever been into politics, except when she had to be. The mood of this podcast is very calm and optimistic. It’s new, but, so far, I love it. For instance, the episode with Conan O’Brien where he and Michelle talk frankly about the challenges of marriage, and she admits that, during an argument, she actually took off the ring Barack gave her and threw it. (Yes, she’s human, too.) I also loved the episode about working women with Valerie Jarrett, who had some really important things to say about being a working mom and about mentoring others.

 I also sometimes listen to No Stupid Questions, The Happiness Lab, and even Anna Faris is Unqualified, in which Anna and a celebrity guest attempt to give advice to callers.

 Some podcasts are ongoing, while others are a miniseries about a particular topic. Search some names or words that interest you and see what you find.


Besides podcasts, I often listen to fiction and nonfiction audiobooks when I’m doing things around the house. These are not usually free, but they do help distract me from the drudgery and keep me from having negative thoughts.  You can get audiobooks from iTunes, Kobo, Audible, Google Audiobooks and others. Tap your App Store icon and search “audiobooks.”

 Note: Malcolm Gladwell, who I mentioned in the podcast section, has some interesting non-fiction books in audio.

 Best Boost:

For me, the best booster—the one that can often make the rest of my day better—is exercise. A number of brain researchers, psychologists, and psychiatrists I’ve listened to on podcasts emphasize that aerobic exercise can create positive brain chemicals. The difficult part is that, when you’re depressed, your mind tricks you into thinking you have no energy in your body.

 It helps if I plan things the night before by putting my workout on my calendar and setting out the clothes I’m going to wear to workout in. The next morning, if I can make myself wrestle my way into my exercise bra and get dressed, I almost always workout. If I get dressed and still feel like I can’t make myself do anything, I start with a YouTube video and do what they do.

 Note: If you are not used to working out, please be careful!  I’ve known people who finally got up the gumption to exercise only to overdo it and injure themselves immediately, rendering themselves unable to exercise for months. Be aware of how your joints feel and don’t go overboard. Start small. Watch a video and just stand there and do the arms the first time. If that feels like exertion, keep doing it for a few days or longer, until it feels easier, then add the leg movements. Always be careful with your joints and back. It’s normal to feel muscle soreness from a good workout, but you shouldn’t be in joint pain during it or feel like you were in a car accident afterwards.

 Keep in mind, you may need to try different types of exercise to find workouts you can stand to do. I have learned that, regardless of what kind of exercise I’m doing, I need music with a good beat, and I need to do the exercise to the beat. If it’s to the beat, as long as there isn’t complicated choreography for me to follow, I can do all kinds of things—high and low impact floor aerobics, kickboxing workouts, step aerobics, weights and squats—but it must be done to the beat of good music. When it isn’t, I get progressively angrier as the workout goes on.

You may enjoy a very different kind of exercise, like stretching or tai chi. Search for things you think you might like on YouTube and you will almost certainly find a couple  (or a million) videos about it.

My Favorite Workouts:

Bollywood workouts from BollyX on YouTube-Once I get my clothes on, if I still don’t feel like working myself out, I go to the videos below to get me started. The music is joyful, the people look like they are having fun, and the moves are exercise inspired by dance, but not hard to follow. And it’s free!

 This one has 3 songs. It’s usually the first video I do. If you are new to working out, do the low-impact moves. (In other words don’t do any hopping while you’re exercising.)

 This one is just one song, but it’s led by an adorable girl that makes me happy every time I see her.

 So far, every time I’ve done these workouts, I’ve felt better and often want to go on and do more, so I move to my other types of exercise. If you don’t know how to work yourself out, try going to and searching “exercise” and “workout” and see if anything strikes your fancy.


POUND Rock Out Workout:

 My daughter and I are very different, but one thing we agree on is that we both LOVE taking Pound classes. We have been doing them virtually through Zoom since Covid-19 started. While the internet isn’t the most ideal way to take a class, it can make it easier for you to try out because you don’t have to turn your camera on and let other people see you if you don’t want to. You can also turn it on to say, “Hi,” then turn it off for the workout. But even if you leave the camera on, in Pound, you don’t have to be concerned about doing it just right. The instructors tell you not to worry about messing up because you are a Rockstar and you should consider it a drum solo.

 You can try this out using regular drumsticks if you have them around or whatever stick-like thing you can find. One friend held chopsticks in her hands to try it out until she could get some Ripstix. Or pretend to use drumsticks and find out if you like this type of class. You can buy Ripsticks for around $20 on Amazon (generic versions are even cheaper) or the website. (Ripstix look like drumsticks, except they are bright green and weighted ¼ lb. each.)

 I want to say more about Pound because I feel like it saved my life in a couple of ways. I couldn’t exercise much for several years due to a weird migraine condition that was triggered by light, motion and a number of other things.

After we moved to the Seattle area, I found ways to calm the migraine situation down, and I decided I was ready to start looking for a way to exercise. The combination of the music and getting to hit the Ripsticks together and on the floor was awesome! I started to gradually lose the weight I’d gained, then Mr. Nina was diagnosed with cancer and Pound became my lifeline, allowing me to pound out the extreme stress I was under.

 My daughter has never been flexible, so when she started Pound, she couldn’t squat or lunge low enough to hit the floor/yoga mat. (Instructors encourage you modify the exercise however you need to.)  Now we’ve both lost over 15 pounds and she can do ALL the moves.

 Different instructors choose different music so if you try Pound and like the general idea, but aren’t crazy about the musical choices, try another instructor. Some instructors are teaching virtual Pound for as little as $5 a session since the pandemic started. Go to Find a Class page. Next to “Find a Class” you’ll see the “Virtual Only” toggle. Switch it on. Then type in a city and state. You can try an instructor near you (so you can continue post pandemic) or try one somewhere else. My daughter and I do virtual Pound twice per week with an instructor we already knew. We are also trying Pound classes in different states or countries for fun. (I think we’ll be working out in Mexico City this week.)

 Note: While you can find some promo reels with examples of Pound online, they often don’t have the real songs on the videos because of the specifics of music licensing agreements. However, in class, you get real rock, pop, R&B and other music you’ll probably recognize.

 Personalized Boost:

 Think back to when you were younger, before you had the responsibilities of work and/or kids and/or spouses. What did you do to get rid of that teenage angst?

 For me, it was music. As a teenager, I sang in choirs and sang and danced (barely) in our high school Madrigal Singers group. I harmonized with music in my car. At home, I often lifted myself out of a funk by playing my guitar and singing. I would start with a song that matched my downer mood and as I felt better, my set would turn more uplifting.

 For Christmas, Mr. Nina got me a karaoke setup that I enjoy using, but it’s not necessary to have a microphone to enjoy singing. YouTube is full of music videos, practice videos, and karaoke videos with lyrics you can sing along with.

 I also used to feel better by writing down what was bothering me in a spiral notebook. Now, sometimes when I get upset, I write an email to the person involved, but I don’t send it that day. The next day, when I see it again, I often realize I was over-reacting and I don’t need to actually send the email.

 Is there something you used to do that made you feel better? Did it get lost in the shuffle of your life?

 Does crafting or knitting or needlepoint relax you? (They tick me off because I’m terrible at them, but this is about you.)

 How about doing cartwheels across the yard? (This also ticks me off because I was the only one in 7th grade P.E. who couldn’t do a cartwheel, but, again, this is about you.)

 Did you used to enjoy ballet or some other kind of dance? (I took a semester of modern dance in college and it was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. The instructor gave me a pity “C.” But, really, this is about you.) You can search YouTube to find dancing to watch or to try. Or maybe take an online Barre class, which is exercise based on ballet. There are lots of videos for this on YouTube.

 My daughter is excellent at finding enjoyable (to her) ways to fill her time outside of work. Besides online Pound classes, here are some things she’s doing:

 Needlepointing Hogwarts (She and her friends often craft together via Zoom.)

Studying advanced Spanish grammar

Watching YouTube videos to learn how to make paper flowers to use as decorations.

Using the HelloTalk phone app to interact with a texting pen pal in Costa Rica.

Using the Duolingo app to work on beginner Chinese.

Learning ASL (American Sign Language)

Facetiming with friends who are struggling with being lonely during the pandemic.


Remember, between phone apps and YouTube, you can learn to do all kinds of things for free. I find it’s harder to stay in a negative headspace if I’m really engaged in something.


Service to Others:

According to researchers in the psychology field, one of the best things we can do for our mental health is being of service to others. While it is important to donate to causes when you can afford it, the data shows that more personalized service (helping a specific person or family that you know of) is best for you, psychologically, and much longer lasting than giving randomly. People who’ve donated kidneys to others have the most lasting emotional benefit, although I’m not suggesting you need to go that far.

 Getting Help:

If you have tried everything within reason and are still struggling, you many need to involve a professional. Whether it’s a lifelong, inherited problem or because of trauma you’ve suffered, or from the current situation—2020 may be the worst year, globally speaking, in my lifetime—don’t give up on yourself before reaching out to a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist.

 In my case, there is a strong biological issue that I realized I needed to try to address. When I was younger, I managed to turn a lot of that anxiety into energy. I believed it helped me in my overachieving. But some of these genetic issues can get worse as you get older and that’s the situation I’ve found myself in. Although all of the things I’ve mentioned above help me get up and get through the day, I need more than that.

 Yesterday, I had an online visit with a psychiatrist. This is something many people are not comfortable sharing but I wanted to say it here so you’ll know this is not a generic “seek help” statement.

 It’s hard to seek help when you are anxious and depressed. The anxiety makes it difficult to decide who to contact and hard to make the phone call even after you identify the professional you want to speak to. The depression can suck away your energy to the point where you don’t have it in you to find someone, or it can make you feel your situation is hopeless.

  In some ways, it’s easier now than it ever has been to see a professional because so many are offering online appointments during the pandemic. And there are websites and apps like,, and, where you can have appointments through video, phone, or chat.

 But nothing is easy when you are suffering from anxiety and/or depression. Over the past year, I researched mental health professionals online several times, but was unable to go through with contacting them until now. If you try and can’t make yourself follow through one day, try again until you can manage it. If you can’t, for a while, don’t think of it as failing or cowardice. Just think of it as not quite being ready.

 If you’ve been isolating at home alone during the pandemic (or with people who stress you the hell out), talking to a therapist here and there may be all you need. We’re not built to live like this. Even my author friends—many of whom are introverts—are struggling to get words on the page because they’re concerned about loved ones or overwhelmed by what’s happening in the world.

 Struggling does not equal weak. Depression does not equal weak. Anxiety does not equal weak.

 My conclusion during my 5 decades on the planet is that the human brain is an amazing, resilient machine, but the human psyche is surprisingly fragile. Maybe it’s just that 200 years is very short in evolutionary time, yet, for most of us in industrialized countries, our lives are vastly different than those of our ancestors.

 We don’t need to move around constantly to gather or grow food to survive, so we’re not automatically getting exercise every day. And, surely, we weren’t meant to know about every tragedy and horror that happens throughout the world, like we do today. It’s a lot for minds that were mostly focused on simple survival for millions of years.

 Regardless, well-meaning friends and family who tell you to just snap out of it or act like you’re weak because you are succumbing to emotional/mental problems don’t know what they’re talking about. If you start looking into it, you’ll find many people we’ve touted in history books as heroes, geniuses, and great talents suffered from depression and/or anxiety during their lifetimes.

 Is there something you’re doing that’s helping you get up and get through the day? Feel free to mention it in the comment section. Then, feel good about it because you may be helping someone else.

posted by Nina 1 Comments

9/4/2020 11:57:35 PM

Where can I find learning materials for my preschool or elementary school student?

I’m writing this post in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of you still have jobs and may be trying to work from home. Some of you have lost your jobs, through no fault of your own. Some kids are in school, some are doing online school. Some are being homeschooled.

 It’s a weird time.

 I’ve included a variety of materials and ideas, paid and free, to help give you some resources, whether you’re trying to keep a preschooler busy while you work or trying to homeschool your elementary-age child yourself because your state is having in-person school and you don’t feel safe about it.

 I’m sure some parents are concerned their kids will fall behind this year. Others may be realizing for the first time that there’s an issue with their child’s learning because they’re working with them personally. If either of these statements ring true to you, read my other education posts so you can feel better, then form a plan of action.

 Note: When a child is struggling across the board in school, the first thing I check is reading. If you can’t read, it’s hard to succeed in anything besides art and phys ed. Because of this, I’ve written 2 reading blog posts, one called Teaching Reading the Right Way and the other is a quick phonics assessment to find out if your child has a good grasp of phonics.

 For other subjects, there are many places to find workbooks, worksheets, and videos for various grade levels. However, I would not advise you to start putting workbooks for other subjects in front of a struggling reader without trying to fix the reading problem first.


How to get workbooks:

 Workbooks covering the various school subjects and grade levels are easier to get to than ever before, thanks to the internet.

 You can simply type the subject and grade level into Google or Bing or an online store’s search field and see a number of options. With the exception of phonics workbooks (which I talk about extensively in my other posts), almost any workbook your child likes is a good workbook. I like it when the online store shows me pictures of the inside of the book so I know how engaging it looks.

 For instance, I typed “2nd grade science workbooks” into the Amazon search field and found a workbook that looked good. I clicked on the pictures to see the inside pages and the illustrations looked cool. I almost wish I had a second grader to buy it for! The book was out of stock, expected back in October, which would still be fine.

 However, I scrolled down and saw that it was made by School Zone, a family-owned education company that makes some really nice products. I plugged the name of the book--Big Science Workbook Grades 2-3--into the School Zone website. And there it was, available now! This is just one example. There are workbooks and videos for many subjects and grade levels. And, if you can afford it, don’t forget to add on a puzzle book. All kinds of puzzles, from jigsaw to crossword, are good for critical thinking skills and fun to do.

 I bought various kinds of puzzles and puzzle books for my daughter over the years. She also loved messages that were in a “secret code” she had to apply to read the message. Eventually, she graduated to sudoku. (I’m terrible at it, so she didn’t get it from me.) When we went on trips, she and her stepdad Mr. Nina would grab the airline magazine and compete for who could finish the sudoku first. The day she beat him was one of her most glorious.

 I really like School Zone, so if you don’t want to feel overwhelmed by the choices a typical search engine will give you, see if you can find what you need there.


Free Stuff!


 First, let me just say, video learning is good!

 People have been demonizing TV, and practically anything you do on screens, for decades. But I found TV, and later videos, to be educational for both me and my daughter in different ways. Videos can also be helpful for kids with reading problems, dyslexia, and other issues so they keep learning the other subjects while they are working on overcoming their disability.

 Story Time

I quit watching cartoons very early and moved on to live action television. When I was in 1st grade, watching reruns of Dragnet taught me my Miranda Rights. You’d be surprised at the number of times I managed to work “You have the right to remains silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”  into conversations over the following decade. Around the same time as Dragnet, I was watching Perry Mason reruns. From those, I learned what the prosecution and the defense were as well as terms like “objection,” “sustained,” and “overruled.” I also learned what evidence was and what judges and juries did. And, when I wasn’t reciting the Miranda Rights, I was often making my friends “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” (If you think I was a weird kid at this point, you don’t know the half of it. Mr. Nina gets a chuckle of the mentions of my childhood, especially the parts involving bongo drums and a ventriloquist doll.)

 My daughter went a different direction. She had no interest in grown up things, but she loved all the kids’ programs on Nickelodeon, Disney, PBS, and a few things on the cartoon network. She had a little TV in her room. I would walk in and find her taking notes while watching Blues Clues or making finger puppets from some crafty kids’ show.

 However, it was a cartoon that was responsible for my daughter making her first pun at age 5. We were outside in Texas, and I noticed the dreaded fire ants were building mounds again. “Oh no! There are fire ants everywhere,” I said.

“It’s an ant-astrophe!” my daughter cried.

My heart beat faster. Had it happened? Had my little girl made her first pun? No. I couldn’t let myself get too excited, in case I didn’t hear what I thought I heard. “Where did you get that word?” I asked.

“You know, ‘cat-astrophe’?” she explained. “This is an ant-astrophe.”

“Where did you learn ‘catastrophe’?” I asked.

“The Power Puff Girls!”

I was so proud.

 Anyway, I realize that some of you are struggling to do your office jobs from home with young children underfoot. If you have a TV or computer or iPad or phone, don’t feel bad about using it as a “mother’s helper.” Just set things up in a way you can feel good about.



 First, if you’re concerned, have yourself and/or your child use headphones so as not to disrupt each other and position the screens so you can glance up and see what your child is watching at any given moment.

 YouTube is full of educational videos for kids. You can search for various subjects at all different grade levels. Young kids can learn almost anything if it’s presented in a fun way. My daughter understood what fractions were as well as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs when she was 5 and she enjoyed the “Identify the Part of Speech” verbal games we did in the car. Here’s a video I like for learning about nouns.

 Here are a couple of fun videos for introducing short and long vowels to preschoolers or to use in reinforcing what students learn in Explode the Code 1,2, & 3. (See my reading blog posts for details about ETC.)

Short vowels

Long (silent E) vowels

  Those are just examples. There are many more educational videos, just put your child’s grade level in the YouTube search. You can get the Kids' YouTube app or use it on your computer. Set up a Kid’s YouTube account and use their parental controls to make sure your child doesn’t happen upon anything inappropriate.

 Next, make an educational YouTube playlist for your child beforehand by clicking the plus sign under each video you want to use. You can make up a name for each playlist. Remember: You don’t necessarily need a new playlist every day for preschool and early elementary schoolers. As long as it’s something engaging they can learn from, young kids typically don’t mind watching things over and over again. They learn with repetition. If you can find a block of time on the weekends, make several playlists of videos and rotate them over the next couple of weeks.

 If you’re swamped during the day, try to remember to ask your child about the videos at dinner time or bedtime. “What did you learn? Which one is your favorite?” etc. Pay attention. It might give you clues that will help you choose videos and workbooks later.

 If you are way more organized than I am, you can make your child a schedule (let your child help set it up with you so he has some ownership) and put it on a list on the fridge or taped to the wall. Give her a colored marker or order some special stickers and let her put one next to each activity as she does it. (If the child doesn’t enjoy this, there’s no point in forcing it. You’re trying to ad validation and positivity, not something to fight about.)

 For instance, a schedule for a 4-year old might be:

-4-6 pages of Explode the Code, Book A (or more if he can sit still)

-Kids YouTube playlist 1 (For this age, maybe a mixture of preschool and Kindergarten videos. Don’t overthink this. You’ve got enough on your mind. Videos don’t have to be exactly on grade level.)

-Lunch with your kid’s favorite movie (Ask me how many times I heard Hakuna Matata in 1997). You could keep working through lunch if you need to or join your child for part of the movie while you eat together.

-Kid’s choice of shows on channels approved by you in the afternoon. This is a good tiem to put out a coloring book, too.


Another website option to put in the calendar for preschoolers is’s interactive videos where they can practice counting by making pizzas, practice recognizing letters with aliens and spaceships and other cool stuff.


Free Worksheets

There are many places on the internet where you can download free worksheets for the various subjects and grade levels. To find what you’re looking for, you can search by grade level and/or subject with the word “worksheets.”

 However, if you want to narrow it down, is good for this, too. There are lots of worksheets—labeled by grade level and subject—that you can download for free. You can print them out, but if the sheet was in color, and I didn’t have a color printer, I think I’d rather let the kid look at the cool color images on a laptop, iPad, or phone and write the answers on paper. Or print out the black and white version to write on, but let them look at the cool color version on a screen, if possible.

 Note: If you have no spare screens, your child will not suffer irreparable damage from using black and white handouts. That’s all most of us had in school. If you don’t have a printer, you can check with your local Kinkos or your local mailbox business. They can often print things out and make copies.

There are a lot of people like me who haven’t been hit as hard by Covid who do want to help if they can. Be honest when you call. For example, “I’ve got a 1st grader at home that I need to print out 20 worksheets for. My job hours were cut, but I’ve managed to gather $3.00 in change from the bottom of my purse and my car. Can you print them out for that?” If one place refuses, try another. Don’t be embarrassed. Many of us know what it’s like to have children, and I know lots of well-off people who struggled at some time in their lives. The time I spent as a single mom was scary and stressful. A lot of people get it. On the other hand, please don’t do this if you are not in financial peril because most of these places are mom and pop shops.

 Another Note: I just typed “3rd grade science” into’s website and found all kinds of cool stuff like colored diagrams of the inside of a volcano, the solar system, the water cycle and tons more. Using the site is free, but there’s also a premium version for $15.99/mo. (as I write this, it’s on sale for $8/mo.)

 Other educational things my daughter enjoyed doing:

 -At ages 3-12, she would repeatedly choose to go back and practice Muzzy Spanish and Muzzy French. Not only did she love it, but when her cousins or friends came over, they wanted to sit with her and do it. At the time, the DVD sets were very expensive. Now, Muzzy is online (subscription) and has apps you can use.

However, if that won’t work for you, you can typically find Muzzy language DVDs for sale on Ebay.

 -There are also lots of cute cartoons on YouTube where they are speaking and singing in different languages. Even if your child enjoys the visuals and doesn’t know what’s being said/sung, I believe it helps to be exposed early, so language sounds don’t seem so foreign when they’re trying to learn them later.

 -Keyboarding. My mom bought my daughter a Lion King keyboarding DVD on a half-price sale when she was 4 or 5. She loved it! When I showed her how to turn the letters she’d typed into different colors, she loved it even more. Years later, when other kids were learning keyboarding, she was already a good typist. Nowadays, she’s superfast. There are a variety of ways to learn keyboarding now. Here’s a list of a few. 

 -Books. Have books around the house to whatever extent you can afford. Covid-19 has made us more careful, but when you feel it’s safe to go to the library, take your child, get him his own library card, and let him pick out books for himself. Or sit with her and search for books online.

 Another way to do it is to listen to what your child is interested in and do a search for books or online articles about the topic. Or do searches like “chapter books for 5th graders” or “picture books for preschoolers” and have your child pick some from the list.

 This is where you may want to examine your family culture and see what you spend your money on (assuming you have any to spend). If you’ll spend lots on sports equipment, sports camps, etc. or Starbucks every day, but you tell your child books are too expensive, you’re brainwashing them in a certain direction. Most successful people I know (regardless of which way you measure success) had parents who saw the value of knowledge, education, and reading, and made sure their kids had books to read one way or the other.

 My teacher mom would always ask the librarians at her schools to tell her when they were going to throw books away. We had shelves and shelves of books at home. When I felt like reading, I’d go peruse the shelves. Mr. Nina had extremely frugal Chinese immigrant parents, but the one thing they regularly splurged on was books. They would take the kids to the bookstore and buy absolutely any book they wanted. You can’t argue with the results. They now have two surgeons and a software architect in the family.

 Note: Typically children will treasure and reread books they choose themselves.

Can’t go to a library and don’t have money to buy books or technology?

Try looking for a “Buy Nothing” group in your area. Go to Facebook and search “Buy Nothing Seattle” (but put in your city instead). In these groups, you can give things away free or request things you need or want. People often give books away in our local group. Don’t be afraid to let others know what’s going on. For instance, “I’m a single mom working from home. I need to keep my preschooler busy. I’d appreciate any books, puzzles or ____ (whatever your kid likes) you can give.”

 Don’t underestimate coloring and play time. Activities like coloring or building with blocks can be good in several ways. It can be a time to relax (kids get stressed and overwhelmed to). It can be a time when kids reflect about what they learned or daydream about what they want to do someday. If you have time to join them it might be relaxing for you, too.

 My daughter loved to color and do crafts. Ever so often, I’d find her coloring paper towels. I’m so unobservant, I’d never even noticed the paper towels had dotted patterns in them. She would color in the patterns and come up with some awfully pretty paper towels. Later, she would color on them with markers, then crumple them and get them damp. When she opened them up, they’d be “tie-dyed.”

 In the end, try not to be too stressed if you feel you’re not handling your child’s education perfectly or you don’t have a lot of money to spend. Just do what you can do.

 And, honestly, the most important thing is attitude about learning. I’ve watched children who were blessed with well above average IQ’s crash and burn as teens and adults because their parents weren’t interested in their education. If you are going to the trouble of reading these blog posts, you're not that kind of parent. Be proud of yourself.

Other education blog posts published or currently in the works:

-READ THIS FIRST: Educating at Home: Deciding What to Do and How to Do It

-READ THIS SECOND: Getting the Most from Your Child

-Reading: Quick Phonics Assessment

-Reading: Teaching Reading the Right Way

-Where to Find Learning Materials for My Preschool or Elementary School Student?

-Creating Real-life "Opportunity Learning" Moments

-Preparing Your Infant and Toddler for Success

posted by Nina 0 Comments

9/1/2020 9:56:49 PM

Quick Phonics Assessment

Note for parent:

If you haven't read the post: Teaching Reading the Right Way, please go there first.

Look at the key at the bottom of this assessment before you test your child so you know what you're looking for. The student should either breeze through these quickly and correctly OR pause and sound them out correctly. If the student can't get nearly every word correct in a section, start on the Explode the Code book that goes with that section.

Most kids who have already been to school, know the consonant sounds well. (Consonants are all of the letters other than a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y. ) If your child is learning from scratch or doesn’t know D says “duh” or V says “vuh,” for instance, start him on Explode the Code Books A, B, and C that come before Book 1.

Instructions for parent:

Point to each word and wait for the student to pronounce it, then move on to the next word. Do not try to coach your child during this assessment. Let him/her answer, then point to the next word. You can use this online or copy onto a Word.doc and print it out. (Answer key is below the assessment.)

Read aloud to child:

“Most of the words below are not real words, but I want you to pretend they are and pronounce them like you would if you saw them while you were reading.”



Group I:

 dat              det              dit               dot              dut

 vat              vet              vit                vot               vut

 jat               jet               jit                 jot               jut

 kat               ket               kit                kot              kut



 Group 2:

flab              fleb             flib               flob             flub


glab             gleb             glib              glob             glub


clab             cleb             clib              clob             club


dram           drem           drim            drob            drub


snamp        snemp        snimp         snomp        snump


balp             belp            bilp              bolp            bulp


 Group 3a:

 pate            pete            pite             pote            pute


bate            bete            bite             bote            bute


jate             jete             jite               jote             jute


vate            vete            vite              vote            vute



Group 3b:


peat            poat            pait             peet


deat            doat            dait             deet


leat              loat             lait               leet


veat             voat            vait              veet



Parent key:

An older child who has a solid foundation in phonics will breeze through nearly all of these correctly, despite the fact that most are not real words. A younger child who has learned phonics may need to stop and sound them out more slowly, but, if he pronounce nearly all of them correctly, he knows phonics. If a child misses 3 in a section, I'd start with the appropriate book for that section (see below) to make sure the information is solidly planted in her brain.


*Helpful hint: If you were not taught to read phonetically or if English is not your first language, you can go to, type in the words below (for example, type in “cat,”) and click on the speaker symbol to hear the pronunciation. **And please teach your kids to use online Dictionaries and Thesauruses so they are empowered to make themselves smarter whenever they want to. Apps are also available for your phone.


Group 1 contains only short vowel sounds. When your child pronounces these, each word in column 1 should rhyme, each word in column 2 should rhyme, etc.

Below are the real rhyming words to compare with in each column.


cat               bet              bit               cot               cut


If your child is pronouncing some vowels short and some long (or any other way), he hasn’t learned phonics, probably because he wasn’t taught phonics at all or, at least, not in the best way. Start on Explode the Code, Book 1.


Group 2 contains consonant combinations. Make sure the child is pronouncing both consonants together in each word, like “flab,” for instance, not “fab,” or “lab.”

The vowels should all have the short vowel sound like the words in Group 1 above.            

If your child is not pronouncing the consonant combinations correctly but is still pronouncing the vowels right, then start with Explode the Code Book 2.

 If your child changes the pronunciation of the vowels from short to long, once the new consonants are added, start with Explode the Code, Book 1 to make sure she really understands the rules.

Group 3a contains long vowel “words” that are made long by the silent E at the end.

 When your child pronounces these, each word in Column 1 of Group 2 should rhyme with the first column below, Column 2 should rhyme, with column 2 below etc.


date            mete           site              dote            lute


If he pronounces the vowels short or some short and some long, start on Explode the Code, Book 3.


Group 3b contains long vowel “words” that are made long by having a silent second letter. Here are the real words that your child’s answers should rhyme with:


                       beat            boat            wait             feet

If she pronounces the vowels short or some short and some long, start on Explode the Code, Book 3.


If your child breezes through all the groups of words on the assessment, start him on Explode the Code, Book 4. It gets into two syllable words in a way that breaks them down and makes them easier to figure out. Also, much of the content in Books 4-8 may not be taught specifically, even if your child’s school is teaching some phonics.


Note: If you are teaching a younger child, he or she may not be ready for the last few books yet.


Another Note: Learning phonics doesn’t need to be a painful process. These books are super user friendly. With my daughter, I kept them in the car where she had nothing to do. She would happily pick them up and start working as I drove from one place to another. With the kids I tutored, I kept it light. Getting something wrong was no big deal. Getting things right was awesome. Try putting a snack in front of a restless or tired child to see if you can get more work time out of him. (My daughter and stepson both appreciated it when they were doing homework and a plate of sliced apples appeared in front of them.)


Feel free to post questions in comments or email me at

Other education blog posts published or currently in the works as of 9/2/2020:

-READ THIS FIRST: Educating Your Child at Home

-READ THIS SECONDGetting the Most from Your Child

-Reading: Teaching Reading the Right Way

-Reading: Quick Phonics Assessment (This post)

-Where Can I Find Learning Materials for my Preschool or Elementary School Student?

-Creating Real-life "Opportunity Learning" Moments

-Preparing Your Infant and Toddler for Success

Copyright 2020 Nina Cordoba

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