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. 


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! 



How to Find Solfege Nursery Rhymes in Little Musician

Can I just say I <3 BrillKids Little Musician?
It helped give my kids perfect pitch, how could I not!

I fell in love with Little Musician when it first came outyou can read and watch the very detailed full review here. Now I want to share how to make the most out of using the program’s solfege nursery rhymes. Lots of people either miss this aspect entirely or don’t know where to find them. They are a hidden gem you should not overlook. Solfege is the time tested universal language of music and NO other program offers anything like this–it’s awesome!

From the main Little Musician screen: go to PLAY EDIT > MUSIC NOTES > CHILDREN’S SONGS.

Start with one or two songs and learn them by heart. You will probably have to play them very slowly initially but soon you will be able to zip along at full speed! Don’t get frustrated if you can’t keep up, just use repetition until you and your child can. Don’t forget you can change the tempo manually all the way down to a snail’s pace to be even slower than the “slow practice” version preset. Once you learn them by heart, sing them in the bath, at breakfast, in the car, and on and on and on…. 🙂

Here’s some screen shots to walk you through.




Okay, that’s all for now. Stay tuned for the next installment of LMs ideas. 🙂 This is the 2nd time I’ve moved my blog this year so it’s EMPTY again (waah!). Be sure to  resubscribe if you want to get the latest updates if  you were previously subscribed at my old blog. Thanks!

New to Little Musician? Take the two week FREE TRIAL of Little Musician and other BrillKids programs, save 10% on all purchases with discount coupon code BKAFF40902. Happy teaching!  

Other Subjects

KidStart Spanish Review

Hi Guys! Here’s my review of Reading Amigo, as originally posted on my old blog and migrated here.

It’s a very cool program! And Ricardo Cuevas over at Reading Amigo is a fellow early learning parent and member of BrillKids, one of my absolute favorite early learning forums. If you have any questions about the program he is super friendly and helpful, as is the customer service department who responds in inquiries very quickly.

I had the opportunity to try out Reading Amigo with my kids, a new program to help teach your child to read in Spanish. We were excited to try this set as we have a decent collection of kids DVD’s with Spanish audio options but very few that teach reading, which I believe is one of the most vital parts of learning a new language. From the KidStart Spanish Website:

How the Program Works

Your child watches the videos and will start to associate written words with their related action scenes.

Your child will hear the spoken words from the video and will start to associate sounds with written language.

By saying the words the child will reaffirm the connections between the visual, and audio imagery in the child’s mind.

By touching and playing with physical objects using interactive tools such as our Ipad and iPhone, your child’s mind will once again reaffirm and cement the newly acquired language. The complete path is completed between the audio, visual imagery, and the related motor skills.

The DVDs and flashcards teach words and phrases from the following subjects:

• Greetings
• Body Parts
• Household items
• Classic Children’s Music
• Barnyard Animals
• Foods
• Shapes
• Active Children’s Music
• Places
• Activities
• Colors
• Latin Landmarks
• Phrases
• Exotic Animals
• Review

What I like best about this program:

  • Overall, it is just really cute! It has a catchy and fun vibe to it, the music is lively, the colors are vibrant, and the kids are enthusiastic. It was designed from the perspective of a native Spanish-speaker. This is reflected in many of the words, song choices, and culturally significant landmarks shown.
  • The words are spoken clearly in multiple voices with underlining arrows to highlight left to right reading patterns. They are also repeated twice in succession to make sure it sinks in.
  • The children featured in this video are young children and babies, not just babies, so it will appeal to children across a wide age range.
  • It offers true to life footage of kids, animals, and objects intermixed with cartoon animations and various background. This variety appeals to multiple learning styles to help capture and maintain a child’s attention.
  • The quality of flashcards in this set is fantastic!  The color-coding makes them super easy to organize and the surface is very glossy so they can be wiped clean. I have used other reading programs that use thick, slide-out word cards. The reading Amigo cards are much better because they’re far more durable and toddler friendly. Not only are those difficult to flash rapidly for right-brain learning, my son unintentionally destroys them while trying to slide the words in and out because they bend so easily. He has ruined pretty much the entire set! So these are much better.
  • New words are introduced in every DVD but there is a significant amount of consistency and repetition of the songs throughout the DVDs. Particularly when learning a second language, learning entire songs clearly requires more exposure than single words. In that respect, intermixing new words with familiar songs throughout the series is a great learning strategy.  Learning entire song lyrics by heart helps children develop their sense of sentence structure as well.  The frequent songs are a great way to break up the words with lively music and maintain interest.
  • The font in the “Book of Opposites” is HUGE, making it visible for even tiny babies, which I love! It can be difficult to source books with a font that is truly big enough, but the text size in this book is ideal and comfortable for all ages. With my kids, I notice even as they get a bit older they simply prefer larger font. When I was transitioning my daughter from flashcards to books, she seemed to find small print intimidating, so this is especially great for giving babies and toddlers a gentle transition in that area.
  •  My son especially loves the corresponding App included with the program. The picture and audio quality are both excellent and my kids naturally repeat the words while intuitively flipping through the program. The images are sharp and spoken clearly, first displaying the image and then dimming it to show the word over the picture. My kids love i-things so it’s a great tool for reinforcing the material from the videos.

Overall, my kids (ages 2 and 3) enjoy the program and as a parent, I am thrilled that they are practicing their Spanish while having fun! The songs are their favorite part of course. Our babysitter is a native of Bolivia and the first thing she commented on was how culturally authentic the program is, which certainly impressed me! The kids are already singing along and have learned lots of new words. It is quality programs like Reading Amigo that are helping change the way young children learn. This program is ideal for native speaking families and families learning Spanish alike–our family gives it two thumbs up!