Saturday, 17 September 2011

Preparing My Child - What Can I Do?

I often hear parents say that they are unsure about what to do or where to start when it comes to teaching their children to read. There are many things we can do as parents to help develop literacy skills in our children and lots of them are simple. Here is my ‘Top Ten’ list of pre-reading activities:

1.  Talk, talk, talk – explain, discuss, question, answer. Go beyond the daily conversational language. Find out what your child knows (and what they want to know) by asking them questions. Be prepared to answer questions (lots of them) that your child poses. Introduce new ideas and concepts on a regular basis and get your child thinking! A good learner is inquisitive.

2.  Visual Discrimination – matching, sorting, classifying. You can use shapes, colours, even household objects (like glasses, utensils, pencils etc...).  Some great visual discrimination games include:
  • Spot the Difference: There are many online ‘spot the difference’ games to show children. You can also find inexpensive activity books in discount stores. Alternatively, make your own. Use simple, clear pictures that have about 3 differences initially. You can increase the difficulty when your child experiences success. 
  • Match the Item: Place some utensils on the kitchen table (spoons, forks, knives etc...). Hand your child one utensil and ask them to find a matching one from the group on the table. You could play this game with just about anything (coloured cups, pencils, toys) so long as you have something to match it with.
  • Memory Tray: Place about 8 – 10 items on a tray. Ask your child to look carefully at each item and remember it. Ask them to close their eyes (or turn around) and remove one of the items. See if your child can identify the object. You can also swap the position of items and ask your child to identify which items were moved.

3.  Auditory Skills – tuning in and listening. Improve auditory skills by paying attention to familiar sounds (eg: transport noises, household sounds, musical instruments). Talk about these sounds when you hear them. Children need to understand that they can actively hear, that is, choose to pay attention to sounds. This will help prepare your child for the task of listening to sounds in words. You can focus on isolating beginning, middle or end sounds in words and identifying syllables in words.

4.  Letter/Sound Knowledge – teaching alphabet names and the sounds they make. Start with only a few and introduce more as your child experiences success. Some letters say more than one sound. The letter ‘A’ can say apple or ape. Some children are prepared to accept both sounds, but to avoid confusing your child perhaps start with one sound (eg: apple) and introduce the alternative sound later.

5.  Rhyme – identifying rhyming words and making rhymes. It is easier for a child to identify a rhyme (“Do the words cat and hat rhyme?”) rather than expecting them to produce a rhyme (“What rhymes with cat?”). Take the pressure off by accepting made up rhyming wors (eg: hat and gat). The process involved is still the same.

6.  Initial Sound Awareness – listening for the beginning sounds in words. What sound can you hear? Playing I Spy helps children to isolate, identify and listen for initial sounds. This game should come with a warning though – it’s addictive.

7.  Concepts of Print – understanding books and how they work - directionality of print (left to right/top to bottom), what is an author, illustrator, title, spine, cover, letter, word, sentence, picture.

8.  Comprehension – understanding what is read, said or seen (tv). How do you know your child understands? Ask them. After a story ask your child some questions that have a specific answer (“What did the boy eat for breakfast?”). To extend their comprehension ask your child a question that requires them to infer understanding (“What do you think the boy would like to eat for breakfast tomorrow?”). There is no right or wrong answer, but you’ll know if your child is on the right track. If the little boy in the story hated eating cereal for breakfast, it is unlikely he will want to eat it for breakfast the following day.

9.  Model and Shared Learning – sometimes you need to demonstrate how things are done, and at other times you need to step back and share new learning.

Here is an example of modelling learning: When reading a book you talk about the picture, pointing out anything of importance. “Oh look, here is a little girl at the park. She wants to play on the slide. I hope she can climb up the ladder safely. Oh dear, look at those big black clouds – I think they are rain clouds. Oh, she’ll have to be quick if she wants to stay dry.”

Here is an example of shared learning: “Oh look, here is a little girl. Where is she? Yes, that’s right she’s at the park. Does it look like the park you go to? What do you think she would like to play on? Yes, the slide. You like the slide don’t you? What else can you see? Can you see something in the sky? What is it? Clouds, yes. What does it mean when the clouds are really dark and grey? Oooh – yes, I think it is going to rain. What should the little girl do?” Obviously you would need to pause for answers!

10. Do Little Things Often – increase the frequency of activities but don’t feel like you have to keep at it for long periods of time. Keep it short and sweet. Playing learning games for 10 minutes each day will be better than expectiong your child to stick at it for a one hour block once a week. I suspect it will be easier on you too!

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