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Help Children Become Readers With A Print-Rich Environment At Home

The Importance Of Words On Walls

“William – hurry up! It’s time for breakfast.”

I swept into my 5-year-old’s room and found him standing in his underpants.

“You’re not dressed!” I said with exasperation.

“I can read my skeleton poster,” he said.

I paused mid-tirade. He was excited. About reading!

“Skull, eye socket, upper jaw, lower jaw, neck.” He turned to me and smiled proudly.

My mouth opened and closed a couple of times, like a goldfish.

“Wow!” I finally managed to utter forgetting all about the cereal downstairs. I gave my son a big hug.

My son reads to me each night, but we usually read the boring, patterned, phonemic books sent home from school, reminiscent of, “See Jane Run” from my childhood. Now he was reading scientific labels like ‘eye socket’ – voluntarily!

Then, I felt bad. I had tried to convince my son to get rid of the skeleton poster. After I painstakingly decorated his tiny bedroom with a cool Lego Batman duvet cover and an even cooler, large, framed Dark Knight poster, my son had insisted on sticking up the offending poster with Blu-Tack. Before the poster went up everything matched and the walls were clean and clutter-free. Now pictures and posters filled my son’s walls: the skeleton poster, a free Japanese calendar my husband brought home from work, and several ‘keep out’ signs stuck to the door (just like his big brother). So much for clutter-free walls…

Now, as I looked at the skeleton poster I had a realization. It was good for my son to have words all over his room. If they were there, he would read them, or at least try. If I wanted to help my son become a reader, I’d have to create a print-rich environment at home.

How A Print-rich Environment Helps Children Become Readers

What kind of mother was I? I know how important creating a print-rich environment is from my eleven years of teaching elementary school.

“A print-rich environment helps foster skills needed for reading. Kids begin to discover cues that help them figure out words they see which lays the foundation for reading…If kids are in an environment that has labels, signs and charts, they will be exposed to letters, words and numbers early and make connections between the letters and the functions they serve.”

Magaly Lavadenz, Ph.D., language and literary specialist

When I taught, I had labels all over my classroom. I even encouraged the children to write their own labels. Yes, the handwriting was messy, but the labels not only encouraged them to read, but also got them writing. Other teachers had neat, color-coded, laminated labels on everything. But I knew that the one doing the work was the one learning (the teachers in this case). So, I encouraged my students to write the labels themselves.

A print-rich classroom supports beginning reading acquisition. Children benefit from having text to read in their environment if they are going to become readers (Neuman, 2004). This means that teachers should display text throughout the classroom…”

Susan Neuman

Why was I now suddenly worried about the appearance of my house? Wasn’t my real priority encouraging my children to learn? I needed to ensure our home environment was full of words.

After my skeleton poster epiphany, I decided to make sure my home was full of words on walls. Here are some ways you can create a print-rich environment at home to help your children become readers.

  1. Hang posters, even if you have to use Blu-Tack. There are many options depending on the interests of your child. Here are some fun themes to consider: dinosaurs, Minecraft characters, the human body, world populations, maps, charts, and even homemade signs.
  2. Hang a calendar in the room of your older child and teach him/her how to use it. For more on this, read How To Hand Over More Responsibility To Your Children.
  3. Label toy boxes and containers – Remember, it doesn’t have to look perfect. I put this off because I wanted to type up neat, matching labels. After my print-rich epiphany, I gave my sharpies to my sons and let them create their own labels. I let go of my perfectionism.
  4. Hide words around the house and let your children find and read them. Here is another post with several ways to do Phonics with Active Kids.
  5. Leave your cereal boxes on the table during breakfast. As a child, I spent many mornings reading the cereal boxes on our breakfast table. More than once I’ve lamented the fact that today’s cereal boxes don’t contain secret decoder rings hidden among the Cheerios with secret messages on the back of the box to decode. I’m leaving the cereal boxes on the table anyway.
  6. Strategically place boxes of books all over the house: in the living room, bedrooms, even in the car. When my children get bored in the car, they often look at books. Just make sure you’re not driving on winding roads when they read.
  7. Have fun creating a print-rich environment together. Children love opportunities to create their own posters and signs, especially if they know you’re going to hang them up!

How To Teach Your Kids To Code When You’re A Technophobe

Introduction to Coding for Children (And Parents)

As a low-tech, Gen-X mother, I often worry my children will be left behind by our rapidly changing world. How can I give my children the same opportunities as younger, high-tech parents? How can I teach my children to code as a technophobe parent?

Will my technological ineptitude hold my children back?

I know public schools are woefully behind in this area. After all, I was an elementary school teacher for 11 years. How can we help our children keep up with the changes if we can’t even keep up ourselves?

Determined to find a way to nudge my children toward new technology, I researched the subject. Here are 3 strategies I’ve found and tried. If you are a technophobe like me, I hope they will help you, too.

Encourage A ‘Have-a-go’ Attitude

One thing I prioritize as a parent is encouraging my children to try new things with no fear of failure. I emphasize that failure shows us what we still need to learn. It is far better to try, fail often and grow, than not to try at all.

I model this attitude for my sons by sharing my own goals even when I don’t achieve them. It is good for them to see that we don’t always meet our goals and we can learn from our efforts nevertheless. My children know I am trying to write a middle-grade novel. I tell them when I meet my writing goals and I also share the times I don’t. Recently, I told them I entered my manuscript in a writing competition. I was hurt that I wasn’t a finalist, but I learned that my manuscript is not yet ready to send off to agents. I have already rewritten 1/3 of my book and this competition helped me to see the areas I still need to improve.

For more on encouraging your children to adopt a ‘just have a go’ attitude, see this article: Just Have A Go: A Motto To Help You And Your Children Cope With Our Changing World

Try A Free Online Coding Course

The second thing a low-tech parent can do is to ask high-tech friends for suggestions. This is how I discovered Khan Academy’s free Intro. to JS (Javascript for those who don’t know these things like me): Drawing & Animation. It’s brilliant and easy to understand, even for technophobe parents like me.

Since starting this program two weeks ago, I have watched my 8-year-old move through the coursework with ease. Yesterday, his task was to use code to add food to an empty plate. Thinking outside the box as only a child can do, he figured out how to go to the avatar page and then copy and paste the codes for the avatars into the food activity. Now his plate is dotted with Leafers, Ticeratops, and Duskpins, little creatures children can choose to be their avatars in the program. My son thinks this is hilarious. Although this shortcut did not meet the objective of the activity, I did praise his creativity.

Today we will try the task again using Javascript to create shapes on the plate.

Try Using A Micro:bit With Your Child

micro:bit
Photo by Becky Grant

A micro:bit is a tiny programmable computer, designed to make learning and teaching easy and fun!

micro:bit.org

My next attempt to prepare my children for the 21st century happened at the most cutting edge of all places, the local library. Our public library has micro:bit sets available for children to check out. When I saw this, I eagerly grabbed the plastic Chinese takeout container with this exciting new technology inside. Feeling smug, I found some batteries and unpacked the small set in front of my son.

“We did that at school,” he said, entirely unimpressed with my find. He then showed me how to configure the micro:bit on my computer and get the lights to switch on in different patterns. He even taught his 5-year-old brother how to create a sword out of lights. Once again, it was me with the most to learn.

The BBC micro:bit is a handheld, programmable micro-computer that can be used for all sorts of cool creations, from robots to musical instruments – the possibilities are endless.

https://microbit.org

The link above will take you to a website that offers over 200 different activities and resources to try with a micro:bit. It is used by parents and teachers around the world. We have only done the most basic lesson, but my sons and I will continue to experiment with it this year.

What Next?

Once we finish the Khan Academy introduction and several of the micro:bit activities, I will be trying out some Young Coder projects with my children. Young Coder is an entire publication devoted to coding, science, and tech for young people and beginners.

Oh, and I may be signing myself up for the summer coding camp instead of my sons. Happy learning everyone!

If you have any tech resources to share, please let me know in the comments section. I am always looking for new things to try.

Here is a handy list of micro:bit resources I got from the library:

What is the BBC micro:bit? http://www.microbit.co.uk/blocks/book/hello-world

micro:bit make code: https://makecode.microbit.org/#

Scratch projects: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/editor/?tip_bar=home

What will you make?: https:www.microbit.co.uk/makes

Tinkeracademy code: https://tinkeracademy.com/

The Best Picture Book For Encouraging Kindness In Kids

Using the 5 R’s with the picture book, “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” to raise kind kids

How to use the 5 R’s with the picture book “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” to teach kindness.

Last week, I read a post from a frustrated mom whose older son refused to share toys with his younger brother. She tried every way she could think of to get him to share, but he refused to cooperate. She was looking for advice and picture book recommendations. There were several helpful responses on the message board, but not one mentioned my absolute favorite picture book for encouraging kindness, “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?

Amazed that no one recommended this classic picture book, I decided to write a blog post about it. Every parent should have this book in his/her home library. Reading it has made a dramatic difference in how my sons treat each other. Of course they still argue and tell on each other, but they also come to me whenever one of them does something kind for the other. This warms my heart.

Our Role As Parents

One of our most important roles as parents is to help our children develop empathy. We must encourage them to think about the thoughts and feelings of others. Very young children only think about themselves. In fact, in an amusing analogy in the book, “The Happiest Toddler On The Block,” Dr. Harvey Karp likens toddlers to little cavemen.

“Our Stone Age ancestors were opinionated, tenacious, and not very verbal. They bit each other when angry, made a mess when eating and hated waiting their turn. They were stubborn, distractible, and impatient…sound like someone you know?”

This analogy perfectly describes the behavior of toddlers. Children at this age are still in a state of extreme egocentrism.

The Swiss psychologist and biologist, Jean Piaget first “traced the development of cognition in children as they move out of a state of extreme egocentrism and come to recognize that other people have separate perspectives.” 

Encyclopaedia Britannica

It is up to us, as parents, to help this process along as we try to turn our little cavemen and cavewomen into civilized beings. We must encourage them to shift their focus from self to others. Furthermore, we must adopt strategies to teach empathy and promote kindness.

As a former elementary school teacher, I love to use picture books to help teach my children important life lessons. I apply the 5 R’s to this process: Read, Revisit, Reinforce, Remind, and Reflect. Today I will show you how I have used the 5 R’s with the book, “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” to encourage kindness.

Use the 5 R’s with the book “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” to Raise Kind Kids

1. Read

Request “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” from the local library or buy your own copy. You may want to purchase this one so you can return to it often. Read it to your children and prepare yourself for their questions.

The first time I read this story to my 4-year-old, he looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face. “But where is your bucket, Mommy?” he asked. “I don’t see it.” 

I explained that my bucket is invisible, but whenever my son does something kind and loving, he fills my bucket and this makes me feel good.

This book has great specific examples of things to say or do to fill other people’s buckets such as smiling at a bus driver, inviting the new kid to play with you, writing a thank-you note to your teacher, or telling your grandpa that you like spending time with him. It also explains that by filling other people’s buckets, we fill our own buckets as well. Our kind actions make us feel good inside.

I started this book with a special focus on my sons. Why? Kindness starts at home and I want my boys to develop the kind of relationship where I know they will be there for each other in the future. My sister and I share this special sibling bond and I know that we can turn to each other no matter what happens in either one of our lives. When I encourage my sons to share the times they are kind and helpful to each other, I know these memories will stay with them. Encouraging them to fill each other’s buckets will nurture this special sibling bond.

2.  Revisit

Revisit this book often. You may want to focus on certain sections when issues arise. If your child is teased or ignored by friends at school, read the bucket dipping part of the book. Maybe your child is the one doing the teasing. Help him understand the idea of bucket dipping and how it hurs others. So, what is bucket dipping exactly?

“You dip into a bucket when you make fun of someone, when you say or do mean things, or even when you ignore someone.”

Have You Filled A Bucket Today by Carol MacCloud

When you talk about bucket dipping using the pictures from this book, you give your child a concrete vision of how hurtful behavior leaves someone feeling. Unkind actions leave buckets empty and make people sad. This section might also provide a useful starting point for a heart-to-heart discussion about bullying. Concrete images are far more powerful for children than words.

3. Reinforce

Show your children how to fill buckets by smiling at store clerks, food servers, and community helpers. Point out when Daddy fills Mommy’s bucket by filling up the gas tank in her car or when Mommy fills Daddy’s bucket by making him a cup of tea (especially if he is British). Modeling kindness is far more effective than simply telling your children how to behave kindly. When you do kind things for others in front of your children you are showing them how to act.

Reinforce the types of behavior you wish to see more of in your children. When they follow instructions, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, or get ready for school on time, make a big deal out of it. Explain that they are filling your bucket. Watch the smile spread across their face.

4. Remind

Each morning, think aloud and share ideas of how you might fill the buckets of your friends and colleagues. Then, brainstorm ways your children might fill the buckets of people they encounter during the day. Tell them you will all have the opportunity to share and celebrate your kind actions that night.

5. Reflect

At dinner or before bed celebrate the day’s bucket filling. I might say:

“Mommy filled Sandra’s bucket today by offering to hold her baby so she  could get some work done.”

Encourage your children to articulate their own kind actions by asking the following questions:

“Did you fill anyone’s bucket at school today?”

“How did that make you feel?”

“How did your kind actions make your friend feel?”

Give your child a big hug and tell them how much you love it when they fill other people’s buckets.

Help Your Children Become Kind, Caring People

If you read, revisit, reinforce, remind and reflect on bucket filling you will be well on your way to helping your children become kind, caring people.

Of course you will still hear things like, “Mommy, Ollie pushed me!”

But you may also hear, “Mommy, William filled my bucket today when he shared his dinosaur activity book with me.”

Not to be left out of the bucket filling action, watch William smile and add, “And Ollie filled my bucket when he hugged me.”

It is interactions like these that make the parenting journey worthwhile.

So, what can you do to fill someone’s bucket right now?

If you like this article, you may also like these:

How To Motivate Children Who Are Resistant to Learning At Home

How To Hand Over More Responsibility To Your Children

How To Raise a Reader in a World of Digital Distractions

It’s the second week of spring break and my son actually asked if we could go to the library to get some more Beast Quest books. I never thought this day would come. He’s devoured 3 books in 3 days. Last year at this time my son would groan if I even mentioned an outing to the library. I consider this a huge parenting victory.

Raising a reader is not just the luck of the draw or the result of passing on book-loving genes. I deliberately set out to instill a love of reading in my sons and these techniques have finally paid off.

Digital distractions are everywhere. Apps and games that show videos of newer, more exciting games to download before you can level up, TV shows with amazing special effects that make my 80’s cartoons (Jem and the Holograms, anyone?) look really tired, and phones with beeps, bells, dings and all the other noisy sound effects that have become part of our modern world. So, why is raising a reader still important?

Why Raising A Reader Is Important

“Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures.

In fact, reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.”

So, how do you raise a reader in a world full of digital distractions all vying for our children’s limited attention?

The following techniques are strategies that I have adapted from my time as an elementary school teacher and through trial and error. While you do not have to start your reading routine at birth, the earlier you start, the better. Don’t worry if you are beginning with an older child. These strategies will still work, but they may be met with resistance at first. Stick to your guns and before you know it, you will have an enthusiastic reader in the house.

1. Set Up a Reading Routine With Your Baby/Toddler

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Make reading a routine part of your day. Do not skip it, even if you feel like your baby/toddler is getting nothing out of it. First of all, you are setting the stage for the future. Secondly, babies and toddlers absorb much more than we realize.

I used to read 2-3 books before naptime and then 2-3 more before bedtime. As my children grew, this routine never varied. Now that they have dropped their naps, we still read before bed. My children have never questioned this routine because it has always been a part of their lives.

There has never been a better time to read to babies or toddlers. A dizzying array of board books with sensory and tactile features fill the shelves of all the local libraries and superstores. These days pop-up books are amazingly-crafted paper masterpieces. You will enjoy them, too (or maybe not after reading That’s Not My Pirate for the 176th time).

2. Go to the Library

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

Make trips to the library a regular occurrence. We go every two weeks. Attend the singing/story time sessions. You’ll learn some great songs to sing at home and the librarians often choose really good stories for the age group.

I know how difficult it can be to go to the library, especially with an active toddler, but don’t give up. I almost lost my youngest once when an entire preschool class came into the children’s area at once. One moment, my son was at my side looking at books, and the next moment, he was gone. Panicked, I looked for him among all the other children. He wasn’t there. So, I ran for the front door. Sure enough, my 18-month-old was already out the door and headed for the street. I scooped him up just before he stepped into traffic. After that, I went to the library in our neighboring city that had its children section at the very back.

If you make library attendance a priority, one day the library will be a magical place for your child. Keep your eye on the prize. I still remember how excited I was to go to the library to get the next book in the Nancy Drew series. When your children experience this excitement you can pat yourself on the back. They now have access to books that will help them escape exam stress, teach empathy, develop a moral code, and even allow them to experience battling a scary monster or two along the way.

3. Tips for Encouraging Early Readers

When your children transition into reading, make it less of a chore by taking turns reading the pages. I especially love the Usborne My First Reading Library for young children. These books have a child’s part and an adult’s part. The adult reads the small print and the child reads the large print. The stories are more interesting than most early readers because the adults are able to provide additional backstory and the children enjoy the novelty of reading with a parent.

If your child is a reluctant reader, read the story to him/her first. This takes the pressure off. Sometimes, I pretend to really struggle with sounding out a word. I make each sound slowly and then try to blend it a few times. Finally, my son can’t stand it anymore and he tells me the word. I thank him and have him ‘help’ me read more words on the page. This practice gives him confidence and helps break down his resistance to reading.

If your child is learning a certain phonics pattern at school, go on a ‘book hunt’ for words with the same pattern. A book hunt is just opening the book and searching for certain words on the page. Teach your children how to skim the page for these words. Skimming is a really important skill. Good readers do this instinctively while reluctant readers often remain fixated on reading text word for word. Reassure them that they don’t always have to do this. Sometimes we just skim to locate information.

For early readers, make sure the reading session is not too long. Young children have short attention spans. If they stop focusing, end the reading session early. You can complete the book for them and tell them you are sure they will be able to read a few more pages the next evening. Go with your instincts. You don’t want to make the before bed routine painful and frustrating.

Finally, continue to read aloud to your child. After they have read their early reader, go on to read 2 to 3 more books for fun. This ends the reading routine on a positive note and allows your child to just enjoy good stories.

When my husband is away both of my sons climb into my big bed for a joint reading session. They look forward to this and there is usually a lot of laughter. When my husband is home, we split up and read with each child separately because they are at different reading levels and my eldest enjoys stories that are way over my youngest’s head.

4. Comprehension Checks for more Proficient Readers

Reading comprehension is important for understanding the content that is actually being read; otherwise, readers can’t make sense of what they read and will have problems succeeding in academics, notes Penn State. Having strong reading comprehension skills is also necessary for passing academic achievement tests and for being able to read effectively for one’s career.

You must check your proficient reader’s understanding to ensure that he/she comprehends the story’s content. If the story content is too difficult, your child won’t enjoy the book.

When my son became a more proficient reader he was invited to participate in a reading scheme at school. While he was able to decode well, I found him racing through the reading scheme books to try to move up to the next level. Often, he didn’t understand what he was reading. I put my foot down and made him read me the first two pages of the story to make sure it was at an appropriate reading level. Sometimes, it wasn’t so I sent the book back to school. For more help on selecting ‘just right’ books, see this post.

Once my son read me the two pages, I let him finish the chapter on his own. Afterward, I asked questions to make sure he wasn’t just rushing through the book. Since he knew I was going to ask him comprehension questions, he had to read carefully.

Continue to read aloud to your proficient reader! Don’t stop once your child can read.

Each night I read a chapter of a book above my son’s reading level. We both look forward to the story. We are reading the Percy Jackson series now and I often have to make myself stop after a chapter because I want to keep reading. Reading above your child’s reading level will help his/her vocabulary development and allow you to have more sophisticated discussions about the characters and their motivations. My son loves to predict what will happen in the story. Sometimes, I throw out wild predictions myself and my son is able to refute them by using evidence from the story. I know his high school English teachers will appreciate this skill one day.

5. Use Psychology To Motivate Independent Readers

These days my son reads me a couple of pages from his school book so I can check in with his reading. Then, I read a chapter from our shared read aloud. When I finish, I grudgingly allow my son to stay up an extra 15 minutes to read on his own. Because he thinks I am letting him stay up extra late to read, he is really enthusiastic about it. What 8-yearo-old doesn’t want to stay up past his/her bedtime? In reality, I stop our read-aloud 15 minutes before I want him to go to bed, so he just thinks he is staying up extra late.

During this time, I let my son read any book he wants (even if it is not my first choice). Last year, my son loved the Captain Underpants series. So, he read these over and over again each night. This year he has moved onto Beast Quest. Some nights, he just wants to read his Pokemon handbook and that is okay, too. I am just happy I have raised a reader.

Teaching Long Vowel Words with a Magic ‘e’

Introducing the Magic ‘e’

Yesterday, my son drew a picture for me and wrote: “I love you mummy and I wish you had a grayt lighf, Mummy.”

Pleased he is writing, I try not to fuss about his spelling too much. Notice he wrote ‘grayt’ instead of great and ‘lighf’ instead of ‘life’. And yes, his ‘f’ is backwards, too.

My son’s school is teaching phonics with Ruth Mishkin’s program Read, Write, Inc.

Having taught in two countries at 5 different schools, I have seen a lot of phonics programs.

There are a few things I like about this program. First, I like the way it teaches children to write letters with catchy phrases that help the child visualize the shape of the letter. For example, children say, “All around the apple” as they write a lower case ‘a’.

I also like how Read, Write, Inc. teaches the ‘special friends’ (a.k.a. vowel teams, digraphs) with catchy phrases like ‘ow – blow the snow’ and ‘ay – may I play?’

Since my son learned ‘the special friends’ first, he is now writing ‘lighk’ instead of ‘like’ and ‘playt’ instead of ‘plate’.

I decided it was time to teach the long vowel/silent e words before he gets too attached to spelling common words with his ‘special friend’ spellings.

My personal favorite way to do this is to use the ‘Magic e’.

If you would like to read more about teaching literacy or your child is not yet ready for long vowel words, you may be interested in the following blog posts:

Teaching Letters and Sounds to Young Children

Phonics for Active Kids

How to Motivate Children Who Are Resistant to Learning At Home

If not, here is how to use the magic ‘e’ to make learning long vowels fun.

How to Use Magic ‘e’ to Teach Words With Long Vowels

First, make your sparkly Magic ‘e’ wand.

Materials:

  • popsicle stick
  • construction paper
  • glitter glue
  1. Get a popsicle stick (lolly stick) and a piece of colored construction paper.
  2. Fold the paper in half and cut it into a square shape. Open it up so you have a fold and two symmetrical squares on either side of the fold.
  3. Tape the popsicle stick onto the square on the right.
  4. Fold the square on the left over the top of the popsicle stick and glue the two squares together with the popsicle stick inside.
  5. Write a lower case ‘e’ on the front of the wand in glitter glue.
  6. Voila! You have a magic ‘e’ wand.

Popsicle stick taped to paper

William glues the two squares together

The Magic ‘e’ Wand

 

How To Introduce the Magic of Magic ‘e’

Prepare several notecards with the short vowel word on one side and long vowel word with the ‘silent e’ on the other.

Have your child read the short vowel word e.g. mad.

Next, tap the word with the Magic ‘e’ wand and say your magical phrase: Abracadabra! Alakazam!

Flip the word over and show the word with the magic ‘e’ on the end of it. Explain that the wand changed the vowel sound. With the silent ‘e’ at the end of the word the vowel says its name. Now the word reads ‘made’ instead of ‘mad’.

Go through each word with the magic wand and practice reading the long ‘a’ words. Here is an example of how to do this (pardon my eldest son’s finger in the footage – he did the recording):

 

 

When you’re finished with the long ‘a’ words, you may wish to introduce some long ‘i’, long ‘o’, and long ‘u’ words.

Have fun! You may want to use some of the ideas from Phonics for Active Kids to practice long vowel reading.

Here is a Magic ‘E’ Vocabulary Powerpoint I created years ago to help with vocabulary development and long vowel/silent ‘e’ reading practice.

Other Resources

Here is a Silent ‘e’ Spelling game on Education.com.

And an Electric Company Silent ‘e’ video on YouTube:

 

How To Motivate Children Who Are Resistant to Learning At Home

How To Motivate Children Who Are Resistant to Learning

You Want to Keep This One in Your Parenting Bag of Tricks

“No! I don’t want to…” wailed my five-year-old as I pulled out the word list his teacher had sent home for him to practice.

“Why don’t we play beat the clock?” I suggested in a chirpy voice. “It’s really fun!”

“No! I don’t want to do it!”

I sighed, resigned to the fact that nothing I could possibly say would convince my son to read the word list. He had totally and completely set himself against it.

Playing the Boob

Then I remembered a trick from Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful and Cooperative One- to Four-year-old. Granted, my son was no longer four, but I had a feeling this parenting trick was going to work.

Dr. Karp calls it “playing the boob.” On his website he says:

We all pretend to be klutzes sometimes when we are playing with our kids. It makes them laugh, feel clever and strong (by comparison to their inept parent) and makes them want to be more cooperative. Sound odd? Embarrassing? Unnatural? Well, actually it’s a silly idea that’s super smart…

It’s genius!

Beat the Clock

I pulled up the stopwatch on my phone and handed it over to my son. Sitting down at the kitchen table with his reading list in front of me, I asked him to push the green start button and then I started to read.

“D”… “ay”, “d”… “ay”. I sounded out the first word dragging the sounds out as long as I possibly could. Finally, I put them together. “Day” I said with a big grin. My son laughed.

Slowly and painfully I read my way through the word list finally finishing 46 seconds later. I told my son to press ‘stop’ and then I bragged about how good my time was. 46 seconds! Isn’t Mommy a fast reader?

By that time, my son couldn’t wait to have a go. He knew he was going to beat me. Since he had already heard me read the words the task now seemed manageable.

When I timed him he finished in 20 seconds flat. Then he started dancing around the kitchen overjoyed that he had read faster than I did.

As the youngest he doesn’t often get to ‘win’ or feel bigger and better than the rest of us. “Playing the boob” (despite its ridiculous name) is a brilliant technique for encouraging cooperation and motivating children.

What young child doesn’t long for the opportunity to be better at something than his/her parents?

On the happiestbaby.com website, Dr. Karp lists several way to play the boob. He encourages parents to be babies, to be blind, to be klutzes, to be pompously incorrect, to be ridiculous, and to be weak pushovers.

I’m now devising ways of using this technique to get my children to do more housework. I wonder if they will take over the mopping if I slosh water all over the kitchen? Somehow I don’t think so.

Common Vowel Teams to Practice at Home

I use this technique to practice digraphs with my son (a.k.a. special friends, vowel teams, etc.)

Dr. Seuss’ classic, Hop On Pop, has several of these vowels teams and is a fun resource for children to see the words in context.

Here are some common vowel teams to practice with your early reader:

ay – play, say, may, stay, hay, spray, day, way, bay, ray

ee – see, three, tree, seen, green, sleep, jeep, beep, need, keep

igh – high, thigh, light, bright, knight, night, fright, might, sight, flight, tight

oo – too, poo, moo, zoo, food, pool, moon, spoon, brood

oo – look, book, took, hook, shook, foot, look, crook

ow – blow, show, low, snow, row, know, slow, flow, throw, bow, glow, mow, tow

oy – toy, boy, enjoy, Roy, deploy, royal, loyal

oi – foil, soil, oil, toil,

ou – out, mouth, round, sound, found, shout, loud,

ow – plow, sow, allow, wow, bow, cow, how, now, pow, row, vow

‘r’-controlled words (Bossy ‘r’)

ar – car, far, start, part, smart, star, sharp, tar, tarp, bar, hard, yard, card, spark, dark, park

or – or, for, sort, fork, horse, short, sport, snort, worn, torn, born, door, floor

ir – girl, dirt, whirl, bird, twirl, sir, fir, third, swirl, thirsty, squirm, squirt

ur – fur, blur, burp, spurn, turn, hurt, nurse, purse, church, lurch, burst

air – hair, fair, air, chair, lari, stair

 

 

 

 

 

Hands-on Geography: How to Make a Salt Dough River Model

How to Make A Salt Dough River Model

“Mommy, guess what?” my son asked after school one day.

“What?”

“The people from the Canal River Trust brought a really cool canal model into to our class today. We even got to pour water in it!”

“Fun,” I said.

“And I want to make a river model for my homework!” he finished enthusiastically.

Oh no! Inwardly, I groaned. Not another messy project…

This term, my son’s class is studying rivers and canals. One creative homework assignment was to research a local river and find a creative way to present the findings.

Inspired by the canal trust visit, my son was determined to create his own river model. I asked him what materials he needed for the project. He shrugged his shoulders. So, we did some research.

Soon we found some great YouTube videos of river models made with recycled materials. We even watched Luke Towan’s YouTube video of realistic rivers and streams. His river looked so real, my son and I were convinced he took a snapshot of a river to display on his homepage until we saw just how he made it.

Although Mr. Towan’s diorama was far too professional for our abilities, my son still learned some useful techniques to make his model look more realistic. For example, he learned to paint rocks darker first and then add lighter shades of paint across the rock faces to make them look more 3-dimensional.

I sent my son upstairs to find a box he could use for his river model (shoebox storage is under the bed).

Then, I took a deep breath. It was time to reign in my perfectionist tendencies and let my son do the project himself. I reminded myself of my favorite Harry Wong saying:

“The one who does the work is the one who learns” – Harry Wong

So, I let my son do the work and I bit my tongue.

The Importance of Geography

Geography is an important yet often neglected topic in education. When I taught elementary school in the U.S., geography was sometimes pushed aside as we focused on preparing students for the language arts and math sections of the annual standardized test.

Here in the U.K., geography is a required part of the National Curriculum. Teachers must cover the required geography content each year. I think this is good.

Our children will face many challenges when they grow up including threats from dramatic climate change and globalization. Geography will be critical for their understanding.

Future leaders who are oblivious of geographical knowledge will have a hard time analysing world events and making rational decisions, let alone understanding basic physical systems of everyday life, like implications of the solar system on climate, water cycles, ocean currents, etc.” 

Geography is important, but how can we help young children grasp its often abstract concepts.

Children may find it difficult to relate to some of the concepts you will teach in Geography; especially if these concepts concern areas of the world your students have never seen or heard of before.

The best way to teach geography is to design lessons that help children relate to the material.

Salt Dough Fun

Salt dough is a fun, versatile medium that allows students to create and explore many aspects of natural geography.

Creating a Salt Dough River Scene

My son suggested using clay to create his river scene. I didn’t have clay, but I did have all three of the ingredients required to make salt dough. So, we went with salt dough.

Calling my youngest in to help, we followed this recipe to make the salt dough.

My eldest decided to turn his shoebox upside down so it was in the shape of a waterfall. Initially, I protested thinking that the salt dough would need the box sides for support, but in the end, I let him do it his way. When he finished, I realized that his way looked great.

I love that he still has original ideas. My adult mind is more inclined to copy internet projects because I can’t think of original ways to do them.

I gave my eldest a bowlful of salt dough and let him construct his river and waterfall. In the meantime, I made Easter egg ornaments out of the remaining salt dough with my youngest. I love it when I find activities that I can do with both children at the same time.

When he finished shaping the hills, rocks, and river bank, my son put his salt dough model out in the sun to dry.

When it was fully dry, he painted it using some of the techniques we learned from the Luke Towan video.

Next, my son added sand to the riverside to make it look more realistic. Finally, he attached some plants.

When his model was complete, my son typed up some river vocabulary words to label it. He enjoyed playing with the font and colors of the background. Even though his blue was a bit dark and his font a little small, I let it go. I was busy with my youngest.

He typed up the words bank, waterfall, mouth, source, rapidsox-bow lake and debris.

My son stuck these words to toothpicks and I supervised him while he used the hot glue gun to attach the labels to his model.

Finally, he researched the River Severn and typed up a Severn facts page. He even printed a map showing the Severn’s journey. We found a fantastic resource for the River Severn. My son was able to take a virtual tour of the river with a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh and friends on the website.

One of the largest waterfalls of the Severn River is called: Severn-Break-its-Neck waterfall.

Of course, my son loved the name so his waterfall model became the Severn-Break-its-Neck falls.

Here is just some of the river vocabulary we learned through this project. Yes, I say ‘we’ because I learned many new terms as well.

peat bog, infant river, u-shaped valley, v-shaped valley, rapids, waterfalls, confluence, meanders, ox-bow lake, tributaries, plunge pools, Severn Bore, erosion, transportation, and deposition.

I had no idea there was so much to learn about rivers.

My son loved this project and was proud that he did all of the work. Clean-up still seems to involve me at this point.

Here are some other ways to use salt dough to help children understand physical geography:

  1. Make relief maps
  2. Create salt dough islands and peninsulas to teach the difference between the terms
  3. Glaciers, volcanoes, mesas, buttes, mountains, valleys, and hills
  4. Linda Kamp has a fantastic Learning About Landforms until on her website for teachers or homeschool parents.

Let me know if you try out any of these ideas. I would love to learn from your experiences as well.

 

 

Building Number Sense at Home

How To Help Your Children Build Number Sense At Home

Yesterday my son came home from school counting by 2’s. He explained how they used a number line in class to start from 0 and then skip a number to land on 2, 4, 6, etc.

He then demonstrated his skip counting for me. William did pretty well counting by 2 up to 20, but it was clear he still needed some practice. Counting backward, he was saying eighty instead of eighteen and sixty instead of sixteen. After 12, he would say ’11’ almost every time. I decided to work with him at home because I know how important it is to help children develop number sense.

The Importance of Number Sense

In the article, Number Sense: the most important mathematical concept in 21st century K-12 education, Stanford Mathematician, Dr. Keith Devlin explains:

“Number sense is important because it encourages students to think flexibly and promotes confidence with numbers.”

“The fact is, students who lack a strong number sense have trouble developing the foundation needed for even simple arithmetic, let alone more complex mathematics.”

Knowing how important building number sense is for children (and even adults like me), I decided to focus on skip counting for the week.

How to Use a Number Line at Home

William asked for a number line to look at as he counted. A quick Google search revealed a fantastic website where you can create your own number lines.

Here it is: Interactive Number Line Generator

On this website, I was able to create a number line up to 30 so William could practice skip counting by 2. When he was ready, I could set the parameters higher so we could go to 40, 50, and even 60. I could also use it for counting by 5’s and 10’s (our next objectives).

Here is a video demonstration:

Using a Number Line for Older Children

When I find an activity for one child, I often look for ways to adapt it for my other child. In this case, I called my 8-year-old in to create his own number lines. He started with fractions. I let him play around with the number line generator.

He wanted to make a number line in tenths. When he typed this in and tried building one from 1 to 10 he realized how much space the tenths took up. All the numbers were scrunched together. I told him he could either make his range smaller or choose bigger intervals. Then, I left him to it. He experimented and found that even going up to five did not allow enough room to display the tenths.

Leaving him to explore, my eldest learned a lot about numbers. He eventually created a nicely spaced number line showing tenths that only went up to 2. Then, he tried a few other fraction number lines as well.

Counting Up the Stairs

Another great number sense building activity is to count up and down the stairs. Grabbing some pink construction paper, I folded it up into 8 equal parts and wrote the numbers 2 to 26 on each rectangle in intervals of 2. I cut them up and put one on each step. Now my 5-year-old counts by 2 each time he goes up the stairs. He counts backward from 26 whenever he goes down the stairs. By the end of the week, he will be a ‘counting by 2’s’ expert.

Here is a video demonstration of William counting up the stairs:

Counting Up the Stairs for Older Children

Once again, I brainstormed ways to use this technique with Ollie, my eldest. Since we were practicing our 6 times tables, I decided to let him count by 6’s up and down the stairs. Using yellow construction paper, to differentiate from his brother’s pink number cards, I wrote numbers in intervals of 6.

Now my eldest counts up and back by 6’s whenever he goes up and down the stairs.

As a surprise extension, Ollie told me he knew what 1/3 of 78 was using the number cards on the stairs. Puzzled, I asked how he did this. Since I had his yellow cards on one side of the stairs across from William’s pink ones, he realized that the pink ones were 1/3 of the yellow cards (the 6’s). On the top step, the yellow card was 78 and the pink one was 26. It was 1/3 of 78. My son’s connection blew me away. My boring adult mind would have never noticed the pattern between the two sets of cards.

Allowing children plenty of opportunities to build number sense at home will not only help them be more confident with numbers, but it may also encourage numerical flexibility that even goes beyond our adult assumptions.

 

A Gameful Approach to a Growth Mindset

How to Help Your Children Embrace Challenges

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

“I can’t do it! It’s too hard!”

Wiping my hands on a dish towel, I walk into the living room just as my son is pounding his fists on the piano keys.

How am I going to handle this one?

What is a Growth Mindset?

If you are a parent, you have likely encountered Dr. Carol Dweck’s ideas about people having either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

According to Dweck,

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. [Alternatively], In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

As a parent, I try to encourage my children to have a growth mindset.

One way I do this is by asking them to share something hard they have done each day.

My sons share their hard feats with pride and I always tell them about one of my challenges as well.

But when confronted with a challenging situation (like playing a piano piece with both hands together for the first time), my sons still have meltdowns.

How to Handle a Caveman

Right now I have a crying, red-faced 8-year-old boy on my hands. A lecture on the benefits of a growth mindset is not going to help.

He just wants to go play. In his eyes, he has served enough time on the piano bench.

Dr. Harvey Carp says it best on his website, The Happiest Toddler on the Block:

Many parents try to console their flailing, angry tot with logic and reason…but often that only makes things worse. That’s because even calm children often struggle to understand our long-winded explanations…and when they’re angry or frustrated, they may not be open to hearing even simple soothing comments.

Now my son is no longer a toddler, but I still recognize when he switches into caveman mode. There is no reasoning with him. It is time for stealth tactics.

Time for a Gameful Approach

In her book, Super Better, Dr. Jane McGonigal, a game designer and the first person in the world to get a Ph.D. studying the psychological strengths of gamers, says that a gameful approach can help you access your “heroic qualities, like willpower, compassion, and determination” (pg 1).

I believe this approach may also help children strengthen their ability to cope with difficult tasks.

Dr. McGonigal writes that being gameful means:

Bringing the psychological strengths you naturally display when you play games – such as optimism, creativity, courage, and determination – to your real life. It means having the curiosity and openness to play with different strategies to discover what works best. It means building up resilience to tackle tougher and tougher challenges with greater and greater success. (Super Better pg 3).

My purpose in adopting a gameful approach with my children is to help them take these skills and apply them to difficult school assignments, demanding extracurricular activities, and any other challenging situations they might face.

Making the Connection between Video Games and Real Life

So we return to my frustrated 8-year-old son at the piano.

I casually ask, “What is the hardest thing about survival mode in Minecraft?”

My son stops crying and looks at me as if aliens have suddenly possessed me (probably because my usual technique to get him to practice is to threaten to take away his Ipad time while he unhappily plays his piece the required amount of time).

He finally decides the body snatchers have not invaded our house and he answers my question.

I hear all about the skeletons, zombies and even spiders that attack at night when a gamer is in survival mode.

And I really listen.

“Why don’t you give up when all the bad guys start killing you?” I ask.

“Because I know I can figure out how to defeat them,” he answers.

“So, defeating a zombie is a bit like trying to play the piano with both hands.”

My son looks at me defensively.

“It’s a challenge. And something you won’t be able to do the first time you try it.”

I Issue a Challenge

“I think you will make at least 10 mistakes when you play your piano piece today,” I tell my son, “but hopefully tomorrow you will only make 8, and then 6, and then 4…”

“I won’t make 10 mistakes,” my son interrupts.

“Of course you will. It’s really hard to play with both hands the first time you try.”

Now I have him. I have issued a challenge and he is ready to prove me wrong.

And he does. He gets through the piece. He makes a few mistakes, but he feels good because it’s nowhere near the 10 mistakes I assumed he would make.

Gamification

As I researched this article I came across a post suggesting that the gamification of children is bad.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of now. Our kids become obsessed with getting A’s — they dream of the next test to prove themselves instead of dreaming big…A by-product of this is that we’re making them dependent on the validation that we’re giving them — the gamification of children.

Whilst I agree that we shouldn’t encourage the gamification of our children, we certainly should encourage a gameful approach to challenging tasks.

As our children face challenging tasks and situations let’s change the language we use with them.

What if we reframe hard tasks as challenges and opportunities for growth?

What if we look at teachers, parents, helpers, and friends as allies in the game?

What if we use power-ups (mini-breaks like drinking water, deep breathing, even doing pushups) to give us the energy we need to persevere?

And, what if we give our children a secret identity to help with the challenge?

My son is now Ollie, the piano buster.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures tomorrow after school…

Photo by Serge Kutuzov on Unsplash

Why Gamify? How to Use Game Dynamics to Make Learning More Fun

“What’s 4×8?” I casually asked my son after breakfast one morning.

“That’s easy, Mom.”

“So, what is it?” I asked.

“I don’t want to do this right now.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not part of my homework.”

My son eventually gave me the answer, but the painful experience was not the way I envisioned a quick little multiplication review after breakfast. In fact, I would call my attempt an epic failure (to use my son’s lingo).

My son could count by 4’s, but he didn’t have his multiplication facts memorized. I tried the old-fashioned flashcard technique and was met with resistance. I even loaded a multiplication app onto the iPad, but he still couldn’t answer my rapid fire questions. I needed a new strategy.

A few weeks later I came across Gabe Zichermann’s Ted Talk How Games Make Kids Smarter. This was my first introduction to Gamification. I got really excited about its potential applications for education. Gamification could make learning more fun and allow me to speak my son’s language at the same time.

What is Gamification?

In his book, Explore Like A Pirate, Michael Matera, defines gamification this way:

Gamification is applying the most motivational techniques of games to non-game settings, like classrooms.

Since my son would happily spend an entire morning playing Minecraft, I decided there must be something to this gamification idea. If I could somehow make memorizing times tables as engaging as ‘Rayman Adventures’ it would be a win-win situation.

Matera, a World History teacher, uses gamification in his 6th grade classroom. When an Amazon reviewer wrote that if he could put his son in any teacher’s class it would be Matera’s, I was convinced to read his book.

The human spirit awakens when we are inspired and challenged to confidently go beyond our limits. The power of play brings back the natural yearning that exists inside all of us to learn. — Michael Matera

Why Gamify?

When children play games they are using skills that are involved in building fluid intelligence and developing problem-solving abilities.

In her article, You Can Increase Your Intelligence: 5 Ways to Maximise Your Cognitive Potential, Andrea Kuszewski, a behaviour therapist and cognitive scientist, wrote about five elements involved with increasing fluid intelligence (your capacity to learn new information).

These five primary principles are:

  1. Seek novelty
  2. Challenge Yourself
  3. Think Creatively
  4. Do Things the Hard Way
  5. Network

By playing games, children are able to use all five of these principles at once. Therefore, gaming is a powerful, fun, and efficient way to promote fluid intelligence.

I was convinced. Now it was time to design a game to motivate my son.

Game Dynamics

First, I did a search for game dynamics. I found the following list to get me started:

  1. Create a Quest or Mission
  2. Assign point values to set tasks
  3. Include a time element
  4. Decide on Progression
  5. Allow unlocks for the completion of certain tasks
  6. Award Badges
  7. How to achieve an Epic Win!

Next, I had to apply these game dynamics to my own game design with memorizing multiplation facts as the objective.

Michael Matera mentions the importance of “fusing together the ideal amount of content, choice, and challenge” in game creation.

I knew I could spend days or even weeks trying to create the perfect quest for my son, but I have recently learned to let go of perfectionism and just get started. So I did.

I knew I could tweak my game as I went along and maybe even involve my children in its improvement.

I jotted down a few ideas and then presented them to my children one morning. I was definitely winging it.

The Mission

“Good morning warriors!” That got my sons’ attention.

“You are about to embark on a dangerous quest to defeat monsters, explore new territories, and race against time to find the Lariliean gemstones. Each gem will destroy a monster. If you deliver all 10 gems to Queen Alondra you will save Candyland.”

Yes, I know my quest was totally corny, but my children were intrigued.

My youngest wanted in on the action so I adapted the quest for him. He was supposed to practice reading the ‘tricky’ words his teacher sent home. I decided to give him 5 words to learn each week. He would get a gem when he could read them 3 days in a row.

The Reward (points, badges, in this case gems…)

I told my eldest he would ‘find’ a gem each time he passed a multiplication test. I pulled out some gems from my craft box to entice my son. Each gem was worth 100 points so my son needed to earn 1,000 point to save Candyland.

When he passed a timed multiplication test, I let him choose a gem. Then, we went online and looked at images of monsters. He got to choose which one he wanted to defeat. We printed it out and I let him decide how he wanted to vanquish the monster.

The Time Element

I gave my sons one week to complete each mission (e.g. one multiplication test or one set of 5 ‘tricky’ words). When they earned their gem they would unlock the next level (a harder multiplication test/5 new words).

Multiple Lives

Each of my sons started with 5 lives (5 chances to pass the test). If he ‘died’ on his first attempt he would practice and try again.

Progression

This was easy for the multiplication memorization. Ollie started with his 0’s and 1’s and progressed to his 2’s, 3’s, etc….The final goal was to complete a mixed multiplication task for an epic win!

With my youngest I chose the 50 most common sight words to read. For his epic win, he would need to read me all 50 words.

Results

We are now in the middle of our quest. If given a choice, my sons would still prefer to play Minecraft, but I am pleased with the progress they have made. When my eldest completed his 8 times tables last week he was so proud of himself because he had to work so hard to pass.

Now I am off to do the parent homework Michael Matera set in his book, Explore Like a Pirate. Won’t my son be surprised when I ask him to show me how to play ‘Gods of Olympus’ this afternoon…