Are you experiencing the “winter blahs” right now in mid-January? Maybe it’s the cold, grey weather … but maybe it’s because you need some great ideas to liven up your Language Arts learning. Sure, there are lots of worksheets and textbooks and workbooks and commercial “learning games” out there–but maybe some practical, fun learning would bring some summer warmth and inspiration into your family learning!
As you explore the posts in this blog, you’ll find lots of practical learning tips–but in case you’re wondering right now what I’m talking about, here are a few examples of Language Arts tips to get you started.
Is your child having trouble with letters– such as a letter that she often leaves off a word, or letters he often mixes up (m/n; p/d/b; p/q)? A good idea is to point out words on anything–signs, newspaper headlines, cereal boxes, etc.–that have any of these letters, to give your child practice with these letters in a wide variety of “real” uses. Real-life learning is almost always superior to worksheets and such, and its a lot more fun.
Does your child have a hard time thinking of antonyms (opposites)? Instead of drilling lists of antonyms, watch for “real life” opportunities in general conversation to point out opposites, and ideally, have her put them into action. Examples: “The door is SHUT; please OPEN it” or “Put this book on the TOP shelf, and this other book on the BOTTOM shelf” or “Please pick up the ball that’s UNDER the tree and throw it OVER the bush to me.” Using practical, “real” examples like this in daily life will help her develop an understanding of opposites.
Homonyms are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Many children (and adults!) find it a challenge for her to “sort out the spelling” of homonyms. But using “tricks” (mnemonics) are lots of fun! For example, “meet” has “me” in it so think “meet me”–while “meat” has “eat” in it, so think “I eat meat.” Also, “too” means “also” or “more” so you can say that’s why it has the extra “o” instead of “to.” A “deer” (unlike “dear”) has 2 eyes, which are the two “e”s in the middle. “Piece” (unlike “peace”) has “pie” in it, so think “I’d like a piece of pie.” And so on
Does your child have difficulty with “Mr., Mrs., Ms, Dr., etc.”? Obviously, you can’t easily sound them out. But if you connect these titles/abbreviations with people in your family (or close friends), they take on a strong personal connection and that makes them so much more relevant and easy to remember. Let your child label photos, draw stick people sketches and label them, make name tags and stick them to people (kids love doing this!). With these picture connections and family connections, your child will easily remember these words!
Encourage “practical reading” at home by having your child read recipes when you are cooking, and have him do some of the parts of the recipe that he has read about; when you make a grocery list, make sure you print it clearly, and have him read it to you as you shop together–or give him the list and have him search the shelves and find the products with the matching words; and so on.
Is your child having difficulty reading a newly assigned book or story? Work through it in stages. First, look at any pictures and discuss the title. What do you think the book might be about? Then read it to your child slowly, finger-tracking the words. Then read it again, still tracking the words, and have your child do his best to read along with you (don’t correct or wait, just read smoothly and with appropriate emphasis). Then try reading half of a sentence and have him finish it; then read alternate sentences; then move to alternate paragraphs. Your child will soon be familiar with the content–and be able to not only read the words but read them fluently, with good emphasis. Other useful strategies include choral reading (reading aloud together), taking turns (sentence by sentence or page by page), fading (start by reading chorally, then slowly “fade out” so she is reading by herself–and “fade back in” if she needs help).
Ideally, allow your child to choose his own reading material quite often–that will also provide interest and motivation! Libraries and bookstores and thrift store bookshelves are wonderful places. Spend lots of time together in them, because doing lots of activities, reading, writing, research, etc. on a topic a child is very interested in is a great way to encourage him in developing his literacy skills–even if you aren’t as interested in spiders and other creepy crawlers as he is, and it freaks you out to discover them in his pockets when you’re doing laundry!
Encourage your child to read to her siblings, her pets, her stuffies–and to anything or anyone else who won’t critique or help, but rather will admire her ability–and encourage her to ask them the questions at the end. Children love to be “the teacher” and it’s true: teaching someone what you’ve just learned is one of the best ways to plant that knowledge and skill into long-term memory.
Tongue twisters are a wonderful way to practice sounds. There are fun tongue twister books available (try this one I put together, for example)–but then be sure to make up tongue twisters with your child. It’s so much fun–and they don’t even have to make much sense. Children love “silliness”!
Make up “silly sentences” with rhyming words (and word families)–or make up little rhyming poems. They can be lots of fun to create–together! Children are so creative–get your child involved! Also, search through colourful nursery rhyme books and other poetry books for simple rhymes, limericks, nonsense rhymes–your child will love repeating them after you, even if she can’t read them yet. Finger-track under the words, and she’ll soon start connecting sounds and letters–and soon start spelling, as well.
Here are some things to look for in library books–make it an adventure, encouraging the child himself to get involved in the search: different levels of difficulty on the same topic (of the child’s interest!) but in different picture books, fiction books, non-fiction books, magazines, videos, etc.); entertaining books that have repetition of sight words or other words you want the child to learn (have the child look for books that have words from a list you’re working on–think of book topics that might have those words, or even try using the library subject catalogue); books with humour or funny twists (kids love books with jokes and riddles in the story–like Joanna Cole’s Clown Arounds series); colourful illustrations which give “hints” as to the “new words”; and books that encourage expressive reading through fun and entertaining dialogue or story line.
And while it’s fun to get a stack of new books from the library every week, if she “loves” a book and wants to read it over and over, encourage her to do so, as it will build fluency–even consider suggesting favourite titles as a birthday or other gift that grandparents and others can give your child. Perhaps a birthday party could have a “theme” related to a favourite book series, and guests could bring books, videos and other items related to that series.
Help your child help make her own “card games.” When a child helps make a product and feels “ownership,” she is more likely to learn and to want to play with it. For example, to learn to put words in correct order, print simple sentence words on little cards (capitalize the first word), and have her move them around until the sentence makes sense. If she puts them together in an unexpected order, have fun with that–even let her make up more “silly sentences” with the cards, and have a good laugh together–and then chat about why it’s important to put words in a sensible order. Includes cards with a period, a question mark, and an exclamation mark for her to choose appropriate punctuation.
Watch for commonly seen words, such as “stop” or “exit.” Point out the words (which your child will very likely be able to “read” simply because she “knows” the “sign” in its context), and emphasize the letter sounds in the word. You can also use containers (“milk”), and can talk about everyday objects in her life (cup, sun, apple, pet, pot, etc.). Another fun way to learn vowel sounds (or consonants) is to use “alphabet cereal” and write simple words, say them — and then eat them! After eating each word, say the sound stretched out as if enjoying the taste of the sound. “c-a-t Cat — [eat] –aaaa!!”
What fun, practical Language Arts ideas do you have to make these grey, chilly winter days an exciting learning time for your children? Be sure to share your ideas in the comments and help out other families, too!