Sunday, August 25, 2013

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic

My child is a genius.  Obviously.  Isn't yours?

Recently we were riding in the car when she piped up from the back with:

"F-R-O-T-H spells FROTH.  Because F-R-O-M spells FROM.  And T-H makes "TH".  So F-R-O-T-H spells FROTH."

I looked at my partner.  Dumbfounded.  And totally impressed.  I didn't even know she could spell FROM, so the rest of it in my mind was just showing off.  Yep.  She's a genius.

I don't really think she's gifted.  Or even that much smarter than anybody else. But boy is she ready to learn right now.  So, so ready.

She's already five, but she doesn't start school until next year, so I have a full 6 months in which to maintain her enthusiasm for learning.  To keep her happily engaged and not bored.  The way I see it, it's my job to make sure that on the first day of school next year she is excited and eager for the experience ahead of her and not, like, so totally over it already. 

I feel a bit daunted by this task, and the bulk of it is still ahead of me, so there's still time to make a complete cock-up of the whole affair.

However, in the spirit of sharing the load here a few wonderful things I have found that have captured her imagination and desire to learn without being teach-y.  You might find them useful if you have kids transitioning to school.  They are all super simple and free or very, very cheap.  And not a smart phone App in sight.


Make-Your-Own Books

I realised while reading stories to my little girl that she was ready to start learning to read.  She started picking out the small words and telling me "That says "it"." or "That says "on"." 

Sometimes she was wrong, but mostly she was right.  And because the type of books that I would read to her (Alice in Wonderland, Pippi Longstocking) were way beyond her reading ability I thought we needed a book made up of short, repetitive words with consistent phonetic sounds.  

It was too hard to get the kids in the car at that particular moment to go to the shop and buy something, so we made one.

Turns out, this was a great happenstance because the pride she took in that little book was and still is enormous.  

Fortunately she was exceedingly forgiving of the gaping narrative holes and focused instead on her role as illustrator.  It's not exactly easy to draw a picture to go with "The fat rat has a hat and sits on the mat", but she did a great job.  

And we keep adding to it and inventing new sentences for her to tackle.  Once she sounds them out and reads them she draws the picture to go with it.

You Can Buy Books For Emerging Readers.  Who Knew?

I guess I haven't been the demographic before now but there are some great "readers" out there for kids with really simple phrases for them to sound out and read.  There are also some really terrible ones so here's what I've learnt so far:

*  You are probably reading stories to your kid that are WAY more advanced in terms of plot and vocab than they are able to attempt to read.  But if you give them something that they can try to read they are going to be bored brainless by "The cat sat on the mat" in 2 seconds flat.  

Luckily there are these great little numbers by Usborne available whereby you (the parent) reads the story (still pretty basic, but more complex than they could read) and then they (the child) reads a simple phrase to complete the page or paragraph.  

I found that these totally engaged my little girl.  Her ability to contribute to the reading made up for the basic nature of the plot.  There is a whole series that get incrementally more challenging until your child is reading on her own!

*  There are quite a lot of "readers" out there that purport to be for beginner readers but are actually full of (comparatively) complex sentences and made up words that are useless and simply frustrating for emergent readers. 

My 5 year old can't sound out that "Pinkalicious has a pet unicorn called Goldilicious - Goldi for short." or that "Pinkatastic Princess sleepovers are pinkerrific" and nor should she have to.  

Neither should I have to listen to it.  

Pick a book that is appropriate to your child's level and topic of interest.  And if they can't read at all yet, remember it's more important that they get a confidence boost by sounding out C-A-T correctly, than that they get frustrated by getting "unicorn" wrong.

*  Kids have amazing memories.  A-MAZ-ING.  So before you shell out dozens of clams *cough* on readers for your little prodigy, check out your local library.  

I bought a reader for my daughter and we had a great time sounding out the words together.  But it cost me $10 and now she knows it by rote and doesn't even have to look at the book while reciting the words.  

My attempts to explain to her that THIS IS NOT READING are thus far falling on deaf ears.  Maybe if I hide it under my pillow for a few months she will forget the plot and we can have another go at it.

Write Out After You Sound Out

If your child is buoyed and excited by a fun and successful reading session, you can capitalise by adding a skill set right there and then.  Before they get bored grab some paper and textas and help your child write the words they have just read.  

I find that this really embeds the words and it's a fun little add-on when the reading starts wearing thin.


I have a terrible maths brain.  Always have.  Or at least I have always felt totally inadequate about it.  The fact that my father still tries to pop-quiz me on the multiplication table helps no-one.  

So when my daughter started showing an interest in it I was in equal parts impressed and appalled.  

Nevertheless, my own maths nightmares aside I am doing my best to try and support her learning in this area. Fortunately she is 5, so I can still out smart her. 

But I'm on borrowed time and I know it.

The Abacus

My parents bought my daughter a giant abacus for her 1st birthday.  At the time it was nothing more than a potentially fatal climbing frame.  But now (4 years later!) it has come into it's own.  

It's amazing to me how often numbers figure in day to day life, I guess I just wasn't paying attention before.  But now, anytime we hear a number - like 12 - we'll have a conversation about what makes 12: 6+6, 10+2, 8+4 etc, and it's great that she can go over to the abacus and have a physical representation of what this means.  

It doesn't need to be a giant, over-sized abacus.  A table top one will do.  In fact you don't even need an abacus, try beads or pom-poms or...

Lego Maths

We have found that gathering a certain amount of lego pieces in a certain size and colour and breaking them down in different ways can be a really engaging activity.  

For example my daughters favourite number is 12 (yes, she has a favourite number, I too am questioning if we are actually related) so she'll pick out 12 pink (why is it always pink?) lego pieces and we'll make two groups of 6, 4 groups of 3, 3 groups of 4, a 10 and a 2 etc.  

Again the physical nature of this activity seems to really fuse the abstract notion of equations into something memorable.

Number Recogonition

When I went to the information night at the school my daughter will be attending next year we talked briefly about maths and they stressed the the emphasis in the first year was not on equations of any type (addition, multiplication etc) but simply on number recognition.  

So it's not as important to know that 2+3=5 as it is to know that 5=:.:=five=IIIII.  So we've had a lot of fun looking at numbers in different ways, learning the numerals, the words and the quantities of each number up to 12.

The other important thing I learnt at that information evening is that prep teachers have no expectations of where children should be at in terms of literacy and numeracy when they meet them on the first day of the school year.  

It is far more important for your child's ability to thrive that they can get their own lunch, manage their own shoes, and deal with the jungle that is the school yard than it is that they can recite the alphabet, read a basic sentence or make 10 from 5+5.  

The prep teachers we spoke to said they didn't even have an expectation of a prep child being able to write their own name or to know that a book was read from left to right.

So don't get hung up on what your child can or can't do.  But certainly if your child is keen and eager and gets some enjoyment out of some of these numeracy and literacy exercises go for it.  As long as it's fun.


By the way, this is by no means a sponsored or affiliated post.  I linked to those books because they were the best ones I found.  But I found and paid for them myself.  If anyone at Usborne wants to send me some free books, I'm totally down with that, but it didn't occur in this instance.

If you have some fun learning activities post them in the comments below.
I need all the inspiration I can get!

Listen to Feist - 1234

Image Licensed Under Creative Commons


  1. Interesting post. The activities you're doing sound great!

  2. Thanks Allison - I'm just glad you were able to make that comment! ;)