Hands-on fun is better for learning


I HAVE a four-year-old son who will be starting kindergarten next year. I have been teaching him the alphabet and numbers. He is very playful, especially when it comes to reading the alphabet and numbers. He prefers to play with his toys. Is this normal? How do I instil interest in learning the numbers and alphabet? What would be expected of a four-year-old before he starts kindergarten, in terms of learning abilities? – Concerned Mother

School readiness is more than just learning the alphabet and rote counting the numbers. Your child needs an understanding of the meaning of print before he starts learning the alphabet.

Your four-year-old must have the following reading readiness skills. They are speaking and listening skills, auditory and visual discrimination, perceptual motor skills, experiential background and interest.

Instead of teaching him to read, draw his attention to print in books when you read storybooks to him. Avoid spoiling the flow of the story or the magical moments by saying: “Look! Here is the capital letter.”

Great activity: Building blocks provide children with many hours of fun.

You can show him how you read each word naturally and enjoying every moment of your reading. Talk about the writer who wrote the book and the illustrator who drew the stories. You can also show him the title of the book and the layout of the words.

At your son’s age, he may like to go through reference books on things that interest him. Find some picture books that have lots of pictures. These books should have well-written language but simple enough for your son to pick up a few key words.

Since literacy is related to writing as much as it is to reading, you should also encourage your child in writing. By featuring writing prominently in your everyday life, you can make writing meaningful to your child. Write notes to one another or create family posters. Children who are not writing correctly yet can also join in. They can scribble away and parents can help translate their scribbles with an explanation underneath.

Practise dictated writing with your preschooler. Write down on his behalf what he is saying to you. Write down word for word. You should not correct his mistakes. He needs to be able to “read back” what he has spoken.

He also needs to cultivate mental abilities such as matching, grouping, temporal ordering and knowing cause and effect, to gain mathematical understanding. He must have experiences that provide him opportunities to discover the joys of doing maths in real-life activities.

In your daily routines, ask your child how many or how much he needs, for example, how many pieces of capati he wants for breakfast. You can count with him as he picks up his toys. Keep a chart to record the number of books you have read to him over the week.

When you go shopping, write down a list for your child to count the number of items. For example, the list may include 10 apples, 10 oranges, two tins of sardines and six bottles of soybean drink. There are many things in your household that your son can put in groups of numbers.

Do play activities that require your child to use his patterning skills. Puzzles and block play are age- and development-appropriate. These materials can be made with household products. You can make your own picture puzzles by cutting up old calendar pictures. Use container boxes of various sizes for block play.

Select simple cooking recipes that require measuring, estimating and counting, that you can try out with your four-year-old. Prepare a recipe chart for your child to follow. This way he can also practise his sequencing skill.

Read the recipe out loud and let your son arrange the ingredients in the order they will be mixed together. This provides practise in temporal ordering. You can monitor by asking: “What happens next?” Muffin or cupcake recipes are great for young children to work on.

You can ask questions such as: “What do you think will happen if I sprinkle some sugar into the water?” Such questions foster critical thinking skills.

You can create lessons in the home that will enable your son to do comparing, sorting, and learn cause and effect.

If you do not mind the mess, your son will learn a great deal more through these hands-on activities than the formal lessons on reading and counting. While he is building his learning skills and developing concepts, he gains competence in being able to do work around the house.

Taken from The Star Online, www.thestar.com.my.