Monday, September 9, 2013

Learn With Games Instead of Drilling

Parents often ask us for advice about their kids’ schedules. They understand the value of raising well-rounded kids who also get the outside academic support they need, but how much tutoring can they cram in around guitar lessons, swim practice, and choir rehearsal? And what about the all-important decompression time kids need, to go about the business of being kids?

For children who need some extra practice with reading and math skills, particularly in kindergarten and the early years of elementary school, these questions can be tough ones. One possible solution is to multitask. Wouldn't it be great if your child could play and learn at the same time? If this idea appeals to you, then Peggy Kaye’s books could be great resources for your family.

Games for Reading and Games for Math have been around for a long time (first published in 1984 and 1987 respectively), but Kaye’s delightful outlook and thoughtful, fun suggestions are timeless. Kaye believes that “what doesn't amuse shouldn't be used,” and she encourages parents and teachers of students in kindergarten through third grade to experiment with her many great ideas until they find some that get kids smiling so much they won’t even know they’re building critical academic abilities.

Games for Reading hones a variety of reading skills. For example, Wrong-Speed Conversations counsels parents to speak to children as though they’re faulty record players, speaking much too quickly or much too slowly. When children get over their fits of giggles and are encouraged to do the same, their slow-motion speech helps them to stretch out words and pay attention to the individual sounds that make up each word, a critical skill for early literacy and spelling. Similarly, rhyming games in which one “player” begins a rhyming couplet but leaves off the last word for the other person to finish (“I could eat two/But I’d rather share one with ____”) develops phonemic awareness, helping children to be more attentive to the sounds in words. Kaye has more ideas for working through stacks of flashcards than you thought could possibly exist, and many of her games involve friendly competition, jumping, and drawing. The List of Important Sounds at the back of the book helps parents who are not educators to ensure they’re hitting all the critical bases when they plan games at home.

Games for Math is another gem. Kaye’s Cleaning Counts game, for example, turns clean-up time into a math lesson. Instead of simply saying that you want your child to clean up her toys by the time you count to 20, why not experiment by counting backward or skip counting by 5’s to 100? Invite your child to count with you as she starts to get the hang of it. Kaye points out that this kind of early exposure to number patterns is a great way to build a child’s awareness of numerical sequences. Kaye also shares ideas for card games that will help children practice addition and homemade tangrams and visual puzzles for spatial reasoning. And her drawing game on graph paper for understanding multiplication is simple yet nothing short of brilliant.

Students need free, unstructured time to engage in creative play. But thanks to Games for Reading and Games for Math, the fun doesn't need to stop when it’s time to review academic skills.

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