Preparing your child for Kindergarten: 10 Tips for The Reluctant Writer

This week’s blog will commence our new series, “Preparing your child for Kindergarten”. This series aims to tackle some of the most common issues facing parents of children who are about to start Kindergarten in the New Year. The blogs will be filled with practical examples and give lots of ideas of how to ensure that your child’s transition is a smooth one.

The first blog in this series deals with the issue of pre-schoolers who are reluctant writers. Before I begin this blog, I want to make it very clear that it is not expected that children are able to write words or even letters before commencing Kindergarten. However; by the age of 4 – 5 years old, most children become interested in print and how we use it to communicate messages.

It is very common for a child to begin Kindergarten, being able to write their name and for some, they are able to identify the names of the letters in their name as well. There are children, however, who are very reluctant to pick up a pencil and therefore parents become concerned that their child will struggle in their first year of formal schooling.

This is by far the most common issue I get asked about. Many parents want to know how they can motivate their child to write their name or even participate in drawing activities. Below is a list of 10 facts that will help all concerned parents of reluctant writers.

  1. Pre writing skills

imgresBefore children can start writing formal letters they need to be given MANY opportunities to participate in activities that develop pre writing skills. They need to be able to draw straight lines from top to the bottom, humps, zig zags and draw circles (preferably anti clockwise). I like to get children to do this through their drawings. I encourage them to draw rain or grass or flower stems that incorporate a lot of straight lines. I get them to draw waves or clouds for hump practice, zig zag patterns on clothing and circles for faces and eyes for circle practice.

  1. Do it with them

imgres-1Children love to spend time with grown ups, so this would be a perfect opportunity to do something with them. You need to ensure that it does not become a teaching session where a child can become quite stressed. Simply drawing a picture with your child will develop all the pre writing skills that they need. Make sure you talk about what you are drawing and ask them to talk about what they are drawing. This is where you can gently guide them by saying “I like to draw my lines from top to bottom because it is easier”

  1. Variety of tools

imgres-2It is essential that children are exposed to a variety of tools to write with. They need to work with larger tools such as thick chalk and thick paintbrushes to develop their skills and then move onto thinner chalk, markers, crayons and pencils.

  1. Writing must be meaningful

imgresChildren will only want to write something if it is meaningful to them. Get them to write a word on your grocery list (like ham) and take them shopping with you to buy that item. When there is a purpose for their writing, children are really motivated to do it.

  1. Give them ownership

imgres-1Talk about the importance of writing their name on their artwork when they attend preschool or daycare. Explain to them that their name is special and it belongs to them. Start with the first letter and then you can fill in the rest. When they are confident with that, move on by getting them to write the first 2 letters.

  1. Forming letters

imgres-2It is important to not enforce the correct formation of letters straight away. At the beginning, children need lots of opportunities to explore writing and they need a no fail environment to motivate them to keep going. Once your child begins writing letters often, you may mention to them the correct way to form that letter. But remember it is still in the experimental phase.

  1. No lines

imagesChildren should not be writing on lines until they are writing lots of sentences and are very confident with their letter formations. We should not restrict children to write straight at such an early stage. They need lots of room to form their letters.

  1. Restricting their size

Try not to restrict the size of their writing as well. Children start big and as they develop it will naturally get smaller.

  1. Fine motor skills

imgres-3Many children who are reluctant writers have poor fine motor skills. As a result I tend to find reluctant writers also struggle to operate small tools such as scissors. If your child finds it difficult to use their pincer grip (thumb and index finger) to pull coins out of play dough or thread small beads on string or open and close pegs with their pincer grip they may have underdeveloped fine motor skills. This will need to be checked out by an Occupational Therapist as soon as possible.

  1. Use what they like

Most children have a few obsessions and it is important to tap into it to motivate them in an area that they may struggle with. Get them to write the toy they really want for Christmas on a paper and send it to Santa or get them to write one of their friend’s name on an invitation for their party.

The key to motivating reluctant writers is to create a no failure environment, ensure that the writing activity is meaningful to them and make the activities fun which you both can enjoy.

I hope that this first blog in the new series “Preparing your child for Kindergarten” gives you food for thought in how to encourage your child to start writing.

Our next blog in the series will be dealing with the issue of how to keep your child engaged in a task for longer than 5 minutes.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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3 Games That Will Give Your Preschooler A Head Start In Mathematics and English

As parents we all want to give our child the best start in life. We want to give them as many opportunities as possible to reach their full potential. We aim to create the best learning environment at home to enable them to develop their skills in many areas. This is particularly true when it comes to education.

ImaginationThis blog focuses on games that you can play with your preschooler to give them a head start in understanding numeracy (mathematics) and literacy (English) concepts prior to Kindergarten.

Children learn best through play experiences. It is very important for children to direct their own play and have a lot of opportunities to do this. However, if your preschool child is anything like mine, you will be constantly nagged to participate in the same game with them, over and over again. For my daughter, it is playing the “baby game” and her baby is always doing the wrong thing and needing to go to the timeout corner. There are only so many times I have the enthusiasm to play this game.

Playing with your child is important and a parent’s enthusiasm is equally as important. Playing a game together that stimulates imagination, stretches their vocabulary and teaching important educational concepts can be very rewarding for both the child and parent.

As parents, we can maximise their learning by setting up games that have a purpose of teaching them about Mathematics and English while still being very engaging and above all, fun! Children learn new concepts at the point of need. This means that children are only ready to learn a new skill if it is important for them at that exact time. (e.g. learn to write their name on their painting so they don’t mix it up with others)

Below is a list of 3 imaginative games that target these learning outcomes and a list of parent tips to get the best out of each game.

1. Doctors and Nurses

All children experience going to the doctors and visiting the nurse at some stage before they go to school. Unfortunately for some, a little more often than others. This is a familar context (situation) for your child, so your child will be really engaged with this game.

How to set it up

Get your child to talk to you about what you would need to set up for this game. You would need to include a space for a doctors room with a table, doctors equipment, somewhere to lay down and some pencils and paper. You would also need a waiting area, with a small table and chair for the receptionist, chairs for patients to sit, books for people to read and pens and paper for reception.

Parent tips on playing the game

  1. Be as creative as you can with your costumes. Get your child to help you write some name tags that could be used when you or your child is playing a character. Talk about the names and sounds of all the letters on each name tag. (literacy) Name tags could include Doctors, nurses, receptionists and patients
  2. Get your child to play different roles. You also play a role so they can see what you say and what you do when you play a character. Children learn so much through observation. Play the receptionist role first, and demonstrate how you write down the patients name, what time their appointment is and then you put it into a tray for the doctor. You could focus on showing your child the clock and show them where the hands of the clock have to be to show that time. (Mathematics) Encourage your child to keep watching the clock until it is their appointment time.
  3. You and your child can make up forms that patients need to fill in when they arrive. It could have a space for the name, age, doctor they are seeing and time of the appointment. (Literacy) Have your child write the words with your guidance.
  4. In the doctors room you could get the doctor to check the temperature, blood pressure, look at sore body parts, conduct an X-ray, give advice on what to do to get better, give a needle and write out a prescription for medicine. You can help the child write out a prescription and draw a picture to represent it. (literacy)
  5. Get the patient to pay at the reception when they have finished their appointment. (Have play money and use each coin as one dollar). The child has to count the amount of coins that they have to give the receptionist. (Mathematics)

You can play this game over and over again with a different scenario. Get your child to play different roles constantly and give them lots of praise for communicating in character.

2. Post Office

images-2A post office environment may be less familar to young children but it offers so many opportunities for children to learn literacy and numeracy concepts. You could take your child to a post office before you play it so they have some understanding of what happens in a post office and what its purpose is to the community.

How to set it up

Get your child to talk to you about what you would need to set up for this game. You would need to include a table for where the post office assistant will sit, an area for customers to write letters, put stamps on and get their parcels ready to be sent, an area for customers to line up and a post box to put all letters and parcels in.

Parent tips on playing the game

  1. Get your child to help you to collect and sort all the equipment that you need for the game. You will need to gather blank pieces of paper, small envelopes, large envelops, pencils, stamps, bubble wrap and sticky tape. (You can make envelops and stamps out of paper or cardboard) Get your child to write labels for each of the stationary to put up in the post office so the customers know where to find them on the shelves. (literacy) Do not forget to include how much they are. (mathematics)
  2. Get the customer to buy some stationary that they need to send a letter to someone they know. They will need to purchase the paper, pencil, stamp and envelop from the front counter. Ask lots of questions to your child about what they have. (e.g. how many things are you buying?, if you bought another pencil what would your new number be? - Mathematics)
  3. Help your child construct a letter to someone they know. Focus on the structure of a letter. (who is it to?, what do you want to say? who is it from?) Get your child to help you identify the sounds and names of the letters being used. (literacy)
  4. Show your child what we put on an envelope (the name and address of the recipient on the front, the sender details on the back, the stamp on the top right hand corner of the front of the envelope) - Literacy
  5. Get your child to write an invitation for a party to send. Focus on the structure of the invitation (who, what, where, when, rsvp) Ask your child how many invitations would you need to send to your whole family? - Mathematics
  6. Make a parcel to send to someone. Wrap it in bubble wrap and explain why we have to protect it. Explain the whole process of how their parcel gets from the post office to the person they are sending it to. Your child may want to role play that process.
  7. Talk about the price of stamps. (you can make up a simple amount e.g. $1) Ask them if they needed 3 stamps how much it would cost? (Mathematics)

After playing this game many times you might want to take your child to the post office to send a real letter to a friend or family member. You can get them to buy the stamp, put it on the letter and then put the letter in the post box. This will translate their knowledge into the real world.

3. Toy shop
Setting up a toy shop is a great activity for your preschooler as it combines their love of toys with learning about numeracy and literacy concepts. Taking your child to the shops and pointing out all the environmental print (print of everyday) in a shop will help give you and your child ideas of what your toy shop might look like.

How to set it up

Dedicate an area in your house to be used as a toy shop for a couple of days. It is important not to pack it up as soon as you have finished as this game could be played each day so your child can build on the skills he/ she has learnt on the previous day. Use lots of print in the toy shop to help your child with the beginning stages of reading.

Parent tips on playing the game

  1. Let your child choose a name for the shop and together make a poster with the shops name on it. Focus your child’s attention on the letter names and sounds in the name of the shop. (Literacy)
  2. Encourage your child to set up the toys in lines and count how many he/she has of each type of toy (13 - cars, 16 - soft animal toys) Get your child to record how many they have with a numeral and picture on a sheet. When someone buys a toy they can cross off one of them so they always know how many they have on their shelves. (Mathematics)
  3. Make advertisements with your child to encourage family members to buy toys from their shop. Stick them up around the house. (Literacy)
  4. Assign dollar amounts to each toy and make a sign to stick near the toy. Talk about how we write money amounts. Talk about the dollar sign with your child. (Mathematics)
  5. Count dollar coins to pay for toys being bought (Mathematics)
  6. The child can give customers a receipt documenting what they have purchased. Parents can help with spelling or they could use the signs in the shop to help spell toy names. (Literacy)

The best gift you can give your child is a variety of experiences. Although many of us are time poor, it is essential that we make as much time as possible to play and communicate with our young children. Playing is how children learn. As parents if we invest a little time in preparing purposeful play, children will reap the rewards of having a deeper knowledge and understanding of many numeracy and literacy concepts.

For more information about creating the best learning environment for your child please visit my website http://creatingalearningenvironment.com or my Facebook page regularly.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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What is the “best” way to teach reading to children who are learning English.

Welcome to my next blog about reading with children who are learning English.

Recently I have been involved in some professional learning about reading and what impacts on it. As part of the professional learning, I read a Chapter titled “Building Bridges to text” in a book called “English Learners, Academic literacy and thinking” by Pauline Gibbons. Below is my summary of this text and my own opinion on how to ensure that children who are learning English are able to comprehend the texts that they are reading.

In multicultural nations, like Australia, many children begin school with a very limited understanding about English. These children usually speak another language at home or have been looked after by their grandparents (who do not speak English fluently) while their parents work. These children have not been exposed to the correct structure of spoken English and therefore need a lot of assistance when learning to read English texts.

Not only do they find the concepts about print (how a text works eg front cover, left to right, read left page first) difficult to understand, but their field knowledge is very limited as well. Field knowledge is the understanding about our world and making connections through experience. This is an area that many children struggle with, not just children who have English as a second or even third language. The texts that beginning readers are given cover a variety of topics. The text could be about a circus, playground, airport, another culture, swimming lessons, farm, making bread etc. If children are not familiar with these topics, they will need a lot of assistance to build their field knowledge to enable them to comprehend the text.

Remember the most important goal of learning to read is for a child to understand what they are reading. Reading fluently is important and does relate to comprehension but most of the time parents focus on this at the cost of a child not understanding the text.

Approaches to teaching reading for children learning English

1. Traditional or phonics based approach

This approach focuses on the child learning all their sounds to be able to work out written symbols. An educator would start with individual letters, then simple sight words, then the sounds that are made with two or more letters. After they have gained confidence with this, they would move onto simple sentences that focus on repetition. All early reader texts rely on repetition.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the child is able to make few links to what they already know from their own language. Reading can become a very abstract process for these children as the sounds do not match their first language.

2. Whole language approach

imgres-1This approach focuses on the child learning about the whole text by recognising what type of text it is, predicting what the text is about and using their own knowledge about the subject to bring meaning to the text. Good readers draw on three types of knowledge when reading a text; semanic knowledge (knowledge about the world), Syntactic knowledge (knowledge about the structure of the language) and graphophonic knowledge (letter-sound realtionships). This approach aims to combine all these types of knowledge when trying to read a text.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the child may not be familiar with the texts subject or familiar with the structure of the language that will help them predict what the sentences will be about.

3. Interactive approach

imagesThis approach is the combination of the traditional and the whole language approaches. A child learns about predictive and decoding (working out) skills depending on the type of text being read. What an educator does before reading a text with a child is very important to how successfully a child will be able to read it.

4. Critical approach

researchingThis approach focuses on a child being able to question and analyse a text in which they have been exposed to. They learn that no text is “neutral” as an author always has a particular context and the reader also has their own context. This means that we all see things differently depending on who we are. Words such as discovery, invasion and colonisation all have a particular context that refers to one event.

5. Social and cultural approach

reading 1This approach focuses on the understanding that reading is a cultural and social practice. Each society places a different value on it. Some children come from cultures that value oral story telling whereas some value  picture books or factual texts or religious texts such as the bible. This approach guides the educator in selecting particular texts for a child and the nature of the classroom discussion around reading.

Not one approach has all the answers. As educators and parents we need to use all of these approaches at different times depending on the needs of the child. I hope this has given you insight into the many factors that influence the skill of learning to read, especially for a child who is learning English.

Please share this article with all your staff and parents to ensure we all have access to information that will help our children reach their potential.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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How to increase your child’s achievement through a “growth mindset”

How do we motivate a child to work hard and achieve?  Is there a secret? How does one teach a child about motivation?

My blog this week explores the idea of children’s success related to their motivation intent. How to motivate a child is a question that many parents and educators of children ask everyday.

Everything we say and do sends a message to children. Some of these messages will increase a child’s level of motivation, whilst others will be the complete opposite.

In a survey conducted by the Canadian Education Association, over 80% of parents indicated that they “thought it was necessary to praise children’s intelligence to give them confidence in their abilities and motivate them to succeed.”(Boosting achievement with messages that motivate by Carol S Dweck) Unfortunately recent research indicates that this theory is wrong!

The research suggests that the most resilient and motivated children are the ones that believe that intelligence is not fixed (born with it mentality) rather it is something that can be developed through effort and learning. This research really emphasises the point that the key to achievement is what a child believes about intelligence.

The fixed mindset

A child with a fixed mindset will limit his or her chances to achieve. They want to look “smart” at all costs and do not like to undertake a task that may provide some challenges for them. Children with a fixed mindset tend to follow three rules:

1. Don’t make mistakes

mistakesA child with a fixed mindset believes that making mistakes shows a lack of ability. They would believe that the mistake indicates that they are not good at that particular area and would try to avoid it in the future.

2. Don’t work hard

imgres-3A child with a fixed mindset believes that intelligent people should not have to work hard. If you work hard, it means that you have low intelligence and indicates a limited ability. The idea that high effort equals low ability is one of the worst beliefs fixed mindset children have. (Boosting achievement with messages that motivate by Carol S Dweck)

3. If you make mistakes, don’t try and repair them

imgres-4A child with a fixed mindset is only interested in whether an answer is right or wrong. If they get an answer wrong, they tend to not care about what the correct answer was. They do not want to correct their errors and understand the concept for future learning.

The growth mindset

A child with a growth mindset is focused on the learning instead of the grades. Their main aim is to build on previous understanding and push themselves to the next level. Although they are not fixed on achievement, achievement usually goes hand in hand with this mindset. Children with a growth mindset tend to follow three rules:

1. Take on challenges

A child with a growth mindset often accepts many challenges that they could fail at. They want to stretch their abilities and learn new things.

 

2. Work hard

A child with a growth mindset believes that the harder you work at something, the better you will be at it. They do not believe that you are born with high intelligence or low intelligence but you can work hard and get success.

3. Confront your mistakes and correct them

A child with a growth mindset is very eager to remedy their mistakes and learn from them. They want to focus on their mistake and get feedback to show them where they went wrong.

Let us return to the initial questions I posed at the beginning of the article. How do we get our children to be motivated and work hard in order to achieve? The new question that we should ask ourselves is “How do we get our children to have a growth mindset and not a fixed one?

As parents and educators we need to focus on the process or journey that the child undertakes instead of the finished product. We can give praise to a child in regards to their persistence, strategies used, their change of thinking due to new learning, their questioning, critical thinking and creative ideas.

We can celebrate how a child solved a problem or how they undertook a difficult challenge. This is what will motivate a child to have a growth mindset. They need to see us as the parents and educators going through this process as well and observe how we deal with difficult and frustrating setbacks within a task.

It is great to praise a child’s finished task (a child loves this intellegence praise) however, praising a child’s process which could be their effort, concentration, choices and persistence is more powerful to help a child achieve, have confidence and be a motivated learner.

I would like to thank a good friend and work colleague, Leanne for alerting me to this new research. This blog is dedicated to you.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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10 Ways To Help Your Child Prepare A Speech

Your child comes home from school and explains that they need to prepare a speech to deliver to their class in a couple of weeks. Where do you begin? How do you guide them to write and deliver the best speech that they can?

Look no further than “Creating A learning Environment’s” latest blog. In this blog, author, Kelly Pisani gives parents and educators 10 ways to help children prepare a speech. Remember if you find this article useful please share with all your friends and family.

Welcome to my next blog which focuses on 10 ways to help your child prepare their speech. Many parents feel overwhelmed when it comes to helping their child write and deliver a speech to an audience. It may be because of their own previous experience or that they don’t understand how a successful speech is structured and what presenting skills are important for a speech to be engaging.

Please find below my 10 best tips on preparing a successful speech:

1. Research the topic

researchingChildren are either given a topic, given a list of possible topics or given the opportunity to write a speech about anything they want. It does not matter how a topic has been selected but it is important for the child to engage in some research about it, to gain a deeper level of understanding. Work with your child to try and locate some factual evidence that supports their point of view. Adding quotes from well respected professionals, current statistics and current new headlines will give a lot of substance to their speech.

2. Know the purpose and who the audience will be.

Knowing the purpose of the speech will help you guide your child in achieving the aim of the task. Commonly in primary school, a speech is given to present an assessment, to persuade, to instruct, to engage, to enter into a public speaking competition or to entertain. The speech’s purpose may be a combination of a few of these. The speech should be written with the purpose in mind. It will influence what you put in the speech and how it is delivered.

It is equally as important to know the audience. Will it be said to children, to adults, to an external adjudicating panel or a combination of these? This will influence the type of vocabulary in the speech, the types of stories that should be said and the type of humour (if any) that could be included in the speech.

3. Structure of a speech and time limit

In most cases, children are given a strict time limit that their speech must be said in. If it is too short, there is not enough information in the speech and if the speech goes over time, it means there is too much content and it should be revised. Children need to say their speech in a slow, yet purposeful way. It is important that they are clear and use intonation in their voice to emphasis key points. Most children are nervous and rush through their speech. Encourage your child to say it slowly as their speech will have more impact as the audience will understand what is being said.

Most speeches should follow the simple structure of introduction, arguments with supporting evidence and finishing off with the conclusion. Use the time limit as a rough guide of how long each part should be. 20% of the time should be for the introduction, 70% of the time for the arguments with supporting evidence and 10% of the time for the conclusion.

4. Importance of a draft

assessmentsIt is essential that a child’s speech is their speech. It is very easy to “take over” and write what you believe they should say. You need to find a way of guiding your child, yet it is important that their ideas are directing the way the speech is constructed. Work on one part of the structure of the speech at a time. Writing a whole speech can be daunting so tackle a small section at a time. Ideally the introduction and conclusion are written after the main part of the speech has been written. Your child needs to understand that a speech can be modified many times. It can even be modified when they are practising their “finished speech” as something they said might not sound correct or flow properly. A speech is an evolution of ideas and children need to be encouraged to make lots of changes throughout the process of preparing a speech.

5. Eye contact

eyecontactGiving a speech is not the same as reading a speech. Many children do not focus on their presentation skills and only focus on writing the speech. Eye contact is essential to ensure the audience is engaged. If a child is not looking at the audience it can be seen, that they lack confidence, have not practised it enough or it can cause the audience to lose interest. If your child finds it difficult to look at people in the audience, encourage them to look at the hair on the audience’s heads. This way they can focus on the hair of people instead of their faces. The audience will not know that the child is doing it.

6. Engaging introduction

It is important that an introduction is engaging. The child needs to grab the audience’s attention from the second they start delivering their speech. With this in mind, we should not encourage a child to start with “Good morning …. or Good afternoon …” The first few words are vital to set the audience up for an engaging speech. If the introduction is written after the main part of the speech, the child will have a clear understanding of how to introduce it. How can we encourage children to write an interesting introduction? Your child may want to start with a story that emphasises what they are going to be talking about. They may start with “Imagine you are …..” or “By the end of this speech 500 people will …” or “Bang, woosh, whip …..” or ” I’ve got a secret …” There are so many ways to spark interest from your audience. After your child has said their story etc, then they can say their greetings to the audience. Eg Good morning adjudicators, peers and fellow competitors, today I am here to tell you about ….”

7. A powerful conclusion

microphoneGet your child to think about what they want the audience to take away from their speech. Is there a clear message that they want everyone to think about? This is what they need to include in the conclusion. Asking questions in the conclusion can be a powerful way to encourage the audience to think about the content that has been delivered. The last sentence is the most powerful. Usually I encourage a child to pose a question eg What will you do when you are faced with this choice? or give a reminder to the audience eg “Next time you throw rubbish in the ocean remember all the lives that you are endangering” There is some debate, whether you need to thank the audience for listening. I always discourage this as I want the audience to remember the last thing that has been said and I do not want it to be “Thank you”

8. Using gestures

Adding some gestures throughout the speech will add interest for the audience and also help the child emphasise key points. Over using gestures can make the speech turn into a dramatic performance. The general rule is one gesture per 30 seconds. Gestures could include using fingers when counting, palms out when asking a question or moving one hand when saying a key point.

9. Use of palm cards

It is important that your child knows their speech. If they want people to listen then they need to be engaging. Constantly looking down at palm cards makes it difficult for the audience to stay focused. The palm cards should be used as a reminder for your child for the next part of the speech. We call them palm cards because the speech should be written on small cards that fit in the palm of their hands. Business cards make the best palm cards for speeches. Ensure that the palm cards are numbered to make it easier to check they are in order.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

In order to get better at anything, we need to practice. Children should practise in front of the mirror in order to evaluate their eye contact, gestures and posture. A child needs to stand still, project their voice and practise with a microphone (if this is what they will have to do when it is time to deliver their speech in the classroom or competition) Have them deliver their speech in a variety of environments and in front of many different family members.

Public speaking is an essential skill that our children need. It will give them confidence, help them to structure their ideas and be able to give their opinion in a clear and concise manner.

I hope this gives you lots of useful tips and that the information is clear enough for you to be able to put this advice into practice the next time your child tells you that they need to prepare a speech.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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Why setting goals with your child is important for their education!

We are already back at school and holidays feel like a distant memory. Welcome back to Creating A Learning Environment’s blog. In this blog, I look at the importance of goal setting for children and how this has a positive impact on their learning.

imgres-3

At the end of first Semester all children would have received their learning report from their school indicating their areas of strength and their areas for development. Most schools also give parents the opportunity to meet with the class teacher to discuss the report and talk about what concepts the child needs further development in.

The report may have left you feeling proud, anxious or very stressed. With all this information gathered from the report and interview, the question of “where to now?” for your child may have crossed your mind. What do you do with this information and what can you do to help guide your child in the right direction? After all this worrying that the reports can initiate, it seems that everything gets back to normal and life continues like nothing different has happened as the child commences the next Semester.

As parents and educators, we need to ensure that change does occur as a result of the report. We need to use the feedback given to positively guide our focus for the future skill development of the child. If we do not change anything or not use the information given we might as well through out the whole system of reporting. Reports should not just be a measure for what has been taught, but should be a start for the new direction of teaching and learning.

The key element in sparking change is the child. We need to empower children by giving them the right to choose what they need to work on and how they are going to achieve this. Children have a good understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses and are a valuable contributor in the direction of their learning. Educators and parents need to encourage a child to use “goal setting” as a way of maintaining focus and drive to accomplish something.

I recommend using a SMART goal with a child. These goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Goals need to have these attributes in order for the child to have success.

Specific

The goal needs to be clearly defined and not general. For example instead of writing “Improve my handwriting” the child could write “Always use the the tripod finger hold when using a pencil”

Measurable

The process of achieving the goal must be easily observed and evaluated to see if the goal is being met. For example, the child used the tripod finger pencil hold for their writing in English and Maths but not in Science.

Attainable

The goal must be tailored for the child’s age and ability. You would not have a 5 year old child trying to write in cursive writing.

Realistic

The goal must be something that the child is motivated about and something they truly want to achieve. If a parent has too much input into the goal, the goal is actually theirs and not the child’s.

Timely

There needs to be a timeframe that the goal needs to be achieved by or evaluated by. For a child, a small time frame is ideal.

Facts about Goal setting for children

  • There is a difference between a long term goal and a short term goal. Short term goals may be the stepping stones to achieve the long term goal
  • The goals must be child centred
  • The goals must be in the control of the child
  • The goals could come from information gathered from the report or meeting with the teacher
  • The goals must be visible and put in a location that the child will see, to remind them of their goals every day
  • The goals must be revisited every day (evaluated)
  • A child should have between 1 - 3 goals at a time.
  • A child’s goals should be achieved in a short time frame.

5 Ways to display a child’s goals

1. Goals could be displayed as runs on a ladder. Each time a goal is achieved, you can add another one on the top so it looks like they are getting closer and closer to their long term goal.

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2. Create a bucket list with your child that displays all their school goals.

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3. Create a photo goal display. This would work great inside a classroom to ensure children are remembering their goals for a particular subject.

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4. Post it note goals display. This will make it easier to change the goals every couple of weeks.

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5. Create a picture collage of the goals they want to achieve.

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We all want our children to keep working on areas that they may find a bit difficult. You need a lot of motivation to work on areas that you do not like so it is important for children to see that they are having success in that particular area. SMART goals help a child to stay focused, motivated and experience success.

I hope you have found this article helpful and it has given you some insight about how you can use the learning report and meeting with the teacher to spark some change for your child. Please share this article to spread the word about the importance of goal setting with a child.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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It’s report season! - 10 Facts That All Parents Must Know Before Reading Their Child’s Report

Welcome back to Creating A Learning Environment. I can not believe that it is nearly the end of Term 4. Where has this year gone? The end of a Semester, means a very busy time for teachers. This is the time where teachers use all their observations and assessments to provide a formal document about each child in their class, to reflect on what that child has learnt and developed over the two terms.

This blog will look into the world of “grading” for reports and give parents information about what they need to know before they even open their child’s report.

New South Wales Primary schools send student reports home twice a year. The first one being at the end of Semester 1 (End of Term 2) and the second one at the end of Semester 2 (End of Term 4). The report’s aim is to give parents information about their child and give the parent an understanding of whether their child is meeting benchmarks for their age.

Reports can cause a lot of mixed emotions for many households. It can be a time of celebration of a child’s achievement or a realisation that your child is struggling to meet the expected level of a particular grade. With all situations, reports need to be used as a conversation starter between you and your child and between you and your child’s teacher.

Below is a list of 10 facts that all parents need to know before they read their child’s report.

1. The Board Of Studies - What is a KLA?

BoS%20Logo[1]The Board of Studies is the governing body for the implementation of teaching and assessing of students in NSW. They are responsible for setting the core curriculum that is being taught in schools and regulates how much time is allocated to the teaching of each KLA (Key Learning Area). A Key Learning Area is a term used to name a particular area of study.  There are 6 KLA’s in Primary School. They are English, Mathematics, Human Society and Its Environment (History), Science, Creative Arts and Personal Development, Health and Physical Education. Some schools may have the addition of Religious Education as their seventh KLA. All these KLA’s need to be assessed by a child’s teacher and a child is given a grade for each of these KLA’s on their reports.

2. Time allocation for each KLA

KLAsSchools are restricted to how much time they can allocate to the teaching of each KLA. Teachers must assess each child for each KLA in the allocated time per week. In Primary school the time allocations are; English (25%-35%), Mathematics (20%), Science (6%-10%), HSIE (6%-10%), Creative Arts (6%-10%), PDHPE (6%-10%) and additional time for Religious Education, assemblies etc (up to 20%). As a general guide 6%-10% is usually 1.5 - 2.5hrs in a typical teaching week. Many infant classes use combined units to incorporate a few KLA’s in the one learning experience.

3. Stages in Primary Education

children readingThere are 4 stages in Primary Education. Early Stage 1 is Kindergarten, Stage 1 is Years 1-2, Stage 2 is Years 3-4 and Stage 3 is Years 5-6. There are many different types of schools within NSW. Some schools operate in year groups and some schools operate in stage groups. Some schools operate in single classrooms while others have open learning (a few classes work in their own space in a large room). All students are different and they thrive differently in different environments. All schools are bound by the same curriculum, time allocation for teaching each KLA and grading responsibilities, however, schools can chose the best way to deliver the teaching and learning experiences to their students.

4. Outcomes

teacher assessingEach KLA has outcomes that address a particular concept in the area of study that is related to what stage level the child is at. Teachers assess whether a child has not achieved, achieved or has gone beyond each outcome at the particular stage of each KLA. A teacher must look at the child’s achievement across all the outcomes in a KLA that have been taught and then communicate that to the parent and child in the form of a grade for that KLA. An example of a Kindergarten outcome in Mathematics is “Counts to 30, and orders, reads and represents numbers in the range 0 to 20”

5. Kindergarten grading

reading 1Kindergarten is the only grade in Primary school that does not have “Grades”. Teachers generally communicate a child’s achievement in relation to them achieving an outcome or working towards an outcome. This is their first year at “formal schooling” and being it is its own stage, grading does not commence until the children move into Stage 1.

6. What does a “C” mean?

Grade AThis is an area that causes the most stress to parents as the meanings of grades have changed a lot since they went to school. Most parents want their child to receive an “A” but many parents do not realise how difficult it really is to receive an “A”. A “C” is given to a student who is meeting all the requirements of that stage level. They are able to work efficiently in the classroom and achieve all benchmarks at that stage. Most students, as a result, will receive a “C”. Even though some parents are not happy with their child’s “C” for a KLA, it actually informs them that their child is doing exactly what they are meant to be doing.

7. How a teacher grades

assessmentsGrading is not an easy task. Many students can be on the border line of two grades. Two students could receive a “C” for a KLA but one could actually be a high C (nearly a B) and the other could be a low C (just higher than a D). Even though each grade could have such a big spectrum this is not written on the report. A teacher must use all the assessments completed, written evidence in work books and their own observations to give one grade for an entire KLA. They must look at everything that has been taught during the Semester and the contribution that the child has made to group tasks, individual tasks, projects and class discussions to get an overall achievement level.

8. Student’s strengths

littleboyParents may find a grade unjust for their child if their child may be particularly gifted in an area of that KLA. For example, If a child is a particularly gifted skier and they receive a “C” for PDHPE, their parent may believe that this grade is not a reflection of their child. What the parent does not realise, is that within each KLA there are many strands that need to be taught. In PDHPE there are several strands. All health modules, Dance, Gymnastics, Games and Sports, and Active Lifestyle. This child may be gifted in Skiing but that is only one sport out of many that may or may not be taught within the school. They may achieve at a “normal” level with all other sports and their understanding of the theory component associated to PDHPE, so their average grade for all areas of PDHPE is a “C”. This is reflected in all KLA’s.

9. Report Comments

ParentsreadingReport comments can be particularly difficult for a teacher. They are restricted by how many characters they can write and also how they are allowed to describe different learning attributes of a student. The best advice I have for parents is LISTEN in your parent-teacher interviews. This is a time where teachers can go into more detail about your child and show you examples of your child’s work. They can suggest specific activities you could do at home with your child that targets your child’s area of weakness. Always attend the parent-teacher interviews as they usually offer so much more information than a grade on a paper.

10. Working out a plan

parentteacherPrior to reading a child’s report, a parent generally has a good idea of their child’s academic ability. If you have concerns about your child’s rate of development and reading their report supports your thoughts, speak to the child’s class teacher about it. Just because a child is struggling it does not always mean that they will struggle for the rest of their educational journey. Work out a plan with your child’s teacher about the next steps that you or the school will undertake to identify what your child’s additional learning needs may be. This could include going to a GP, having a speech or hearing assessment or having an observation survey completed by an OT or specialised teacher. Early intervention is the key, so the earlier you identify the extra needs of your child, the more success your child will have. Always book a date for the next meeting with the teacher in order to discuss what has been completed since the previous meeting.

Grades of an A,B,C, D or E enables parents to have a small insight into the academic abilities of their child. Teachers encourage parents to not use grades as the only way to judge their child’s success at school. They need to also think about their child’s social and emotional development as a factor in assessing a child’s “success” at school.

If your child has special needs and you and their teacher believes that “no benefit” will come from your child reading all “E’s” in their report, you can request to have a report with no grades and just comments. The special need’s teacher at your school can offer more information about this idea.

Reports cause a lot of stress for children, parents and teachers. Always remember to use reports as a way of starting communication with your child about their strengths and weaknesses at school. Try not to compare their grades with their peers or with other siblings. Use it to get your child to set some academic goals they want to achieve before the end of next Semester.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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15 Ways To Teach Resilience To Your Child

In such a fast moving, busy society where we demand information straight away and do not want to wait for anything why is it so important, more than ever before, to teach children to be resilient?

Welcome to my next blog “15 ways to teach your child to be resilient”. In this blog I look at the reasons why resiliency is so important to a child’s development and ways parents and educators can help their children develop this important skill in life.

So many children in schools have an undeveloped sense of resiliency. It is at an epidemic level compared to the past decades. Why are so many children of this generation unable to display inner strength to deal with everyday challenges that arise and have under developed coping skills? Research tells us, that it is due to the lack of opportunities that children are given to practice this skill when they are young.

As parents and educators we want our children to be happy, successful and have a strong sense of personal worth. We want them to aim high and reach their potential. Unfortunately this can be confused with giving our children everything and doing everything we can to protect our children from undesirable feelings of despair and stress.

We need to give our children many opportunities to practice coping skills when they are aged 2 - 12 years old in order to set them up for a solid emotional foundation for the older years. We need to expose them to challenges that allow them to practice these developing skills.

Below is a list of 15 challenges that we can use to help our own children or children in our class develop their own resiliency.

1. Do not aim to accommodate their every need straight away

imgresSometimes in life our needs can not be met straight away. There are times that we need to wait for food to be prepared or wait for transport to take us somewhere. Children need to learn how to wait for things even if they believe they are dying of starvation.




2. Children need to serve others 

imagesSometimes it feels like everyone has a “every man for himself” mentality. Children need to learn that there are many people in this world and the world does not revolve around them. (wise words from my mother) It is very hard when children tend to be the centre of everything in their family. They are the most special gifts for parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. Encourage children to let others have a turn first or give other people food first before themselves.

3. Waiting without entertainment

imgres-1Think about when you were a child. If you went to a restaurant and had to wait for food after your parents had ordered it, how did you cope without an entertainment device? (ipod, ipad, DS). Or when you were driven by your parents for 20 minutes in the car, how did you survive not watching a movie in that time? We all survived and are well adjusted adults. Some of us anyway :). Children can only learn to wait if they are given opportunity to wait.

4. Do not eliminate all risks

imgresEliminating every possible risk that may pose a danger to your child will do more harm than good. Children need to assess the risk, problem solve and accept responsibility for their actions. If you take all the risks away they will not get the opportunity to practise these skills.

5. Children need to give

imagesIt is important that children understand that material possessions are not essential to happiness. This sentiment contradicts what advertisements are trying to convey to our children. Encourage your children to regularly give some of their clothes and toys to the less fortunate.

6. Problem solving skills

imgres-2When children come to you with a problem it is important that you help them work out the solution instead of just telling them what to do. Children need to have many opportunities to go through the problem solving process in order to understand how to solve problems successfully. Pose lots of questions to your child to guide them through this process.

7. Do not rescue your child straight away

imgres-3This is an area that most parents find difficult to do. Let your child get frustrated when they can not do something, so you are able to talk about how they are feeling and what they can do about it. They need to experience these emotions in order to learn how to deal with them.

8. Children need to help younger children

imgres-4Children need to be given many opportunities to help younger children. They could help with doing up shoelaces, reading a picture book to them and helping the younger child solve their own problems. This will help children develop their leadership skills and realise that all people are different and require different things.

9. Do not provide all the answers

imgres-5We need children to be able to discover answers for themselves. Children need to learn how they can answer their own questions through research and collaboration with others. Sometimes parents need to say to their child “I don’t know. Maybe you could find out and come and tell me what you found” to encourage their child to work it out for themselves.

10. No interruptions when adults are speaking

imgres-6Children need to learn when it is okay to talk and when they need to wait before talking. So many children are allowed to interrupt conversations that they learn quickly, if they are loud, they will get the desired attention straight away. You can work out a simple way between you and your child, so you know that they need to ask you something while you are talking. When you have finished the sentence, you then can turn to them and encourage them to say “Excuse me” before asking you something.

11. Do not give in

imgresIf you have set an expectation ensure that you follow through with what you have said. Children need to learn that there are rules and consequences if you do not abide by them. Eg If you said that your child must turn off the television after the show that they are watching has ended, then make sure this happens.

12. Identifying emotions

imgres-2Children need to learn to identify the emotions they are feeling. Read lots of books that deal with a variety of emotions and discuss how the characters handle these emotions.

13. Children need perspective

imagesChildren need to realise how fortunate they are compared to others. Give older children the opportunity to volunteer at a charitable organisation to gain a perspective about their own reality.

14. Allow your child to fail

imgres-3Children need to experience failure to learn valuable skills. Children who are always successful have not developed their coping skills when a stressful situation arises. One simple way is to beat them at a game that they really want to win. Help them work through their feelings and encourage your child to have some positive self talk sentences to get them through their disappointment. eg It is only a game.

15. Model resiliency

imgres-4Actions speak louder than words. Model the behaviour that you want your children to display in everyday situations. Have lots of conversations with your child about your own emotions and how you cope with stressful situations.

Children who are resilient become very adaptable adults. They have a strong sense of worth and are able to learn from mistakes and look forward to the future.

I hope these 15 ideas will help guide you in assisting your children in becoming resilient. Please share this blog if you believe it offers some interesting food for thought.

Until next time …Resiliencecollage

Kelly Pisani

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20 Ways To Help Your Child Learn Their Sounds

Sound Collage

Welcome to my third blog in the series “Literacy in the Primary Classroom”. In this blog I focus on how educators and parents can use games in their home and classroom to help children learn sounds successfully.




Learning the sounds that letters make in our alphabet are the building blocks to writing and reading. Children need to have a comprehensive understanding and knowledge of the relationship between the letter and the sound.  This will give them a solid foundation to learn to read and write efficiently.

Children begin learning sounds before they start primary school. They may know the sound of the letter that begins their name or the sound of a letter of their favourite toy. As you have probably already gathered from my previous blogs, I do not encourage parents and educators to only use flashcards to help a child learn a concept. Learning in context is the best way that children learn anything. It needs to mean something to the child in order for them to store the information in their brain.

Enabling your child to learn their sounds in a fun environment is pivotal to their success. There are so many quick games that the child could play independently, with a sibling or a parent which gives the child a meaningful learning environment to learn their sounds successfully.




It is important for your child to be exposed to lowercase and uppercase letters. Children need to learn that we mainly write in lower case letters and only use uppercase letters for the beginning of a sentence or beginning of a proper noun. So many children begin school writing their entire name using capital letters. Please discourage this as it is a very hard habit to break.

Once children have learnt most of the sounds of the alphabet, they need to be exposed to sounds that letters make when they are together. For example phonic blends like ch, sh, ar, ou, er and ing.

Below is a list of 20 sound games that can be played at home and at school. Not only do they give your child an opportunity to learn their sounds but they also are fun and engaging learning activities. All these games are versatile so you can use single sounds or more complicated sound patterns in the games depending of your child’s needs. 

1. Hammer sounds

HammerPut a sticker of a letter on each block of wood. Have a mystery bag that has objects that begin with each letter. Have the child put their hand into the bag without looking and pull out one object. The child needs to say the name of the object and say what letter it starts with. They can then hammer down the corresponding letter on the wood while making the letter’s sound.




2. Padlock sounds

PadlocksHave a variety of padlocks with matching keys. On each padlock, put a sticker of an object. Write the beginning letter of the object on the corresponding keys. Lock all the padlocks and put in a tub. Mix up all the keys as well. The child must look at each object, determine the starting sound and use the correct letter key to open it. Ensure that the child says the correct sound for the letter.

3. Musical sounds

musical soundsWrite all the sounds on different pieces of paper and spread around the outside of a large table. Get you child to use their finger or a toy to move around onto each letter while the music is on. When the music stops, the child must stop on that sound. They must say the name and sound of that letter (or letter pattern)

4. Plastic egg match

lettersoneggsUsing plastic eggs, write the lower case and upper case letter on each half of the egg. Take all the eggs apart and mix them up in a tub. The child can match all the correct halves back together while saying their name and sound. (There are many plastic eggs in the shops at the moment due to Easter)

5. Paper plate sounds

fb1cabdd2b26c35d78711e1baee6f9adUsing a paper plate, write all the upper case letters around the outside. Have the matching lower case letters on single pegs. The child must match all the letters/sounds together while saying the letter names and sounds.

6. Sound catch

WaterFill up a small container with water. Write the letter/sounds on ping pong balls. The child must use a net to catch a ping pong ball and say the name and sound before putting it into their fishing bucket.

7. Shaving cream tray

c563165f34fc9fc6d7b8f5431f6edbf6Fill a mini cupcake tray with shaving cream. Gently put a piece of paper on each with a letter/sound written on it. The child must say the letter sound and name before they can push the piece of paper down to the bottom of the cupcake tin. Children love squashing the shaving cream. This has always been a successful game for me.

8. Toy match

matchtoysWrite letters/sounds all over a large piece of paper. Have a collection of little toys that all begin with one of the letters/sounds on the paper. The child must put each little toy on the corresponding letter/sound while saying the name and sound of that letter.

9. Simple sound board game

17eb72ea5d54cc1397b0c5613fa95f40Make up a simple snake like board game that has all the sounds that your child is working on. Have a little toy to be the player’s piece. The child rolls the dice and moves that many spots. They must say the letter name, sound and a word that begins (or has it in if you prefer) with that sound before they can have another turn.

10. Sound Popcorn

soundpopcornWrite the letter/sound on outlines of popcorn and put them in a popcorn bag. The child needs to choose a piece of popcorn and put it on their popcorn paper template in the correct spot (or colour in or cross off) while saying the name and sound of the letter.

11. Sound water spray

waterspraysoundsUse chalk on a blackboard or pavement to write the letters/sounds that your child is working on. The child must say the correct name and sound of the letter before they can use the water spray to take it away.

12. Bulldozer sounds

bulldozersoundsMake a track for a bulldozer to go along. You can use tape, lines on a piece of paper or lines in the sand. Have the child use their bulldozer to pick up the letters/sounds along the way. They must say the letter name and sound.

13. Matching spoons

spoonsWrite all uppercase letters on the tip of coloured spoons. Write all lowercase letters on the base of clear spoons. Mix all the spoons up and the child must put the a clear spoon on top of the matching coloured spoon to make a pair. They must say the name and sound when they have formed a pair.

14. Scavenger hunt

scavenger huntHave all the letters/sounds written on separate pieces of paper. The child must search the home or classroom to find an object that starts with each letter/sound. They place the object on the letter and continue until the 10 minute time limit is up. Then they have to say all the sounds they were able to find and the ones they could not.

15. Treasure hunt

treasure huntHide letters/sounds in a sandpit or in the soil. The child must dig around to find all the hidden sound fossils. (you could write the letters on dinosaur bone shapes). The child would then say all the sounds they have found.

16. Alphabet toss

alphabettossWrite all the letters/sounds on balls or beanbags. The child picks up a ball or beanbag, says the name and sound and tries to throw it into one of the baskets in front of them.

17. Alphabet hide

alphabethideandseekWrite all the letters of the alphabet on different blocks of Duplo. Hide them around the house or classroom. The child must find them all and correctly order them in an alphabet tower. They must say the name and sound of each letter.

18. Feed the Monster

Feed-the-Alphabet-Monster-466x1000Make a monster out of an empty wipe container. Have all the letters/sounds written on pieces of paper. The child feeds the monster the letters (letters written on old bottle caps) and the monster makes the sound of the letter they are eating. The child can be the voice of the monster. Alternatively this can be a two player game. One child feeds the monster, the other is the monster who makes the sounds.

19. Dice game

dicegameMake a template similar to this image. The child rolls the dice and colours in the first sound in that row. They must say the letter name and sound. Before the game starts they need to guess which row they think will be coloured in first.

20. Sound I spy

Phonics-I-spy-discovery-bottle-game-680x915Put a variety of objects in a bottle. Write their corresponding letters on a sheet. Fill the rest of the bottle up with rice or sand. The child shakes the bottle around and when they find an object they must say the first sound of that object and cross the letter off on their sheet. They need to cross off all letters.

It is important that children engage in meaningful learning experiences in order to gain the knowledge and understanding about a subject matter. Have fun with your child as they begin to learn their sounds. Always try to point out letters in our environment to make connections for your child.

I hope this blog has given you some useful information about incorporating some interesting sound games at home and in the classroom. Playing these games will help your child learn their sounds in a fun and meaningful way, instead of just using flash cards.

Until next time…

Kelly Pisani

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