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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10 Ways To Help Your Child Learn To Read

Reading is a skill that is developed over time. As parents and educators we are always looking for simple ways to help children learn this important skill while doing everyday activities.

The first thing I want to inform all parents is “TO PUT DOWN THOSE FLASH CARDS” Flash cards have no context. This means that the words are just said with no meaning behind it. Reading is about understanding language and knowing how language is put together. Flash cards do not teach either of these.

That said, it is important for children to learn simple sight words to help them read. These words are learnt best in a context (ie in a text). You can play many games with sight words to make it more interesting and engaging for your child.

If you want your child to have a deep understanding about learning to read, follow my 10 easy steps and your child will be well on their way.

1. Let your child see you reading

imgresChildren at a young age learn more through actions than words. Seeing an adult read is very powerful as children will realise the importance of reading to survive in our world.

 

2. Visit your library

imgres-1Let your child choose a book and read it together. Show them that reading is a wonderful skill to have that can open up many worlds to them. Show them books that you liked as a child and tell them why you liked them.

 

3. Enjoy reading with your child.

imgres-2Reading is part of many bedtime routines in households everywhere. Often due to this routine, reading is only viewed as an activity before bed by many children. It is important to grab a book at any time of the day and have fun reading it with your child. Laugh at humorous moments or change your voice for different characters.

4. Find rhyming words together

imgres-4Rhyming is very important when learning to read. It helps a child hear different sounds and consequently be able to write different words. Point out rhyming words when you have a conversation if any come up. Find rhyming words in texts you read together.

5. Play appropriate word and reading games with technology

imgres-5Children love using technology so why not find some educational games to play with your child that will help them learn about reading at the same time.

 

6. Set aside a place for reading

imgres-3It is lovely to have a comfortable spot in your house allocated to reading stories. It might be in a corner or on a big armchair. This makes the experience of reading more special for your child.

 

7. Pointing out words that begin with a certain letter

imgres-6Playing “I spy” or asking your child to point out pictures in a text that begin with a certain sound will help focus your child’s knowledge about phonics.

 

8. Ask children questions about the text they read

imgres-7Asking questions before, during and after reading a text is very important for children to build their knowledge about comprehension strategies. Asking questions like “What do you think will happen next?”, “What was your favourite part of the story and why was it your favourite?” and “Why did the character make that choice” will deepen their understanding about the text.

9. Read out loud to your child

imgres-8Children need to hear good phrasing and fluency when reading. All children under 12 years old benefit from hearing adults read.

 

10. Finding common words

imagesWhen you have finished reading a text, turn back to a few pages and ask them to point out some words for you.

 

If you endeavour to do some or all of these ideas, it will significantly increase your child’s success at learning to read. Children need to understand the importance and purpose of reading in our world before they can begin to do it themselves.

I hope you were able to take something away with you from this blog. Maybe you have a small child at home or a child who is about to start school next year that would benefit from some of these ideas.

Stay tuned to Creating A Learning Environment for the weekly blogs. Next week the blog will be dedicated to 10 ways to help your child with Math.

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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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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Ensuring A Successful Transition Into Kindergarten - 11 Aspects To Consider To Ensure Your Child Is Ready

Welcome to my first blog since school holidays. I am well rested and ready to start my weekly blog again. This blog focuses on the issue of when to send children to school and how you know if your child is ready for Kindergarten.

Starting school can be a very stressful time for parents. There are so many unknowns, so many questions and so many decisions to make. Now is the time that parents are deciding whether to send their child on their formal educational journey or to hold them back another year.

We all want our children to have a successful transition into school. Below is a list of 11 aspects that parents need to consider to ensure that their child is going to have a successful transition.

  1. Independence

imgres-3Children who have a successful transition into Kindergarten are very independent. They are able to commence tasks on their own and are able to complete all self care tasks independently. These tasks can include taking a jumper on or off, opening their own lunch box and unpacking and packing their own school bag.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Child needs to dress and undress themselves everyday
  • Child needs to pack and unpack their preschool/daycare bag everyday
  • Child can make their own lunch and morning tea
  • Child could help younger siblings complete tasks
  • Child needs to do up and undo their own seatbelt
  • Child could help set up craft activities eg pour paint into containers




  1. Organisation

organise clothingMany children who struggle in the first few terms of Kindergarten lack organisational skills. They usually forget where they put things, cannot complete a task in the correct order and they do not get all the required resources to complete the task. Children need to have many opportunities prior to school to gain a sense of responsibility for their things and practice setting themselves up to complete a set task.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Child needs to get their own clothes out for the day
  • Child needs to put everything they need for the day in their bag
  • Child can clean up/pack up a game before starting a new one
  • Child could get all the equipment needed for a game and set it up
  1. Problem solver

Kindergarten is a new experience for a child and there will be many problems that the child will encounter. Children who have good problem solving skills will be able to cope with these challenges when they arise. Many children who find the transition period difficult will get quiet upset at the smallest difficulty and require an adult to solve their problem for them. Unfortunately there are usually only a couple of adults and a lot of children, so they may spend a lot of their time waiting for the teacher’s attention instead of being on task.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • When your child experiences a difficulty do not tell them what to do but guide them in finding out a solution for themselves
  • Children need to build a lot of resilience so they need to be given many opportunities before school to do this.
  • Set up opportunities for your child to find solutions for themselves. Eg do not put a new toilet roll on, do not refill their drink, do not get the tomato sauce for their dinner etc




  1. Fine motor

using scissorsFine motor skills begin to develop before a baby can walk. By the age of 5 or 6, it is expected that most children have very developed fine motor skills. In the first few terms of kindergarten, most tasks require many fine motor skills such as drawing, writing, cutting and gluing. If a child has under developed fine motor skills they tend to have many incomplete tasks and get upset that they cannot do tasks that others in the class can do. If you have a concern about your child’s fine motor development ensure that you see an OT (occupational therapist) before starting kindergarten. They will be able to offer advice about specific tasks that your child should be doing to strengthen their small muscles in their hands.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Screwing and unscrewing lids
  • Doing up buttons and tying simple knots
  • Forming letters in their name
  • Drawing basic shapes E.G. square, rectangle, circle and triangle
  • Cutting on straight lines
  • Cutting around shapes
  1. Gross motor

imgresDeveloped gross motor skills are essential for good posture and muscle coordination. Children with poor gross motor skills find it difficult to keep up with their peers on the playground and tend to be more “clumsy” in the classroom. When a child turns 5 years old they should be able to complete the following:

  • Stands on one foot for at least 5 seconds
  • Able to hop on a foot at least 3 times
  • Jumps over an object with two feet
  • Runs around obstacles
  • Walks up and down stairs while holding something
  • Skips on alternate feet
  • Hangs from a bar for 5 seconds
  • Walk on a balance beam
  • Catches a small ball with hands only

If you have a concern about your child’s gross motor development ensure that you see a children’s physiotherapist before starting kindergarten. They will be able to offer advice about specific activities that your child should be doing to strengthen their large muscles and help their coordination and balance.




  1. Learning skills

children readingChildren need to be motivated learners in order to have a successful transition to kindergarten. They need to be able to listen while sitting still on the floor, spend at least 30 minutes concentrating on a task and have the ability to follow instructions.

  1. Speech and Language skills

Children need to be able to have highly developed speech and language skills to be successful in the transition period to formal school. They need to be able to participate in a conversation, explain their ideas, answer questions appropriately, retell a story and understand what someone is saying. Many children start kindergarten with underdeveloped speech and language skills and this significantly affects their writing and reading. If you have a concern about your child’s speech and language development ensure that you see a children’s speech pathologist before starting kindergarten. Early intervention is the key. The sooner your child starts therapy the less their speech and language will affect their success in their classroom.

  1. Letter sounds

Even though it is not essential, children who are familiar with the letter names and the corresponding sounds definitely have an advantage when they first start school. They will have a strong foundation to build their knowledge about writing and reading on which begins as soon as they start school.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Identifying the names and sounds of letters in their name (first and last name)
  • Identify the first sound of objects E.G.  “C is for cat”
  • Pointing out letters on signs, books you read and labels
  1. Numbers

jumponanswerChildren who can identify numbers 1 – 10, can count past 20 and count using one to one correspondence (pointing to a single object at a time) will have a solid foundation to begin formal learning about mathematics.

 

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Count objects as often as you can
  • Identify numbers in the environment eg letter boxes, speed limit signs
  • Playing games with a dice




  1. Social development

CountingThis is an important element that contributes to a successful kindergarten transition. The child needs to be able to wait their turn, use manners, know when to talk and when to listen, cooperate with their peers and have empathy towards others. They will be going into an environment that has a high adult to child ratio and therefore their needs cannot be immediately met. They need to negotiate, compromise and be assertive when dealing with other children. The social development of a child is the main focus of all early childhood educators so if you have concerns about your child, speak to your child’s current teacher for some advice.

  1. Age

images-2This is a current educational debate that many parents find themselves involved in. Do you send your child to school if they turn 5 in January to July? I believe that this has the biggest impact on a child’s success in Kindergarten. Every child is different, however in most kindergarten classrooms today, there can be a difference of up to 18 months between children. Just think about a newborn compared to an 18month year old. The difference is substantial. My personal recommendation is if your child will be turning 5 in March or later you need to hold them back. They need to spend another year developing the above 10 aspects. It is harder to see the age difference of 18 months when they are 5 or 6 years old but as formal education begins it becomes very apparent, very quickly. However, there are the odd cases (mainly with girls) that are born later than March and show readiness. However, these are few and far between. I have never met a parent who has regretted holding their child back, but have met plenty who have regretted sending them.

We all want the best for our children. We want to set them up for success in life and the beginning of their educational journey is no different. Starting school is a big step and I hope these 11 areas have given you some insights to ensure the transition to formal school is a smooth and exciting one for your 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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30 Ways To Develop Fine Motor Skills: Early Intervention Matters

Welcome to my next blog in the series, Early Intervention Matters. In this blog I have complied a list of 30 activities that will help children develop their fine motor skills.

Fine motor skills are small movements that are achieved by using the smaller muscles in the hands. Some of these skills include cutting, doing up buttons and handwriting. Highly developed fine motor skills will influence the speed and accuracy of the task performance.

Why are fine motor skills important?

Fine motor skills are very important for children to be able to successfully complete many everyday tasks. These tasks include dressing themselves, opening lunch boxes and writing. Children who have good fine motor skills are generally more confident in their own abilities and have the appropriate independent life skills compared to children who have underdeveloped fine motor skills.

Fine motor skill difficulties can present as:

  • Avoidance
  • Misbehaviour when it comes to particular tasks
  • Inability to use scissors
  • No interest in pencil skills

According to “Therapies for Kids”, Occupational Therapists can work with children of all ages and their families, to help enhance skills necessary for their everyday life including playing, getting dressed and handwriting. Occupational therapy may also include making changes to the child’s environment such as their school or home to help the child be more independent.

Below is a list of 30 activities that will help children to develop their fine motor skills. These are all inexpensive activities that only require items that can be found around the home. These activities would be great for children to complete at home or in the classroom.

1. Using a water spray bottle

waterspray

 

 

 

 

 

2. Putting straws in a colander

strawsincolander

 

 

 

 

 

3. Cutting different patterns

scissors

 

 

 

 

4. Threading fruit loops on pasta

Fruitloopthreading

 

 

 

 

 

5. Dropping pom poms down tubes

PompomdropJPG

 

 

 

 

6. Making a felt button chain

Felt Button Chain 9

 

 

 

 

 

7. Using a pipette to drop water on lego holes

Pipettedrops

 

 

 

 

8. Balancing lego on the side

balancinglego

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Putting toothpicks in small holes

toothpicks

 

 

 

 

10. Pouring from one container to another

pouringonetoanother

 

 

 

 

11. Sticking beads into play dough and getting them out with a pincer grip

beadsinplaydough

 

 

 

 

12. Putting elastics on a container

elasticsoncontainer

 

 

 

 

 

13. Using an eye dropper

eyedropperjpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

14. Picking up objects with pegs

pegpincergrip

 

 

 

 

 

15. Putting paper clips on paper or plastic

Paperclips

 

 

 

 

16. Balancing marbles on golf tees

marblesontees

 

 

 

 

 

 

17. Putting buttons in a small rectangular hole (also you can put money into a piggybank)

Buttonholes

 

 

 

 

 

18. Opening padlocks with keys

keysandpadlocks

 

 

 

 

 

19. Threading shoelaces and tying them up

shoelaces

 

 

 

 

20. Putting different lids on bottles and containers

bottleandlidmatch

 

 

 

 

 

21. Drawing while laying on the ground

drawingupsidedoen

 

 

 

 

 

22. Feed a tennis ball some food

feedatennisball

 

 

 

 

23. Using a hole puncher

holepunching

 

 

 

 

24. Peeling stickers off

stickers

 

 

 

 

 

 

25. Cutting up play dough sausages

cuttingplaydough

 

 

 

 

26. Putting nuts and bolts together

nutsandbolts

 

 

 

 

27. Weaving pipe cleaners on a drying rack

weaving

 

 

 

 

28. Threading with nature

threadingwithnature

 

 

 

 

 

29. Name dot painting with cotton buds

Namedotpaintingjpg

 

 

 

 

30. Mashing play dough

mashingplaydough

 

 

 

 

These 30 ideas will help children to be engaged and enthusiastic towards developing their fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are essential for your child to be able to perform everyday tasks. If you have any concerns with your child’s fine motor development seek an opinion from a qualified paediatric occupational therapist.

Please share this blog if you have found it insightful and if you believe it offers practical information that you can implement at home or in the classroom. Remember to email a copy of it to yourself for reference later on.

Until next time … 30 ways to develop fine motor skills

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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How to read to your young child - Reading Strategies

Teaching children about reading strategies is equipping them with tools to solve reading problems. Using reading strategies effectively will help children become confident, fluent and expressive readers who develop a love of reading.

children readingWelcome to my second blog in the series “How to read to your young child” This blog outlines the strategies (or tools) that children need, to decode (work out) words that they are unsure about while reading. All these strategies need to be developed to enable the child to become an efficient reader.

In my experience, most parents tend to focus on one or two strategies to help their child work out a word. These are usually “Sound it out” or just tell the child what the word is straight away. Unfortunately neither one is helpful to the child!!

Why we never say “Sound it out” to a child

“Sound it out” was a familiar statement used by many teachers and parents in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s. It requires the child to look at each letter in a word and say the corresponding sound. The English language is a complicated one. There are many spelling rules that we follow; however, there are many exceptions to these rules. It is a phonetically irregular language that doesn’t always follow the expected pattern.

Consider the word ‘rough’ - How would a child sound this word out? If they did, it would sound completely different to what the word really is. Then there is the other problem of letter patterns changing their sound from word to word. If you think of the ‘sound chunk’ ough; does it have the same sound in the following words; thought, dough, through, drought?

“Sounding it out” really confuses beginning readers and struggling readers. It is not a successful strategy in working out unknown words.

Why we do not tell the child the word straight away

Usually if a child cannot “sound an unknown word out” the parent resorts to telling them the word. This really limits a child’s ability and offers them no alternatives to problem solve the word for themselves. What happens if you were not there? Would the child have any idea as to how they could work out the word?

Now let’s look at the reading strategies that will benefit your child. I like to think of these as tools for your child’s reading toolbox. Each tool has a different purpose and when used correctly can help a child solve an unknown word successfully.




Strategy Number 1: Look at the picture

Encourage your child to look at the picture to help them work out what the text might be. In simple books, the texts match the pictures exactly. As the books get more complex, the pictures still relate to the text but they do not always show everything that is written in the text.

blue sheep

Text relating very strongly to the picture – excerpt taken from “Where is the Green Sheep” by Mem Fox

 

 

 

This is one of the first strategies that your child should become an expert at. Many parents tell me that they cover the picture when their child reads so the child doesn’t “cheat” by looking at the picture. Looking at the picture is a very efficient problem solving strategy for beginning readers. If a child is reading and gets stuck on a word, tell them to look at the picture carefully and try reading the sentence again.

Tip for parents: Do a picture walk through the book with the child before reading the text. This means you talk about each picture with your child and you may focus your child on a particular aspect of the picture that will come up in the text. This will emphasise to your child the importance of pictures in a book.

Strategy Number 2: Get your mouth ready

This strategy is another great one for beginning readers. Using this strategy with the strategy of looking at the pictures will help your child think of a word that makes sense in the sentence. Getting your child to make the initial sound with their mouth will help the word “pop” out if they are reading in a smooth reading voice.

For example if the sentence is “A sheep lives on a farm” and your child is stuck on the word ‘farm’, encourage them to make the first sound of the word (f) with their mouth and it may just come out if they are listening to what they are reading. If they have stopped reading, give them the instruction to get their mouth in position to make the first sound and then tell them to have another go at the sentence and this time try not to stop.

Tip for parents: Encourage your child to read like they talk. A lot of children resort to a “robot type” reading which stops the child from understanding what they are reading as it is very disjointed. You want them to read, like they are talking so when they come to a word they don’t know and they get their mouth ready to make the first sound, it will usually just come out.

Strategy Number 3: Does it make sense?

The main goal of reading is for the child to comprehend (understand) what he/she is reading. They constantly need to be reminded that if they read something that doesn’t sound right, that they need to have another go at reading it. Parents can help with this by asking them if what they read made sense. By the parent repeating what the child said , they will be able to hear that what they said does not make sense. This is a strategy that develops over time as their reading ability improves.

Tip for parents: Record your child reading on your phone, iPad or any other recording device. Let your child watch it and ask them to comment on what they did well and what they could do better. Children love watching themselves and this can be a powerful tool to teach them how important it is to listen to how they read while they read.

Strategy Number 4: Sound chunks

This is a strategy used to help the child look at the entire word to see if they can use any prior knowledge they have about the sounds that letters make together or prefixes (letters added to the beginning of a word e.g. un, dis, in) or suffixes (letters added to the end of words e.g. ed, ing, less) Parents can help the child locate these in an unknown word.

Parents tip: Always try to get the child to come up with the word by asking the right questions. This will lead them to ask their own questions to themselves while reading if this is a common practice that you do with them. For example “Do you notice anything at the end of the word? ”

Strategy Number 5 : Little words in a big word

A lot of words in our language are made up of smaller words. Children can look for known words in a larger word to help them work out the entire word. Using this strategy with the “Does it make sense” strategy can help your child  work out a word.

Parents Tip: The child needs to have a good knowledge of sight words (words that are rote learnt by sight) to be efficient at this strategy. Practice sight words often with your child and encourage them to find them in texts that they are reading. Examples of sight words are; I, am, in, on, look, like, here, there, is, it,

Above all, reading needs to be enjoyable. If you find that your child is struggling on every second or third word, the book is too hard for them. We want children to be challenged but also experience a sense of accomplishment. Too often I hear about the arguments family’s experience to get their child to want to read each night (or day). Give your children time to develop their reading. Pushing harder books onto them too early will do more damage than good.

When a child finishes reading a book make sure you praise them for using some strategies to work out unknown words. Flick back to the page or pages that they worked out a word on and show them what they did again. Emphasis how proud you are of them that they are working out words independently.

If your child has tried to work out the word by using different strategies and they were unsuccessful, the parent can say the word and ask the child to reread that sentence.

Thank you for taking the time to read my second blog from the series “How to read to your young child”. I will be finishing off this series next week with my blog “What to read with your young child”

If you liked this blog and found it informative and useful please share it with your friends and family. I look forward to hearing any thoughts or comments that you have.

Until next time …….

Kelly Pisani

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