As occupational therapists, it is our core function to ensure that our patients are able to function at their optimal levels in the activities of their everyday lives. WFOT defines occupations as the “everyday activities that people do…to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. …include things people need to, want to and are expected to do.”
Teaching does not just have to be in a room, at a desk. All around us all the time, there are so many things to teach. Homeschoolers know that field trips and visits to museums, art galleries, the zoo and so many other places, make the most fun and memorable lessons. The best learning does not always happen behind a desk. In fact, there is so much we can teach our children while we are going from one place to the next or while we are simply going about our daily chores. When my children were small and I found myself rushing from one chore to the next, children in tow, I learned that we could have more fun and they could learn at the same time, if I found the “learning moments”. Making the most out of our busy schedule, injecting an element of fun and educating our children while we zoom around doing our daily chores; that’s what this blog is about. There are so many teaching opportunities that we often don’t even notice as we drive across town, or fill our shopping trolley at the supermarket.
Very often, our children are with us because there is nowhere else that they can be while we do these important, yet less than exciting, chores. But if we stop and look and think about what is all around us, we find a myriad of things that can be games and fun and teaching moments jump up to us!
Let me share some of the teaching moments that I discovered and used with my children. The ones I’ll focus on today are those that build visual perception and the visual-auditory link to prepare them for reading and learning.
We have all been through the stage of “are we there yet?”. We have played all the children’s music and stories on the long car journeys and so, we eventually just tell our children to play on their electronic tablet. But there are wonderful teaching moments around every corner! Have you tried any of these games that we found fun?
* “BEETLE-BUG”: In this game, you see who can spot the most green cars (or red…). It is an early-learning game to help children remember the names of colours and to notice that a colour can appear in different shades and tones. It is also very good for developing figure-ground perception. Figure-ground perception is the ability to see the figure against the background. In reading, this is necessary to be able to see the individual letters and words against the background of text.
* When you are turning a corner, let your child shout out which way (“left” or “right”) and put up the correct hand.
* At the traffic lights, you and your child count the number of cars in front of you; compare if there are more red cars, green or white cars.
* Let your child pretend to be a detective or spy who has to remember the registrations of the cars you pass.
* Let him count the number of 6’s (then 4’s…) in each registration number.
Supermarkets are generally high-stress areas for parents with young children. So keep the games simple but fun. I found with my children that adding fun games to the chore of shopping, not only reduced the tedium but they could learn at the same time. I was killing two birds with one stone!
* Ask your child to be your “big helper” and fetch some of the items you need. He never moves away from your side, but you describe the item and he has to see it on the shelf and bring it to you. This not only builds his figure-ground perception; but also helps him develop his listening
* Point out to your child how all the items in the shop are grouped together: vegetables are together, tins are together, meat… . This helps him develop the concept of categorising. This is necessary for later being able to categorise phonics groups. It’s obviously also important for learning maths and developing a good number concept.
* Let him tell you all the things he can see that are triangular in shape (eg: carrots; ice-cream cones…), or circles….
* Play: “Who can remember most of the things I put in the trolley?”. Your child says what he can remember and then he checks to see how many he missed. This builds visual memory
as well as encouraging awareness.
* You and your child each choose 5 letters of the alphabet and see who can find their letters the most often in the labels of the items on the shelves.
Food, fun and love. That's what supper time should be all about. And what better combination for some learning?
* Let your child fold the serviettes into triangles or squares or rectangles. You can even teach some origami using the serviettes. Origami is a great way to develop children’s ability to follow
* Let them sort the cutlery into oval desert spoons and round soup spoons. Large knives and small knives. Setting the table, with the correct cutlery in the correct place builds spatial relations perception as well as categorizing and organisational skills begin to develop.
* Cut some slices of bread into triangles, some into squares, some circles. Ask him which is which and let him explore that cutting the bread into the different shapes does not alter the bread itself.
Playing in the bath is just wonderful fun! Let your child spend extra
time exploring colour, shape, textures and even physics!
* Make the fullest use of coloured face cloths and towels.
* Different shapes and sizes of bottles will hold different amounts of water. Let him explore by pouring from one to another. Let him see how the long, thin bottle can actually hold the same amount of water as the short, fat one.
* Foam letters that stick to the wall when wet, give a great opportunity to practice spelling.
* Foam numbers are great for maths.
* Using the foam 0’s and X’s to play 0’s & X’s on the wall helps to build visual perceptual analysis and planning skills.
* If your child is still young and you still need to wash and dry them, verbalise: “let’s wash you left foot now; and now let’s wash your right arm….”
* Dry your child in front of a full length mirror and when he is dressed, stand next to him in front of the mirror and let him imitate strange postures and faces you pull. It helps him develop body awareness and motor planning. Both of these are important early developmental
Enjoy the "Learning Moments" with your child! Have fun teaching in all the little things you do together!
CLICK HERE TO FIND FUN EASY WAYS TO TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ
What is reading? Is there a part of the brain which is the "reading centre"? Is it a natural development for people to read? When we begin to ask ourselves these questions it helps us understand the complexities and why so many children have difficulty with reading.
Reading is not just a visual processing task. There is so much more involved. Reading is a visual processing task that is also an auditory processing task. We see visual cues that represent sounds and spoken language. So reading is in fact high level de-coding of a visual and auditory code.
There is not just one specialised area in the brain that is dedicated to reading. The visual processing of the code is done in the visual cortex near the back of the brain and the right temporal lobe, while the language processing is in the left temporal lobe. Then we have to remember that we have two eyes and two ears and these, effectively are on opposite sides of the brain. There is a lot of communication that needs to happen in our brains to see and recognise a symbol (letter), link it to the sound it represents and then combine both the visual sequence of the codes with the sound sequence and then remember what the resultant word means. This seems very complicated and it is! Yet, when we are reading we do this in a flash, faster than a millisecond! You see: c a t and your brain tells you what sound each visual symbol represents. You recognise the sequence as being different from: a c t and straight away you know that you have read about a little furry pet!
In Western countries we read across a page from left to right and Hebrew and Arabic are read from right to left. In order to make sense of a line of script and get smooth reading flow both our left and right fields of vision must combine smoothly. (This might be less important for languages where each column is read from top to bottom, rather than reading row by row). When given the choice, many of the children who come to see me, prefer to read columns of words rather than across the page. this way they keep in the same side visual field for longer and don't need to cross the visual field as they read.
We “see” the left field of our vision with our right side of our visual cortex and the right side of our visual field with the left side of our visual cortex. So information from both eyes; but only half of the visual field, goes to each side of the visual cortex. At the same time, our brain’s motor cortex controls muscles on the opposite side of our body; with the left motor cortex controlling the muscles on the right of our body and the right motor cortex controlling the left side of our body. So, just think of it: for our eyes to work together, both sides of our motor cortex in our brain must communicate and work together and to create one fluid field of vision from the two halves, both sides of our visual cortex in our brain must communicate and work well together.
For us to read a line of text across the page we need very good communication between the left and right sides of our brain at an eye-movement level, a “seeing” level and also from the level of interpreting and transferring a “visual code” into a representation of meaningful sounds and language!
So when we teach reading to children, we need to facilitate the communication across the brain. In occupational therapy we have found that using movement which stimulates the vestibular processes and uses coordinated, fun movement across the two sides of the body helps children develop their midline crossing and communication within the brain, even for non-movement processes. As soon as I began combining the occupational therapy approach to vestibular processing and bilateral integration with reading, many of the children made dramatic progress.
In this article I have only mentioned the link to bilateral integration. I will post an article to show you why I found vestibular-stimulating activities also important to reading.
To see GAMES and ideas of how to introduce movement when you teach reading: CLICK HERE
Have you ever thought about the complex visual perception needed for reading? Little lines and curves arranged in 26 shapes and then these shapes arranged in a multitude of combinations to reflect millions of objects and ideas.
Homeschoolers are in the perfect position to teach their children through play.
Using games and activities that really build our children's skills and guide them through all the tasks of learning in a way that helps every child use his whole brain.
Children therefore need the visual perception to notice these differences in shapes. Visual perception also reveals similarities between letters written in different fonts. Previously I showed you how to make your own Spot-the-difference games. Here is a Tangram game for
Tangram is an old game of simple shapes cut from an original square to form an almost unlimited number of different forms and shapes. It’s a wonderful game for developing your child’s visual perception!
Print and cut out the shapes on the large square above (the one with the little jumping boy). Show your child how they all join together to re-form the square. Now let him copy my house, cat and tree (see below). Draw some of your own Tangram forms for your child to copy; or print 2 sets of my Tangram square and you make some shapes and let your child copy yours.
In order to copy the different forms, your child will be developing his visual perception of shape, direction and spatial relations. He will also be developing his figure-ground perception. This visual perception enables him to notice which way a letter faces and helps him to notice and remember which shape represents which letter. Figure-ground perception is the ability to notice the main figure from the background. In a garden, figure-ground perception enables us to see the weeds from the flowers and know what to pull out. In reading, figure-ground perception helps us see the words as separate from the sea of writing on the page. In spelling, figure-ground perception helps us see which letters combine to make the word. Size perception is also developed in Tangram. Your child has to decide whether to use the big, middle or smallest triangle to copy the pattern correctly. Size perception is a common problem for children when they begin to learn to write. It is a lot easier to teach your child that ‘i’ is
smaller than ‘l’ once he has developed a strong perception of size-constancy.
Humans are designed to learn through play. Play with your child, enjoy having fun together and feel righteous in knowing that while you are having fun together, you are also developing his perception and helping him learn to read!
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHERE TO BUY A READING PROGRAMME THAT TEACHES YOUR CHILD TO READ THROUGH PLAY
Let your child try to copy the designs below.
Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables: "To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." That sums up so well the fire of excitement and knowledge that can roar inside us once we can read. The world is brought to our finger tips and we can explore and imagine beyond limits.
But reading is not a natural development, like talking or walking. Even number concept is more naturally innate and small children quickly grasp who was given more or fewer sweets! No, reading needs many parts of our brain to work together and it takes learning and teaching; and reading uses both sides of our brain at the same time, improving
communication within our brain, thus improving creativity and innovation.
In these days of easy access to entertainment through electronic media children are less motivated to put in the hard effort to learn to read than previous generations were. We need to motivate them more. Once they begin to learn the joys of reading, our job will be done and the flames we have lit will fan themselves!
What can we do to encourage our children to read?
I was very lucky to be asked to share some of my ideas and experience on teaching reading and literacy on #PTchat. The questions raised:
i. When a child gets in a rut of reading the same author/genre; encouraging variety & not discouraging reading for fun?
ii. What are some ways we can inspire children to read beyond what’s required in the syllabus?
iii. What are some tips for home/school to help children better comprehend what they’re reading?
HERE ARE SOME OF MY IDEAS:
1. Start a “Book Club Lesson”. Divide the class into groups and each child chooses to read a book of their preferred genre. They are given a week to read it and then return to their groups to tell each other about the book they read. They then swap books, reading a book of a different genre or by a different author, chosen by a classmate. The teacher can introduce some element of competition: the person who describes their book in the most interesting way and has the most people wanting to read it wins points or tokens.
2. Each child must read at least 3 different books (from the initial ones of the “Book Club” – so each child reads their own preferred genre, followed by at least 2 of the different genre’s chosen by their peers). Then the class votes and chooses the book they feel will be best for them to turn into a movie or play. The class then sets about creating the play / movie (if the school has video facilities, the children will get even greater enjoyment by filming the
“movie”). This encourages children to broaden their selection of genres and authors to read, using peer input. It also encourages greater comprehension because each child has to describe and explain the book in a way that will make others want to read it. By making the film or play at the end, the class is further reinforcing comprehension and seeing how much fun books and stories can be.
IV. Kids are already using it, so what ways can the internet and
technology be used to increase interest in reading?
A. Divide the class into groups. Every child in every group downloads a free e-book to read (the teacher can limit genres). The groups then come together and each child describes their e-book and explains why they believe the group should choose that one for “the project”.
Ideas for “the Project”:
1. Create a comic book around the story in the selected e-book.
The children use “Clip Art” and “Paint” (or a similar drawing programme on the computer) to create a comic book. The children could simply draw (not using the computer – this depends on the class’s computer skills).
2. Perform a play based on the selected e-book
3. Write a letter from one of the main characters in the e-book to another one. The letter should be around one of the main topics of the story.
B. There are many sites on the internet where one can download and read strange and funny sayings or quirks of the English language. An example of one I have read is: “The English Plural According to George Carlin”. These are fun to read and can be used in class to stimulate reading as well as discussion around grammar.
v. What can be done at school to help students who may not have the
support or resources at home?
This is a big problem in some areas in South Africa. Using old magazines to find and cut out the words needed to “write” their own book is a method some teachers in poor schools in the Western Cape (South Africa) use to teach and encourage reading. I have taken the idea and run with it a bit to come up with the following:
1. This is mostly for children in the earlier grades.
Let the class begin to construct their own short story –brainstorming who the “hero” will be and what will happen in the story. The teacher then works with the class to construct simple sentences to comprise the “book” and writes the sentence on the board. ·
The children then page through old magazines, looking for the words that are in the sentence, cut out the words and paste them onto a page in the correct order to “print” their own book.
The children can “illustrate” their book either by finding and cutting out pictures or by drawing them.
The completed book is then proudly displayed and read to the parents or to another class.
2. I have developed a reading programme and published it as a book (Teach Your Child To Read With Movement, Fun & Games). It designed to use minimal equipment and teach reading from early auditory processing, through phonics, to sight words and finally actual reading. If one book is obtained, the letters, words and phonics in it can be cut out and used for as many children, over as many years as people need. This makes it a cheap option where there are a lot of children. The games are fun and appeal to children who want to play and use their imaginations. Children who find sitting still to learn difficult, love learning through active games such as these.
3. You will notice in by book that I also use children’s nursery rhymes to teach and support reading. Almost everyone has access to nursery rhymes – you can download them from the internet and change the font size and then use them to help children learn word recognition and develop confidence and flow when reading. You will be pleasantly surprised at how learning rhymes encourages your child's early reading.
vi. Helping kids find books they like can be difficult for parents, what are some tips/resources to get them started?
Reading is linking our listening parts of our brain with our seeing parts of our brain. When we read, we are “listening” to someone’s story. It is more difficult than purely to sit back and receive the mostly visual input from a film or TV; so children prefer to watch TV or movies rather than read. But storytelling is as old as humanity itself. Everybody loves to hear a good story.
The warmth of the relationship between a parent telling a story and the child, make up for the extra effort in having to use more of his brain to get into the story. Children love it when a story is read to them with enthusiasm and conviction. So the first thing the parent must do is choose a book that he/she themselves enjoys. Begin reading it to your child, use animation and a little dramatics to increase his interest. Then stop and let him read a few pages to himself before he goes to sleep.
There has recently been a resurgence of professional Storytellers and taking your child to listen to one (instead of just going to see a new-release film) will further stimulate the listening side of our brain. Listening to stories and reading stories allows our visual side of our brain to conjure up our own images of what is happening. It stimulates creativity and inspires further reading and maybe even writing of our own stories.
Click here if YOU HAVE EVER WONDERED WHAT READING ACTUALLY ENTAILS. How does the written word transport us across galaxies of our imagination?
Our world is filled with sensations! We see, smell, feel, taste and hear what’s happening in the world around us. Our senses tap into our emotions and make us feel happy or excited, frightened or even aggressive.
Homeschooling gives parents the opportunity to tailor lessons to use our
senses to improve our children’s attention, concentration, learning and
The very concept of a Carnival of Homeschooling conjures up images of colour and fun, busy, happy crowds, music, and smells of food stalls.
Words and senses link to each other, so that words can evoke memories of
smells and sights and sounds, even of feelings; and senses can evoke
memories. When we talk of muti-sensory or multi-modal teaching, we mean that we need to teach using many different sensory inputs. All teachers know and try to do this but Homeschoolers are in the best position to have the flexibility to tailor their lessons to use the senses that work best for their own children.
Not all senses evoke happy or positive memories. Think of that feeling of apprehension you get when you smell something which reminds you of childhood visits to the dentist! Not to mention the irritation we feel and difficulty we have concentrating on anything when we have an itchy or stinging insect bite!
For some of us, lying on a blanket under a tree, surrounded by grass, flowers and birds is our idea of heaven. How comforted we feel when we cuddle up into a warm, soft blanket! Some of us would sooner choose to spend our time in a warm bath, with candlelight; while others just want to be in the middle of a big, noisy party!
Yes, we all have different sensory processing and therefore different reactions to the sensory world around us. Some of us are sensory-seeking and want lots of movement, action and sound around us. This energises the sensory-seekers among us and they can actually function and concentrate better when they have intense sensory input. Others of us are sensory-avoiding and feel like curling up in a corner to hide when there is too much noise or action around us. These children can go into a “shut down” state and you will notice that they seem unable to think or follow your instructions.
If a child is in the wrong sensory environment for their own specific sensory processing, it will have a strong effect on their ability to concentrate, focus attention and process the information you are trying to teach him. Often children are labelled as having Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit - inattention type (ADD) because their sensory processing is responding to a sensory environment in a way that makes it very difficult for them to learn. Whether or not your child actually has ADHD or ADD, they will be more in control of their own
behaviour and more able to learn if they are in an environment best suited to their sensory processing needs.
Homeschooling allows the flexibility to present your lessons using the
sensory diet that is best suited to your child’s needs. If your child is a sensory-seeker, you can fill the lessons with lots of pictures, movement, touch and even smell; but if your child is a sensory-avoider, you can find out which sensations help him to feel comfortable and happy for learning. Sensory avoiders will have strong negative reactions to some sensations (for
example, a noisy classroom can make them retreat into themselves and not be able to focus or even think clearly); but even sensory avoiders respond well to certain sensations and lessons which present more input of that sensory type, will stimulate them and allow them to work at their real potential.
If your child is homeschooled, you will be able to give them the sensory environment most closely suited to their own learning needs. This must be one of the main benefits of homeschooling - you can arrange the environment according to your child’s specific sensory processing and thus help him to concentrate optimally on the work he is learning.
As a homeschooler, you can choose whether your child’s worksheets and books use a lot of colour and pictures or are “quieter” books with less visual stimulation. Homeschoolers can easily arrange for their child to leave his desk and have a short movement break, such as shooting a basket-ball through hoops for five minutes before returning refreshed and re-energised to learn the next part of the lesson. Learning mathematics tables
while bouncing a ball can easily be part of a successful homeschool lesson. On the other hand, if your child needs a quiet, still environment in order to
concentrate and be in the ‘just right’ energy state for optimal learning, you
can place his desk in a quiet part of the house, talk quietly when teaching and not have too many pictures and posters around him.
What is important for homeschooling Mums and Dads is that you make a conscious note of your child’s sensory needs. Watch him carefully and find out what seems to energise him and what seems to drain his energy or interfere with his concentration. Then work with that. As a homeschooling parent, you can adapt your lessons directly to optimise your child’s attention. This is not pandering to your child, this is optimising his
learning! That is what every parent and teacher wants.
What about children who are not homeschooled? Is there any way teachers can help them achieve the just-right sensory environment for their attention and cognitive energy? Homeschoolers might be able to stop a lesson for a child who needs a movement break but a formal class, with twenty or more pupils, is going to be very disruptive if every time a different child needed to move, the lesson is stopped for a short game of basketball.
Also, the movement that brings one child into a just-right level of energy, can send another child into a hyperactive energy level that stops his concentration; and what then about the child who goes into“shut down” when surrounded by all this movement and excitement?
Teaching in a formal school setting is more challenging than it is for
homeschoolers; but adaptations can be introduced to even these formal school lessons to ensure that all the children in the class are able to function at their true level and show themselves and the world just how clever they are. Being aware of the different sensory processing the children in your class have is the key to effective lessons, with happy children and a happy teacher.
Great lessons make great learners. Let learners can become great minds.
Christmas decoration making is a great time to bring the family together! Children get time to make things with parents and then show them to all who visit their home for the duration of the 12 days of Christmas.
Making a Christmas Tree with your child will make him feel important and his creations valued. We all know that Christmas is a very busy time of the year. But sometimes, in the rush and stress to get everything just right, we forget the most important part of this time year is being together, celebrating family and love for the young child.
Spend an hour with your child making each of these two cheap and easy Christmas trees. You will have fun and help him strengthen his fine motor development. Remember the explanantion I gave you in the last blog (Make Christams Decorations With Your Child to Improve His Fine Motor Development): fine motor development is very important for developing an efficient, comfortable pencil grip. And a good pencil grip has a strong effect on many, many aspects of the learning process.
The Christmas tree pictured above is easily made by cutting coloured pipe-cleaners into pieces; fold each piece in half; wrap each piece arround a thin dowell stick. Turn every piece to be at a slightly different angle from the one above. The star on top is made by cutting a yellow pipe-cleaner into 4 pieces and twirling 2 of these pieces around each other; then twirlling the bottom of the star to the top of the dowell stick. Twirling the pipe-clearners is a good exercise for fine motor development.
This second Christmas tree will help your child develop his fine motor skills through cutting. Print 2 copies of this picture. Show your child how to fold each copy along the straight black line; make sure that the lines and dots are visible on the outside when it is folded. Folding is an important early fine motor development skill. Your child cuts on the thick green line of each copy. Cutting is important for fine motor development because it needs your child to coordinate both hands together and it strenthens his fingers and thumb for pencil grip. Open up the two copies (you should now have 2 Christams trees). Your child now cuts fron the top red dot to the lower red dot on the ONE COPY; and from the bottom blue dot to the top blue dot on the OTHER COPY. Now each Christmas tree has a longitudinal cut in the middle: one Christmas tree has a cut from the BOTTOM to the TOP, the other Christmas tree has a cut from the TOP to the BOTTOM. Help your child place the 2 slits into each other. Slotting one cut into the other is not and easy fine motor developmental skill and you may need to help him. The Christmas tree with the slit at the bottom is placed above the other Christmas tree and the two cuts slot together so that you now have 4 radiating sides to your Christmas tree. Your child's tree can now stand.
My book, Teach your Child to Read, with Movement, Fun & Games is now also published in South Africa. Click on the 'Games to Teach Reading' tab at the top of the blog page to find out more.
You can contact me by clicking on the 'More' tab at the top and then clicking on the 'Contact' tab.
The long holidays at the end of the year give us a great oppurtunity to play with our children. Now you can play AND teach your child to read, with movement, fun and games so that you can all enjoy yourselves and your child will be able to shine!
CLICK HERE TO SEE A GAME TO MAKE READING AND SPELLING FUN