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During the holidays my husband and I pottered around at home and church, doing maintenance and other activities and at times we involved the children in what we were doing.
The guys constructed a big pinning board, us girls covered it with fabric; the guys rebuilt the floor of a Wendy house patio, and the girls sorted and packed cupboards. I was reflecting on how, a hundred years ago, children would be involved in the family business and doing some kind of work to support and help their parents whether it be the family shop, a farm or a trade.
The developmental stage for children age 6 – 11 (Erik Erikson’s psychosocial developmental stages) is called“Industry vs inferiority” and involving children in more complex, real tasks will contribute to their sense of purpose and meaning in life. Cultivating INDUSTRIOUSNESS as opposed to indulging them with ENTERTAINMENT will stand them in good stead to be responsible adults.
A serious concern I have at present is the teaching of evolution as fact in the primary and high school. Its well known that school curriculums lag far behind current scientific development, and this is a good example. There is a overwhelming wealth of fascinating information on the Intelligent Design theory which we need to consider in light of what our children are being taught. Good science means knowing both sides of the argument, and parents should honestly investigate further than what is put in the media or the school text books.
Brand new: the DVD “Evolution’s Achilles Heels – 15 Ph.D scientists explain evolution’s fatal flaws – in areas claimed to be its greatest strengths.” Find it at www.creation.com. My children age 11 and 9 were able to grasp the concepts. An excellent all round resource.
My son is in Grade 5 and had to prepare and present a science experiment. It was selected for the science expo and he won in his grade. I really enjoyed helping him with this project, as it was an ideal opportunity to teach him the scientific process. There are excellent web pages with ideas of experiments suitable for all ages and interests, and he selected “air cushions”. (See www.education.com.)
1. Start well in advance and take a Saturday to really get to grips with the project.
2. Help with formulating a hypothesis – “an air cushion will make something travel further by reducing friction and this will also hold true for added weight”.
3. Set up an experiment to test the hypothesis. Its no good watching the online video and just doing the experiment; your child needs to go through the process of testing the hypothesis for himself/herself.
4. Do multiple tests – we tested pushing the CD device 6 times without an air cushion, 6 times with an aircushion, 6 times with added weight but no air cushion and 6 times with added weight and an air cushion. I taught him to measure and document each test. We used masking tape on the passage floor for the starting point and we put down masking tape each time we pushed the CD to show where it ended up. We wrote the distance on the masking tape to help with checking. We documented on a grid on a sheet of paper.
5. Do add a poster with a graph, chart or pictures of the test and made by your child. On the poster have your child write the hypothesis, a description of the experiment as well as a conclusion. We also added in a graph of the actual tests, as well as pictures and descriptions of applications. The poster should say it all!
6. Make sure your child understands the scientific principles and processes involved in their project. Let them write a speech before presenting the experiment in class and practise it at home with apparatus as if they are doing an English speech. Although one does not give a speech at an expo, having prepared this speech will stand them in good stead for verbally explaining the project to the judges.
7. Think about a short version of explaining the project to the public (including children) who will just need a short summary. This is excellent practise in summarisation of the core concept.
Second languages can be quite challenging to learn especially if a child is not exposed to that language in day to day life. With exams coming up, the best thing one can do is spend time every afternoon going over the second language out loud. Reading and saying the words together uses more of the senses than just sight, and will help the child become familiar with the rhythm of the language. I am currently revising Afrikaans with my son and have been doing about 30 minutes a day where possible for the past week. Give lots of time for repetition to aid familiarity.
Have a look at exercises and revision the teacher has given in the past and make sure your child is familiar with those examples. Read, say and also write words down. Make up short tests on work that has been covered to check retention of the work.
I was fascinated to read the article “Crucial Cursive” by Marina Zietsman in the April 2015 CHILD magazine. The article is well worth reading! In essence the conclusion is that using cursive to write strongly supports learning, as it activates the working memory centres in the brain that are not activated when typing on a keypad or writing manuscript. Cursive writing is also associated with production of ideas, reading and spelling.
My conclusion after reading the article was to affirm how vitally important it is for children to WRITE as they study for exams. They must organise the information into mind maps, summaries, keys word lists or lists of definitions. Writing longhand is clearly the most productive way to ensure that the information gets wired into the memory, provided of course that the child has verbally conceptualised and understood the information first.
Testing a child for an exam should therefore involve not only speaking but also writing – for instance if you give a definition (production of food by a green plant using sunlight, carbon dioxide and nutrients) they must write down the term (photosynthesis) as well as say and sound out the word.
The article also confirmed for me that teaching children and teens to WRITE reminder notes is more important than learning to load a reminder into a phone…. the actual process of writing cements the reminder into the brain. In addition, the written note is a visual cue whereas a cell phone reminder can’t be seen. Working with teens at youth I can attest to the fact that although they have more communication devices than any teen has ever had in the history of mankind, still they forget…. ! Perhaps writing is more important than we think!
The mid primary school years can be quite stressful on the homework side, especially when a whole lot of subjects prescribe work or learning on one day. Having been on the teacher side of the fence and now having a son in Grade 5 I can make the following suggestions:
1. When something is given for a week’s time, teach your child to write that item in every day of the diary until the due day so you don’t forget to learn or prepare.
2. Start on the day something is given and do a little bit at a time: “Do it when you get it”.
3. “You can only do one thing at a time”. Working methodically through one thing at a time will get you to the end.
4. Teach your child to manage their time by doing work in sections then taking a break OR completing homework before playing OR combining activities such as revising or testing work while colouring something else.
5. Remember – parent stress doesn’t help! Open up sufficient time to support them.
6. Despite the stress, don’t do the job for them. They must be supported and enabled to become AUTONOMOUS, not DEPENDENT on you.
7. Structure and routine assists children to cope with stress eg daily routine and the organisation of the home.
TV plays a relatively small role in our home, and when watching TV programmes, we have usually muted the adverts. However I noticed recently that my children are enjoying watching the adverts.
Adverts are interesting to analyse, as they both reflect changes in societal values, as well as challenge and determine different values.
So what do you do when an advert reflects a value system contrary to your family values? These are a good opportunity to help your child learn the skill of making value judgments.
A cellular service provider advert shows a toddler watching a screen where the signal keeps going fuzzy. He bangs his head on the table and squawks after which his mom kindly puts a device in front of him that will give an uninterrupted picture to keep him entertained.
Whilst educated adults can appreciate the humour in the advert, children’s views are constantly being shaped by what they see. Mid primary and older children have the cognitive facility to learn quite a lot from this advert through discussion and questions:
1. Look at the house – there are a few baby toys around but almost nothing constructive for a toddler. Children of this age are in a concrete learning stage using their senses and full body, and should be playing with concrete toys all the time eg construction, cars, blocks, plastic animals, water, sandpit etc.
2. Children under two learn the most from their moms not from a screen. (Harvard University Preschool project in 1980 led by Dr Burton White says “The single most important environmental factor in the life of the child (8 – 18 months) is the mother.”) There are many constructive things this mom could be doing with her toddler instead!
3. Do you notice that the mom doesn’t react when the child bangs his head on the table? Is head banging an acceptable way to show that you are bored? The mom should be re-directing the child to something more constructive, not just ignoring the bad behaviour.
4. Did you notice that the mom didn’t talk to the child at all? At this age children are learning language – they are like sponges. The best thing any parent should be doing at this age is talking to their child ALL THE TIME and repeating themselves a lot. Children do not learn language from a screen. The Harvard Preschool study concluded “The amount if live language directed to a child (not to be confused with television, radio or overheard conversations) is vital to her development of fundamental linguistic, intellectual and social skills.”
5. The mom is shown to be a good mom when she pacifies the child’s noise by giving him what he wants – instant gratification of his needs. Just because a child wants something it doesn’t mean that that is the best for him. Instant gratification has been shown to be counter-productive to education (Daniel Goleman wrote the book “Emotional Intelligence” and this is reviewed in Time magazine as referenced in Gary Ezzo’s book “On becoming Preschoolwise”, Parent-Wise solutions, 2004, p39).
7. The music video the child is watching is not age-appropriate. Under 2 years, any TV viewing is best done as a shared activity with discussion in between, and there are ample age-appropriate programmes for toddlers.
I would suggest doing such a discussion selectively and not for every advert, but its worth bearing in mind for adverts which are blatantly contrary to your value system.
The value of Scouts
We decided this year to let our son join scouts and I have been so impressed with the ethos and value system of the scout programme. My husband was a scout but my brother was not, so I am learning a lot! My son is 10 and 1/2 , and these are some of my thoughts so far!
It is excellent for boys to be allowed the independence to be shaped by the influence of older boys and male role models. “Moms have to leave” I was told tonight, and I certainly agree! Its best you don’t know about abseiling off the balcony, balancing precariously on a high platform cooking pancakes, and leopard crawling through the bush in the dark!
The increased maturity in my son has been marked, as the core values teach personal responsibility, personal discipline and initiative as well as hard work, perseverance and team work. He proudly cooked the braai meat on Sunday when we had guests, and this at his own initiative.
However I think scouts has to be an extension of home values already in place.
Make no mistake its a big commitment for parents, and you have to have sufficient “space” in your family to add in many adventures and activities. The swimming badge evening spurred my son on to want to practise his swimming at the public pool in the weeks thereafter, and one has to have time to allow for the personal development initiatives.
Having just completed Grade 4, one of the most important things I learned was this:
If exams are in March, the wisest thing to do mid February is to take each of the learning subjects and start familiarising yourself and your child with the content. This will be different for each person, but you can do mind maps, summaries, pop quizzes, discussions or reading together. To avoid parrot learning (short-term rote memorisation) which show ZERO thinking skills, you need to help a child become so familiar with the content that they can explain concepts and terminology and ideas in their own words.
In our family this is a very relaxed process – we sit comfortably in the lounge and chat through the material and then I may send my son to make a mind map of one section of work in a day.
Mind maps are brilliant for this simple reason – all books have to be marked and you can continue studying or revising even if the book is at school.
Mind maps also show the higher order thinking skills of comprehension, analysis and synthesis as one has to categorise the information meaningfully. Grade fours will need help with this but, if properly taught, they should become more independent in Grade 5.
As an English teacher I have certainly administered my fair share of spelling tests over the years, mostly in the intermediate phase (Grade 5 and 6) where vocabulary and phonics tests become quite challenging. Now that my son is in Grade 4, I have had to refresh myself on helping children learn to spell. Here are a few practical thoughts:
1. Vocabulary and phonics are best learned within the context of a rich reading background. Regular reading widens the number of known words so that a child only has to learn how to spell a word without having to still learn how to say it and figure out what it means. Meaningful context helps the learning of spelling.
Vocabulary: These will be theme related words, they will not adhere to any spelling rules, and they may indeed be quite difficult to learn!
Phonics: The organisation of spelling into like-sounding categories where all words adhere to the same phonetic rule.
Dolch words: frequently used words that don’t really adhere to phonic rules and just have to be learnt by sight, otherwise known as “sight words”.
3. Your first friend – phonic sounds. Your child needs to learn to say and hear a word properly. It follows therefore that learning spelling is something that involves a parent SAYING the word correctly and clearly pronouncing the sounds within the word. Jotting words down in aftercare or closing your eyes and saying the word is not going to be sufficient. Phonics is about correctly matching SOUNDS to letters. Words should be said and written down every day until the test.
In Grade 1: Most tests are phonics related. Read the words aloud together and then read them to your child to write down. All the words will adhere to the same rule.
In Afrikaans: You have to point out common sounds such as “ie” (pienk,) and “oe” (boetie, voet) and “eu” (seun, deur) and “ou” (kous, vou) which, once mastered, will help with the spelling of many words. Even if you child has not learnt a common phonic group yet, point it out and repeat it to help them sift out important sounds.
In English, build on the phonic groups that have been covered to date. English is complex and the syllabus is structured in such a way as to help build up categories of common sounds.
4. Your second friend: sight words. The Dolch system of sight words is critical to a child’s spelling foundation. Read and revise frequently according to what the teacher prescribes.
5. Your third friend for older children: syllabication. Syllabication is breaking a word up into syllables in order to correctly HEAR the sounds and then match them to the correct letters for writing. My Grade 4 son had to learn to spell photosynthesis for his NS exam recently…. Pho – to – syn – the- sis. The rule is to start each syllable with a consonant, and where there are two consonants, to split them up. It helps tremendously to clap a word, as it will break up naturally into a rhythm. Clapping involves kinaesthetic learning (moving your whole body to a rhythm) which will assist kinaesthetic leaners. Once you can break it up, if you syllabicate it slowly you will be able to hear the separate sections of the word well enough to write them down. Children need a parent to assist them with syllabication as they do find it difficult to master. However once mastered it will be their spelling friend for life!
6. Your fourth friend: weird words and rhymes. Some English words are impossible to spell correctly unless yousay them in a weird way! For instance jewellery, drawer, friend, beautiful, sewerage, because, library, you’re or Wednesday. Due to the changing nature of language, we are becoming lazy and not saying certain portions of words. Where my grandmother used to actually say “Wed-ns-day” we tend to say “Wensday”. So to learn to spell the word you have to say “Wed-nes-day” in your head. Other ideas:
Friend – my fri – end (sounds like fry – end)
Beautiful – be – a – utiful
Because – Betty eats cake and uncle sells eggs
7. Your fifth friend: shapes, colours and flashcards. If your child really battles with spelling and finds auditory sounds difficult to distinguish, use visual cues. Outlining the shape of a word can help, writing it clearly on a flashcard, colouring certain important sections (colour association) or colour coding phonic sounds may help them remember.
8. Your sixth friend: stories to help with easily confused words. Stationery and stationary, there and their, hear and here, threw and through – these words can drive you crazy!
Make up stories with visual associations in the word, for example:
where is it – its over there is not over here (all contain the word h-e-r-e) for position
Their car (the i in the word looks like a little person therefore this word shows possession)
I hEAR with my EAR
for buy, by and bye, the “u” in buy looks like a shopping basket
for threw and through, the “o” in through looks like a tunnel that I go through
9. Repetition, repetition, repetition! If a child writes a word incorrectly when learning, ask them to write it our 3 or 5 times, and specifically test that word the next day.
10. A word on applied spelling. Applied spelling is the child’s ability to transfer learned spelling (spelling tests) into everyday work. Their ability to do this will vary depending on how carefully they are working, how well they are using strategies in every day work and how distracted they are! Generally applied spelling is worse that test spelling performance and will show their true level of spelling ability….. take note of applied spelling as you go through books and keep working on spelling strategies to help.