How To Motivate Reluctant Readers

Stack on kids books

How to Motivate Reluctant Readers

I could seriously write a million (okay, slight exaggeration) blog posts on reading.  I believe that the ability to read and understand what we are reading is the foundation for everything else we learn. As you can see (or rather, read) I am quite passionate about the subject.

There is a lot to be said about reading to children from a very (very) young age and although that is something I am also quite passionate about, this here blog post is for those older and more reluctant readers.

They are in Prep, Year One and Year Two and they bring home their ‘Home Readers’ for homework, read to you each night, read the same books a few times a year, move up some reading levels and move on.

Then we hit Year Three, Year Four and Year Five and the responsibility is on them.  Library day either brings a sense of glee (yay, more books) or a sense of dread (whoops, I seem to have forgotten my library bag again – not by accident).

I mean, there are many adults who will gladly admit that they don’t read for pleasure, don’t like to read and only really do it if they have to.  Fair enough, but my argument is that the pleasure of reading THEN leads to an increase in our vocabulary which THEN leads to a deeper understanding and knowledge on many topics and texts which THEN leads to a person who is keen to continue to be a lifelong learner.

See? So very beneficial.

How to Motivate Reluctant Readers

So what can we do for those little vegemite’s in our homes who are not so keen to read?

Let Them Choose

There are so many text types that we can read and they don’t necessarily have to be books.  Find a magazine or comic book that your child might like to read, encourage reading the junk mail, signs when you are out, ebooks, the newspaper, brochures, instructions on how to make something – the possibilities are endless.  Just because your child hasn’t read an actual book this week, does not necessarily mean they haven’t read anything.

Set The Example

Many reluctant readers (not all) come from families who don’t set aside time to read or feel that it is important.  If your child sees you reading as a form of leisure (instead of watching television) it might make them more motivated to pick up a book rather than turn on the cartoons.

Make It Fun

There are many ways to make reading fun and engage your child in this process.  Cooking together is always a good example.  Have your child choose something they would like to cook for dinner or dessert.  Look for a recipe together and have them read the ingredients list and the method as you work together to create a culinary delight.

Another idea is to go for a visit to your local library and choose books that you can read together or that they would be really interested in.  If you have a child who loves helicopters, talk to the librarian and see what they can find that might engage them in their favourite topic.

Boy reading book at library

Find a time every day where you can sit together and read.  When I have worked with reluctant readers, I will often suggest that we take turns reading a page (or even a sentence) each.  In most cases, they want to be with you and they want to hear the story so this partnership might make them more willing.

It is incredible how much difference it makes as you guide them through this process – just being with you and reading together might change their whole approach.

Make it Relevant

As a parent, I understand that it is sometimes easy to compare your child and their abilities. We might compare them to a child the same age or even a sibling.  This can be dangerous and unhelpful.  Try to focus on finding reading material and text types that are relevant to the actual ability and interests of the specific child rather than what you think they should be able to read.  Reading something is better than reading nothing at all.

If you feel that reading independently is important, then set small goals.  For example, you might ask them to read for five minutes on their own, every day for a week and then slowly increase this to seven minutes etc. Depending on the age of the child and the expectations of the school, a half an hour a day of reading is a great end goal to aim towards.

So I encourage you to grab a comfy cushion and ask your reluctant reader to come and join you for some together time.  We all know that just spending quality time with those we love,  makes even the most difficult tasks more meaningful and fun.

Happy Reading!

Does My Child Need A Tutor?

Student Learning

Does my child need a tutor?

I have recently started working as a tutor.  This has come about mostly due to the fact that I am taking a break from my full time teaching career to stay home for a little while and do some full-time Mummying. I wasn’t sure if tutoring would be my cup of tea but I have found it an incredibly rewarding experience.  It has also surprised me how many parents feel the need to seek out a tutor for their primary school aged child.

It got me thinking about why tutoring may be important and why tutoring is needed as an additional educational service to schooling. As a tutor myself, I see great benefits in tutoring sessions for students, however, if you are thinking about obtaining some tutoring for your child, I believe it is important for you to consider a few things first.

Does my child need a tutor?

Why does my child require a tutor?

For many families, it is about time management, or perhaps concerns of parents about a child’s progress at school.  This concern may come from a parent-teacher interview or a report card.  Before you decide to pursue tutoring, it might be a good idea to take your concerns back to the classroom teacher to clarify anything you are not sure about.  In some situations, the school might be able to clear up any concerns you may have or offer additional support during school hours that will prevent you from needing to employ a tutor.  You may also find that the school may advise that tutoring will be beneficial and be able to help you with this process. Click here to read more about communicating between home and school.

What are you hoping to achieve from the tutoring sessions?

It is a good idea to set some goals for these sessions, once you have decided that tutoring may be the best option to support your child’s learning. A good tutor (more about that later) will ask for these goals and ensure that each session is planned according to meeting these.  Your goal might be to get your child to reach a certain reading level or perhaps to help them work through their English essays.  Consider the key learning areas (e.g., Maths, English, Science) that you would like focussed on during the sessions too.

Where will the tutoring sessions be held?

There are many options when it comes to tutoring.  Some private schools will employ tutors to come to the school campus (before or after school hours) to tutor students and this is often an additional, extracurricular service that parents may pay for.  In some state schools, there are additional support situations available such as homework club that may also be available to students.

There are private tutoring companies (much like an agency) that employ tutors and set you up with a tutor who would best suit the needs of your child.  In these situations, they may come to you at your home, at a mutual location such as the local library or you may come to a facility set up by the organisation.  You will often pay the company a fee for each session and not the tutor directly.

The final option is a private tutor (you may find advertised online) who may come to your home or meet you at a location decided by both parties.  If you decide that home is the most ideal location, ensure that there is a neat, organised, space set up that is free of distraction for the sessions.

When will these tutoring sessions happen?

The duration, frequency and time of the sessions are something that needs to be negotiated between you and the tutor.  For primary school children, I believe that afternoons or weekends are the best options. Evenings are often difficult as children are tired and learning in a tutoring session before bed is not always ideal.

A good tip for an after-school tutoring session is to allow your child to have some time to play and eat a healthy snack between the end of school and the beginning of their session. This allows them a break between learning and will ensure that they have the most focus possible for their sessions.

I offer all my students one-hour sessions and believe that most primary aged children really only require a one-hour session, per subject, per week.  An hour allows enough time to review the last session, discuss any needs with the parent and child, teach new concepts and consolidate new learning with an activity or game.

How do I find a good tutor?

That is a good question. I think talking to other parents is always a good way to gauge if there are any tutors or organisations around that may have a good reputation.  Your child’s school may also be able to offer advice on this.

If you seek a tutor privately, don’t be afraid to ask them for a copy of their credentials and even a CV of their experience.  You are paying them good money to support your child’s education so it is ok to ask them for this.  Another good idea is preparing some questions to ask them when you call to inquire about their services and being prepared with your concerns to make sure they are qualified to help.  It is also fine to discuss with them that the initial session is a probation session to ensure that they are what you are looking for, they work well with your child and that it is something that will be best for your family.

It is also advisable to ensure that the tutor has a blue card child safety check or if they are a registered teacher you sight their current teacher registration card.

There you have it. Tutoring can be extremely beneficial as long as it is purposeful, in partnership with the learning that is happening at school and is achieving learning goals successfully.

Are Toys Necessary?

Toy Digger

Are Toys Necessary?

I am a firm believer that toys are not necessary.  Don’t get me wrong – they are fun, they are exciting, they keep a child entertained…for a short time.  BUT they are not necessary at all – for education, for learning, for play.

Here is an example. We were at the beach on the weekend. After setting up our little picnic blanket we noticed that parked on the beach near us was a family of five children – four boys ranging from ages 5-11years and a little girl in the middle who was about 7 years old.  Their parents were sitting on a sandy dune enjoying the sunshine – good on them!  We had some food and then started kicking our soccer ball around but I could see our son (after he climbed a few trees) being drawn to the game these siblings were playing.  Of course, we went over to investigate.  It looked fun.

These five children had created the most incredible cubby house I have ever seen.  It had vines, leaves and huge sticks creating a shelter and a tree with glass beer bottles hanging off its branches –this was purely for decoration (they were sure to tell me).  In front of their ‘cubby’, they had a large, empty Dorito packet with a stick pierced through it, representing a flag.  It was so cool I wanted to play in it.

Did they have a frisbee, a football, a cricket set?  No. Did they have beach balls or flotation devices?  No.  They had sticks, empty beer bottles (not an ideal choice I will admit), vines, leaves, branches and sand.  And their ‘play’ was in full swing.

It got me thinking again about the fact that imagination and our environment is all children need to play and create and invent and construct.  We can give them all the toys in the world and in some ways this stunts their ability to create and imagine.  I have spoken to many parents who have expressed frustration that their children have a ‘room full of toys’ and yet always seem to whine that ‘there is nothing to do’ and that they ‘are bored’.  How many times have you seen a child play with a cardboard box for hours and yet the new car that you just bought them is jammed somewhere in the depths of the toybox?

We can traipse down to Kmart and spend a fortune on a little kitchen and little pots and pans and little cups and saucers and then find our two-year-old really just wants to be on a chair at the kitchen bench helping us cook instead.

I guess it is important that we think about what we spend our hard earned cash on before we make a purchase.  It is so easy to get caught up in the latest craze or the need to consume something just because (insert birthday, Christmas, really good toy sale etc here). It is so easy to think it will entertain, give you some peace and be something they will really love.

Before you make your next purchase, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does the toy have educational value?
  2. Does the toy encourage imagination or can it really only be used for one purpose?
  3. Does the toy dictate and direct play or guide play as a tool that can be used alongside creating, constructing or role-playing?
  4. Does the toy engage the child to think or discuss or share with others?
  5. Can the toy be used in a range of environments and by children from a range of different ages?

I will admit that there are certain things that I believe enable play, encourage creativity and imagination and help guide a child to design and construct. Here are 101 fun things to do with kids.  I am sure you can think of more (and please do) but check out my list for some more ideas.

Idea’s to enable play, encourage creativity and imagination

  1. Go outdoors, Rebecca from Innate Moves has some great suggestions on simple ways to foster kids fitness, check it out.
  2. Lego (an imagination kick starter)
  3. Blocks (the ideas are endless)
  4. Pencils and Paper and Paint and Glue and Scissors and Sticky Tape (you get the idea)
  5. Puzzles (but borrow these from a toy library if you can as once they are mastered they are mastered)
  6. Books (will never get old)
  7. Board Games (encourage sharing, taking turns, playing together)
  8. Bike or a scooter or a skateboard
  9. A ball
  10. Cars and Trucks (they seem universal and if you have a hill you can’t go wrong)
  11. Dolls (role-playing is so good)

The rest can be found at home – a cardboard box, old clothes as dress ups, containers for water play, an old sheet for a cubby house, sticks and dirt and rocks and grass and spoons from the kitchen drawer for the mud kitchen.

Be brave and don’t feel guilty that they don’t have all the toys in the world.  Watch what they do with what is around them and let the play and imagination of a child inspire you.

 

How To Develop Fine Motor Skills

Craft Supplies

How to Develop Fine Motor Skills

Within the Education Sector (from Preschool onwards) we hear ‘education’ words that often mean very little to the average parent or guardian at home.

When I was teaching Prep I often spoke to parents about helping their children develop ‘fine motor skills’ and was often met with a blank stare.  Basically, fine motor skills are the skills a child is required to learn in order to help them hold a pencil, cut with scissors, draw, paint, type, text, glue, stick – you get the drift.

There are a few reasons why such skills are so important.  Children who don’t develop their fine motor ability from a young age will often become easily tired when writing, drawing, colouring and cutting at school.  Children who have not yet developed these skills or are behind in developing these will often have trouble forming letters and numbers and may also have difficulty writing and reading back their own writing (due to not being able to understand what they have written).  This, combined with the energy and effort it takes, often results in a discouraged child who is not enthusiastic to learn.  Not a fun way to feel at school.

How to develop fine motor skills

The thing is there are some really simple ways to help your child develop these skills from a very young age.  A baby holding a rattle or grasping objects such as pieces of fruit or rusks.  A young child learning to use a spoon or a fork. I know, it makes such a mess, but the growing and development that happens with this skill are so rewarding. I think we often feel that babies and young children need a lot done for them (and even though they do) there is a lot that they can be learning to do independently (with supervision of course) that will enable fine motor skills to be established and refined.

I first let our son have scissors when he was two.  He cut paper with them and often I just gave him one of my old interior magazines (as a parent we have to share the things we treasure the most) and he would cut to his heart’s delight.  He loved it and I found that he was able to use scissors at the age of two better than some students I had in my prep class.  He is now four and is confident with cutting and has even mastered using chopsticks!

Rules around scissors

I have the following rules around scissors and have used these rules with him from a young age.

  • Hold them correctly when we walk with them. That means the scissors are closed and he holds his fingers tightly around the closed blades so they can’t accidentally open and cut him.
  • Cut paper only and check with Mummy before we start. Heartbreaking if he cut an old love letter that his Daddy may have given me. Not so heartbreaking if he cuts the rates bill up.
  • Sit at the table while you are cutting. We walk from the drawer to the table and don’t get up again until we have finished.
  • Use little scissors – not Mummy’s scissors because there are special ones made for little hands.

And that is it.  It takes effort doesn’t it to give them something so hugely responsible to ‘play’ with?  I always make sure this is an activity we do together (meaning I am sitting near him or cooking in the kitchen nearby where I can see what he is doing).

Free printable cutting resource

Here is a simple free printable cutting resource that you can use with your child to help them develop these skills. Simply download the free printable template below, cut out each page and pull up a seat with your toddler or preschooler. You may need to explain what to do with each cutting line depending on your child’s age.

Cutting Resource

Picture of printable cutting activity

 

And there you have it – Fine motor skills (using our fingers and hands) need to be developed from a young age so that children can write and form letters correctly.  Using scissors (and a range of other things – see my amazing list below) helps them develop their fine motor skills and coordination and makes for a happier learner when school begins.

My Amazing List of Fine Motor Activities (the list could go on and on but you get the idea)

  • Playdough – Check out this easy 3 ingredient playdough recipe.
  • Finger painting
  • Utensils (mixing, cutting, scooping)
  • Eating with our hands
  • Maze Activities – Here is one you can download for free from the Imperfect Mummy.
  • Threading
  • Sewing (with big blunt sewing needles)
  • Knitting
  • Gluing
  • Painting
  • Pouring (bath time fun)
  • Drawing
  • Stickers or playing with sticky tape
  • Playing cards
  • Sand Play
  • Cooking and Baking (those good old rolling pins and cookie cutters)
  • Chopsticks
  • Opening Packets, containers, clasps, buttons, zips
  • Holding a Cup
  • Putting shoes and socks on
  • Playing with matchbox cars and small figurines/toys
  • Games/Activities on an iPad or device
  • Duplo
  • Blocks

Communicating Between Home and School

Teacher communicating between home and school

Communicating Between Home and School

When I was a teacher of early and even middle primary years, I often saw a number of parents every morning and afternoon.  It was something that I quite enjoyed – the communication, answering any questions they may have or just a quick hello and some feedback on how the day went.

When I started teaching upper primary, I noticed a significant difference in the number of parents who I saw on a regular basis.  In fact, it shocked me that often times there was not a single parent popping their head in, wanting to have a chat or asking a question about homework or sport or the upcoming excursion.

It got me thinking about how teachers and schools communicate with home when children are in the middle and upper years of primary school.  It makes sense that as children are older (and less likely to want to meet their Dad at the bag rack after school) that parents would expect that their child would communicate anything of importance to them when they arrived home. As a teacher, this makes sense and is all part of the development and maturity of an older child.

In saying that, I believe it is important to ensure that the communication is as strong as it is between home and school in the early years.  Most schools have a regular whole school newsletter that is emailed home for parents and families to read.  This gives a good overview of what is happening within the school and the community, however what about individual classroom and student needs?

Communication between parents and teachers

Emailing

Some teachers will send regular emails or classroom newsletters home to explain what is happening in the learning environment.  Depending on the teacher there may also be a virtual classroom that parents can log onto online and see student work, photographs and detailed information on curriculum and learning activities that are occurring during the day.  It is also important for you to remember that teachers are professionals and are there to support and teach your children.  This means that at any time, you can correspond to ask questions about your child and their learning. This is the form of communication I have found to be the most popular with parents of older primary school children.

Parent Teacher Meetings

At certain times throughout the year, individual schools will allow an opportunity for formal parent-teacher interviews to be held to discuss your child’s progress.  This is often around report time (or in some cases between reporting terms) to discuss individual learning needs.  Your child’s school will often ask that you request a time during a certain week and you will be allotted between 10 and 20 minutes to attend this interview.  During these interviews it is always a good idea to come prepared with questions you may have as the time you have with the teacher is short.  Informal chats or meetings can always be had with your child’s classroom teacher at any other time during the school year. This is of course, at the convenience of the teacher and yourself.  A good teacher will always be willing to make time to chat with you about any concerns or questions you may have.

Meet the Teacher Night

Meet the teacher night is often held during the first few weeks of the school year.  Each individual school may present this differently. I have worked in schools where a team of teachers (example all the year four teachers) will present together discussing general information that is consistent across all classrooms.  This may be curriculum, homework expectations, excursions and camps that are to be held, behaviour management policies and team introductions.  In other schools, the meet the teacher night may be presented by individual teachers in their own classrooms.  These nights are really helpful – they give you some insight into the person or people who will spend most of the year with your child as well as allow the teacher the opportunity to get to know you and your child a little more.

Student Diary

In many cases, students in upper primary school are provided with a school diary or journal. Depending on the school this may be either written or electronic and is often something that teachers expect students to write in at the end of the day before school is completed.  The information in this diary is often about homework, any resources that they will need for the following day and any other information that may be important to be communicated with family at home. This is a good way for teachers to ensure that students are sharing what they need to with their parents and guardians.

School diary

My School Website

Directly from the website, this is what My School is all about:

The My School website is a resource for parents, educators and the community to find important information about each of Australia’s schools. My School contains data on a school’s student profile, NAPLAN performance, funding levels and sources and other financial information. You can also see enrolment numbers and attendance rates. 

Although it will not give you information on individual classroom and individual student needs, this website is a great resource for general information about any state or private school in Australia.

Communication between home and school is important for many reasons and understanding your role as a parent will make the difference in your child’s education.  It is always ok to ask questions and want to know more about what is happening in your child’s school and classroom.  An involved parent makes a huge difference to the learning outcomes of an individual child and it is part of the school’s role and responsibility to ensure you are always aware of the teaching and learning that is taking place.

Is Homework Beneficial?

Homework

Is Homework Beneficial?

Homework. It is a hotly debated topic amongst the parent and teacher community. In our busy day to day lives, homework is often an afterthought and sometimes even gets deleted from the organised chaos of the afternoon routine. The question is, is homework a tradition that is outdated and irrelevant or should we see it as an integral part of our child’s learning? This article will explore the ins and outs of “Is Homework Beneficial?” And discuss questions such as:

Are there benefits to homework?

Are there disadvantages?

How much should I get involved?

How much homework is too much?

Traditionally, homework was put in place as a way of having students continue to practice the ‘basics’ outside of school hours. Foundational skills such as reading, times tables and spelling, basically anything that could be learned by rote (repetition) were issued as homework.   

Having spent many years teaching the early years, I cannot stress enough the importance of students building a solid foundation in skills such as reading, sight words the concept of adding and subtracting and the all-important times tables.

Is Homework Beneficial

Are there benefits to homework?  

Well….. Yes! If your child’s homework is targeted at their ability level (or what we in the teaching profession call differentiation), it can absolutely be beneficial. For the first few years of school, an extra few minutes a day being exposed to the foundational skills (reading, writing, times tables, sight words, addition/subtraction) can do wonders, particularly if your child is finding it challenging retaining some of this knowledge in class.   

As your child moves through their primary school years and into secondary school, homework needs to evolve along with the complex learning needs and styles of each student and the demands of the curriculum.   

An often overlooked benefit of homework is that it teaches students independent time management. This is increasingly important as they move into secondary school as they will be juggling many different assignments from a range of subjects. Forming positive study habits early on will make for smoother sailing throughout their formal schooling and beyond within tertiary studies and careers.  

Are there disadvantages?  

If your child has mastered the foundational skills and is still being asked to practice them at home, you have the right to question your child’s teacher as to why they are asking your child to waste brain power on something they already know (maybe don’t ask it exactly like that). In fact, the best way to benefit your child’s learning is to work hand in hand with their teacher. Click here to discover productive ways to talk with your child’s teacher about their learning and have meaningful and productive parent-teacher conversations.  

As your child enters upper primary (Years 3-6), it is important that the focus shifts from rote (repetitive) learning into research-based homework. This may include individual and group projects, assignments, real-world maths problems (more than just sums) and reading that challenges thinking.    

How much should I get involved?  

Homework should not require you, as the parent, to know how to complete it. Well thought-out homework can be completed independently by the student. In saying this, it is important that you are part of your child’s homework routine.   

  • Ask what they are doing and show genuine interest in their learning  
  • Find out how it is relating to their classwork and what they should be learning according to the curriculum  
  • Monitor if they seem bored or being challenged in their thinking.  
  • It is also a good idea to keep an eye on how long they are spending doing their homework. To read more about how much homework is too much, click here.   

Particularly with the introduction of school-issued, student devices, it is becoming increasingly difficult for students to stay on task while doing their homework on a device. It is important to keep a close eye on what your child is or should be doing and remember it is a joint responsibility between the student, parents and the school to monitor device usage. Read more about ensuring school devices are maximised for safe learning here.  

Will the world end if your child skips their homework every now and then… No! Obviously, we don’t want it to become a habit, however, if there is something more important to do, or they are just done for the day, then let them have a break.  

If a student fails to complete an assignment and doesn’t get the grade they could have, that’s on them. If they don’t complete their part of the group assignment, they will have to explain that to their peers. With loving guidance, they will learn and grow from their mistakes.  If they decided to go for a bike ride with their friend or stayed back after soccer training to practice a little longer, then so be it. We should not punish students for wanting to live a balanced life.  Dinner with Grandma brings a richness to a child’s life that times tables cannot. Better still, kill two birds with one stone and have Granny quiz them on their timetables.  

Happy Schooling!