Tag Archives: literacy

British Children Learning to Read and Write in the US.

 

I knew my youngest children would learn to read and write in the US and as a result I would have to accept that they would spell differently and use American phrases and grammar.  There are some unexpected differences however that I hadn’t considered.

A few days ago my 4-year-old remarked,

“Mummy, all the other children at preschool don’t write t’s properly”

“Really! Can you show me”

It is a bit like an x, like this……

t

My youngest is 4, I taught her to write her name but it never crossed my mind that letter formation might be different here.

I asked my kindergartener

” Do you write a curly bit on the bottom of the letter t at school?”

“No we do it like a cross”

I checked with the teacher and she explained that they use the ball and stick method where  letters such as t, w and y use straight lines rather than curves as they feel it is easier for the young children to master. It is one of many differences that I hadn’t anticipated.

alphabet ball and stick

I always believed the transition would be most difficult for my eldest, who went  to school in England until she was 8, so learned to read, spell and write ‘the English way’. The first thing she noticed, was that punctuation had different names; full stops were periods and brackets became parentheses.  We were really keen that she wouldn’t lose her knowledge of British spelling, so school agreed that she could learn both.  As an avid reader and proficient speller this wasn’t really difficult.

Choosing books wasn’t simple either. Most books by British authors are rewritten for an American audience.  When we borrow books by British authors from the library or buy books here, they are American versions.  My daughter is really eager to maintain her ‘Britishness’, so we often order books from the UK. This way she can still read books with British spelling and vocabulary and is able to read literature from both cultures. Tonight we read an American translation of Pippi Longstocking. This was my daughter’s favourite book for many years, so she knew much of the text by heart.  Every time she spotted a difference, she would quote the British text. In the end we got her old battered copy down to compare. I was surprised that though the meaning remained the same, the texts were very different. The monkeys name was different and the language in the British version was more detailed and poetic (although I am sure that the original Swedish is even more rich).

“A remarkable child” said one of the sailors, wiping a tear from his eye when Pippi disappeared from view. (British translation)

” A remarkable child” said one of the sailors as Pippi disappeared in the distance (American translation)

My daughter’s desire to maintain her British identity isn’t without its pitfalls.  Once she was marked down in a piece of writing because she referred to a ladybird rather than a ladybug (which I felt was a little harsh).

I thought things would be simpler for the younger ones because they started school here but they have been faced with different challenges:

1. The alphabet ends with zee (my daughter has decided that it makes more sense the American way because the song rhymes).

2.  What sound does a short ‘o’  make? To us it is o as in fox, box and top but American pronunciation is different, instead it makes the sound a as in fax, bax or tap. Confusing but also a little amusing to the girls who still have perfect English accents. I think I was fortunate that my daughter was beginning to read when she went to school and had already learned basic phonics so this wasn’t too much of an issue.

3. School reading books have American phrases which to a Brit’s ears sound totally wrong and often make me shudder. An examples from today’s reading book is :

Let’s go find Leo.

The omission of “ly’ at the end of adverbs is common as in ‘We need to be real quick’. I suppose one positive is that the girls generally notice and remark that it sounds different.  When my daughter reads a word that we don’t use, she substitutes it for the British word “I’m just going to say mum not mom”.

4. Sometimes they complete worksheets where they have to circle pictures that begin with particular letters. This can be confusing if the British word is different from the American or if it is something traditionally American like baseball equipment.

On the whole I think the girls awareness of the differences gives them a far richer experience of the written word.  It certainly gives us a lot to talk about.

 

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Pirate Phonics

pirate 2

What is a Pirate’s favourite shop?

Arrrgos

What is a Pirate’s favourite animal?

An aarrrdvarrrk

What does a Pirate spread on his toast?

Marrrmite or marrrmalade.

We have had hours of fun with the endless possibilities of pirate jokes around the dinner table.  My youngest daughter’s recent addition is

What is a Pirate’s favourite fruit?

An arrrringe.

Pirate jokes are a great way to practice oral phonics and rhyme.

My middle daughter is beginning to learn to read and write so I decided to use International Talk Like a Pirate day to introduce the ‘ar’ sound.

What Sound does a Pirate make?

arrrrrr

What sound does the letter ‘r’ make?

rrr like rrrabbit and rrred.

So even though it is called an ‘r’ it doesn’t make an ‘ar’ sound. We need more than just a letter ‘r’ to make a pirate sound.  We make a pirate sound with a and r together.

I gave her a magnetic ‘a’ and ‘r’ on a board along with a number of consonants. We used the magnetic letters to make as many word with ‘ar’ in them as we could exaggerating the ‘arrrrr’ sound in a pirate voice.

My daughter moved letters around to make different words and blended the sounds to read them out.

I wrote down the words for her in a list

jar

mars

bar

star

tar

car

Martha

arm

art

far

farm

Martin

She then dictated a story using the words and I underlined the ‘ar’ words for her to read .

Once upon a time there was a pirate called Martin.  He loved to eat a jar of pickles. He also loved to go to the scarecrow farm which was far away. He also like to do art. He had a pet wolf called Martha. One night there were lots of stars. He went out in the car to see his cheeky friend.  He always called his girlfriends funny names. Martin threw a bottle of tar on his friend’s arm. So he ate a Mars Bar.

As we read the story we said all the ‘ar’ words in a pirate voice.

As we were walking around the museum at the weekend she said

Mummy, I’ve thought of another pirate word ‘guitarrrr’

I wonder how many more she will come up with.

Ideas for Teaching Literacy through Play – Painting with Feathers

painting with feathersOn the way home from school we were talking about quills. My Harry Potter obsessed 9-year- old had made a quill by putting a biro refill into a feather.

My four-year old asked

Do we have any ink?

No but we can use paint.

We painted with feathers when I was little didn’t we?

We can do that tomorrow if you like. We could use the Peacock feathers we collected at Remlinger Farm.

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I set the paints up with a few feathers.


My 2-year-old suddenly declared

I wrote the word ‘buh’

Buh for bat.

She has been playing a Sesame Street alphabet game on the iPad and is beginning to talk about letters and letter sounds.

Her 4-year old sister asked

How do you spell bat?

How do you think you spell it? What does it begin with?

Buh

That’s right and what other sounds are in bat?

Bat….    t

Yes, so what is the middle letter?

Bat…b…a…t…..    a.     B..a..t spells bat.

After a little bit of impromptu literacy I had a brain wave. The girls are really interested in pirates at the moment and I thought we might be able to do some writing with feathers, make a pirate map or maybe we could make a wizard’s spell.

I stained paper with coffeemaking paper look old

When it was dry I singed the edges to make it look like an old scroll.

 

I asked the girls what they would like to do. They decided on a Wizard’s spell.

It will be funny because we don’t even know how to read and write……………. Maybe Wizards write differently to people.

quills

writing with a quill

I think this would be a great way to encourage boys in their mark making.

  • Set up a desk in a role play pirate ship with ink and quills
  • Make a spell book for children to add their own spells
  • Add a few feathers and a small pot of paint to your mark making area
  • Make treasure maps and encourage the children to mark the treasure with an X.

Literacy for under 5’s shouldn’t be about sitting at a table learning letters, tracing over letters or using flashcards. It can be brought into any aspect of play and when children are ready and interested in letters and sounds they will talk about it, ask questions and experiment. Make it fun, make it relevant and they will learn.

Outdoor Play: Finding The Alphabet in Nature

Having recently discovered some of the amazing hikes in the Seattle area we are really keen to encourage the children to appreciate the wonders around them. My kids love outdoor play, especially in the woods but a 4 mile steep hike can be hard work for an 8, 4 and 2-year old. To keep them going on our last hike I asked them to see how many letters of the alphabet they could spot in the surrounding area. The letters had to be found in nature and they weren’t allowed to create a letter by moving an object.

Here are some of the letters we found

The Phonics Debate – Alive and Kicking on Mumsnet

phonicsI have been reading with interest the continuing phonics debate on Mumsnet this week in response to  Guest Posts from Michael Rosen and Nick Gibb.

This year the UK government introduced phonics screening tests at the end of Year 1 and there is a firm commitment to the teaching of synthetic phonics as the primary method of teaching reading.

For me there are 2 key questions in this discussion:-

1. How important is phonics instruction for producing fluent readers?

2. Is it appropriate to test young children’s phonic knowledge?

1. The Importance of Phonics

Clearly, phonic knowledge is important.  I learned to read using the phonetically regular Meg the Hen books and was always an advanced reader.

Phase 1 of Letters and Sounds (a resource for pre-school children published by DFES in 2008) gives an excellent grounding for later phonic skills. The materials introduce phonics through listening and playing with sounds before any focus is put on the written letters.  My own children could recognise rhyme and alliteration at the age of 3 through playing games, and joining in with songs and rhymes.  In my opinion it is this groundwork in early life that is  sometimes missing in failing readers therefore phonic instruction in later phases becomes meaningless and sterile rather than fun. Building the underpinning skills through play is therefore an important factor.

There are numerous studies that cite the size of a child’s vocabulary in the pre-school years as an accurate indication of how easily they will learn to read.  Further studies suggest the importance of children understanding story structures and the language involved in re-telling stories.  Children develop vocabulary through talking and listening but to an even greater extent through reading.  When a child is unable to read or in the early stages of reading, the importance of adults reading to them cannot be underestimated. Not only does it encourage an interest in books but it also enriches vocabulary considerably. As evidence to this point my 8 year old who is an advanced reader has a rich vocabulary and writes with mature language and expression. She enjoyed advanced books such as Winnie the Pooh and Pippi Longstocking in her pre-school years.  She now reads Harry Potter, Little Women and the Narnia books and regularly inquires as to the meaning of words developing her vocabulary even further.  As a writer myself I am very aware of the impact reading has on the quality of my writing.

There is little doubt that there is a percentage of children who are failing to learn to read, having a detrimental effect on future academic success.  I would be interested in analysing the statistics to see what proportion of these are boys.  Most girls enjoy reading, mark making, role play and other early literacy related play.  Many boys do not.  In my opinion more needs to be done to channel boys natural interests in physical play and technology into literacy activities.  This does not have to exclude phonics as one of my colleagues demonstrated when she encouraged her pre-school boys to explore rhyme and rhythm by dressing them up as rappers, using electronic beats and encouraging them to make up their own raps.

To some extent therefore it is not what is taught that is the issue but the way that it is taught.  If phonic instruction is to be the key method of reading instruction then it must be engaging or children will switch off from day 1.

2. Phonic Testing

I understand the reasons for introducing this test and would by no means undermine the fact that we need to highlight failing readers early to give them the extra support they need.  However, I do feel that most teachers know the children who are struggling to read without the test. Certainly as a parent who has helped with reading in class this was easy to spot and it was also clear which children were struggling to decode using phonics. I think that putting children under pressure at a young age and giving parents another thing to worry about or be competitive about is wrong. I don’t have children who have been through these tests and from feedback from other parents I think that schools are handling them sensitively, ensuring that children are unaware that they are being tested, however I still feel that they are wrong.

Some children will be exposed to all of the experiences mentioned above but will still struggle to learn to read.  Perhaps the tests will help to identify and address these children’s needs at an early stage but I am wary that catching children when they are failing is not the best starting point to addressing the problem.

A further point that was raised in the discussion is that all children do not learn in the same way and that the ability to decode words does not automatically produce fluent readers.  I used to work with children on the autistic spectrum.  One of these children had a fascination with letters and sounds, he could read phonetically regular words before he started school but his understanding was at the level of a 1 year old.  When we read books together they were of the ‘Where’s Spot?’ type and anything more complex was beyond his understanding.  I realise that this is an extreme case but I believe that it is a cautionary tale to those who may think a good phonics test result means that their child is reading fluently.

I will be watching with interest as my children move through the US education system (especially as they will start school a year later than in the UK) to see how literacy teaching differs and whether there are similar worries about levels of attainment.

Love to Learn on CBeebies

I don’t generally recommend young children learn by watching television but I am human and like the rest of us appreciate a bit of respite from time to time.  Now that my 3 year old no longer naps during the day, after a busy  morning at playgroup an hour watching television helps her to relax.  I don’t agree with young children watching commercial channels so always put my trust in CBeebies.

The quality of the early learning programming is generally of a high standard and well researched, we particularly like Something Special and Driver Dan’s Storytrain (especially as we are on the lookout for the episodes featuring her big sister).

At the end of February CBeebies are launching a new cluster of programming entitled  Love to Learn. This will bring together a number of programmes, which are designed to give the younger members of the CBeebies audience an introduction to literacy and numeracy. Programmes will include the new shows, Numtums and The Lingo Show, alongside new episodes of established favourites Alphablocks and Abadas. These programmes will be scheduled together allowing children to have fun while they learn their letters and get to know their numbers.
The Numtums  are cuddly Numbats (rare marsupial, native to Western Australia) each with a number on their tummy. Combining a troop of animated Numtums, children, sing-along songs and a distinctive, mixed-media style, the programme introduces the basics of number recognition and then gently moves on to counting objects and identifying amounts in a variety of fun scenarios. The series is reminiscent of the animated snippets that were a key feature of my favourite children’s programme, Sesame Street. I’m sure these will keep the children engaged and make learning fun.
I’m really looking forward to The Lingo Show .  This began life a year ago as an online brand to introduce children to a variety of languages.  It is a long time since I visited the CBeebies website, so I wasn’t aware it existed but I was very excited to see that the languages featured include Welsh. Growing up in Wales I have a very basic knowledge  of the Welsh language, but my children were captivated.  My 7 year old even wrote down a list of words to remember ( we looked at the food section). The variety of languages featured include Polish, Somali and Punjabi and this could be a really useful resource for nursery workers to learn basic vocabulary when teaching children with an additional language. The TV series will continue to introduce children to words in different languages – specifically French, Spanish and Mandarin .
The episodes see host bug Lingo send Mandarin bug Wei, Spanish bug Queso and French bug Jargonaise off into the real world to choose everyday objects and props to include in their grand finale – The Big Bug Show. Each episode focuses on one language, introducing children to six key words, plus examples of everyday vocabulary like ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’. There are opportunities for children to develop both speaking and listening skills as they are encouraged to repeat words with the bugs, voiced by native speakers of the target language.  I’m  definitely    going to make time to  watch  this with the kids.

The new episodes of Alphablocks are in a slighter longer  format than in the past and will continue to use best-practice phonics teaching to help young children develop engagement and confidence with reading and making words.  For those unfamiliar with the series  Alphablocks are 26 living letters who fall out of the sky and discover that if they hold hands and make a word, it comes to life.

Abadas  aims  to help children to learn new vocabulary that corresponds to objects they come across in their everyday lives.
The new episodes feature the familiar fun faces of Hari the hippo, Ela the fox and Seren the bat (all with Welsh accents) who come to life when a pop-up book is opened. Once the book is opened, the Abadas’ world comes alive and it’s playtime for the three adventurers. Through these adventures the Abadas encourage the young audience to re-tell a story and be able to ask questions and tell others what they have learned.
The season of programming will also include repeats of the popular numbers series Numberjacks.

I hope that by scheduling these programmes together, children will become naturally inquisitive  about letters and numbers. The 5 minute programmes are perfect for young children’s attention spans and this short concentrated burst of literacy and numeracy programmes could serve as a great introduction to other hands on activities. Pre-school children do not need to learn to read, write and count but the programmes could introduce the concepts without any pressure. Take the lead from your child, if they are showing an interest you can develop it further.  The Grown Ups section of the CBeebies website has excellent articles about how to support your child’s early learning including phonics , numeracy, story telling and mark making and includes many additional activities. Over the next few weeks I will also be sharing literacy and numeracy ideas here. If there are any particular areas you would like inspiration for add a comment and I will follow it up.

The Love to Learn programmes will be on air from 27th February every weekday on CBeebies. The scheduling is 09:00 Numtums

09:05 Numberjacks

09:20 Alphablocks

09:25 Abadas .

The Lingo Show will air sometime during March.

The timings are perfectly placed just after the school run , before we go out and explore  numeracy and literacy in everyday situations.

The Changing Face of Literacy

As an Early Years teacher I have always capitalised on opportunities for literacy in everyday life. Making children aware and involving them in these things is often key to children viewing reading and writing as fun. Traditionally these would have been things like writing shopping lists, reading road and shop signs, mark making in diaries and calendars or following recipes.

However literacy in the real world is changing. Children these days are just as likely to see you read or write on your phone or laptop as they are to see you write a list or note.

This really hit home with me when I watched my 3 year old playing on my iPad a few weeks ago.  She asked if she could download an app called Dad book, designed for dads to record stories for their children.

But mummy it’s not doing anything

she said once it was downloaded.

No, someone has to tell the story and record it.

I replied.

I asked her 7 year old sister to record the story for her, they sat together as my 7 year old narrated the story.  When she was finished my 3 year old listened and then repeated the words as she had seen done with another app Pat the Cat .


What a great opportunity for playing with literacy for both children.  This made me think about all the other literacy activities my children tap into on the iPad.

My 3 year old is learning about the alphabet and phonic sounds using the wonderful Elmo loves ABC’s app.  This has loads of different levels of games all based around learning letter names and sounds and includes lots of  memorable Sesame Street clips.

Another favourite is Me Books a children’s picture book reader for classic Ladybird books.  Both my children enjoy following the stories and adding in their own sound effects. This is simple for the children to do and another great way of getting different aged siblings to share reading.

The Ladybird Touch and Say books are also a great way for my 2 year old to learn to read simple words and even my one year old loves the Baby Touch app.

My 7 year old loves creating her own stories and animations using Toontastic or Puppetpals and these are also simple for pre-schoolers to use with adult guidance.

We have even discovered new songs and rhymes through English Songs and Chants. My 3 year old loves this one and can be heard walking around the house reciting the chants and singing the songs.  The chants are excellent for teaching rhythm and steady beat, a concept I usually teach using Ros Bayley’s Beat Baby.  I wonder whether Ros has considered creating a Beat Baby app?

There are a number of things that I really appreciate about the way my children use technology to play and learn about literacy.

  • The children freely choose the literacy apps and never feel like they are learning literacy skills.  Everything they choose to play is fun and interactive.
  • The apps are an added dimension to their experience of literacy. They still love books and choose to read traditional books more often than  e-books, still love to write, tell and listen to stories.

Current touch screen technology is still a little small to offer good mark making experiences for the youngest children but the drawing apps are good fun for when they get a bit older and are able to work on a smaller scale.  I look forward to a time when I can roll out a big screen onto the floor and let the youngest children explore markmaking on a large scale.

I also think Kinect holds great possibilities for literacy. My children talk to their dad via video Kinect when he is not at home. There would be great potential for speaking and listening activities if they connected with other children from around the world and shared experiences about their life and culture.

My girls are avid readers, I’m not afraid that new technology will distract them from traditional literacy, but that it adds a richness to their lives and new possibilities for exciting literacy experiences.