Tag Archives: writing

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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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.

I am a Writer

writing

When people ask me what I do, I stumble to explain …

Well, I come from an early education background….. but now I am home with the children……I write a blog about early education and parenting and I’m trying to work out what to do next.

STOP!

What have I been doing for the past year since I started my blog?  Writing.

What do I do during the evenings and when the children aren’t around? I write a blog.

When I am not writing my blog what do I do?  I write articles for websites, write children’s stories, write poetry and  write diaries.

What do you do when you are not writing?  I research things to write about, read and take photographs of things of interest (oh yes and look after 3 kids).

So I don’t get paid for any of these things but it is what I do.

I am a writer.

I have been writing since I was 6 years old. I would absorb myself so much in story writing  that the words couldn’t hit the page quickly enough and would move in a diagonal fashion away from the margin.  I was always being told that I needed to improve my handwriting.  As a teenager I wrote poetry and short stories and enjoyed writing essays. My English teacher called me her shining star. I always kept a diary and often wrote letters.  I studied English Literature at University (I preferred English Language but there was no degree option for this)  because I loved to read and write. On my honeymoon I wrote a journal of our trip and have kept a diary of pregnancies and the early years of my children’s lives. I had mostly A grades for my essays during my Masters Degree.

I am a writer.

A few years ago I read a book by Ken Robinson called The Element. The book talks about how finding your passion changes everything.  Everyone has their ‘element’, some have more than 1 and some people never realise it.  I wondered at the time what my ‘element’ was and now I know, it is and always has been writing.

I am a writer.

People tell me they like what I write, people tell me they like the way that I write, people even sometimes tell me that they are inspired by what I write.

I am a writer.

I may never get paid  for my writing but that won’t stop me. If I keep writing and sending things to publishers and publications maybe one day I will become a professional writer. Even if I never make a penny as long as I keep writing and people keep reading .

I am a writer.

Storytelling and memory

This week is National Storytelling Week.  I was going to write about my experiences of story telling with young children.  However,something else that I have been talking about this week seems to relate very well to story telling.

I have been having a sort out of the endless ‘stuff’ we accumulate in our house. One part of that has been to thin out all the things we have stored that we never use  and  collate our photographs in one place.  During this process my husband found a box full of old letters, certificates and notebooks which contain memories that would otherwise be forgotten.  We looked at photos of years gone by and the way that we remember things.  I also had a conversation relating to memory with a neighbour who recently had a large family gathering.  She talked about how when they all got together and talked about past shared events, they each remembered it differently.

How much of our lives get lost because we don’t document it?  When we need to find evidence of how we felt, often we can only say, I don’t remember it like that but maybe that is how it was.  Sometimes I wish I had documented my life so that I could look back and say with confidence , that is what happened, this is how it happened and this is how I felt.

At times I have kept diaries, mostly during my teenage years. I was so embarrassed by my thoughts when I  came across them years later, that I threw them away but a part of me wishes I hadn’t.  I have kept diaries of my pregnancies and early days of the children because the children won’t remember those times. I hope that one day I will be here to answer their questions about it but maybe, like my own mother, I will be gone by the time those questions arise.  I kept a journal during my honeymoon, I don’t often read it but sometimes it’s comforting to look back on the best times in your life.

My point is that when we think of story telling we automatically think of fiction, but our lives are a story – often the most interesting stories come from real events.  What may seem irrelevant or waffly thoughts right now will someday mean something to our children and grandchildren.  My most treasured possession is a letter that my mother wrote when she was in hospital after having me.  My dad found it after she had died and it is my only account of how she felt to be a mother for the first time .  Stories don’t have to be about dragons and adventures, let’s not forget that our own stories matter too.  For National Storytelling week I will not tell a story but will try to begin to tell my story so that I don’t forget and will not be forgotten.