Humans learn to communicate within days of arriving into this world. For instance, a newborn arching his back is a sign that he wants to be picked up.
Not surprisingly, communications experts and early education advocates recommend teaching basic sign language to babies as young as three months old.
Science has proven that toddlers who know how to communicate effectively have fewer temper tantrums and are more receptive to new ideas.
Besides, signing boosts baby's cognitive abilities.
Beyond establishing a method of early communication, teaching English language skills is a bit more complex.
Let's take a look at what aspects of English your child, now enroled in school, is striving to learn.
You can get an overview of Key Stage learning in this handy guide!
Activities to Build Spelling Skills
I Spy, With My Little Eye... something that starts with the letter D!
A twist to the classic observation game, the player leads the game by announcing what letter the spied object's name starts with.
Your little English speaker should scan the area for objects that start with that letter, calling out words until the selected object is correctly guessed.
Dog, desk, door, dictionary... and so on.
For more advanced learners, those at Key Stage Two level, the objects can be spelled instead of named.
Did you spy a d-o-g? How about a d-o-o-r?
The game continues, with a different object to be guessed, that starts with different letter of the alphabet.
This activity will help students learning English as a second language, too.
Letters of the Alphabet
This elementary game involves naming an object for every letter of the alphabet.
Such an activity reinforces learned vocabulary, and can even lead to the discovery of new words.
ESOL teachers lead this activity in English language schools all over the world!
How to play: for every letter of the alphabet, you/your child calls out a word that starts with that letter.
- A – apple, ask, after, answer
- B – baby, boy, bear, bike
- C – cat, carriage, candy, class
- D – dog, dish, door, dearie
And so the game goes on, addressing every letter.
For more advanced learners, you can orchestrate the activity to exclude certain word groups, such as verbs, or adjectives.
Or, you could specify that only a particular word group can be named, or that one word from each part of speech should be named before moving on to the next letter.
Parts of speech are: verb, adverb, adjective, noun, preposition, conjunction, and so on.
Another option would be to request the spelling of each named word.
Stuck in traffic? Walking home from school? What a great way to pass the time: shouting out words in alphabetical order!
If your child does not know a word corresponding to any given letter, propose a dictionary search. It will be a great way to introduce him/her to a lexicon!
For more fun games that build and reinforce spelling skills, you can check here.
Helping Your Child Learn English Reading
“Mommy, what does that say?” asked five-year old Benjamin, pointing to a large yellow sign on a lorry.
“ Large Goods, Sweetheart.” replied his mother.
We certainly cannot fault this young learner's mum for being attentive, but we have to point out that she missed a ready-made teaching opportunity.
What letters do you recognise? She could have asked. Or maybe: what sound does the letter L make?
Young children seldom ask idle questions.
On the contrary; their sometimes merciless interrogation is driven by a desire to know and understand their environment.
This is your chance to capitalise on their natural curiosity by providing bite-sized nuggets of education, especially meant to gain proficiency in English skills like reading, writing and spelling.
Let us hear your opinion on writing and spelling: do these skills have relevance in a world of spellcheck and texting?
Working closely with your child's English teacher, you can discover activities and games that do not feel like learning reinforcement at all.
Non native English parents, listen up! This is also your chance to gain fluency in your spoken English!
More English tutor here.
Choose a few stories that resonate with your child; ones s/he has declared a preference for.
Hopefully, those stories have lines that repeat, such as in The Three Little Pigs.
Let me in! Let me in! / Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!
This type of line works wonders with young learners, especially if you add 'sound effects'.
While you read, point to each word with your finger as you speak it, and pronounce each word clearly.
Soon, you will find that your child will say select lines with you. When s/he does, stop saying it and let him/her become a part of the story!
If s/he is a reluctant participant, prompting should give encouragement: “What does the wolf say?” for example.
This activity helps your child establish a correlation between the written and spoken word, and gives early exposure to word recognition.
For more advanced learners, you can select words within the text for him/her to read, such as 'let' or 'hair'.
Or you could ask: “Do you know this word?” while pointing to random words in the text.
Do you know where to find the best resources to help your child master the English language?
Word Scavenger Hunt
Using sticky notes, paste a series of words around your child's room – or throughout the house.
Once you have a sufficient number of words posted to make the activity interesting, challenge your child to find words:
- that start with a certain letter
- that describe a specific category – clothing, food, maybe the contents of his room.
- That are names of colours
- that describe family relationships – mother, father, sister, brother and so on
If your learner is at beginner level of reading, you might shadow him/her to help sound out unknown words.
If your child is learning English as a foreign language, you may try writing the words in your native language underneath the English word, at least for the first few rounds.
For more advanced readers, the more specific categories would be suitable to practise reading.
This game would be fun for birthday parties and playgroup get-togethers, too!
The Internet is full of ideas to enhance reading ability, should you be looking for more of such activities.
Before we explore ways to cultivate a love of writing, let us talk a minute about learning disabilities.
Statistics show that more than a quarter of a million school-aged children in the UK are learning with some sort of disability.
Not being fluent in English is not considered a disability under these guidelines.
Unfortunately, it is generally only the most obvious of disabilities that are quickly recognised.
Others, such as dyslexia, are more difficult to spot in younger learners.
If you have concerns about your child's progress in reading, writing or spelling, or putting phrases together, be sure to talk with those who teach English to your child.
Early testing leads to quicker intervention.
Taking steps to work around learning disabilities will keep your student from being afraid to learn English mechanics.
Knowing what to expect helps, too! Read all about Key Stage learning and exams in this guide!
How to Cultivate a Love of Writing
Writing for younger learners is a slow process because it takes time to develop the precision and control needed to shape individual letters.
Still, there is fun to be had in learning how to write the English language with the youngest students.
Making Bold Strokes
Prepare an area in your home or garden where you won't mind a bit of a mess, and a surface to write on.
Using easy-to-clean compounds such as water-based paints, or even condiments such as mustard and red sauce, you can guide your early learner to form letters with exaggerated brush strokes.
Better yet, permit finger painting.
Once your little scholar demonstrates sufficient control – by writing progressively smaller, you can graduate to writing on paper, with a pencil.
Nothing Beats Tradition
With this tip we pay tribute to generations of parents who have hoisted their child onto their lap and guided tiny, pencil-clutching hands to form letters. Their method of training future writers was way ahead of its time.
Muscle memory learning involves building neural pathways so that repetitive movements no longer require conscious thought.
There is nothing wrong with this tried-and-true method of helping your child improve writing skills.
A note of caution: if your child demonstrates as either left-handed or right-handed, this teaching technique would work best if you are inclined to use the same dominant hand.
Pick a Word
This ongoing activity involves your child's favorite books.
From each page, ask him/her to choose the best words and copy them onto a posterboard, or into a notebook if s/he is a bit more advanced.
Conversely, you could write words your English learner doesn't know.
You can then have a discussion about what the words mean, why s/he chose them and what other words are related to them.
Spelling practice ties in with this activity, as you can spell the word while s/he writes it.
Once you have a sizeable collection of words, gathered over several days, you should encourage him/her to arrange the words into a story of his/her own.
See this page for further ideas on writing practice.
All of these activities, targeted to developing specific English language skills, all have one central figure: you.
You are the language teacher your child will follow from the outset of his/her English speaking.