Articles for Teachers and Parents

These helpful articles for teachers and parents of children kindergarten through eighth grade contain useful information that teachers can use for their classroom or that parents can use at home. Click on the topics below.

Helping Your Children at Home with Arithmetic

The arithmetic children use in school, that is, number problems on a page, are really a formalization of all kinds of experiences dealing with measurements, time, and space. Children who are performing poorly in math at school do not need drilling at home of specific problems. If they are to develop the foundations for competency in math, they need multiple experiences that allow them to reason with numbers in their activities of daily living. These activities will allow them, in turn, to develop the generalizations necessary for handling the formal arithmetic they encounter at school. Enjoyable, fun experiences will go further toward helping your child than a repetition of the frustration he regularly faces when confronted with formal math.

Children in trouble with arithmetic cannot seem to remember math "facts" even though they review them over and over again. They may seem to remember facts when reviewed on flash cards, but when presented with arithmetic problems, they must revert to finger counting or other aids to assist them.

Here are some suggestions other parents have successfully used to help their children.

  • Make sure your child can correctly write numerals. Even when children can count sequentially, they may have difficulties evidenced by reversing of numerals. Taking their hand in yours and tracing large numerals helps very much. Use a large, flat surface. Let your child get the "feel" of the shape. Try doing it with your child's eyes closed. Say the numeral as you trace it with him.
  • If numeral reversals continue, help your child with the understanding of "left" and "right" on his own body. Play games like "Loobie-Loo" that require moving one side of the body or the other. The awareness of left and right also affects letter reversals as well.
  • Before and after games, with numbers, are helpful for math understanding. First, know how far your child can sequentially count. Then ask, "What number comes after...?" and "What number comes just before...?" This skill is critical for understanding both addition and subtraction.
  • Use numbers in a practical way around the house. "Susie, bring three forks to the table please," or "Billy, will you give your dad five nails?" This gives children the opportunity to count in a realistic setting and to see, over and over again, that numerals in a problem at school represent real quantities. Use this activity in as many ways as you can.
  • Board games, which involve tossing of dice or spinning that result in a number of moves across a board, are excellent ways to develop sequential math understanding. These game are particularly helpful if there are backward moves as "penalties" in the game. You can even let your child make his own game by using a large sheet of construction paper. Dominoes are a good math activity because, besides being a game, the matching of numbers (in the simple form of the game) is required. Children see the dots, can orally name them, and then can make the correct match.
  • Keeping score on games played at home. There are any number of activities that children can do at home which require tallying. Mom and Dad might play a game, and the child can record points by using the style of clustering four straight (upright) lines with the fifth running diagonally. Then, he can figure the totals by counting by fives.
  • Give your child loads of opportunities to estimate space. This can be a family game if the conditions for involving other children are satisfactory. "How long do you suppose that table is?" Then it can be measured with a ruler or yardstick. The exact number of inches or feet is not critical. The question can be phrased so that the number of lengths is the critical factor. For example, "How many times would this ruler go across that table? You guess and I'll guess. Then we'll measure it." You can practice estimating the distance across a room or up a wall, for example, in handprints, footsteps, paces, et cetera.
  • Measuring wall. Every home should have one wall that is used for keeping track of growth. Measure your child frequently and date each entry directly on the wall. Let him see how much he has grown as you measure him every month or every three months.
  • Counting backwards is a game that children like because it ends with "Blast off!" The skill of backwards counting is one that eventually develops the ability to understand subtracting by ones. It is also a visualization skill. Try starting from just "8" or "16" as practice. Count aloud with your child.
  • Counting and clustering real objects. Use beads or paper clips or buttons or poker chips - anything your child can grasp and that is not too large or too tiny. Let him arrange them into patterns or designs. Try clustering them into groups of two or three. Ask him for a specific number or trade items with him.
  • Concentration. This game can be played in a number of ways. Generally, a specific number of playing cards are placed, face down, on the table. Your child turns a card over, one at a time, attempting to match two cards. The game calls for remembering where specific cards are placed as he systematically searches for pairs. If he does not match a pair, cards are kept face down. Pairs are removed from the table. The game can be played with two people or more.
  • "Fish" can also be played with playing cards. The object is to ask your opponent if he has a card you need to make a pair. Each player starts out with four cards. Players take turns asking their opponent for a matching card. If the opponent does not have the "match," the asking player draws from the card stack. The game however, can be played as a multiplication game. Whatever pair is gotten, the child doubles or triples the face value of the cards.
  • Maintaining a daily calendar teaches, in an almost incidental way, adding by seven and multiplying by seven. Children can make their own calendars, with assistance, and then keep track of the passage of time by crossing out each day after it has passed.
  • There are many ways of using division around the house if opportunities are used when they are available. In fact, creating them helps even more. Let your child assist you in separating things into even clusters. For example, after baking cookies, let your child assist you in solving the problem of how many should go into each plate. As an incidental factor, mention, "That's right, twenty-one cookies and seven plates means each person gets three cookies - because 7 times 3 is 21."
  • Mathematical, sequential reasoning enters into all kinds of daily uses. Determining halves, quarters, thirds, et cetera, when separating things is done daily in many households; for example, "Let's split this apple. You take half and I'll take the other half." Asking children to follow the directions involved in simple cooking activities gives them the opportunity to measure, mix, and follow a sequence to a natural conclusion.
  • Here's a game that is fun and can be regularly played. Write a number over each letter of the alphabet. Let your child use a "master card" so that he can refer to it. That is, 'A' has a '1' over it, 'B' has '2', 'C' has '3', et cetera. Then write a message like "Dad + Jimmy = _________." The problem is solved by changing each letter to a number, adding them, and getting the total. You can also use division by writing "Dad divided by C = _________." (You can use subtraction and multiplication as well.)
  • Counting with another activity is extremely helpful. Teachers call this the "one-to-one correspondence." For example, as a child moves his piece in a board game, have him count aloud each time he moves the piece. Have him count aloud as he takes each step when he walks across the room. Have him clap his hands as he counts or clap for each step as he hops across the yard.

Helping Your Children at Home with Reading

To help your child at home with reading, check with your family doctor, school nurse, or health counselor to make sure he hears and sees correctly. It's important to make sure the primary organs for reading are healthy. If you, the parent, feel pressured and anxious about your child's reading, he'll feel it, too. If learning to read becomes a daily chore and punishment and nothing more than a mechanical activity that involves correctly pronouncing words, you'll quickly turn your child off to reading. Let your child know that you treasure learning - and that you enjoy it. Let him see you with a book or magazine in your hands. You are your child's closest "model." If reading has value for you, it will undoubtedly have value for him, too. Here are some suggestions that parents have found to be of great assistance:

  • Read to your child every day. You know what he likes, his hobbies, his interests. Find books that describe these and use them. Reading to children allows them to develop their imaginations, an important but often overlooked aspect of reading.
  • Read with your child. If he has a reader from school or from the library, sit next to him, and both of you read aloud. Use your finger as a guide, pointing under each word as both of you read it together. About 10 minutes of this a day is adequate.
  • Talk with your child. Ask him about things that happened at school or on a Saturday afternoon. Let him know that words describe and take the place of doing.
  • If you see something interesting in the newspaper, particularly with a photograph, talk about it in such a way that your child might want to look at it and try to read some of the words himself - and perhaps ask, "What's this word?"
  • Comic strips give children an understanding that a series of events are sequentially occurring. For younger children, those from the Sunday papers can be clipped apart so that your child can rearrange them into their correct sequence.
  • Leave messages for your child - simple ones that you think he can figure out. "Went next door. Be right back."
  • Concentration is a game children like - if it doesn't become too challenging. Select words that are confusing for your child. Make flash cards. Start with two or three words. First make sure he can pronounce each one. Then turn them over. Point to one word. Can your child name it before he turns it over? If he gets all three, try four (the same three plus a new one) next time.
  • Many younger children are confused with words and letters because they really don't know left and right on their own body. There are dozens of games that can be made up to develop left and right understanding: twirl your right hand; hop on your left foot; toss the ball with your left hand - now your right; turn to your left, et cetera. Care must be taken with these activities. If you go too fast and expect your child to learn left and right in one day, he'll be frustrated, and, like many children, will depend on which arm he wears his watch.
  • Catalogs, want ads, grocery lists - all provide ways for children to get practice in practical reading. Have them available so your child can use them to find out what things cost, and how to get them.
  • Cooking and building things. Both require following a sequence of directions. Let your child decide on baking cookies or building a birdhouse - and then be available to assist - not do it for him.
  • Games that require the use of rhyming words are an excellent way to develop some of the auditory skills necessary for reading. Play short "word games" in which you see whether you or your child can make a series of rhyming words (sense or nonsense) based on a starting word. (Sticking with one syllable words makes it far less complicated.)
  • A simple game that many primary teachers use is one that can easily be played in the home. To develop a sight-recognition vocabulary, that is, words that occur frequently in many things your child will be reading (or difficult words that confuse him) 3 x 5 index cards. You may have to trim them a bit. Print word to a card. Attach a paper clip to one end. Then use a stick, perhaps two feet long, attach a string, and at the dangling end, tie on a small magnet. Have your child "fish" for words. As he pulls out a word, give him a point for each one he correctly pronounces. (It is best to start with just a few in the "pond" and gradually add more as he acquires competency.)
  • Codes. All children seem to love decoding secret messages. Librarians can direct you to books on simple codes for children, or you and your child can make up your own codes. You can then write secret messages to each other.
  • Learning just one new word a day can be a major task for many youngsters. When words are confusing (such as "went" and "want" or "this" and "that") try making several flash cards of the same word and posting them in several key spots around the house. The refrigerator door, the door to the bathroom, the mirror in the bathroom, for example, all make perfect places for repeated visual exposure - and verbalization of the word.
  • Write short stories with your child about things he has done that are exciting. Perhaps you have a photograph album. Take out some "action" shots and have him make a scrapbook of his very own. Paste a photograph on each page and write, or have him write, a story describing what happened when the photograph was taken.
  • Charts and graphs, placed in easy access, often serve to motivate children who are reluctant readers. A graph showing the number of words recognized, week by week, or pages read, or sounds known can be attractive rewards unto themselves.

Helping Your Children at Home with Spelling

Children who fall behind classmates in spelling, who forget words easily, or who mix up letters when writing, are children who need special considerate attention regularly at home to help them overcome their unique learning problems. Don't try to be a teacher. Be a parent who teaches. Keep the activities short - and fun, and do them regularly, with variety. Forcing an activity or making it over-demanding only serves to intensify the child's negative feelings about it. Here are some suggestions other parents have successfully used to help their children in these areas:

  • Develop auditory and vocal skills. Good spellers are usually good readers and good speakers and vice versa. Using the school or local library helps your child develop some of these skills. Restrict the amount of TV he watches. Your child cannot talk back to a television set. Children need to use the language they will be writing. Give your child the opportunity to talk with you.
  • Experience stories. Let your child write about the things he likes. He can illustrate the stories himself or cut pictures from magazines to illustrate them. Let him write the words without assistance unless he asks for help. Misspelled words can then be used in little games you play with your child. A one-line "story" may be all that he can handle. If so, fine.
  • Write letters. Corresponding with a friend or relative - or a simple statement at the bottom of a letter you write to someone your child knows - offers him opportunities to spell.
  • Trace words. This activity helps many children. Have your child sit next to you (or, if young, sit on your lap). Sit so that you can guide his writing hand. Make sure that only his index and middle fingers are extended, and that his eyes are closed. If your child is using manuscript, use that form. Take his hand and print (or write) the word that is confusing to him.
  • Finger paints are messy, but ever so helpful. Use oil cloth and a large table. Have your child roll up his sleeves and wear an old apron. Let him use both hands to write letter and words. It is a marvelous activity. Just getting the feel of large movements may be sufficient without introducing formal spelling to the activity.
  • All kids love codes, so why not encourage your child to decode messages that you leave for him? Let him make up his own codes for you. You make up one but make sure he has a way to decode it.
  • If your child is working on a class spelling list and can only remember half of the words, speak to his teacher. Teachers are more than delighted to hear how their students respond to homework. Perhaps that list can be reduced so that your child has fewer words and can learn these more efficiently and comfortably.
  • Don't tackle an entire spelling list in one sitting. Take one-third, for example, each evening, to work on with your child. Break the practice into small units. Try fifteen minutes of review when he gets home; fifteen minutes before supper; fifteen minutes after supper. Shorter periods given frequently are more effective than one massive review - which is also exhausting and frustrating.
  • Sometimes words on a spelling list can be "clustered" into similarities. For example, you might try attempting all of the five-letter words one day, all the words beginning with consonants the next day, all the words beginning with blends the next day. This kind of grouping will help your child to perceive similarities and differences in the words, and, hence, develop his recall.
  • Before your child starts to silently study his list for that day, let him pronounce each word. Children must know how to properly pronounce a word before they attempt to spell it. If their pronunciation is not correct, they will indeed spell it as they would pronounce it in their own way. (Also make sure they know what the word means and can use it or understand it when they hear it.)
  • To start studying, a child should look at the word, pronounce it, spell it orally as he looks at it, cover it with his hand, and then attempt to spell it orally as he traces it on your kitchen table, letter by letter.
  • After your child has studied, let's say five words, in the manner described, spell the words to him, in random order, and have him name the word you spelled.
  • Invest in a set of plastic magnetic letters that are available at many discount, toy, and variety stores. Let your child spell the word by successively placing the magnetic letters on the magnetic board. You can show him the word, then remove it. Have him name each letter as he locates it and places it on the board. This is good for developing the correct order for letters within the words.
  • Word lists. These can be made using paper available in the house. Print or write the words being studied. Post one copy of the list on the refrigerator, another on the door to your child's room, and another in the bathroom. Use a different color crayon for each word - or use a different color for parts of each word regularly confusing your child. For example, if he continues to write "come" as "cum," use black for the "c" and "m" but red for the "o" and "e."
  • Put movement into learning words. Have your child clap for each letter or take a step for each letter as he spells the word orally. This will help "lock in" the correct sequence of letters as well as develop full recall for the word.
  • Let your child play teacher. Let him teach you the words he is learning to spell. Spell them orally to him. Let him correct you. Then have him dictate to you and you write them. Have him score your paper. Make a game of it. He'll know you really know how to spell them, so tell him it's a game.
  • Commercial dice with letters rather than numbers. Take turns with your child in tossing them and building words. List the words as they are made. The list can be saved and added to each time you play. That way he can develop a "reference list" to use over and over again to reinforce his recall.
  • Listening skills do help spelling. "What letter does 'chart' end with?" What letter does 'piano' begin with?" Play these games just for a few moments before supper, or after breakfast to develop your child's ability to hear sounds in words.
  • Rhyming words is another game that can build spelling skills. "Can you think of a word that rhymes with 'fill'?" As you child says 'hill', 'Bill', 'till', and so on, write them down. He'll soon notice, himself, that they have identical endings.
  • Remembering. This is a game to develop visual memory. Write one word on a piece of paper. Leave space underneath it. Tell your child to look at it as long as he wants, that is, until he can remember the letters, then have him fold the paper so that he cannot see the word. He is then to try to write the word from memory. Let him check it himself, and if he has misspelled, try again.
  • Practice in spelling can come in a variety of ways. For example, you might ask him to help you make a grocery list by looking at the advertisement for a local supermarket. You could check the items you want to purchase, and you could ask him to make a list to help you out.
  • Find the wrong word. Write a short sentence for your child. Tell him there is one word spelled incorrectly. Ask him to see if he can find it. To begin, make it a rather obviously misspelled word. Leave a letter out or add an extra letter to a word. Ask him to first read the sentence, then to circle the misspelled word. Then make sure you erase it and write it correctly.

Helping Your Children at Home with Handwriting

Children who paint or write in cursive, but who are unable to write legibly and consistently, in spite of repeated admonitions, require special approaches to the solution of their special difficulties. These are youngsters who are unable to properly form their letters, who have difficulty keeping their letters on the line, who may not seem to understand the relative sizes of letters, who either crowd letters within words together, or who space so poorly that it is almost impossible to determine where one word ends and another begins. The net result is that what they have written is often difficult or nearly impossible to decode, even when it is spelled correctly. Here are some suggestions other parents have successfully used to help their children.

  • Our alphabet is based on geometric shapes - the circle, cross, square, and triangle. Get a large chalk board, or make one. Dad can purchase a sheet of Masonite from the local lumber company and then get a can of chalkboard paint from the hardware store. Use at least a four-by-four surface (larger would be even better). Select a wall in your home that is convenient and, after it is dry, tack it up. Let your child practice drawing circles and other geometric forms, nice and large.
  • Finger painting is a messy activity unless you have a large area that won't be too difficult to clean. Oil cloth on an old table or on a concrete or linoleum floor works quite well. Use a plastic apron on yourself and your child. Have him roll the paint around in huge circles so that not only his hands, but his elbows and shoulders are involved. Just playing with shapes on the slippery surface helps tremendously. Making shape-designs is fun and reinforces the development of shape constancy.
  • When children just can't seem to stay "on the line" as they print or write, try using a red felt tip pen to rule across the lines that will be the bottoms of letters. You may also want to use a green felt tip pen just to remind your child when to begin his strokes, since printed letters start basically at the top and go down.
  • Quite often children hold pencils and crayons in an awkward manner and grasp. To develop the strength in the hands and fingers for proper grasp, let your child do activities that require holding or hanging. Make good use of your school play yard. Let him hang by his hands from the jungle gym to develop strength in the shoulder girdle as well as his hands. Squeezing objects, such as little rubber balls, or playing with wooden clothespins help to develop finger coordination and strength.
  • One of the prerequisites for handwriting is the ability of the eyes to work in close cooperation with the hands. This means that the eyes themselves must be able to move smoothly and must be able to follow moving targets. General motor coordination (balancing, hopping, running, skipping, et cetera) is necessary for laying the groundwork for smooth, fine muscle control. Play, for example, flashlight tag with your child. This requires two flashlights and a dark room. You be "It" and see if your child can, with this flashlight, "tag" your light.
  • Play tracing games. Have your child sit next to you with his eyes closed. Take his writing hand, index and middle fingers pointing and the other fingers flexed and trace a shape or letter on a large surface. See if he can guess what shape or letter you traced.
  • If you're prepared to be squirted, and it's a warm day, and your back yard has a sunny wall, try this one. Get a squirt gun and let your child "write" letters with water on the wall. The sun will dry the letters reasonably fast. This allows your child to use space and estimate, on a large surface, just how he will execute the proper formation of the letter.
  • Observe the way your child sits when he writes. As a check, try this yourself. Sit at a table so that your elbows comfortably rest on the surface. Then fold your hands in front of you, flat on the desk so that your body and folded hands form a triangle. If you are right-handed, the paper would go directly under that folded arm. If you are left-handed, the paper would go directly under that folded arm. Notice that when you hold the pencil, after this experiment, that the writing hand touches the surface of the paper directly along the line of the little finger and wrist. If you are right-handed, your back and head will be slightly curved to the left. (Vice-versa for the left-hander.) If your child is doing anything other than this, it means that he is not ready for the activity, or it is too demanding for him. It may also suggest that he has visual difficulties in the way he uses his eyes. (This does not necessarily mean that he has poor vision.)
  • If a child continues to reverse letters, even as his handwriting improves, give him opportunities to identify left and right on his own body. Play game requiring use of just the left hand or the right hand or the left foot or the right foot. Play "blindman's bluff" in which you must direct him across a room by giving him turns to make. Have him direct you when it's your turn.
  • If you notice that your child continually holds his pencil right at the tip, it can suggest that too much pressure is required for holding it properly. Try using a rubber band, twisted several times, and place it just above the shaved area. This will provide a tactile reminder on where to hold it.
  • "Rhythmic writing" is a term applied to large handwriting at a chalkboard. On the chalkboard you've made for home use, have your child stand so that he is facing the center of the board. Then, if he is right-handed, have him start a series of "e" letters, all connected, and all moving from left-to-right. As he moves from left-to-right with his writing hand, he should keep his feet firmly planted in one spot and move his arms as far as he can. Then he can practice with "y" letters, and then combine "e" and "y" across the board.
  • Encourage your child to use what he learns. Go on a sign-making spree. Let him write (and decorate) signs that say, for example, "This is Jimmy's room. Enter at your own risk," et cetera. He can help you prepare a shopping list or birthday list. You'll undoubtedly have dozens of ways your child can use his developing skill in a practical way.
  • Play games with plastic letters that can be purchased at most local variety and school supply houses. These come in two forms - both manuscript - upper (capitals) case and lower (small letters) case. In order to print a letter a child must be able to visualize the shape of the letter. Let your child take one of the plastic letters and feel it with his eyes closed. Can he recognize and name it? Can he draw it even if he is unable to name it? Let him describe it as he is feeling the surface and the sides. On confusing letters such as "h" and "n," which many children have difficulty with, let him feel them, one at a time, and help him feel the difference between the two.
  • When a child develops proper formation of letters, particularly in cursive, but does not maintain a constant slant, try this. Even though it takes a little time, it is worth it. With a ruler, pencil-in diagonal lines, very lightly, across the paper. These diagonal lines should be carefully done so that they provide "guidelines" for your child. As he writes, he has a visual set of "clues" to use to make sure his letters all slant the same way.

Helping Your Children at Home with Vocabulary

Parents are the first "language models" for children. The language children use is modeled, or based, on what they hear from their parents. Parents need to create an environment that enriches what a child hears. The words he hears, he will use - with encouragement.

  • To start, take a look for a moment at the words you use - and how you use them. Children who repeatedly hear, "I seen it" will imitate that language. And the probability is great that if they speak that way, they will write that way.
  • Encourage family discussions. Turn off the TV and talk. One of the best places is the dinner table. That's one of the few times an entire family is together. In a sense, it's a "captive" audience. Set up some ground rules, such as "No eat and run," and "Everyone will have something to talk about" during and after supper. It's a kind of "hear and tell" time. What to talk about? Things going on in the neighborhood, what happened at school, events that are coming up, family plans, family discussions, et cetera. But, remember, the conversation should be pleasant and relaxing. This is NOT the time to bring up sins of omission or commission.
  • Post Lists. If your child has started formal spelling at school, post the list on the refrigerator door. Use those words with your child as discussions arise. Encourage him to use them in his responses.
  • Make a recording of words if you have a recording device, . Say the word, define it, and use it in a sentence. (Select words that he will find interesting.) Better yet, have the child do the recording. If he's studying for a spelling test, he can also spell it on the recording.
  • "Word of the Week" is a family game-like activity. Each person selects a word, taking turns each week. For example, the first week it might be Mother who writes a word on a card and puts it on the refrigerator door. That word must be used as much as possible by everyone that week. The next week it's Dad's turn, and then the children's turn, and so on until it is Mother's turn again. As the words are used, they are posted on a cabinet door to stimulate continued usage.
  • "Ten Questions" is a game that promotes several learning skills, chief of which is reasoning with words. One family member thinks of something which the other players must guess with no more than ten questions. The first question always is, "Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?" This covers virtually every possible thing the child could think of. Then, question by question, the field is narrowed to likely possibilities. After the first question, the following questions must be asked so that they can be answered by "yes" or "no." For some youngsters, "Ten Questions" might be too demanding, so make it "Twenty Questions." One of the values of the extension is that additional reasoning and logic can be expressed. Stretch the game as much as possible. You can show, for example, the process of moving from broad-based questions to more discrete ones. In this way, your child will learn to ask questions such as, "Is it located in the Northern Hemisphere?" "Is it in the Western Hemisphere?" "Is it in the United States?" "Is it land based?" and so on. This becomes an exercise not only in vocabulary development but also in geography.
  • Play games with homonyms - words that sound alike but are spelled differently and mean something different, as in "sun" and "son." For example, on the versatile refrigerator door, post "rain - rein" or "reign - rain" or "pray - prey" or "flower - flour." Ask family members to add to the list. You'll be surprised at how many homonyms they will discover.
  • The "penny game" is another way of encouraging vocabulary development, even if your child is having difficulty with reading. You might use a comic book, the comic strips or sports pages in your local newspaper, or a magazine article. To play the game, the child must know that some words start with a consonant followed by a vowel - for example, "say, look, go, pay," et cetera - and that other words begin with two consonants (called a blend) such as "grow, plate, tray, brush," et cetera. (Note: Some words do start with two or three consonants but are not true blends because one letter is silent, as in "white, gnat, pneumonia," et cetera.) Tell the child you'll give him a penny for every word he underlines that starts with a blend.
  • Teams. A follow-up to the "penny game" is to list the words in "teams," such as "fog/frog, bake/brake, pay/play, say/stay," et cetera.
  • A guessing game can be fun. "I'm thinking of a word that starts with "br" that is something you use to paint a house." (Brush) "I'm thinking of a word that starts with "tr" that is something we do to the bushes when they get too large." (Trim)
  • "Revolving blend" is another family game in which someone gives a common blend - for example, "tr" - and, in sequence around the table or room, everyone must think of a word that begins with that blend - "train, truck, truffle, try, tray, trumpet, truce," et cetera. When the list is exhausted, the last person begins another blend, such as "st" - "stay, start, stick, stuck, star," et cetera.
  • Word origins of facts about words can be fascinating family fare. For example, the word "salary" had its origin in "salarium," which is Latin for salt. Roman soldiers received their pay in salt. Ask your librarian to help you find books that will provide other interesting examples of the origin of common words.
  • Suffixes are clues to word meanings. For example, "er" or "or" at the end of a word suggests "one who." Example: conductor - one who conducts; trainer - one who trains, et cetera. Each week a new suffix can be selected to create words.
  • The "Take a Walk" game is an activity that brings family members together in an enjoyable, relaxing way. It takes at least two people. A walk is taken around the neighborhood or perhaps around a local shopping area. On one trip the thrust may be, "Let's name everything we see that begins with the letter B." On another walk, it might be naming everything that begins with the letter G. Or everything that is the color purple. You might add an element of fun by saying, "We'll get one point for every word we name. Let's see how many points we can get." (Involves arithmetic as well as vocabulary.)
  • A rhyming game is always fun, particularly for young children, because they can say any "word," nonsense or sense. Start with things the child knows, such as parts of his body, and say, "I'm thinking of something on your face that rhymes with (sounds like) rose." From this point, once your child gets the idea, you can play it just by saying words, such as "what's a word that rhymes with car?" (jar, bar, star, far, et cetera) "How about a word that rhymes with junk?" (bunk, skunk, trunk - but even runk, lunk, zunk as nonsense words). Not only does this quick little game build vocabulary, but it also teaches the child some fine tuning for the sounds of words.

Helping Your Children at Home with Geography

There are certain kinds of information that youngsters need in order to function adequately as competent members of society. One of these areas is geography. But where to begin? Start early with a basic investment of at least four maps that can be hung in your child's room: a map of the world, the USA, your own state, and one of your local region. Check with your local library if you have any difficulty locating the maps you need.

  • Basic facts about the local area should be taught. Your child should know adjoining or nearby cities and that they are "to the east of" or "north of" his city of residence. With the massive highway connections in this country, youngsters can "fix" some locations by their proximity to major thoroughfares.
  • Watch the news. Virtually a day doesn't pass that some event of consequence isn't reported from some place on the globe. These countries and cities can be marked with little flags.
  • Plot family locations. With many families separated because of jobs and other factors, a map can be used to show San Francisco where Aunt Susan lives, or Tallahassee where Uncle Jim lives, or Washington, DC, where Grandma lives, or Boston where cousin Ed works. An effort should be made to give the child a sense of key spots which can serve as "anchors" - for example, "Connecticut? That's the state next to Massachusetts where cousin Ed works."
  • Hang a map. Next to the bathroom, the kitchen is the most commonly used room in the house. Don't overlook placing a large map on one wall. As news of consequence about problems in specific parts of the world - turmoil, earthquakes, floods, monsoons, famine, oil - arise, their locations can be flagged for everyone's benefit.
  • Atlas. Every home should have an Atlas of fairly recent date - one that, like a dictionary, isn't stored on a shelf collecting dust but is used for frequent reference. An atlas makes a noteworthy birthday or holiday gift. In addition to the locations of countries and cities, a tremendous amount of other important information is given - products, resources, populations, languages spoken, and so on.
  • Solve problems with maps. If your child really gets turned on to maps, introduce the concept of "scale." Every map has a scale that shows how many inches equals a mile. The smaller the map, the more miles will be squeezed into an inch. Get out a ruler when figuring distance and ask your child to determine the approximate number of miles from one place to another. This activity can take on added meaning if the family is planning a trip, and the number of miles involved is very important.
  • Make good use of your local area map. What are spots of interest to your child - places he knows or likes to go, such as the football field, the city hall, the city park, the zoo, the sports arena, the civic center? Mark these with "flags" to relate them to "Flag #1" (your home).
  • Start early in the day. If time permits (and often it doesn't in busy households in the morning as families prepare for school and work) the morning news shows on the major television stations show a considerable number of news, political and weather drawings and maps. Just from repetition alone, a certain amount of geographical information will "stick" - aside from the other valuable and timely information.
  • There are puzzles of maps of the United States and the world that add yet another dimension to becoming familiar with our country and world. These range from very simple to complex and should be selected based on the child's current range of knowledge - too easy would be insulting; too difficult would be frustrating. If a puzzle of a map at the proper level cannot be found, it is possible to make one at home by mounting a map on a stiff piece of cardboard and cutting it into puzzle pieces. (This is something a brother or sister might make to give the child as an inexpensive birthday or holiday gift.) In some commercial maps of the United States and the world, the pieces are formed by the actual shape of the state or country. This is an excellent way for the child to learn the size and shape of his own state and country and how they relate in size to other states and other countries.
  • Don't Just Memorize. Just memorizing states and their capitals doesn't teach geography. Such information has to be linked into other facts - facts that have special meaning for the child. For example, knowing and locating the home cities of the major football and baseball teams or places of general interest, such as Philadelphia (home of the Liberty Bell), Boston (the Boston Tea Party), New York (Statue of Liberty), Hollywood (where motion pictures are made), et cetera.
  • Family Trips. Before taking a family outing or trip, lay out the route on a map. "Let's take U.S. Highway 101 south from San Francisco to San Jose. Then we'll take Highway 17 to Santa Cruz and be at the beach." Let your child be the "map keeper" with the responsibility of watching road signs as the trip is made.
  • Visit the State Capitol. One thing all youngsters should do, either as a government class project or with the family, is to visit their own state capitol and arrange to visit legislative sessions - and to contact in advance their local state representatives. This is one sure way that they will learn and remember the name of their state capitol and its location relative to other cities. But a trip to the state capitol should involve a bit of advance study. Along the way, whether it is by car, train, or bus - or even airplane - certain key spots (rivers, historical locations, cities) will have to be passed. Knowing these in advance will "lock in" additional geographical information.
  • On a family outing, keep a record of mileage and time so that your child understands the distance involved. If you are taking a trip that might involve more than an hour, record the starting and ending mileage.
  • Visit the Chamber of Commerce. A great source of geographical information that is bright, colorful, and well-designed is any local Chamber of Commerce. A phone call or letter requesting printed materials will unfailingly bring a response. Another source is your local travel agency whose representatives will be glad to share their information brochures. Almost every major airline has a fine magazine tucked into the pocket in front of the seat. These publications are a treasure of geographical information, including maps that show air routes. If a family member or a friend is scheduled to make an air trip, ask that person to bring back one of these magazines.
  • Automobile clubs are another valuable resource. If you or a family member or a friend is a member, check out their ample supply of maps, both local and otherwise. Such clubs will also provide "strip maps" with routes plotted which are models of clarity and will interest and fascinate the child.
  • Help them understand locations. While knowledge of the locations of various places around the globe is almost second nature to most adults it can occasionally be perplexing and confusing to children. Stimulating talk about the news and why, for example, an early frost in Brazil will raise the price of coffee, or how difficulties in the Middle East can affect the price of oil, or why a strike in the automobile industry in Michigan may affect the cost of cars will, little by little, help youngsters get a better grasp and sense of geography.