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Originally published in The Dyslexic Reader,
Issue 5 Copyright (c)Spring 1996 -year DDAI.

Getting Ready for School

Head Start Activities for the Home

For every child – potentially dyslexic or not –
getting ready for reading should begin at home.

By Sharon Pfeiffer

Preparing a child for first grade involves much more than just pencil and paper. There are many things you can do with your child every day that are not only fun, but will help make the transition to school easy.

How to Read to Your Child

Att design: insert photo into text here Before learning to read, every child should be read to. This shows how interesting books can be, and provides the best incentive to learn. I suggest that you choose a good quality book with attractive illustrations.

The children’s librarian at your local library will have plenty of suggestions, in addition to those listed here.

Sitting with your child, you have an opportunity to model how a book is held and how the pages are turned. To show how books are composed, read each page – the title page and part of the copyright page with the year the book was made. Also read the dedication page.

Before reading a page with a picture, show it to the child and ask questions like, “What do you see in the picture?” “What do you think the story is about?” Don’t belabor talking about the pictures, but understand that they are an essential part of the reading process because the show what the words mean. The pictures are there to give young readers clues to the story and vocabulary words used.

At the end of the story, ask some detailed questions based on the classic newspaper reporter’s formula for writing a story: Who? What? Where? Why? And How? Some examples: “What color was the girl’s dress?” “Where did the boy and girl go?” Also ask open-ended questions such as, “Why do you think the boy and girl wanted to go to the farm?”

This is wonderful opportunity to help advance your child’s oral skills, which are developed before reading skills. Encourage your child to use complete sentences. Be patient so the child has plenty of time to formulate ideas. Be prepared to read and reread the stories. Most children love to hear them over and over again. If they start filling in the words as you go, congratulations. You’re helping them develop memory skills with effort.

Use Nursery Rhymes to Build Listening Skills

I like Mother Goose rhymes for three reasons: First, they pass on the tradition of our culture. Secondly they allow the child to hear the rhythms of our language. Thirdly, Mother Good rhymes are highly adaptive to dramatization. Try reading the rhyme while the child acts it out.

We can encourage a child’s auditory skills by teaching the child some traditional songs such as, You Are My Sunshine, Skip to My Lou, She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain and I’ve Been Working On the Railroad. Like Mother Goose rhymes, these old songs are fun, and pass on our tradition and our culture. Teaching them will help your child feel part if the group later on at school. Children are always excited at school when they hear songs and stories that they learned at home.

Teach the Alphabet and Numerals

Another helpful activity is letter recognition. Choose a letter, place a example where the child can see it, and have the child model it in clay. Help your child roll a rope and shape it into the letter. Do this with both upper and lower case letters, and ask the child, “What’s different?” Talk about the name of the letter. Next, find examples of the letter in magazines, newspapers or junk mail. Have your child circle the letter or cut it out. The cut out letters can be pasted onto a chart or in a scrap book.

Another helpful activity is rolling clay into ropes, then making the numerals, 0-9.Be sure the child has a model from which to copy. Make groups of clay balls to represent each number. If the child is ready to count, you could have them count forward as well as backward. While looking at the clay numerals, you can also ask such questions as, “What number comes between 3 and 5?” Or point to a numeral at random and ask the child to name it.

Help Your Child Use Words to Describe Relationships

Learning spatial terns can be very helpful for a young child. Use play to teach these terms. Place a small box and a small object on a table. Ask the child to place the object on top of the box. Next, ask the child to give you a sentence telling where the object is place, i.e., “The ___ is on top of the box.” Do the same with other words such as under, in, above, below, behind, front, over, around, out, beside, etc.

Help Your Child Learn to Sort

Children are natural collectors. Using this interest can help them learn early math skills. Collections can include rocks, leaves, pits from fruit, screws or just about anything. These collections allow the child a change to look for patterns as they sort and group their “finds” into different categories. Children can even help around the house if they do these activities with silverware, money r canned food. As you shop for groceries, point out how foods are grouped in the market and see if they can arrange them in a similar fashion at home.

Don’t Forget Art

A young child needs varied experience in the arts. Art helps the child develop self-confidence and hand / eye coordination. There are endless activities such as cut and past projects, drawing, painting, clay, collage, stitchery and potato prints.

Prepare Your Child for Friendship

Another area that can benefit a beginning student is the area of social skills. Playing board games and card games can help the child learn: how to take turns, to share, and how to win and lose as a good sport. I recommend that the parent play with the child first so the adult can model good social skills. Some board games and card games children like are: Candyland, Junior Monopoly, Old Maid, Go Fish and simple puzzles. These can be fun for the whole family, while helping the child prepare to interact with other children.

The Playground Is Important, Too

All children need to become comfortable in their bodies. They cam accomplish this through art projects for the small motor skills. So when you take your child to the park, remember that you’re giving the child a change to develop these large motor skills. They can run, jump, climb, skip, and hop. You can also add ball skills and jump rope skills. These will give the child a head start in P.E. class as well as recess.

Help Your Child Learn from Observing Nature

Another experience a child needs is the chance to observe nature. Most children have a natural curiosity that deserves encouragement. Activities can be as simple as helping the child plant and care for seeds, or observing ants, birds and snails in the backyard. Help the child discover the differences in seasons by observing trees, noticing the weather, checking where the moon is at night, or calling attention to the length of shadows during the day. They’ll ask some questions that will challenge our knowledge, but you can always find the answers at the library.

Show Your Child That Learning is Fun

Preparing a child for school can be fun and rewarding. It is important to create a positive, enjoyable experience for the child in activities that will become part of school life.

I’m sure you can come up with plenty more on your own. I believe strongly in a balance education that develops not only the mind but also the body and the spirit. Helping develop a child’s social skills helps the child feel at home in our society.

Just remember to ask questions and listen to your child. Let them be the guide. Never push a child to do any activity for which the child is not ready. When children are ready they will be interested, and they will learn effortlessly.

The new DDAI Symbol Mastery kit, designed by Sharon Pfeiffer, is now available. In addition to a manual and videotape instructions, the kit contains clay, a children’s dictionary, grammar book, an alphabet strip and cards, punctuation and styles booklet, and pronunciation cards.

Recommended Books for Reading Aloud

• Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
• Time for Bed by M. Fox
• Tomie de Paola’s Mother Goose by Tomie de Paola
• Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
• When the Wind Stops by Charlotte Zolotow
• Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.
• Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw

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