Friday, June 02, 2017

Primary Prep - nurturing English language literacy & recommended resources

Semester 1 has come to an end, and I guess EV’s first foray into formal education has, well, been so far so good. She seems to have gotten into the primary school routine with little problems, and we’re glad we’ve always encouraged her to be independent since young. Taking the school bus since she was in pre-nursery was a good decision, as it has become a habit she is used to and enjoys. 

She even seems to have gotten used to the longer hours rather quickly. Granted, she takes her lunch later than what I’d prefer, and I have to wake up at 5am every morning to make sure she gets a proper nutritious lunch box. Overall though, she has adapted way better than I expected. 

Academically, she looks like she’s enjoying it and handling all the school work in her stead too. There was some help from me at the beginning - getting her in the routine of studying for her weekly English and Chinese spelling, and making sure that she does her school homework as soon as she gets it on that day. Now, I think she is already aware of her daily and weekly responsibilities when it comes to her studies. Next step, to get her used to the more heavily weighted assessments. Sure, at this level, there is less emphasis on tests, and, as her principal so loudly declared, all primary one students will definitely be promoted to primary two. However, being parents, we do want to see that she is handling even such timed assessments well, so it’s inevitable that we do get a little nervous. More than that, we would like to get her used to these weighted assessments, so that she doesn’t get a shock to her system later on.

Thinking back, I think one reason why adapting to the first year of primary school life has been rather smooth sailing for EV is because of the foundation she’s had since her pre-school years. While some may argue against starting so young, I think that it was precisely because we started preparing her early, that she was able to ease into formal education more easily.

In that area, DaddySay and I made sure that she had adequate support in terms of home learning.

Home Learning
I call it ‘home learning’ not ‘home schooling’ because my kids are not being home schooled. To me, that means having an education completely away from the official school environment, and in the comfort of one’s home. My kids attend school. In line with our belief that parents and teachers are partners, I focus on supporting and enhancing what they learn in school. 

Since pre-school, support and guidance is given to ensure that EV finishes her assigned homework from school. I also created supplementary materials to extend her learning, or use creative ways to help her learn better. For example, I used manipulatives like wooden pegs and bottle caps to create activities to help her learn her words or numbers. (Read more about how I use Daiso items to create home learning materials here.) I’ve also created worksheets focusing on certain vowels or word families with a variety of exercises like poem reading and writing and letter scramble. Sometimes, as she is learning new words, or when she uses the word incorrectly during our conversations, I would correct her and explain the grammar rules to her, such as present and past tense. I also created a DIY Narrative package to teach the skills and language for writing a simple story. 

Activities were pegged at EV’s level, but designed to stretch her that little bit more each time. We also had discussions during our nightly reading sessions, when I asked questions to gauge her understanding and comprehension, and discussed the elements of the story such as characters and settings. It was great bonding and many times, I had new, unexpected insights from EV about the stories we read. Till today, she constantly reminds me that though she is but 7 years old, she is a girl with her own mind, with many interesting perspectives.

Reading rather fluently at K1 may seem late for some parents, or others may think that it is way too advanced, but I like to focus on EV’s individual capability and progress. She surprised me once when she picked up a chapter book about fairies and started reading on her own, and since then, she couldn’t put a book down. Though she can read on her own now, sometimes she still loves to have me read to her. I’m fine with both. I’m just really happy to see her reading independently and enjoying the wonder that reading brings. I give her space to read books that she likes. I also try to introduce different books to her, including abridged versions of classics like Little Women and Wizard of Oz, and I’m glad to note that she enjoys these titles. I think it’s important to continue to nurture her interest to read various types of books, such as non-fiction, and discovering the world at large. 

Still, our home learning journey would not have been successful without some useful materials. Here, I’d like to share what we used at home to guide EV on her journey to primary school. 

Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar
A key resource we use is the Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar range of books. This was how EV learnt her phonics, which then lead her to be an independent reader. After that, we used the Grammar Handbooks to introduce to her rules of the English language, while reinforcing what she had learnt in phonics. One main reason why we have this is because her kindergarten used this, so we thought understanding this phonics and grammar system would help us tremendously in supporting EV’s learning at home.

Kumon Series 
I personally like how these books are scaffolded for different levels, from age 3 onwards. EV started off with the books ‘My First Book of Uppercase Letters’ and ‘My First Book of Lowercase Letters’, and gradually moved on from there to ‘My Book of Simple Sentences’ and ‘My Book of Sentences’. The difficult level increases with each book. What makes it fun are the colourful graphics and engaging layout. Exercises instil a familiarity so that kids can learn and remember.

After those basic workbooks, EV moved on to the Reading and Writing Workbooks. These support what we were doing with the Jolly system, and developed her reading and writing skills even further, while introducing more grammar and vocabulary to help her in her sentence structure and expression.

EV also likes practising her penmanship using these Kumon books. 

DIY Materials
We do quite a lot of DIY materials to help with the kids’ learning. The idea is to make it fun and interesting, so that they know what they learn can be applied to other areas. For example, in one of the worksheets I made below, I used the poem from ‘Fox in Socks’ to help EV revise some of the blends she learnt. At the same time, she is made aware of various recurring sounds such as ’th’ and ‘ee’.

Using the tongue twisters ‘Peter Piper’ and ‘She sells seashells’, I introduced alliteration to her - the use of the same sounds repeatedly at the beginning of a word, and she was also to see that language can be expressed in a fun way. She is also introduced to comprehension - comprehension of a poem rather than a passage. 

Simple narrative writing was also introduced. I began by highlighting to her that all stories have a beginning, middle and end, and that everything around us, our experiences, can be turned into a narrative. Then using the ‘think, draw, write, read’ strategy, I asked her to reflect on something that she’d like to write a story about, draw it out, and then write it out. She decided on two things - something that she liked, and a happy experience with her best friends. Here is what she drew before she went on to write about these two topics. I think being able to visualise what she would like to write about is an important skill so that she can more accurately and vividly describe her experiences.

As parents, we believe that we and EV’s are partners in her learning and development. Hence, the reason why we invest so much into supporting her at home. With AA now in K1, we are similarly holding the same belief and taking the same approach. I am using similar materials, with some adaptations to suit his learning style. I certainly hope that when his turn comes, he will enjoy primary school as well.

If you have a child heading to Primary One next year, I hope this list of resources will helpful. 

If you have any other tips on what to prepare for Primary One, do share!

Do check out our earlier Primary Prep Series, and do stay tuned for more.


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