We are excited to have Claire Bagnall, blogger at Mum's Essentials, talk about some quick yet effective ways to boost your child's learning on those busy school days.

Many of us find the prospect of supporting our child's learning at home a daunting one, and none of us more so than when anticipating the possibility of a forthcoming full or partial school/nursery closure.  It, therefore, seemed the ideal time to come up with some quick learning activities you can squeeze into your busy schedule. My aim is to convince you that a five minute quick burst of activity can be just as effective, if not more so, as the more traditional and more labour intensive perception you may have about what supporting your child's learning should look like.

In a previous post, Learning at the Supermarket, I shared how valuable a learning opportunity like this can be, where a day to day mundane activity that forms an essential part of your to-do list can double up as an opportunity for your child.  In this post, I share how we can build activities into your working week, kicking off with the school/nursery run.

Learning on the school run

Learning numbers in the car

These days, I am fortunate enough to live virtually next door to my children's school, but for a number of years, I undertook a daily two hour round trip between home and work, dropping the children off at nursery on the way.  Initially, I struggled with Mummy guilt about how much time the children were spending in the car when they should be playing or spending quality time with me.

I realised that the miserable hours spent on the M5 provided the perfect opportunity to give my children a head start in their learning of number.

Like most cars, ours has a digital clock.  Initially, we didn't link this to time – just a digital display of numbers.  I asked the children to say which numbers they could see (e.g. 12:14 they would just say 1, 2, 1, and 4).  One they were confident with recognising numbers 1-10, we built on this to include recognition of two-digit numbers (12 and 14).  Then, we used the clock to practice finding one more, e.g. 'The second number on the clock is 14.  What is one more than 14?  Let's see if you're right...wow!  It has changed to 15 – you were right!'  

Building vocabulary on the go

The learning in the car was not limited to maths, and the constantly changing scenery as we continued our journey provided the perfect opportunity to build vocabulary.  We would talk about what we saw in amongst the roadworks, 'Look!  A digger!  An enormous, bright green digger!' and 'The little boy in that pushchair is crying, oh dear.  How do you think he's feeling?  I think he's feeling sad/anxious/frightened'.  Later, we built on this to draw out inference, i.e. encouraging the children to try to work out why something might be from the clues they are given, 'I wonder why he's crying?  Ah ha!  I can see a toy on the floor by his pushchair.  Do you think he is crying because he has dropped his toy and can't reach it?'  This important skill can be applied to reading too, and in this context, road signs can prove useful, e.g. 'DANGER'. Why might the sign say danger?  Can you see anything dangerous nearby? Have a try at using some of these the next time you are on the school run and let me know how you get on.

Learning after school

Exploring with the after school snack

Once you've arrived home from the school run, if your child is anything like mine, priority one is a snack! 

Choosing a snack can be a great opportunity to cover food groups and the extent to which they are healthy for us. They can also group similar things together or create categories. 

I will offer my children a selection of snacks in a box when they arrive home from school, and they can choose whatever they fancy.  However, my younger child does need to tell me whether she thinks it is healthy or best only had as a treat while I might ask my older child what food group he thinks the items belong too.  Younger children can have practice grouping the snacks by colour and size. Then, we can seize the opportunity to build vocabulary, 'Mmm – that orange looks juicy.  I can hear you eating your apple – it sounds crunchy!   I bet it tastes delicious'. 

If your child has a particular favourite fruit, why not ask them to draw it whilst you get on with making the dinner?  They could then have a go at labelling it with the words you used to describe it. 

It doesn't matter if your child is in the early stages of writing and simply has a go at writing the initial sounds in the words, or is feeling more confident and uses their knowledge of sounds to write the whole word.  For example, if your child chose to draw an apple, they might entitle their drawing, 'apul' (apple), and describe it as 'joosy' (juicy).  Since these spellings are phonetically plausible, praise your child for linking the sounds they hear in the words to the graphemes they have recorded on the page, which is a skill in itself. Laying the foundation for early writing and can be built without the need for you to be sitting with them and correcting their spellings.  

Revising during bath time

Another brilliant opportunity for multi-tasking is bath time.  We all need to supervise our children whilst they bathe, but why not let that supervision time double up as an opportunity for learning too? 

I find flashcards, such as those included with The Bear Can Read subscription boxes, are excellent for this purpose as they are bright and in large print. 

Whilst my children are in the bath, I will test them to see how many sounds or words they can recognise.  It only takes a minute and, since it is being done at a time when you needed to supervise them anyway, it takes no additional time out of your busy evening.  

I hope you find some of these ideas helpful in incorporating learning activities into your day, no matter how pushed for time you are!

October 15, 2020 — Camilla