Friday 21 November 2014

Comprehension strategies

I'm working on comprehension with Sonshine. As I was doing so, I soon realised comprehension work ain't as straight forward as I thought. It requires a lot of strategies and skills that need to be taught to the children. I'm not talking about those literal comprehension questions but those that need inferring and seeking out clues throughout the passage. 

I always assumed as long as one can read-everything else will fall into place. How wrong was I. It's not always true, well not for my son at least. 

There are lots of tips on the internet on how to teach comprehension (I had to google as I had no clue). Just search for key words like 'how to teach comprehension' or 'comprehension strategies'. Not everything that is out there was relevant to me. I tweaked and added my own strategies as I worked with Sonshine. I'm going to share it here. But do note, I am by no means an expert. I am just a mother figuring her way to help her son.

1) Underline corresponding words

The passages are long for 7/8 year olds to remember every detail of the passage & they may not know where to look for the answers. Sometimes, the questions can help locate where the answers are. For instance 'Why was the donkey hurt?' I have Sonshine underline 'donkey hurt' and make him look for these corresponding words in the passage. Once he found these words, he is to read the surrounding sentences to get the answers. Many a times such questions are straight forward 'The donkey fell into the river and got hurt.' Sometimes the child is required to read the entire paragraph to find the answers. 

2) Identify literal versus inferring questions 

I taught Sonshine these two types of the questions. Literal questions are easy because you can literally copy the answers from the passage. I showed him inferring questions meant that he has to look for clues in the passage. 

To illustrate, I gave him the sentence 'Tommy went home and took medicine.' I asked him how did Tommy feel? Sonshine rightly pointed out it's because Tommy took medicine. I showed Sonshine that the sentence didn't say 'Tommy is sick' but we know he is because he 'took medicine'. I taught him this because sometimes I catch him scouring up and down the passage looking for the corresponding words from the questions in vain. He needed to be taught that literal questions meant that he had to find clues instead of the corresponding words.

This strategy seem to help Sonshine unlock the mystery of comprehension! After I showed him what inferring questions are, he suddenly tackled comprehension like a pro!

3) Identify the cause and effect

These are usually the 'why' questions. I noticed Sonshine assumed that the 'effect' sentences are always after the 'cause'. For instance 'Mary is going to the beach' (cause). 'She is happy' (effect). But sometimes it's the other way around. 'Mary is happy' (effect). 'She is going to the beach' (cause). In comprehension passages, it's not always so straight forward. The cause and effect statements are not always one after the other. Sonshine usually gets drown by all the words an details in the passages. So i had to teach him to identify which is the cause and effect. 

4) Try to decode a new word

It's probable that the student will stumble upon a word he never seen. I try to teach Sonshine to always first ask himself if that word is a noun (is it a person, place or thing?), verb or an adjective. From there, look around the passage to look for clues that tell you more about the word. 

5) Demonstrate reading skills

I learnt that a reader can be a good reader or a poor reader. I always thought the latter meant that the child cannot decode the words. But that's not right. A poor reader is one who reads without properly understanding the story. Sonshine isn't a detail person. He gets the gist of the story but overlooks all the nitty gritty details. Fortunately, I still have the habit of reading aloud to him. As I read to him, I demonstrate how he should be reading 

a) Read again
When I come across sentences that I think he doesn't understand. I show him that he can always stop and go back and read again. This time read slowly and look for clues to understand better or check if he had miss something out earlier. 

b) Ask questions aloud
Sometimes a sentence doesn't make any sense. I usually stop and ask aloud 'something is strange here! What is it?' Together, Sonshine & I will identify what is so strange about it and why. 

c) Identify with the character.
At some point, I would stop and ask Sonshine how he would feel if he's the character or reminded him that he had a similar experience before. Being able to identify with the character is important because sometimes in comprehension, the students are required to use their own personal knowledge and experiences to answer a question. It also helps them in making predictions. That's why I want Sonshine to pick up the habit of putting himself in the character's shoes. This would help him to enjoy the story and better understand the passage.
6) Build vocabulary
Looking back, I realised I never work on English with Sonshine, very rarely. I was focused alot more on Math and Chinese. I always assumed that since we speak English at home & he reads, he would be a natural in the subject. Wrong. I know a lot of parents claim that reading is enough to build a strong foundation in English. I beg to differ. Reading helps, yes, but it is only ONE of the ways to improve English. Some kids are a naturalist in the subject so reading books alone will help them. But some kids are just not very good in the language. Some kids would read but not notice things like spelling, grammar, vocabulary & especially punctuations- they read purely for the storyline. Sonshine is one of them. The only thing he picks up during his read is spelling, everything else, he overlooks. For kids like him, they need a structured, consientious lesson to teach them- ON TOP of their leisure reading.
I also thought by reading his vocabulary would improve. Well yes and no. He did pick up words but Sonshine tends to 'escape' when he sees words he doesn't know. He would not attempt to know the meaning of the word, not even make a wild guess. Only this year, I learnt that I had to consciously make him learn new words everyday- no matter how simple the word is. Why is vocabulary so important? The comprehension passages will get harder and use 'bigger' words as they progess up each level. If they don't have sufficient words in their vocabulary bank, they will have difficulty in understanding the passage. Morover, Singapore comprehension has the habit of asking 'What does XX mean?' or 'What is another word for XX?'. If the student has limited vocabulary, he will literally be throwing 2 marks away for his English paper.

Wow, this primary school education is a whole new era to me! Lots of 'work' to be done ahead! *Sweat*

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Guided reading

These days I am more focused on teaching Doll to read. No Math, no activities just reading.
I decided that I needed some sort of a system instead of going by where the wind blows me. So I made my way to my local bookstore (Popular) & bought a guided reader for Doll.

I chose Scholastic science readers.

There are several mini books like these in the set.

I love this series because the sentences are more or less repetitive. There are new words on each page but mostly repetitive throughout the book.
I am using these books to give me some sort of a structure to teach Doll. What I do is, I'd first read a book to her and then teach her the new words.
I'd prepare word cards that are found in the particular book we are focusing on.
Like always, I do matching activity with her or get her sort the words as I read each word to her. As I've mentioned earlier, matching words helps Doll learn more effectively.
After she can recognise the new words, I'd return to the book and make her read word by word. It is easy to look at the picture and guess the words. That's why, I'd usually cover the pictures & point to each word as she reads aloud.

I am satisfied that Doll has learn to read quite a substantial number of words. Since I have (long) purchased (but never use) a box of word cards, I decided to to use them for Doll to practise her reading.  I took out the words she had learnt and randomly form a sentence or phrase. She would then read aloud to me.

I love these cards, so many possibilities!
Also, I am exposing her to writing her letters and practising her pincer grasp. I've downloaded a couple of free apps & she's been doing this almost daily. Sometimes, we can 'cheat' a little and let technology be their teacher hee hee hee!

Friday 31 October 2014

Sonshine's school year

I had no idea that this primary school journey would be this challenging emotionally, mentally and physically. This first year in our primary school journey wasn't quite what I had expected and it certainly taught me loads. 

One of the things I learnt is that school grades isn't an indication of how intelligent a child is. It also depends on how conscientious the child is, whether he's the careful or careless sort, is he too complacent, does he have performance anxiety etc. If an intelligent child is lazy, unmotivated & complacent, he may still do well but probably not as well as those who may not be as intelligent but are a lot more diligent. This is what is I'm witnessing. Sonshine is clearly ahead of his peers (I say this factually) but he's careless & tends to rush through his work so he always makes one mistake that cost him the full marks. While other kids who struggles to learn at home, ultimately gets ahead of him because they are more conscientious & careful with their work. 

I also discovered a bit of myself & Sonshine this year. I realised I'm morphing into a true blue tiger mom. That tiger mom silently crept into me & slowly but deceptively took over me with each passing term. It has become quite bad & it's taking a toll on Sonshine. I'm quite glad that it's nearing the end of the year. I can take a break to rethink & reflect what I want & expect from Sonshine. Do I want to be a mom who bring out the best in him AT ALL COST or do I slide back and let the winds take him? This is indeed a very difficult journey.

The other thing I noticed is Sonshine's strange habit. When I tell this to other moms they think I'm being ridiculous or maybe they think I'm just being sore that Sonshine is not getting the full marks & hence making up excuses for him. But I can't help but notice for most of his tests, he makes ONE mistake. Not two, not three but one mistake. The odd thing is, those mistakes aren't something he doesn't know nor is it very difficult. On the contrary, harder questions he gets it right but the easy ones, he gives illogical answers. Term after term, he loses a mark for most papers. It almost feels like he sabotage himself. 

Before you jeer at me, let me take you back when he was a toddler. Even at that young age, he gives the people impression that he doesn't know he's stuff. I remember a teacher asked him questions that he knows very very well but he always give the impression to the teacher that he doesn't know either by giving a blank look or simply ignoring. Those times, if I step him and demanded him to answer the teacher, he would immediately sprout out the answers without a glitch. This continued in his preschool years. He seemed to fly under the radar as best as he can. Again when teachers or friends ask him something that he knows very (and I really mean very) well, he'd instinctively answer 'I don't know'. Then, I would brush it off and tell myself he's a kid and he will come out his shell when he's older. Now at primary school, he seems to be doing it again. This time on his school papers. Term after term, I look at his papers & I get baffled at how he CONSISTENTLY makes one, only one mistake on his papers. 

I can't say he's consciously doing this. But it does seems like it's a habit he has since he was a mere child. Moreover, even as a young child, he hates being at the center of attention & will do everything to avoid attention. Once He cried, no I mean bawled, when he won a race & everyone cheered for him. That's also why he refused for us to throw any birthday party for him. This year on his birthday, I lied to him that all the people at an indoor playground were there to celebrate his birthday! He freaked out, kept saying 'I don't want I don't want' and didn't want to enter into the premise. Until I told him I was teasing him, he relaxed and entered into the premise with ease.

So I don't know. If one just look at this year, one can easily say I'm just being a sore parent. But if you look at his past 7 years collectively, there's an apparent pattern & one can't help but wonder what's going on? And is it possible for someone who self sabotage like that? It may appear that I am after that full marks but more than that, I worry that he's passing out on all the opportunities. As a parent it is extremely frustrating to see children with lesser ability surpassing him while he's being sidelined.

As one can see this is quite an emotionally charged year for us. Lots of bewilderment and lots of questions to investigate. To make it more 'colorful' we have one of the worse teacher I ever known. :( I really do need to take a step back and consider what happened this year and how should we move forward. But hey, parenting is a learning journey right? 

Wednesday 8 October 2014

DIY Montessori Pink box (Tweak)

I love Montessori Pink box activity! But I always find collecting the small objects & finding a place to store them a HUGE hassle. It is also not easy to find the objects individually as most of the time, you are required to buy them in a set amongst other things. It just makes no sense especially when I find no use for the other items in the set. Finding a (large) box is one thing and storing that box is another!
I know there are mothers who set up the box and sell them in a set. Still, I find it too costly to purchase particularly if its something that I can easily duplicate myself.
So, I put off this activity for a long time. Until, I had a light bulb moment! And here, I present to own version, a very tweaked version of Montessori Pink Objects.

Here's my set up. I have longed set up my own movable alphabet box using the cut out letters from our Melissa and Doug set.

Instead of the small objects, I placed the above puzzles (within the same word family) in the pink box. First, to set the play, Doll build these puzzles.
After she is done with the puzzles, I have her play on our Leapfrog word builder. She had to match the letters from the puzzle to the word builder. It would sound each letter out and read out the word for her. I have her repeat after it.

After she figured out each word, I gave her my word labels and have her match to the puzzles. I am pleasantly surprised that she immediately recognise these words. Looks like it's working!

This is something I intend to do with her later. Here, I want to help her differentiate similar sounding words like 'fox' and 'box'. She will use the cut out letters and identify the beginning sounds of each word.

Lastly, again using the Melissa & Doug cut out letters, I will have her spell each word. I hope that by this way, it will also help her see the difference between similar words like 'box'.
This will probably be my focus for the next few weeks. I find that Doll is in the sensitive period now in picking up new words and I plan to size this opportunity!

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Pre Handwriting activities

I observed that Doll is ready to hold a pencil and do some tracing. Thanks to the brother, she has been inspired to pick up a pencil and just doodle away. At first, I left it as it is until I told myself I better cease this sensitive period before it passes me by.

Most of the time, I just give a pencil, paper and simply let her doodle away! I want her to be comfortable in holding a pencil and experience the thrill of seeing how she can draw something just by holding a pencil.
A Montessori activity, tracing Metal insets, except that mine is the cheap cousin of Metal insets- its wooden inset & smaller than the authentic ones. But it works just as well! According to Montessori, this is a prelude to writing; the child is to trace the inside shape of the inset.  (No she didn't trace the ones on the right of the drawing, it was done by yours truly)
If you don't own one but want to do this, you can always find those stencil rulers that come in differing shapes like circle, triangles and of different sizes too. Those work just as well and its CHEAPER! :D
I have also started her on writing her letters. Just to interest her and to get a feel of the letters shape, I printed out the Dot-a-dot printable from Confessions of a homeschooler.
If you don't have the dot a dot markers, don't fret. I also used these printable and have Doll traced over them. What I did was to number the circles for her to trace over. The numbering on the circles help her to write her letters in the correct direction.
Alternatively, you can also write out the letters using highlighter and have the child trace over it. It works as well and at no cost! :)


I splurged on the Leapfrog Mr Pencil. It's not costly, but I find it's an unnecessary buy. Still, it did help Doll to learn her letterings. I have been letting her trace the letters and from here she learnt how to write the letters 'E', 'I', 'F' etc. 
I say its an unnecessary buy because I think there are many free apps out there for the kids to learn how to write the letters albeit without a pen. I find the Leapfrog pencil a little annoying because one needs to place the pencil in a certain position in order for the censor to pick it up. It can be frustrating & disruptive for the child when the app does not sense pencil motion.
I say don't buy because there are many cheaper and equally, if not more, effective than this pencil.
Another typical Montessori activity.
I let Doll trace the letters on sand. Instead of fingering, I gave her a brush to 'write' the letters or draw shapes because I find it rather messy if she use her fingers to trace.
That sums up my handwriting activities for my 3 year old!

Random stuff

I have been relaxing for weeks now but as usual I try to do things with Doll whenever I can. Such random times, I love to rely on everyday things or materials I've prepared eons ago. :P
Sensory play with Ikea beads (those type you can form a shape and then iron them on to make them into a coaster)
I was never into sensory boxes although I know of them like 6 years ago! But out of lack of ideas and energy, I decided to whip out one for Doll. I was happy that it entertained her for a long period of time, I was not happy that she insisted I played along with her (I wanted to just fade into the background while she entertains herself).

These heart buttons were made when Sonshine was a toddler. I took it out for Doll to practise her buttoning/unbuttoning skills. Actually, it was more to entertain her than anything. She is already buttoning and unbuttoning her pyjamas!

Another material I had stashed in my cupboard! This was printed (sorry forgot the site) long ago for the then toddler Sonshine. It is a simple activity of arranging the pictures from the smallest to the biggest.

AH! I had wanted to brush up her chinese, she's way under exposed. So I made these cards and have her match her toy food to the cards.
True to my style, I made her match cards. She took a super long time to remember the words and I blame it on the lack of exposure. I don't speak in mandarin to her nor read a lot of mandarin books hence, its a no wonder that she had difficulty remembering the words! But with constant and persistent practise, she finally can read these words! PHEW! As a follow up, I read to her a simple chinese reader that covers most of these words.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Ice cream Vocab

Recently, I discovered that Sonshine's vocabulary is rather limited. The other day, I was shocked to my bones when he told me he didn't know what 'capture' and 'relatives' means. *Slap head*
It sent me on a panic mode, to say the least.
So, I came up with a quick activity with him, hopefully we can do this on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. My goal is to build up his vocab quickly and in the shortest time possible.
The fortunate thing is he's got a fantastic memory; he is able to lock down a concept or word fairly quickly and retain it for good. That's why I came up with an activity to expose a number of words at one go because I am quite certain the words will stick deep into his head. For Sonshine, the activities/lessons cannot be too long winded. It has to go straight to the point (no introduction, no fanfare) & the lesson must be conducted clearly & accurately & speedily. So for this vocab activity, this is the best 'to the point' way I can think of...but for him I think it was alittle too long winded for him :P.
Anyway, I made these ice cream cut outs. On each of the cones, I wrote a word. Each cone has 3 scoops of ice cream and on each of them there is a word with similar meanings to one of the 'cone words'.
First, I jumbled them up and whilst trying to explain the game to Sonshine, he was already busy connecting the cones. I had to stop him and slow him down.
I let him joined the words he knows and for words that he didn't, I will make a sentence with that word and have him infer what it means and then join that word to the correct cone. For instance, I may say ' I ADMIRE her painting'  and he had to decide which of the 4 words closely describes 'Admire'.
I refused to spoon feed him with the answers and I want to make him use his God given brains! I think this helped to make the game more interesting for him too.

'Hey mom! Ice cream cones!'
After the first round, I mess up the words again. And this time, as he joined each word, he now had to make a sentence using that word to me. I do this to make sure he truly understands the meaning of the word and knows how to use them.
I hope to do this as often as possible!

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Beading for her mama

It all started when I bought this cheap DIY necklace box from Daiso for $2!
I saw that this was a good opportunity for Doll to work on her pincer grasp. However, she couldn't connect the stars together at first. It works like a paper clip; to connect one only needs to join each star through the small disconnected loops on each star. IF you can understand all that...anyway!
I did a necklace for her nevertheless & she fell straight in love with it. She wore the necklace for the entire day. But I wasn't comfortable with it because the stars have rather pricky edges. So I bought her a gorgeous beaded necklace & of course she ADORES it (I have a girly girl here)!
I pretended to sob and grumble that I don't have any necklace & no one got me one. She immediately comforted me and assured me that she would make one for me! AWWWWW
Doll knew I bought another beading jewellery from Daiso and bug me day after day to let her do it. (She REALLY wanted to use this to make a necklace for me) AWWWW
I finally let her do it and oh boy, did she work it!
As I watched her string bead after bead, I saw how a simple (and cheap) activity unknowingly taught her (and me) many lessons.

Obviously, she learnt how to use her pincer grasp. As she strung each bead, she became more and more efficient and skillful. Also, I let her decide which is her master hand ie which hand to hold the string and which the bead. From here, I could tell she will be a right hander.
The other thing that left me in awe was how patient and persevering she was. She set herself to finish the beads and didn't want to stop until I had to interrupt it as we had to pick Sonshine up. I love her working attitude- I hope it will translate into her school work next time! :P
Later, she tried her hands on the stars again and to my delight, she did it! She made herself a full bracelet with the remaining stars. I am so proud of this girl!

Our final masterpieces! The bead necklace was mostly done by Doll and she actually presented it to me! How sweet!
This beading activity is absolutely cheap and satisfies the 3 Ps:
2) (hones) PATIENCE

Orange Juice anyone?

I am planning to start Doll on writing which explains why I am focusing more on Practical life activities as well as working on her pincer grasp. 
Plus, practical life activities are the easiest to prepare! Yesterday Doll made her own orange juice.
It started one day we chanced upon an orange juice maker vending machine! My hub was so y fascinated by the novelty that he splurge $4.50 on it without battling an eyelid.
It was intriguing watching how the machine selected the oranges, sliced them, squeezed them, collected the juice into a cup and served the fresh drink to us. Doll slurp up every last bit of the juice, she said it was "very very very nice"!
So grabbing the chance when that experience is fresh in her mind, I made Doll squeeze her own and at the same time exercise her hand muscles (for writing in future).
My invitation tray to play! Well, an invitation was quite unnecessary actually!

Squeeze, squeeze *grit teeth* *growl*
She had quite a hard time squeezing, she didn't have the strength. Still, she did not give up and could not keep her hands off the orange!

Good thing we had an HUGE orange that day because we extracted quite alot of juice!
Doll poured the juice into her cup (yes, another hidden practical life activity & chance for her to practise pouring- this time with a purpose!) and generously shared with me!
It was absolutely yummy!

Sunday 17 August 2014

Practically practical.

This past week, I have been focusing on practical life activities. Oh okay, I have been too lazy to plan Doll's home activities, so I decided to whip out our everyday things for her to dabble.
Learning to pour.
To make it a tad challenging, I deliberately chose a small jug for her to pour water into. I made sure she positioned her hands correctly when holding & pouring the filler. Obviously, it was no sweat for her.

 I notice young kids do not have the discernment to know when to stop pouring. They will continue to pour as long as there's still water in the filler which of course means, the jugs will end up overflowing with water.
So I gave her two jugs and filled the filler with water just enough for the two jugs. I wanted her to make proper judgement when to stop filling the jug i.e I reminded her she should stop when the water level in the jug reached to a certain level.

The other no-brainer practical life activity is to work on Playdough! I gave her a rolling pin, scissors and a slicer and let her work away! As she played, she was unknowingly exercising her pincer grasp and fine motor skills. WOOT!

Remember this counting card? I decided to use it again!

This time together with a handful of marbles, number cards & tongs. I have her count & determine the number of symbols on each card. When she has the answer, she had to transfer a marble with a tong onto the correct number card. My 2 in 1 activity- learn counting cum practical life activity!
So you see, one does not really need to have an elaborate plan nor deep pockets when home teaching a pre-schooler!

Monday 28 July 2014

Food Chain

Since I had my animals out, I decided to make full use of it & conduct a simple activity with Sonshine.
It's all about animal's food chain!

I wrote down the definitions of 'Carnivores', 'Herbivores' and 'Omnivores'. We briefly discussed which animals belong to which group.
I showed him what is a food chain.

We also explored other food chains.
This lesson took us a grand total of 5 minutes. Now that Sonshine is older, he is hardly willing to sit down and have an activity with me (he has so many other hobbies competing time with me, sob). That's why I planned this in a bite size so that he can understand in a short time. Yay. Accomplished!

Monday 21 July 2014

Simply Animals

I took out a tub of our animal toys and conducted some simple activities with Doll.
I made a place mat depicting the sea, land and sky.
We randomly picked out some animal toys and sorted them according to where they can be found i.e. sea, land or sky.   

I printed out some animal prints and Doll matched the animal toys to the cards.

We sorted some animals according to the number of legs they had.

As always, making her read is my priority. This week she is learning sight words 'i' and 'am'. I made sure all the cards repeated these two sight words so that it gets drilled into her head. She read aloud the cards and matched it to respective animal toys.

I've been neglecting the mandarin bit. Just a little phrase for her to retain words that she has learnt. Also, to help her make sense the words that she learnt.

Another way of AB patterning. Instead of pictures, this time I used words. She had to read and find the corresponding colored animal.

Monday 14 July 2014

What a (little) girl wants and needs!

 Lately, Doll has been pretending to be a waitress taking my orders and serving me my meals and collecting my money. I felt sorry that she had to make do with the little space available (due to HER clutter) on our coffee table for her 'cooking'. Hence, I put together a little play area at, where else, my kitchen.
First, I gathered some of her cooking toys and displayed them in a basket (which I bought from Daiso for this very purpose).

A bakery basket

I had an empty shelf so I displayed the baskets of food on the shelf- inspired by the ones we saw at Kids Stop, Science Center. A poor version of it but is an invitation to play! Besides the bakery and carbo baskets, we also have a basket of fruits & vegetables and a tray of an assorted cakes. :P

Next to that black shelf is MY kitchen shelf. Just for her, I cleared one tier for her. I placed her cultery, rice cooker, water flask and what-nots.

And what use is a kitchen without a cooking stove? I shifted this from her usual play space into our kitchen.

To complete my mini project, I painstakingly snapped photos of each and every item displayed on the shelf and created a menu. I forsee that I can use this to teach her to read and the concept of money!
Next, I really should set up a cashier counter for her! Man, I envy her! I wish I had an play area like that when I was at her age!