Developing literacy and numeracy in young children begins at home. One of the best ways to make learning these skills fun is to use the concept of puzzles. Most parents have sounded out a three letter word – ‘C..a..t. what does that spell?’, and that’s a very basic form of puzzle game. Once children have the basics of numbers and letters there are lots of puzzles out there to help develop understanding and advance skills.
Building the basics of literacy isn’t just about knowing the alphabet and being able to form the associated letter shapes. There is much more, from comprehension to sentence formation via punctuation, but no young child wants to think they are working hard on these skills. What they want is to play, and word puzzles are a brilliant way to do this.
It is always worth talking to educators, especially a child’s dedicated teacher. They will be able to explain how a child is being taught within a school environment and this will enable a parent or carer to match what and how they teach at home with the methods of the classroom.
Whatever puzzle is chosen it is vital to tailor the words to the child’s ability. There is nothing more frustrating for a young child than continuous failure, being faced with a puzzle which means little or nothing to them. Have a good grasp of a child’s abilities before presenting them with a puzzle to solve.
Hangman is a good first word puzzle. Not only is there the element of excitement in trying to save the man (and be sure to add lots of extras such as clothes, eyes, fingers, to extend the game if a child is struggling and would be upset by the ‘hanging’ concept), but the words can be adjusted up or down the difficulty scale to suit any child.
Name that… This is another easy, adjustable game. Choose a selection of objects – in the house this could be food or toys, outside it could be cars, buses or people – and begin to describe them to the child (It’s curved, yellow and eaten by monkeys). Once they guess correctly encourage them to work out what the letters are which spell the word.
Where’s the word? Gather a selection of letters. These could be wooden blocks, magnetic fridge letters, Scrabble blocks or simply letters written on pieces of paper. Make sure there are at least two of each letter. Choose a selection of age appropriate words, then pick one to use. Hiding the choices from the child, pick out the letters to spell the word and add about five to ten more letters at random. Spread the letters out on a surface, announce the word to the child and ask them ‘Where’s the Word?’ The child can then attempt to pick the correct letters to spell the chosen word.
Like literacy, it isn’t just about being able to recite and recognise a set amount of numbers. The world of numeracy is immense and complex, but getting a child to have fun with numbers at an early age can break down some of the fear which seems to be so easily engendered when it comes to being numerate.
Again, talk to the child’s educator and make sure the home adults know how and what is being taught to the child. This will prevent the all too common cry of ‘But that’s not how I was taught to do it!’. Probably true but times and teaching methods move on; parents and carers need to be in the loop.
Understanding what numbers represent is one of the most fundamental and important matters when it comes to numeracy. It’s all very well to know that 3 says three but that is of no practical use if the child doesn’t also understand that three objects gathered together are also 3.
Cooking – Working out the ingredients for a recipe is an excellent way to get children to understand the idea of meaning in numbers. Choose a recipe which is presented clearly and simply. Lots of kid-friendly recipes can be found at the BBC website, aimed at kids making the food with adult supervision. Help the child to read the ingredients and then select the right amount. For example – A recipe calls for 3 tomatoes. Set out one pile of two and one of three tomatoes. Read from the recipe and get the child to select the correct amount of tomatoes. This can be adapted to suit virtually every ingredient.
Dot-to-dot. These puzzle games have been around for years and can easily be adapted to include numeracy skills. Begin with simple images, such as a circle or a square and have the dots numbered in order. Once the child has grasped this concept, use the same shapes but mix up the number positions. Again, increase the difficulty as the child grasps new concepts. Choose harder shapes and images and combine those with far more random numbering.
Match Me. Another easy game, suitable for all ages, but wonderfully quick to pick up for young children. Using number blocks, magnetic numbers or paper numbers, gather at least two of each number. 1 – 10 is fine to start with. Cut several lengths of string or wool in a variety of colours. Arrange a selection of numbers on a flat surface. How many pairs of numbers the game includes is down to the child’s ability and can be adjusted over time, as skills develop. Give the child a piece of string and ask them to match a pair of numbers, taking the piece of string from one to the other. A variation is for the strings to eventually form images, patterns or shapes as correct pairs are matched.
There are multiple online sites for finding numeracy and literacy games, but children learn especially well if they are ‘hands on’ and playing these puzzle games in the home will definitely reinforce numbers and letters whilst containing an element of fun they don’t necessarily associate with learning.