English is the official language of government, and it’s the language of international business. Helping your children get ahead in English learning will maximize their opportunities later in life, there’s no doubt about that.
Yet, most Singaporean parents don’t have the time, or may not know how, to help their children learn languages at home.
Your child already spends a lot of their time in learning: at school and with English tutors. But how about adding some fun to their English learning at home?
Think about the kind of activities you already do with your child: either ones that you do together or ones you encourage your child to do.
As parents, you may already do a lot, but here are some extra ideas that include simple things you can do around the home to help your child expand their knowledge of English.
Remember that children can learn in different ways, so it helps to provide them with different types of learning aids:
Put up maps and pictures: children love colorful visual materials, so any kind of pictures that include English are useful, including world maps, picture alphabet charts, and pictures that relate to words or vocabulary they are learning, such as pictures of animals (with the English words for them underneath).
• Encourage children to draw and use drawings: select words, numbers or even letters from your child’s course book and get your child to draw representations of them.
• Let them do coloring: there are lots of coloring worksheets that you can find on the internet, print, and get your child to complete. They are well designed and attractive, and children love them. Use http://www.english-4kids.com/coloringsheets.html, or put ‘esl coloring worksheets’ into a search engine to have a look for your own. Put up English words around the house: change these regularly to reflect the vocabulary your child is learning.
• Label items in English: a lot of their vocabulary, such as household items and furniture, relates to things that are in your home. Writing English-language labels for these will help to familiarize your children with a substantial body of vocabulary.
• Books and more books: they don’t have to be educational books; even comics and picture books with small amounts of text are good learning tools.
•TV and movies: Cable or satellite subscribers can find English-language kids’ programming, or you could download, stream, or buy English-language cartoons, programs and movies. TV companies are an excellent resource for English-language learning (the UK’s BBC has its own site for young people, http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/, which has clips, games, and even storytime and playtime apps for smartphones and iPads). Well-known US children’s programs such as Sesame Street (http://www.sesamestreet.org/) teach American kids phonics in much the same way that the subject is delivered in primary classes and by Singapore tutors, and they are a lot of fun to watch. Another good site is http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en/, which has exercises, games, stories, and cartoons related to English learning.
• Play English story CDs/MP3s. Some of these can be streamed or downloaded too. Be careful to get the very easiest ones as audio material does not have any visual aspect to keep kids entertained. The websites mentioned above include a lot of listening materials, too.
• Play English music. Young learners love music. Play them some of the fun music on http://busybeavers.com/jukebox/, which has dedicated ESL songs, or find your own versions of well-known songs and nursery rhymes. There are literally hundreds of sites with nursery rhymes and songs, including http://nurseryrhymes4u.com/, and http://www.mothergooseclub.com/.
•Encourage your children to practice the language. This can be done in conjunction with other learning aids. For example, you could encourage your child to speak the name of things around your house which you have labeled, whenever they go near or walk past those things. You can also learn songs and rhymes together and practice them, for example, on car journeys. Another good way of accessing spoken English is through the internet with websites such as http://www.forvo.com/languages/en/, which can help with difficult pronunciations by sounding out words that you can input yourself. The great thing about Forvo is that it is not a computer-generated voice, but real voices of real people saying real language.
• Cooking from recipes: always good for following instructions.
• Role play: kids love to act out and play roles. You can encourage this by getting them to act out some of the stories they come across in English language stories they know. • Board games: Simple board games can be an enjoyable way to learn English, though they may be hard to find in the shops. ‘What’s Gnu?’ for example, is a good way to get your children learning short 3-letter words. Using a Scrabble set for play can also be fun.
• Whiteboard play: Get a mini-whiteboard and some board pens and let your child loose on it. They can practice letter formation, phonics, and even drawing to improve their motor skills.
• Exercise: Learn the vocabulary to do with sports and exercise together, and then use it.
• Gaming: A lot of computer games can be set to use English. If your child plays computer games, encourage them to do so using the English language rather than their native tongue.
Summary: general notes
1. Keep it simple: doing things which are too complicated can turn your child off learning.
2. Be consistent: learning takes time, so do little and often, and don’t expect immediate results.
3. Consider learning styles: make a note of what seems to really get your child excited. For some, it’s listening, for others, watching and looking at visual things, and for some it’s doing active play. Then you can tailor your shared activities to your child’s favorite way of learning.
4. What targets have been set in your child’s school report? Pay attention to them and try to do things that relate to them.
5. Be sensitive you’re your child’s needs. Sometimes your child may actually want to practice particular things. Don’t say ‘no’ to this, encourage it.
6. Use emotional rewards (praise and encouragement) rather than material rewards such as stickers and ice cream.
• Do online tablet activities with your child at home
• Ask children to share with you what they learned in class
• Make picture dictionaries
• Use your child’s school or tutor’s resources: visit the school library
• Listen to English songs and watch cartoons in English with your child
• Attend public activities that will help your child gain confidence
• Review your English tutor’s course materials regularly (daily if possible)
• Online Apps are a great way to learn, but don’t be too reliant on them, as they don’t encourage communication
• Use websites such as Starfall.com, britishcouncil.org, agendaweb.org, literactive.com. Many are free. See below for a full list
• TV programs can help kids learn things such as phonics (Alphablocks, Leapfrog, Sesame Street, CBeebies) which can be accessed quite easily via Youtube and other video streaming sites
This is not a complete list, but will offer some good places to start.
And of course, don’t forget all the tips on Singapore tutors we provide at https://smiletutor.sg.