Crib Notes: Play games to give kids a head start in school

By From page A5 | April 09, 2014

When my oldest child turned 1, a friend gave him alphabet magnets for his birthday. We placed them on the refrigerator and he’d reach for them, so we moved them lower, showing him first how magnets work. Soon they ended up on the kitchen floor and seeing the 26 letters brought the ordering of them and the alphabet song to mind. I’d sing the ABCs and point to each letter as it was said.

Without really meaning to, just by playing simple games like this, our little baby knew his ABCs before he could talk. Family would visit and marvel that at 18 months our son could easily identify any one of the 26 letters of the alphabet, whether it was upside down, right-side-up or sideways.  No matter what, his pudgy little hand pointed to the right letter time and again when asked.

Today that same son is in middle school and has always done well academically and his younger siblings have too. Did we buy fancy curriculum or pound facts into them like drill sergeants? No. I firmly believe the everyday games and skills I’ve worked on with all four of my children, starting with those alphabet letters, are why they all were more than prepared for kindergarten but, more importantly, why they are all lovers of learning today.

More than ever parents need that extra boost to help their kids prepare for school. I have never spent money on outside tutors or on expensive curriculum. Public school budgets continue to be slashed, which has meant larger class sizes and less individual attention for my children. Yet, with core building blocks worked on at home all children, not just mine, can do better in school.

Here are some of the best games I’ve found to be great teaching tools:

Card games like Go Fish, Uno and Kings in the Corner help kids with sorting and early critical thinking. Schools often ask kids rote memorization questions, but critical thinking is the muscle that when flexed causes big learning.

Invest in a magnetic erase board like the Magna Doodle, which is great for so many games. Starting about 18 months you can play one of baby’s first games with it I call day/night. You or baby black out the whole screen and say “Night.” With one swipe, erase and say “Daytime!” Kids even that little will chuckle; it’s so cute. Soon thereafter kids understand light and dark and can use this learning to do things like sort laundry. We have the daytime (lights) pile and the nighttime (darks) pile to this day.

Another great game on a magnetic erase board is Hangman. Very young children can play hangman with two- and three-letter words. Older children can play for longer words and phrases. Turn the table and let your child make up the word. When they’re young, they may misspell the word, just remind them, “But there has to be a vowel!” That’s only five letters to remember to bridge words. It’s great early reading practice.

Dice games like Yahtzee and Bunco help with early math.

Play Pictionary by writing simple three-letter words like “pig”or  “lip” for 3-year-olds to read and then draw on paper or the erase board.  For older kids write out more complicated words and phrases.

Play board games like Sorry with kids 4 and older. With the four pieces having to make it around the board before someone wins, it helps them learn to problem solve as well as with early reading practice.  The Sorry cards are straight forward such as, “Move forward three places.”  Kids see the number and then start to recognize words like “forward.”

Say patterns out loud like A, B, A, B. See if your child knows A to be next in the pattern.  You may also do with numbers. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, _.  As they get older try, banana, apple, orange, banana, apple, ___?  My daughter begs to play this game whenever we’re in the car.

Ditch the technology and try one of these games with your child the next time you have free time together. You’ll both enjoy the time and they’ll also give your child a boost later in school.

Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills mother with four children. COntact her at [email protected].

Julie Samrick


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