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What worked: Creative learning tips for preschool through first grade

GreatSchools parents share their stories about the unique, sometimes unexpected ways they boost their children's learning.

By GreatSchools Staff

There’s a time and place for expert opinion, but sometimes the best practical wisdom springs straight from real life. GreatSchools is proud to introduce “What Worked,” a new series featuring tips and tales tapped directly from the source: fellow moms and dads. From facing down mean girls (and boys) to helping with homework horrors, GreatSchools members recount their child-rearing adventures in the hopes that what worked for them just might work for you. At the very least, we hope these short takes will inspire you to try new, creative tactics tailored to your child’s needs.

For our first edition, we asked parents to share ideas for boosting kids’ learning. One family celebrates a new letter each week, while another uses “time-outs” to teach times tables. Read on for more tricks for your early learner.

Live by the letter

To help me come up with fun learning activities for my kids and also help my preschooler learn her alphabet, our family celebrates a letter (or two) each week:

  • Meals and snacks begin with the designated letter: for example, A for applesauce, C for cucumber, and E for eggs.
  • Crafts begin with the letter, whether it’s bubble painting or cutting from catalogs to make a collage.
  • We check out library books with titles or characters' names that start with the letter.
  • We enjoy music by artists whose names start with the letter, or songs with titles that match the letter.
  • We take side trips to local spots beginning with the letter.
  • I plan activities for my older sons too, such as coming up with a new ending to a favorite story for E week or solving the math equations inside hidden Easter eggs to earn a piece of Extra gum.
  • My toddler practices writing and identifying the letter, and my older sons get a kick out of coming up with ideas each week.

Yes, the less common letters do pose a challenge — what a great way to give [my] brain a workout too! — by crab12

Make spelling musical

An easy way [to teach my children to spell their names] was having them sing their name to the tune of the “ABC” song. Once they were able to spell their names with the song, we would sit down and write it out. It worked for my kids and others who used my advice. — by shaydon903

Practice disciplined learning

Did a teacher in school ever make you write "I will not talk in class” 200 times? When my daughter had to learn her multiplication tables, we worked and worked on them. I knew I had to find a way for her to really learn and retain them. One day she did something that needed disciplining, and I had her sit down and write her multiplication tables several times each. I used this as a discipline action from then on until she had fully retained them. To this day she credits that discipline to her learning and retaining them — and this summer she is using the same tactic on her 8-year-old son. — by KalebsDa


Comments from readers

"Another tip would be making use of your kitchen wall or any part of the house you would want it by posting specific lessons and turning it into a one classroom corner for math,reading,language art and even science. Get her him or her involved in completing that corners. We started a program for our daughter at age 2 by teaching her 'a letter of the day', 'number of the day', 'shape of the day', extend the program if she cant get it for one day. Seeing printed matterials everyday at the your wall would make them remember all things that you taught them.Present printed materials in bright,happy,colorful and eye catching illustrations. I did all these things with our daughter and she started reading at age three.Now she's 6 and reading chapter books. "
"Here's what I did to get my son to ready to read: I already had been reading to him from infancy every night (and when he wasn't in school, several times a day). He loved books and stories, but he just couldn't seem to get the decoding down. He's anxious and the whole thing intimidated him. So I broke it down into bite sized pieces for him: First, I taught him the phonetic sound of each vowel by having reciting this with him over and over: 'I goes IN; U goes UP; A has a HAT; O is HOT; E stays in BED.' Then I took the Cranium game, Cariboo and revised it. Cariboo has a big plastic box with 12 or so litle doors that can be opened with a key that comes with it. You open the door to find a ball and then put the ball in a little side compartment. When the compartment gets full a treasure chest opens to reveal a gemstone. I put a large vowel on each door. inside compartment under the door, I put some cool little toys. I made the vowels sound and he pointed to the vowe! l. If he got it right, I let him open the door and take out the toy. It worked! He loved this game and he learned is short vowel sounds. Later, I taught him that when the vowel is in front of an E, it 'says it's name.' Hope this helps! "