Your child’s all set for school, and you’ve got a handle on it, too, but here’ something else you can do: get up close and personal with your daily newspaper—and share it. Besides being a resource that can change how your child thinks about the world, it can help hone her English, reading, writing, math, geography skills, and more. Potentially boundless, this is one-stop, cross-curricular shopping at its best. For now, though, we’ll stick with language arts.
First stop: sharpening reading skills. Start by having your child identify the who, what, where, why, and how of an article—very often found in the initial sentences—or come up with them after studying a photograph. Bias plays a role in even the most fact-laden pieces, so tell her to hunt down and differentiate between found facts and opinions. Move on to having her predict the story line from a “decapitated” headline and then read to verify it. For sequencing practice, cut an article into paragraphs, so she can put it back in its correct order, or ask her to summarize a story in correct sequence. Meanwhile, let her study a photograph for thirty seconds and then list as many details as she can recall. And, when it comes to skimming, remind her to follow her index finger as it courses down the center of an article, her eyes sweeping the lines, picking up the gist of the piece and important vocabulary. Or you might have her skim for specific items, such as names of well-known politicians, sports figures, entertainers, etc.
Next up: English—so often misunderstood and misused. Some kids don’t even appreciate the necessity of punctuation. If that’s the case in your house, take a short article, type it without any punctuation marks whatsoever. No commas periods, colons, semi-colons, apostrophes, whatever. One reading should convince your child that all those squiggles are essential road signs for readers. His job: figuring out how to make it right again and then compare it with the original. If parts of speech are worrisome, use the sports pages for hunting down strong action verbs. Looking for adjectives? Try the ads. And enlist the comics for ferreting out all sorts of parts of speech, such as proper and common nouns, adverbs, etc. Consider a scavenger hunt, too. Possible items include a contraction, three unfamiliar words to be looked up later, a compound word, a possessive pronoun, and so on.
And then there’s the matter of writing, the bane of many a student–perhaps your child, too. Turn her on to composing by having her highlight and record particularly appealing words and phrases from an article. She then chooses from among them, adds a word here and there, and creates a “found poem.” Results can be amazing. Or have her take an article with a good story line and develop it into a short story. With some polishing, it may be publishable in such magazines as Merlyn’s Pen, New Moon Magazine, Stone Soup: The Magazine by Children, or Young Voices. Nothing beats getting your name in print! Meanwhile, to sharpen those revising skills, tell her that a particular story is too long to fit the page and must be shortened to one paragraph with nothing of consequence omitted. And don’t forget that a letter to the editor is a perfect exercise in persuasion. The possibilities are endless, so be sure to share the news.