Make learning challenges fun with this game

We are wired to avoid what makes us uncomfortable—it’s in our DNA. This kept us alive in “caveman” days. For example: “That strange, new animal has really big teeth, so I’m going to run away… now!”

Fast forward to today. Your child’s getting an anxious tummy looking at that study sheet filled with spelling words. Now try to make your child sit down and study for that test and you’ve got a Neanderthal showdown. Your child’s brain will push the “run away” button.

One way you can help your child in this situation is to associate learning challenges and doing homework with something fun. When we pair fun experiences with learning at an early age, we begin to condition our brains to think differently.

This is referred to as classical conditioning. It works for adults as well. Hate cleaning the house? Try blasting music and singing along while you clean. The house gets tidied and you get to be J.Lo—it’s a win-win.

Kids like to move, so why not pair learning with fun and active activities? Pairing exercise with learning has additional benefits as well. It helps kids think better and eases feelings of tension, anxiety, and depression.

Guest post by
Lucinda Coey

Lucinda Coey is a mother of three, ages 20, 13, and 9. She spent her first 14 years as a stay-at-home mom providing childcare for other families (both at home and in formal daycare settings). Lucinda refers to herself as a “professional-level mom” who is continually getting schooled by her kids in a rigorous ongoing training program. Certification pending.

Here’s one activity my kids loved when I was teaching them letter recognition. And it’s been adapted for toddlers through to preschool.

Hop A Letter

If the weather is good, bust out the sidewalk chalk. If not, get out the painter’s tape and move the coffee table. Choose six to eight letters and letter combos, then mark them out on the ground about six inches in size and six inches apart. Use consonants and vowels. Be sure there are some combos that will make words. For example: A C CH B T E P

Tip: Use fewer letters for younger children.

For toddlers:

1. Start by having your toddler follow you as you hop on the letters and say the name of the letter they’re on. Hop on all the letters a few times in different orders.

2. Then have your toddler jump to a letter while you say the name. Repeat in a different order.

3. Finally, call out a letter and have your toddler jump to find the correct match.

Tip: You can also use a one-foot hop if they need to work on their balance or are getting bored.

For preschoolers:

1. Call out a sound that a letter makes—not the name, but the phonetic sound. Then have your preschooler jump accordingly.

2. Call out a word that begins with that letter and have your child jump accordingly.

3. Also, call out words that end with the letter sound and have your child jump to the matching letter.

For kindergarten and primary school-aged children:

1. Call out letters that form a short word for the child to hop to. For example: C – A – T. Then ask what they just spelled. Have them keep jumping to letters to sound it out.

2. Call out the letter sound as the child jumps and ask them if they’ve made a word.

3. Have them hop over letter pairings that are commonly found together. For example: E-R, then sound it out. A-T, then sound it out. Then have the child add beginning sounds to make words.

4. For older children, use more phonetic combinations that they’ll see as they learn to read. For example: SH, PH, ST, STR

Tip: Play should be child-directed. Kids love being in control by bossing us around, so, at all ages, take turns.

Let the child call out the sounds and letters for you to hop to, and let them assess if you are correct or not. They’ll find it hilarious if you’re wrong sometimes. It challenges their future editing skills. Keep it silly and fun.

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