Friday, 22 November 2013

gamifying literacy

Every week when planning Sasha's literacy tutoring session, I invariably trawl Pinterest for ideas before I do anything else. And invariably, I throw up my hands in frustration and end up doing my own thing. Because most of the "literacy" or "reading" pins in the Kids category aren't innovative games, or sensory-related writing activities, or anything that sounds like it would actually be fun -- just worksheets. I never want to see the word "printables" again, ugh. And this time of year, a lot of the available worksheets aren't just unimaginative, they're racist too. Double ugh.

So this week I did what I usually do when Pinterest serves as anti-inspiration: I made my own activities.

Sasha, like most human beings, enjoys games. Our usual flashcard matching games have gone a bit stale, so I made a new game. A board game. With dice and cards and everything.

This game is super simple. Roll the dice, move your piece (dinosaur toys, since I've got a bit of a collection going), do what it says on the space you land on. I made three stacks of cards: one stack of sight words Sasha is still working on, one stack of sight words Sasha has already mastered (the ones with smiley face stickers), and one stack of sentence cards. The sentences are all derived from or related to the books I've read aloud to Sasha over the course of the last year (Harry Potter #1-3, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Dealing with Dragons, and Holes). The game takes about 10-15 minutes from start to finish to play, and it took me about 45 minutes to make (including writing all of the sentence cards -- I already had the two piles of sight word cards from our previous tutoring sessions).

Here's the gameboard.

Sasha loved the game. As soon as we finished she asked to play it again. Three times in a row. The element of chance provided by rolling dice and the goal of progressing along the path from start to end helped to alleviate the "chore" feeling that can come with reading flashcards and random sentences.

Sasha asked me what the game was called, and when I admitted that I hadn't named it, she got out our markers and dubbed it "run to the end." She especially liked the "whirlpool" spaces, and would enthusiastically spin her dinosaur around and around before tipping it over from "getting dizzy" when she landed on one. She even suggested, after the third consecutive game, that we start keeping a tally of how many times we each won.

This game will definitely be making a reappearance at future tutoring sessions.

High fives,

homemade preschooler gifts, take 2

My cousin's kid just turned three, so rather than buy him a gift this year, I made him one! I try to create handmade gifts when I can. This one was super easy.

The little bag was just a piece of scrap fabric sewn (shoddily) in about ten minutes, with a bit of extra ribbon threaded through the top seam so that it cinches closed. The card is just a magazine photo gluesticked onto cardstock.

Unsurprisingly, the kid's favorite gift out of allllll of the puzzles, books, clothes, and toys he got was this little bag. Not the stuff in it, just the bag. "My purse!" he shrieked, slinging it over his shoulder and galloping off, leaving behind a wreckage of wrapping paper and much fancier gifts.

Here's what was in the bag:

Magazine photos glued onto wide popsicle sticks make a fun puzzle for little hands.

For double the fun, include a second "puzzle" on the back!

These are super fast and easy to make. Here's the tutorial I used. When the images start peeling off, you just glue 'em back down again. Maybe modgepodge them for extra durability if they get a lot of use. I'm not that dedicated.


Thursday, 7 November 2013


An amazing thing happened today: Sasha interrupted as I began to read aloud to say, "Stop! I want to read it!"

Take a moment to process that. Let your color wheel spin.

This is the same kid who, a month and a half ago, balked at any invitation, request, or requirement to read aloud. Even words she was familiar with, even books she's muddled through dozens of times, even favorite stories. Even everything I custom wrote for her. Regardless of if they appealed to her sense of humor or her current interests. This kid did not want to read. It was hard and she didn't see the point of it.

I've been gone for just over a month, and I come back and she is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was when I left. In terms of reading and writing ability, but also in terms of the stuff that's harder to measure: initiative, and confidence, and persistence. Sure, she's still way below grade level, but that doesn't matter. She's reading and writing because she wants to. She's keeping a journal. She's writing fluent sentences with best-guess spelling. She's trying new words when we play Hangman. She's checking library books out that are right at her "growth" level, and she is reading them.

I am so proud of this kid.

High fives,