Most of the kids in my son’s nursery school class last year supplemented their preschool education with extra reading classes. When Frankie’s teacher suggested that he wasn’t ready for kindergarten, I thought perhaps enrolling him in one of those classes was the answer. After all, most of the moms said their children actually enjoyed the class, and I could see in the kids’ signature-bearing artwork and the (literal) signs they were reading that the classes reaped real results. When I broached the possibility with Frankie’s teacher, God bless her, she gently suggested, “Maybe sit in on a class before signing him up. Those classes require sitting still for long periods… and homework….“
I never ended up sitting in on one, because I knew that if Frankie had trouble sitting still for a few minutes at a time in his preschool class, making him sit still for over an hour in yet another class—and then again for homework—would most likely backfire. Since most early childhood experts feel learning through play is best for preschoolers anyway, I decided that I’d just look for more such opportunities at home.
One of the most unexpected opportunities came in the form of playing board games.
It started out with the usual suspects, like Chutes and Ladders. We’d sit down to play and instead of moving his piece or counting the spaces for him, I allowed him the time to do it himself, while I narrated along the way: If he was on space three and spun a four, I’d sit back while he moved the pawn to seven, then say, “That’s right. Three plus four is seven, so now you’re on seven.” When he got to the end of a row and wasn’t sure if he should move his pawn up or to the side, I’d say, “Well, which number is higher? Twenty-one or 19?” Because he wanted to win, he learned pretty fast the numbers and values all the way up to 100.
After a while, we moved on to games that I never would have thought he could master. We were absorbed in one game of Monopoly for weeks, and the dice helped him learn simple math problems. Since he had to add up the numbers on the dice himself, he quickly learned to scan them and do the math in his head. After some time dealing with the money, he grew to understand that two twenties make 40, two hundreds make 200, and so on. And while the dice and money gave him an organic math lesson, the property cards were great for teaching him pre-reading skills. While he still can’t read more than three-letter words, he was able to recognize which card was, say, New York Avenue by looking for the “N” and the “Y.”
We also played Uno, the rules of which dictate that whoever gets to 500 points first wins. Since we never got to 500 in one sitting, we’d have to write down our scores at the end of every game. While saying to him, “Ok, Frankie, it’s time to practice writing your letters,” would elicit nothing but protest, he was only too eager to grab a pencil and write down his name and his score.
The best part? We’ve been having so much fun together. I know this is my last year at home with him (you mean we can’t put off kindergarten again?), and it’s been a blast spending it playing games we both truly enjoy. It’s also been wildly fun to see a 5-year-old’s take on games like Monopoly. (One time I had clearly lost, but since he didn’t want the game to end, he said, “Here, I’ll give you $500.” When I protested, he said, “No, no, take it. It’s charity. Take the charity!”)
Does he read and write as well as his friends who have taken extra reading readiness classes? No. But I’m not concerned. I know that the foundation for learning is there.
So if you’ve got a preschooler who enjoys working on letters and is game for extra classes, consider yourself lucky. But if you’ve got one whose learning requires a little more creativity on your part, you can consider yourself lucky, too.
More by NJ Family's Real Moms of NJ Blogger, Renée Sagiv Riebling: