Many of us are concerned about our children's level of English and if what they learn at school or in extra-curricular classes is sufficient to provide them with opportunities for the future. What we forget is just how much we, as parents, can do at home. There are many resources and activities that we can implement in our daily lives that can easily become a fun part of our family life in English.
Let's take some simple routines. Much of a child's life is made of structured activities in which we tend to repeat specific phrases when we require them to do things. For instance, we all know that getting our kids to wash their hands before they sit down to lunch or dinner can be a chore so why not turn it into a song or chant which will establish the routine, teach them some important phrases in English and get the job done without tears.
Now it's time to wash our hands, wash our hands!
Now it's time to wash our hands and come to lunch!
This can apply to tidying up, brushing teeth and even eating vegetables!
Rhymes and tongue twisters
Apart from chunks of language and useful phrases, we also want our youngsters to be intelligible in English and there is nothing better than oral practice and lots of it. Native speakers of English grow up on a diet of rhymes which help them with individual sounds, intonation, word stress and sentence stress. All are important elements for good pronunciation so following their example is a good way to help our kids.
Rhymes and tongue twisters have to be fun and catchy and if they include a physical element to help the children remember the words that's even better.
One popular rhyme which you may already know is Pat-a-cake which is a hand-to-hand clapping rhyme. It goes like this:
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Pat it, and prick it and mark it with 'B'
Put it in the oven for Baby and me.
You accompany the rhyme by clapping your hands on your child's hands as you sing the rhyme. First one individual clap then both clapping hands together; your kids will love this when they get the hang of it.
When we analyze some of the sounds of the rhyme we can see that the children are learning to differentiate the /b/ and /p/ consonants which can be difficult for a lot of learners even at older ages. There's also the 'bake' and 'cake' pattern which children learn intuitively with the rhyme, leading them to pronounce better similar words e.g. 'make', 'take'.
Tongue Twister challenge
Children love tongue twisters and will spend plenty of time trying to beat Mum, Dad and siblings to be the best at pronouncing the phrases. What better way to get them learning English without realising! Turning this into a weekly dinner time challenge can be hilarious and is a sure way of helping them feel confident in their speaking skills as well as getting them to practise their listening skills as they wait to hear you make a mistake! If you don't feel confident yourself you can download audio files to use for the challenge.
A popular one to practise pronunciation of sounds 'sh' and 's' is: 'She sells sea shells'. You can round off this activity by getting your child to draw a picture to accompany the tongue twister.
Printing and cutting out flashcards is something you may feel you don't have time for, but in fact, they are so versatile and can be used for so many activities that it really is worth investing the time. Having some sets to hand as you prepare dinner or on a rainy day is a nice way to help your children study for their next English exam and spend quality time with them.
The first is the traditional matching pairs game where you use the flashcards as a memory game and you and your child take turns trying to remember where the corresponding card is. It's important that as they choose their cards they say what they can see. You can increase the challenge by using picture/word combinations so that your child is practising word recognition which will also help spelling; If you have older children encouraging them to play together is a great way to support and review everyone's English.
Another less traditional way is to stick a couple of cards from different topic sets on the table with a little Blu-Tak, e.g. 4 animal cards, 4 weather cards, 4 clothes cards etc. Get a dice and a couple of counters and it becomes the English version of 'La Oca' game. As your child progresses you can add cards with 'miss a turn', go back 2 spaces, etc. Apart from practising the vocabulary, the children also get accustomed to using typical phrase for playing games like- 'It's my turn', 'you're next', Can I have the dice please' The great thing is they can also play this themselves and then end the game putting the cards into the correct topic set.
At LearnEnglish Kids, you can find plenty to choose from ready made for you.
Children's lives wouldn't be the same without stories and they are a great source of language. Experts say that we have a bank of easily accessible phrases that we use without thinking. Stories are a gold mine of useful phrases.
An example is the traditional story “What's the time, Mr Wolf?” Just the opening line is a good example of a useful phrase but as you work through the story you can find phrases such as 'It's dinner time', 'It's time for lunch', It's time to lay the table' ' It's 5 o'clock! etc. These are all excellent examples that you can build in to your children's routine to help them use English in a natural, fun way.
English Treasure Box
It can be worthwhile collecting all these storybooks, flashcards and games and keeping them in a special English Treasure Box. This means that as the children gain in confidence they will want to play on their own and having the items in one special place encourages them to play spontaneously using the English that they have learned with you and in class. You will be surprised at how much they pick up from these activities.
There's no doubt that taking just a little time to practice a few fun routines and games at home goes a long way towards increasing our children's confidence and English skills.