How do you teach your kids to be better learners and thinkers, while bonding with them at the same time? Here are some tried-and-tested ideas from a mother of three—one of her children is currently in the Gifted Education Programme.
Like many families, our family loves board games! The difference is that when I’m playing board games with my children, I am intentional about highlighting learning points.
What this means is that I will vocalise the steps or options that each child has. I’ll also get them to think about the pros and cons of choosing each option. If they don’t make good choices, they won’t win the game, and they’ll learn from it. It’s all about considering the circumstances that you’re in, and having a plan to achieve different objectives, based on the resources that you have. I think this has helped make all of my children better thinkers.
Furthermore, I started doing this when they were toddlers. I truly believe that if you do something often enough, it becomes second nature. Early exposure to board games helped my kids to understand that there are a set of rules in every situation. But you don’t need to feel confined by rules. Instead, you can learn to work within the rules to achieve your objectives. All this is good training for thinking!
My three children are avid independent readers now. For my eldest son, he was reading thin chapter books such as Bindi The Jungle Girl by the time he was in K2. By Primary 1, he was reading Harry Potter. I would constantly go to the library to borrow books. We also bought a lot of books when the kids were younger, because kids at that age relish the repetition and familiarity of what they read.
I believe that reading a bedtime story to your children is an essential ritual if you want to raise readers, so don’t stinge on that. And if you have a primary schooler who can read, but isn’t reading, it’s all the more reason to borrow books from the library and read to them every night. Get them interested in the books, and you’ll ignite their love for reading.
Also, be a visible reader—read to your kids, read with your kids, and read in front of your kids. When my kids see my husband and me reading books too, they will show interest in what we are reading.
I was afraid that my younger son wouldn’t “get into” reading as he seemed more interested in his toys in his pre-primary years. I persevered in reading to him every night before bedtime, and when he turned six years old and was proficient in phonics, I made him read aloud every alternate page of any book that we read together. “Practice makes perfect” is an oft-chanted mantra in our home.
I also realised that my younger son had different interests, and therefore different book preferences, as compared to my elder son. So I couldn’t rely on books that my elder son had loved, but instead, we had to try out different books on topics that interested my younger son. We are blessed that the National Library is so well stocked! There were times where my son did not like the books I borrowed for him and I had to return them unread, but slowly I began to have a firmer grasp of what topics piqued his interest, and my efforts started to bear fruit—he started reading books on his own! Now, he is in Primary Two, and those worries that he wouldn’t read turned out to be unfounded. He is usually found with a book, and he reads wherever he goes!
I discovered audiobooks when my eldest was in Primary One, and listening to audiobooks is now one of our family rituals. This discovery was most timely for me as we made long journeys by car to drive the kids to school and back. The kids have always enjoyed being read to by my husband and me, and they were now very pleased to have another read-aloud source. It also fulfilled the dual purpose of entertaining the kids while keeping them quiet on our daily car journeys.
I assigned each child a “journey time slot,” during which they could choose the book they wanted to listen to, and the rest would have to respect that choice. This was how my younger kids were exposed to the more advanced books that my eldest wanted to hear. I found that my younger kids could understand the more advanced books, and it improved their vocabulary tremendously. I also realised that listening to audiobooks honed their ability to focus, because you really had to concentrate to follow the story.
Occasionally, as we are listening to an audiobook, I will pause the story to explain certain words, provide background information, or make clarifications. For example, for one of the stories we were listening to, I explained to my kids why children in London were sent to live in the countryside during World War II.
Sometimes, when the protagonists in the story are appearing to make unwise choices, I will pause the audiobook and ask my kids, “Do you think he (or she) should have done that?” I do this to check that they know it was not the right thing to do. I want to make sure my kids glean the right values from these stories. Naturally, me pausing an audiobook sometimes annoys my kids as they wish to get on with the story! But I think it’s important for me to educate them.
I should add that we experience the audiobooks together, so I’m listening to them too. I find it particularly satisfying when we all groan in unison due to a character’s behaviour, or cheer out loud together at a hero’s triumph, and best of all, laugh together at the antics that the characters get up to in the books.
When we’re having a meal, we sometimes end up talking about the characters in the books we’ve just listened to. I will ask my kids who they liked and why. I will also start discussions with the kids, talking about why certain characters behave the way they do in the books.
Beyond developing my kids’ thinking skills, I hope to teach empathy through the books that we read and listen to. A well-written book often makes you feel very deeply for the protagonist—the author puts you, the reader, in the shoes of the character. It is an excellent way for kids to vicariously learn life lessons, without having to go through the actual experience themselves. You can also use books to illustrate situations that kids can relate to, in order to teach them moral lessons without making them feel like they’re under attack.