Literacy skills: practicing without practice

The following post is by contributor Robin Zipporah of Not-Ever-Still.

My sweet kindergarten girl is a beginning reader. She can read almost anything, slowly, as long as she doesn’t get frustrated or lose patience. Her handwriting is the same – it’s quite good, really, but sometimes when she’s tired or hurrying she still transposes those Bs and Ds or draws a backwards 9.

She’s like many smart kids, I think – she’s quite capable but she has perfectionist tendencies and because she is bright, she’s not accustomed enough to confronting challenge. Put those two qualities together, and sometimes she gives up entirely too easily. She wants help or declares her disinterest in favor of coloring or another activity.

So I’ve been intentionally building in little bits of reading and writing practice into our regular daily activities…without, you know, really drawing attention to the fact that we’re practicing anything. They aren’t drastic and they don’t take too much time; mostly they’re little ways of changing our routines. And as a bonus, they’re so much more than reading and writing activities – they’re fostering self-sufficiency and confidence in my girl.

Here are a few of my favorites:

My hands are wet

My daughter will notice a new birthday party invitation hanging on the fridge or a colorful flyer tucked in with the newspaper. But let’s say I’m washing the dishes (or changing her brother’s diaper, or pouring her sister some milk – you can imagine it, right?). Instead of saying, “give me a second” and turning off the faucet and grabbing the dishtowel and meeting her at the fridge, now I’ll just continue with the dishes and say to her, “why don’t you read it to me?” Her curiosity sustains her through the challenge, and if she struggles on the harder elements I’ll ask her to spell the word to me, and I’ll let her know what it spells before she continues on to the next one.

no milk in my oatmeal
Photo by qwrrty

About once a week I take my sweet girl out to her favorite pasta place for a little mama-daughter alone time. Invariably, she wonders why the food (we just ordered) hasn’t arrived yet. If this were a date with her two-year-old brother, I’d be pulling the matchbox cars out of my purse, and if it were with her four-year-old sister, I’d pull out the old Altoids tin filled with crayons. But for her, I pull out a pen and I flatten the paper ring that held our silverware in its napkins. “Let’s play with math!” She loves to practice addition and subtraction on her fingers (and mine), so I write out a few equations. She writes out the answers.

The digital allure

Is your six-year-old a list-maker? Mine sure is: she’s made lists of the next 40 or so costumes she plans to wear at future dress-up occasions; the order of what books we should read next; the hierarchical ranking of her most favorite colors. She loves to talk about her lists but once they grow beyond three or so items, I can’t remember them long-term. I’ve taken to handing her my iPad and now she has her own set of files in the Notes tab. When she makes her lists in digital format, she’s no longer practicing her handwriting, but she is practicing spelling and typing – another important skill. She is allowed to type whatever she wants…as long as she reads it back to me when she’s done.

I love my family







Photo by arimoore

Since I’ve identified intentional moments for adding in reading and writing throughout her play time, I’ve seen a real confidence boost in her skills. These are just things we do with 20 seconds here and five minutes there. None of them feel like worksheets or forced practice time; they’re just little modifications to some of the moments of our day. I don’t think she’s even realized how much she’s been practicing or how fluent her reading and writing have become, but I certainly have. Now she’ll try so much harder and longer before the frustration sets in, and I’m so proud of her.

How do you encourage your kids to grow their academic skills? Tell me your tricks!

About Robin

Robin has two daughters, a son, a lovely husband who works many more than full-time hours and a full-time career of her own in government in the suburbs of Washington, DC. You can always read more about Robin’s parenting philosophies and her family’s antics and adventures at her personal blog The Not-Ever-Still Life, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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  1. I like how you incorporate little learning moments throughout the day without making it “school.”
    Steph´s latest post: What, in the next hour, are you looking forward to?

  2. I almost always have my kids write short grocery lists for me. Even if I think I could remember the three or four things we are running in for (probably I can’t!), it is good practice on handwriting and spelling for them to write them down for me.
    I also have them write lists of things they could have for snack during the day, so that they don’t have to ask me later. My kids are good readers, but writing seems to need constant practice.
    Jen@anothergranolamom´s latest post: Exploring Capitol Reef National Park

  3. My kids aren’t quite old enough for reading and writing skills, but we do lots of “What do you see ?” games, especially in the grocery store. We point out letters on the signs and colors in the parking lot and produce section. We count how many eggs in the carton, they ask “what is it?” I answer. Nothing big. But my kids love it. They learn and they get special time talking with their momma.
    Amanda´s latest post: Banning Books

  4. one more little fun idea… my daughter loves the magnadoodle. She and I have started having conversations writing back and forth on it together. Her spelling is adorable! This little exercise lets us hit reading, comprehension, handwriting, spelling, vocabulary skills all in one fell swoop, and she has no idea that she’s working at anything:)

  5. Peir Laura says:

    How do you actually practice without practice? Nah, the title itself is really eye-catching and mind-boggling. But I learned so much from this post. Thank a lot.

    Peir Laura´s latest post: How To Pick Up Girls

  6. I love this simple post. My kids are 8, 6 and 3. I strategically lay out piles of books/themes I’d like to hit. I set them around the house and they can browse and ask me to read on their time. For example: the water cycle, weather, seasons, life cycles, classics, etc. Another thing I’ve discovered – they love reading and writing more at bedtime (when they’re trying to stall!) So, I’ve learned to start bedtime 30 minutes earlier, so I can say “Yes!” when they ask to read 1 more book!! I have created “just right” book baskets (for each child) that are placed in their rooms so we can read those at bedtime. I also have a notebook in the basket and they’ll often write me a letter or a letter to a friend – or just draw a picture and then describe it. 🙂 Playful learning is the best!!

  7. My 6 year old loves to write little notes to us, grocery lists or items in her own “diary” or “agenda”. She loves using a calculator and adding up lists of items she’d like to buy for a maplelea doll or her build-a-bear. Her dad plays math games with her or likes to just ask her math questions aloud (all my kids enjoyed this for some reason :)). She is naturally curious about science and asks me to order books or DVD’s about various topics of current interest and she adores listening to Adventures in Odyssey audio CD’s and learns tons about history in this way.

  8. My toddler now asks “What’s that say?” whenever he sees words. We point out letters and words everywhere—the stop sign, the exit signs in buildings, etc. We also have magnetic alphabets that have really helped him identify the letters and their sounds. And of course we read a ton!
    Sleeping Mom´s latest post: Ask the readers: How much do kids cost?

  9. Smart ideas! Something we do is make little simple books, written by our daughters with help from the grown-ups. They draw pictures and decide what simple words to use to tell the story, and we spell out the words for them. They LOVE to see the books all stapled together, and my seven-year-old adores looking at ones she made a couple of years ago when she was just starting out!
    Steph´s latest post: To have no limits

  10. Hmmm…my children create their own practice time. When we are at the grocery store my kindergartener loves reading from my Cross it Off list app. on my iPhone. She wants to read what I need and cross it off with her finger or to look for what I just got and cross it off. I am not allowed to help. LOL! My 4 year old counts out how much of each fruit or Veg. I need after she has opened the produce bag, thus getting in counting and the fine motor movement of getting those hard to open plastic bags open (I certinally would rather my kids to do that tedious job while I go find the next item on the list). My kinder also loves to weigh the produce. So much reading and math goes into shoping. My kinder also reads to me 20 minutes a night (her idea) and then I read 20 minutes from a chapter book and then I read a picture book to my 4 year old. Sometimes my 4 year old wants me to read to her and I am busy doing something and I get my kindergartener to read it to her. She gets the story read and my kindergartener gets practice “reading on her own” since I am not there to help her sound out difficult words. Good practice to work on confidence. Good ideas about sneaking in other ways to practice. Thanks.