Articles, Literacy

Lockdown – stimulation & literacy ideas for kids.

Lockdown in Johannesburg (a lock on a fence)

There are so many great ideas available online for keeping children busy and stimulated during this difficult time. There are also a multitude of ideas for building literacy skills and general knowledge during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Many companies & organizations that deal with children’s products have generously made certain online options available for free. It is time to take advantage of these opportunities. Your child could get to the other side of the lockdown better off than they were before.

Freebie Resources

1. Audible (free children’s title)

Audible, which is an Amazon company, has made streaming children’s audiobook titles available for free for now. Listening to stories as a child improves and develops auditory memory, comprehension skills, vocabulary skills, attention span, concentration, visualization, grammar and sentence structure. It also reduces stress as it is an enjoyable and relaxing exercise. You don’t even need to register with Audible. To browse what is available on AUDIBLE, CLICK HERE.

Image of the offer made by Audible.

2. Explore Live Cams (Educational)

Exploring the Explore Live Cams website is a fascinating experience and could well add to an educational discussion around aspects of nature that you are dealing with in homeschooling.

Watch live footage of the Decorah North Eagles in Iowa, USA or the Grace Gorillas in the Gorilla Forest Corridor in the Eastern DRC amongst other options. It is hard to drag yourself away from watching these magnificent creatures when they are unaware of us. Last night we spent a fair bit of time watching a family of Gorillas and this morning another 30 minutes watching a herd of elephants at a watering hole.

Some of the cameras have sound attached so please make sure to turn your volume up. To browse what is available at Explore Live Cams, CLICK HERE.

3. The Body Coach TV (also known as ‘The World’s PE Teacher’)

Joe Wicks has made PE class videos available on his YouTube Channel. He is fun, positive and energetic and is the perfect solution for getting active and ridding kids of excess energy. This is perfect for if you live in a flat or a complex with a tiny garden. Give Joe a try. You may even decide to join in. To go to his YouTube channel and see PE with JOE, CLICK HERE.

4. Storyline Online (books read aloud to children)

Reading aloud to children has been shown to improve reading, writing and communication skills, comprehension, logical thinking, concentration, attention span and general academic aptitude, as well as inspire a lifelong love of reading. Storyline Online is used by teachers in classrooms. For obvious reasons, nurses and doctors play Storyline Online in children’s hospitals.

Storyline Online is available 24 hours a day for children, parents, caregivers and educators worldwide. Each book includes supplementary resources developed by a credentialed elementary educator, aiming to strengthen comprehension and verbal and written skills for English-language learners. To see more of what is available on STORYLINE ONLINE, CLICK HERE.

5. Barnes & Noble (Online Storytime)

Barnes & Noble offers virtual storytime for free on certain dates.

MARCH 28, 2020 – Macca the Alpaca by Matt Cosgrove
In this adorable, quirky picture book, Macca the alpaca loves splashing in puddles and gives the best cuddles. But when he bumps into a big bullying llama named Harmer (who’s no charmer), Macca must prove the value of smarts and kindness.

MARCH 28, 2020 – The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach
Ross Burach’s hilarious, tongue-in-cheek exploration of metamorphosis will make you flutter with glee, while also providing real facts about how caterpillars transform into butterflies.

For more information on the events being held by BARNES AND NOBLE, CLICK HERE.

6. National Geographic Young Explorers (free read-along stories)

The Young Explorer is a magazine that includes educational stories about living creatures and our natural world. You can order these magazines in hard copy but they also are available in a read-along online version for free. To access the Young Explorer stories please CLICK HERE.

7. A daily dose of NumberBlocks for the young ones

Yes, I am recommending a daily dose of TV for your child. When the programme being prescribed is as educational, beneficial and amazing as Numberblocks is, you can safely leave your child in front of the TV for 20-30 minutes at a time. In fact, if your child is NOT watching Numberblocks daily I think you should be worried.

What does Numberblocks teach young children:
• number sense • number names and numerals • number order •  bigger, smaller, same • missing numbers • number patterns • first, second, third • adding • subtracting • recognizing amounts on sight •  number bonds • odds and evens • doubling and halving • mental maths • thinking for yourself • being creative • building confidence • solving problems

Within the UK, Numberblocks is available on the CBeeBies website. Outside of the UK you may find NumberBlocks is part of your TV viewing subscription bundle or available on YouTube.

8. Online Chess – teach your child to play Chess

Child playing chess.

Learning to play Chess has many benefits. It can improve and develop a child’s spatial awareness, problem-solving ability, use of logic, forward-thinking, planning, exercise their working memory and improve their self-regulation. All of this can take place in a confined space, indoors against people all over the world matched at your level.

After I moved back from living overseas, a friend and I who had been playing chess regularly, continued to play online for the next few years.

If you and/or your child are raw beginners, have a look at the rules to CHESS HERE at CHESS KID.

If you would like to play online against a human opponent or a computer, then CLICK HERE at MATH IS FUN.

9. Google 3D Animals just for fun

  • Open Google (on an iPhone or Android)
  • Type in an animal’s name
  • Then press ‘View in 3D’If you do not see the option ‘View in your space’ then you may need to download Google Play Services for AR. If you see a message telling you that your device is not compatible with this version then you will not be able to access the ‘View in your space’ feature.
  • If your device is compatible, then approximately 30 seconds later you should have an animal in your house!
  • You can take a photo of the kids with it and they can walk around it.
  • Available animals – lion, bear, shark, penguin, horse, pony, octopus, cheetah, tiger, shark, hedgehog, duck, Emperor penguin, wolf, Angler fish, goat, Rottweiler, snakes, eagle, Brown bear, alligator, horse, Shetland pony, Macaw, Pug, Turtle, cat, octopus, dog and Golden Retriever.
  • Have fun!

10. Audio Books for Young Adults

ESL BITS has a wonderful collection of English Learning Audiobook titles that can be listened to, listened to while reading along or read without audio. They have a wide range of titles and authors. A few examples are such as Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig and Small steps by Louis Sachar, as well as a number of classics. Even when not on lockdown this is a fantastic site.

To see what titles are available go to ESL BITS by CLICKING HERE.

11. Michelle Obama is hosting a weekly storytime for kids during the pandemic


Michell Obama begins "Mondays with Michelle Obama" with a reading of The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

Storytime with Michelle Obama will begin on Monday 20th April 2020. She will begin her 4 week “Mondays with Michelle Obama” with Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. She has teamed up with PBS Kids and Penguin Random House to host a weekly read-aloud series.

Families can tune in to the livestream on PBS Kids’ Facebook page and YouTube channel, or the Penguin Random House Facebook page.

The schedule for this exciting series is below, with each event beginning at 12 p.m. ET (should be 6 pm in South Africa):

  • April 20: “The Gruffalo” by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (should be 6 pm in South Africa)
  • April 27: “There’s a Dragon in Your Book” by Tom Fletcher, illustrated by Greg Abbott
  • May 4: “Miss Maple’s Seeds” by Eliza Wheeler
  • May 11: “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle

For the original CNN article announcing these events, please CLICK HERE.

I will continue to update this blog post as I come across interesting and educationally worthwhile activities.

Further reading

To explore working with Lianne in Randburg / Sandton and other areas in Johannesburg, contact her for a consultation to discuss how she can assist you.

Articles, Literacy, Reading

Literacy & Reading Intervention:

Boy leans against the back of a chair looking despondent.

Why wait for failure and its repercussions?

Taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the development of your child’s literacy skills is a dangerous game to play and may have ramifications for their self-image, success in other subjects, your back pocket as well as your family’s leisure time.

Language literacy & the Foundation phase (Grades 1-3)

The goal of the foundation phase is to develop a child’s language and number literacy in preparation for the inter-sen phase, which begins in grade 4 in South Africa. In the foundation phase children ‘learn-to-read’ but in the inter-sen and senior phases they are required to ‘read-to-learn’. Therefore your goal as parents and our goal as foundation phase educators should be to focus on…

  • building a strong foundation by developing phonemic awareness and reading fluency
  • growing a love of reading in each child
  • solving problems related to literacy as they come up
  • overcoming obstacles related to reading before our children reach Grade 4.
  • understand that after Grade 3 there is little to no time within the curriculum for teachers to help children with basic reading skills.

A child who cannot read at grade level, or whose skills are not well cemented, will often begin to drop in marks across all subjects, as they move up past grade 4. Parents, whose children have always done well in Grades 1-3, may find that their child’s marks begin to drop considerably and their child may even end up failing subjects like Maths, as they progress through the inter-sen phase into the senior phase. This drop in marks is mainly because subjects now become more language-based e.g. story sums in math, understanding what is required when reading a test / exam question. Children fail because they can no longer cope with the amount of information they are presented with or the speed at which they need to read & process this information.

The result is that the gap between the struggling child and their ‘speedy reading’ peers continues to grow and so does the burden of catching up. The problem multiplies as time goes by.

Take responsibility and do not ignore signs of struggle.

Your child’s issues from last year may not be apparent just yet, but could still be bubbling under the surface. Do not ignore what you already know. If you have any inkling that your child is struggling, help should be sought straight away. At the first sign of trouble with a child’s reading ability that you feel ill-equipped to deal with, seek help from a reading therapist or specialist remedial teacher.

As a parent, you need to be involved in reading with your child one-to-one on a daily basis. This is not optional. The only way that you can pick up problems is to be reading side by side with your child on a regular basis. The only way you can foster a love of reading is to be reading to your child daily.

For more information on developing a reading culture in your home, please click here. If you’d like to know why you can’t miss out on reading to your child daily, read the following article by clicking here.

The consequences of waiting until they fail

  1. Damage to your child’s self-image and confidence levels.
    Failure can result in a child experiencing feelings of shame, embarrassment and self-consciousness. A child who feels this way no longer feels open to learning and no longer feels brave enough to participate in class..
  2. Reading resistance
    A child becomes resistant to reading when the reading tasks that everyone else copes with becomes too difficult for them to cope with. We find that they begin to avoid reading at all costs as it makes them feel bad about themselves. This results in decreasing opportunities to practice their reading skills, thus widening the gap between the child and his/her peers even more. The problem starts to multiply.
  3. Extended recovery/catchup
    Waiting to intervene means that the recovery / catchup period has to be much longer and is more challenging for your child. The fact that the intervention will take longer also means that it is more expensive. The earlier you intervene the easier it is to get the child reading at grade level again, which might save you having to assist them with other subjects at a later date.
  4. The gap between the struggling child and his/her peers widens
    The more a child falls behind the more they miss out on opportunities to practice their reading skills. This results in the gap between the child and his/her peers widening, as the others gain momentum with each bit of progress they make. As a result, the child who struggles falls further and further behind and it increasingly becomes harder to catch up, until it eventually becomes impossible.
  5. A love of reading does not develop
    A child who struggles with reading usually does not develop a love of reading. For this child, there is no pleasure, joy or meaning to be found in reading. This means that they seldom become independent readers who are able to read independently and teach themselves. They remain reliant on teachers and other adults for learning to take place.
  6. Knock-on effect with other subjects
    Other subjects become more complex as children move up the grades. A child’s ability to engage with a subject is limited by their literacy level. If they are not fluent readers and not yet reading at grade level then they are unable engage meaningfully with the subject and will not take away from each lesson as much as their peers are able to. Their scores in subjects such as Math may start to drop after Grade 4. This is because from grade 4 onwards math becomes more and more language-based e.g. story sums and written instructions.
  7. Behaviour issues
    Children who do not cope, who know that they are not coping, often develop behaviour problems in class. This could be due to feelings of inadequacy and uselessness, lack of self-worth, frustration, fear, humiliation and embarrassment.
  8. Prevention is always better than cure (remedial)
    Preventing reading-related problems is much easier than taking remedial action later on, when the problems are more complex and firmly entrenched. Adolescents who do not find a cure for their reading woes, or who start with intervention too late, often find it difficult to persevere and stay in school through high school. Quite often they drop out before they matriculate.

At what point should you intervene?

At the first sign of difficulty, you should start to monitor your child’s progress and look for clues as to what might be going on. It is never too early to intervene or to consider screening or assessments.

How you intervene can make an enormous difference to how a child feels. Any intervention needs to leave the child feeling good about themselves, that they have improved in some way, that catching up in more manageable than they thought, that they are supported, motivated to try again next time and also having enjoyed themselves. It needs to be a positive experience. This is where dads sometimes go wrong when they decide to help. They turn into drill sergeants and every session ends up in tears.

What do parents need to understand?

  • All parents need to understand that literacy development starts in the home.
  • Talking and engaging with your children in robust conversation around interesting subjects is a good start.
  • The dinner table is the perfect place for this to happen regularly.
  • Having books visible and accessible in the home environment is also essential – even if they are library books.
  • Your children must also see you setting the example by reading yourself.
  • Reading aloud to your children on a daily basis is not negotiable as it lays the most important of foundations for literacy development.
  • All of this gives the teacher something to build on.
  • If your child is going to school without this foundation then your child already suffers from a deficit in comparison to his peers – before he/she has even started.
  • Don’t despair, as it is NEVER TOO LATE TO START READING ALOUD and helping your child along the path to literacy.

What does intervention look like and where do you start?

  1. Visual screening
    Your first move should always be to have your child’s eyes tested by a behavioural/pediatric optometrist. Reading difficulties can be a result of poor eyesight but they could also be due to problems with the movement of the eyes and how well they work together. Sometimes eye strengthening exercises are all that is required, and not expensive glasses.
    1. Ariella Meyerowitz at Sunny Road Optometrist in Glenhazel –
    2. Spectacle Centre in Linden –
    3. EyeTek at the Pick n Pay Centre where William Nicol Dr & Republic Rd meet –
    4. UJ Optometry Clinics –
    5. Dr. Larry Berman Optometrist –
    6. For more information and all you need to know about children’s eyesight, please click here.

  2. Auditory screening
    Hearing plays a very important role in learning about sounds, and the symbols that represent them, when learning a language. A child who does not hear well, either because of a physical impairment or because of a processing problem, will struggle to learn to read.

    If you detect any problems, take your child for a hearing test to eliminate loss of hearing as a cause for not being able to hear sounds accurately or clearly.

    Have your child tested further if your child shows signs of difficulty with auditory processing. Auditory processing is how the brain perceives and processes what the ears can physically hear. In other words, your child may be able to hear perfectly but for some reason have difficulty with processing what he/she hears. In this instance, the brain and the central nervous system cannot process sound properly. So the child can hear just fine but they are unable to process the information correctly and meaningfully. This is more common than you might think.

    Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) needs to be diagnosed by an audiologist from around the age of 7 onwards, once the brain functions are fully developed.
    For more information about the signs of APD, please click here
    1. Geraldine Rowell – Speech Therapist & Audiologist – or 082 850 6328
    2. Nicolene Vlok & Partners at Hear Care Plus with branches in Linden, Linksfield, Mulbartan, Waterfall and Constantia Kloof-
  3. Hire a Tutor
    Your child may simply need some one-to-one assistance providing repetition and more opportunity to practice the skills and code knowledge that they have learned. Every child is different and some children need more repetition & practice than others.

    Hiring a tutor may be recommended by a teacher if it is evident that you do not have time to consistently assist your child. This may require that the tutor works with your child a few times a week. In the long term, this may ensure that your child gets one-to-one assistance with reading, spelling, vocabulary, comprehension and writing.

    Keep in mind that you will have to look at the qualifications of the tutors you hire as anyone can be a tutor – even high school students. Tutors are unregulated and come in all shapes and sizes in terms of experience, qualifications, knowledge and ability. They are also usually less expensive than trained specialists, but keep in mind that where tutors are concerned you get what you pay for.
    1. First Tutors – Click Here
    2. Straight A Tutors – Click Here
  4. Remedial Teacher / Reading Therapist
    If you are serious about helping your child in the shortest time frame possible, then you may want to contact a reading therapist or remedial teacher. If your child shows a combination of a few of the following:
    1. Your child complains whenever you suggest reading.
    2. Your child is unable to read the readers sent home from school and tends to learn them by rote.
    3. Your child gets fatigued after a short period of reading and is not able to decode words they read yesterday.
    4. Your child gets anxious about reading aloud at school.
    5. Your child frequently guesses what the words in front of them are based on the first letter, rather than decoding them.
    6. Your child reads impressively fast but when you actually listen to them you realize that they guess many of the words, add in words that are not there, omit words that are there, adds sounds to the ends of some words and leave the sounds off the end of others.
    7. Your child sometimes confuses ‘b’ & ‘d’, ‘m’ & ‘w’, ‘t’ & ‘f’ , ‘p’ & ‘b’ and reads some words backwards.
    8. Your child frequently misreads words that they know well.
    9. When writing words your child leaves off the ending sounds, leaves out letters for sounds in the middle of the word, writes letters backward and spells words creatively e.g. ‘blek for ‘black’
    10. There is a fight before or during reading time.
    11. Your child’s teacher indicates that your child is not keeping up with their peers and voices his / her concerns.
    12. If there are clear signs that your child is not reading effectively or that he/she has problems with spelling, you can and should contact a reading therapist who specializes in the explicit teaching of reading in carefully planned stages.
      1. Read for Africa has a list of certified reading therapists across several provinces and many suburbs – Click Here
  5. Educational assessment & screening with a Psychologist / Psychometrist
    If you or your child’s teacher have any other academic concerns on top of their concerns related to reading, then take your child for a full psycho-educational assessment. This will give you a clear picture of what to focus on and where to start seeking help.
    1. Samantha Leader – Educational Psychologist – Randburg / Pine Park – 083 226 8401
    2. Aileen Morrison – Educational Psychologist – Randburg / Greenside –
    3. Melanie Smith & Chenelle Cohen at Psych Assess – Psychometrists – Bordeaux South – / – To find out more, please Click Here.
  6. Pediatric Occupational Therapy should this be recommended by a teacher, GP or an educational psychologist
    Occupational therapy can help with certain issues related to reading, such as not being able to cross the midline.
    1. Tracy Angerson & Associates Occupational Therapy in Blairgowrie – 082 786 8552

In conclusion

There is so much that can be done for children who show the slightest signs of struggle with reading. Always start with the basics – bonding & discussion around stories, books available in the home environment, bedtime stories – then make time to help them grow their skills and knowledge on a daily basis if you can. If you can’t, then hire an extra pair of hands that can help. If you suspect the problems are of a more serious nature, then have your child assessed or consult a reading therapist.

Whatever you do, try to intervene before failure becomes an issue.

Further reading

To explore working with Lianne in Randburg / Sandton and other areas in Johannesburg, contact her for a consultation to discuss how she can assist you.