3 steps to success in reading, writing and arithmetic

Boy holding blocks spelling 'play'
The 3Rs may not conjure up happy memories for you, but bestselling author and educational expert, Bernadette Tynan, explains how you can make sure they do for your child.
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Confidence in reading, writing and arithmetic is the launch pad to success in a wide range of subjects, but the 3Rs can conjure up an uninspiring image of rote learning. However, in recent years, research in neuroscience has confirmed that the brain learns best when it’s having fun. So try these learning tactics that will keep your child smiling.

Step 1: Make ‘difficult’ words easy 

‘Connectivity’ is a major buzz word in current brain research. It’s by making links and associations between parcels of knowledge that the brain is able to think, learn and remember. For example, say the word ‘tiger’ to yourself. Immediately, a myriad of associations will pop into your mind. Show children how to tap into this natural ability of the brain to make connections between things, and they can use it to make ‘difficult’ words much easier.

‘Difficult words’ are often those containing ‘silent letters’. For example, the ‘gh’ in the word ‘mighty’ is silent. The following technique will help your child remember these letters.

  • Write the word ‘mighty’ on paper.
  • Underneath draw a simple stick man, flexing one arm, with a little semicircle to represent the muscle.
  • Inside the semicircle write the ‘silent’ letters ‘gh’ in a bright colour.
  • Now act out the word ‘mighty’ by flexing your arm and pointing to the muscle and saying out loud, “The letters ‘gh’ makes me mighty!”
  • Let your child do this, too.
  • Now encourage your child to make up a sentence, using this and other words - the wackier, the better.

Step 2: Use curiosity to keep children motivated

Curiosity is the natural spark that helps the brain to learn naturally. Whenever children encounter something new they ask what, where, when, why and how questions. So when it comes to the 3Rs, one of the first questions you may encounter is, “Why do I have to learn all this?” Fair enough! If someone told you that you had to understand how your car engine worked by tomorrow, your first questions would be, “Why? What’s in it for me?” Children are no different.

So entertain them with a gentle discussion. You are more likely to boost their motivation when they can see the benefits of learning.

Step 3: Let children get hands-on with arithmetic

Children like things they can see and touch. For this reason many are happy with numbers until they encounter abstract concepts like mathematical symbols. To help them out, try this:

  • Take an old bit of card. Draw and cut out the symbols for addition, subtraction etc, together with the ‘equals’ sign.
  • Let your child use different coloured paints to make each of the symbols attractive.
  • Whilst you are waiting for the symbols to dry, write a few simple sums on small scraps of paper; fold each one up and put them in an empty dish.
  • Put the colourful symbols, together with a group of objects, such as a bag of plastic balls or pegs onto the table.
  • Pick one of the sums randomly from the bowl.
  • Now ask your child to make up the sum (for example, 9 divided by 3 = 3) using the symbols and the plastic balls or pegs.
  • Gently guide them when they hesitate and lavish praise when they are right!