Teachable Moments ‘On the Go’


Hidden between the carpool line and the grocery line are precious moments in time with your child. There are ways to incorporate vocabulary, spelling words and math facts into the most crowded of daily schedules. Every autumn, kindergarten teachers face the daunting task of guiding a group of wiggly 5-year-olds, who can only sing the ABC’s, toward the goal of emergent readers. And first-grade teachers change the more mature 6-year-olds from finger counters to minor mathematicians.

The secret success of teachers is their ability to embed learning within digestible bites of fun. Parents can do the same.

Fun With Rhymes
Dr. Seuss capitalized on children’s fascination with sounds and words. His books are joyous explorations of word families, referred by reading specialists as onset and rhyme. Nursery rhymes, poems and books like “Cat in the Hat” teach the development of both phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate sounds) and phonological awareness (identifying syllables and phonemes). Rhyming is an essential building block to reading and requires only an auditory environment. Silence the DVD and the radio, and your car becomes a captive environment to play with words and your child. A double benefit is that, with guidance, you can simultaneously improve observation skills.

Ask questions in rhyme and encourage a funny response. “Does the stoplight get bright at night?” “I don’t know, but I want snow!” “See that lady in red! What do you think she wore to bed?” “Why, Mom she wears white at night!”
Encourage siblings to outscore one another with the number of words made from a single phoneme like “at” (cat, hat, bat, sat, rat). When your child is ready, increase the difficulty by challenging him or her to think in terms of blends (flat, brat, drat).

Create New Endings
Expand your mobile activities by creating unique endings for favorite stories. Prompt your child to think of another animal to insert in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” How would the story change if Goldilocks intruded on a nest of hawks? Follow the story line (which develops sequencing skills) but prompt the usage of new vocabulary words. “The hawks soared into their nest, verses flew.” You can banter back and forth with details. Your child says “feathers,” and you say “plumage.” Through shared imagination and creativity, you are providing practice with story sequencing, consequence and action and problem-solving. You will glean important insights into your child’s thought processes and emerging value system.

Play While You Wait
Garner constructive minutes while waiting for a restaurant dinner. A small pad and a pencil are all that are needed to play hangman. Spelling words and sight words become game components. Keeping score through tally marks bundles the benefits by layering math with language. (Tally marks are the basis of counting by 5’s).

Silverware groupings provide tactical presentations of sets. (Three sets of silverware times four people at dinner equals 12 pieces of silverware.) Expand vocabulary by competitively playing with who can think of the most synonyms or antonyms for a given set of words. Allow your child to think of the first word so the concept can be translated by an adult. A child says “cat,” and Mom answers “feline.” A child says “pink,” and big sister says “fuchsia.”

Finally, mitigate waits in grocery lines by playing “greater than/less than” with the eye-catching candy you don’t want to buy. Have fun with numbers, asking, “Do you see anything that costs less than a dollar?” Move to, “Can you think of a number less than 79 cents?” Numerical values and number sense can be difficult concepts for the math-challenged child. The store line can become a visual anchor towards understanding.

If there is an adult or child in your line who is not being polite, lean down and whisper to your child, “Watch carefully, I want to ask you a question when we get to the car.” Use someone else’s bad behavior as the touchstone for an important discussion. Ask your child what he or she saw. “I saw that too!” you can respond as if you two are co-conspirators. Ask open-ended questions such as, “If you were the mommy what would you have done? How did it make you feel watching the boy speak to his grandmother that way?” In these moments of observation you have an opportunity to praise your child’s evaluations and solutions while ever so gently laying the groundwork for acceptable public behavior.

Transform tedious moments into small teachable moments. The time will go quickly and you and your child will have more than a fun wait, you also will have a treasured memory.

Cathie Broocks is the director of admissions at Charlotte Christian School.