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Learning new languages starts at home

Second Language Acquisition

Have you ever wondered how to start learning another South African language? Either for yourself, or how to start your children on a second language? Here’s a good way to start: We have two games to help jump start your child (and you!) with a second language. Conversation Station and Viva Vocab have been developed by teachers specifically with you in mind. These games are ideal to use in your home to help build vocabulary, pronunciation and early sentence building in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu.

For years, the popular methodology for learning a second language has been to focus on grammar and sentences first and then on vocabulary. Recently, however, many teachers have realised that learning vocabulary first, leads to an easier transition into the second language. Learning grammar and how to construct sentences is easier once the learner has a reasonable base of vocabulary to draw on.

The development of Conversation Station and Viva Vocab is based on this concept of building a solid foundation of vocabulary before tackling other aspects of the language. Studies suggest that most learners need between 5-16 ‘meetings’ with a word in order to retain it. By using these games from Learning Tools, learners will be repeatedly exposed to vocabulary building in different situations.

Learning a second language should not only be confined to the classroom. The more exposure and practice a child has, the quicker and deeper the learning of the second language will take place. This is why they are so perfect for home use! Conversation Station and Viva Vocab can be used effectively in the home environment as they are ideal games for parents looking to assist their children with second language acquisition. Siblings can assist one another, and parents can begin acquiring the vocabulary of another language.

Viva Vocab is a specialised vocabulary building game. It is a flash card game – with a picture of an object on the one side, and the vocabulary word on the reverse. The word is listed in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu. The game includes over 250 vocabulary words which are categorised, and each category is colour coded. The categories include numbers, Days of the Week, Months of the Year, Emotions, Verbs, Nouns, and Greetings and Expressions to name but a few. The phonetic transcription for correct pronunciation is included too.

Conversation Station contains 40 cards. Each card has a truly South African photo on the one side, and critical thinking questions in all four of the target languages on the reverse. There are also vocabulary words at the bottom of each card, relating to the photograph. The game is designed to foster critical thinking through thought provoking and open-ended questions, stimulating interaction and conversation. Learners draw on their own personal knowledge as they think about and discuss the photograph.

Conversation Station and Viva Vocab are both available at PNA stores in Gauteng, or at Play and School Room in Rosebank and online from www.learningtools.co.za

To hear more about these great products, please email info@learningtools.co.za

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Brainbox Dinosaurs

Brain Box Dinosaurs Visual Perception

Customer review:

Learning Tools is an amazing site for mothers with children, even if it is aimed at teachers and schools. It offers educational gifts, games and resources for purchase online.

We bought the Brainbox Dinosaurs game from the Learning Tools website for our two and half year old boy recently. The purchasing system was simple and clear. The game was delivered promptly to our door by the Courier Guy and my boy loves it. Even our four year old daughter, who only likes fairies and princesses, got involved and we played the game all afternoon when it arrived.

It basically works as a memory game. There is a box of cards with pictures of dinosaurs, some basic information on one side and 6 questions referring to the pictures on the other. The kids choose a card, look at it, (as mine can’t yet read, I read the information on it to them), then they roll the dice and I ask them a question from the number they roll. The questions are fairly simple, and mostly they get them right. I came home from work the other day and they had all the cards laid out
on the floor like tiles as they were trying to decide on their favourite one.

There is a whole range of these Brainbox games on the Learning Tools site and the nature, science and maths ones, aimed at slightly older children, look like very worth while buys from where I am sitting on a cold and rainy day wondering what to do with the kids this afternoon.

Jessica Faircliff
Hardworking mother of two

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Critical thinking

Adult Literacy

South Africa is a multi-language country – not many other countries can boast having 11 official languages, but here in South Africa we are proud of all of them. But having this many languages has its difficulties. Our education system starts learners off in their mother tongue, and then switches to English abruptly in Grade 4. For many learners their English skills have not been developed or supported enough to handle this transition.

Two teachers Sarah Ohlson de Fine (Foundation Phase) and Catherine Thompson (Intermeidate Phase) have collaborated to develop two games – Conversation Station and Viva Vocab (which are marketed by African Voice). These games have been designed to help learners develop critical thinking skills and proficiency in four languages: English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu.

Both these resources can be used throughout the Foundation and Intermediate phase of education. In the Foundation Phase they are used in the learners Mother Tongue, to encourage Critical Thinking, and at the same time to build vocabulary in another language. In the Intermediate Phase, the same resources are used once again when the learner is more established in the Second Language. Here the games are used to encourage the learners to practice using the Second Language.

For years, the popular methodology for learning a second language has been to focus on grammar and sentences first and then on vocabulary. Recently, however, many teachers have realised that learning vocabulary first leads to an easier transition into the second language. Learning grammar and how to construct sentences is easier once the children has a reasonable base of vocabulary to draw on.

The development of Conversation Station and Viva Vocab is based on this concept of building a solid foundation of vocabulary before tackling other aspects of the language.
Viva Vocab is a specialised vocabulary building game. It is a flash card game – with a picture of an object on the one side, and the vocabulary word on the reverse. The vocabulary is repeated in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu.

Viva Vocab has over 250 of the CAPS vocabulary words. These words are categorised, and each category is colour coded. The categories include numbers, Days of the Week, Months of the Year, Emotions, Verbs, Nouns, and Greetings and Expressions to name but a few. The phonetic transcription of the word is included with each language. This assists the learner to begin pronouncing the word in the right way.

Conversation Station contains 40 cards. Each card has a truly South African photo on the one side, and critical thinking questions in all four of the target languages on the reverse. There are also vocabulary words at the bottom of each card, relating to photograph. These words are listed in the CAPS top 200 vocabulary list.
Conversation Station combines Critical thinking with Second Language Acquisition.

What is critical thinking?? To think critically about an issue or a problem means to be open-minded and consider alternative ways of looking for solutions.
Critical thinking is about knowing how to think, not what to think. It is made up of a number of different skills that help us to learn to make decisions.
To be a good at thinking, children must believe that thinking is fun and they must want to be good at it. Good thinkers practice thinking just like they practice soccer or playing the piano.
Critical thinking has become a buzzword in education. It encourages children to reason better by helping them to base their conclusions on facts rather than emotions.
Using discussion which involves critical thinking in a classroom is ideal, as children are then exposed to the thought processes of their peers. Thus, they can begin to understand how others think and that there are multiple ways of approaching problems, not just one correct way.

Conversation Station fosters critical thinking through thought provoking and open-ended questions, to which there are no right or wrong answers. The game is designed to stimulate interaction and conversation. Children draw on their own personal knowledge as they think about and discuss the photograph.
The Vocabulary Section at the bottom of Conversation Station is aimed at children in the pre-production phase of their Second Language. In this phase, the children are often silent but are absorbing new vocabulary words. These new vocabulary words are easy to understand because they are illustrated in the photograph. The teacher can point, repeat and discuss the words with the children.

In the Intermediate phase, the same cards can be used when the children are more advanced in their Second Language. The critical thinking questions are now used in the second language to facilitate constructing phrases and sentences in the second language.
Studies suggest that most learners need between 5-16 ‘meetings’ with a word in order to retain it. By using both Conversation Station and Viva Vocab, learners will be repeatedly exposed to vocabulary building in different situations.

The association between the words and their meaning is further enhanced by allowing the children to translate the word from both language directions. First they see the second language word and have to produce the Mother Tongue meaning. Later it helps them to translate from their Mother Tongue into the Second Language.
Viva Vocab offers children the opportunity to practice word translation in multiple directions as the words are listed in all four languages on the card. Viva Vocab also provides a phonetic transcription of the word, to help children to pronounce the word correctly.

Learning a second language should not be confined only to the classroom. The more exposure and practice a child has, the quicker and deeper the learning of the second language will take place. Conversation Station and Viva Vocab can be used effectively in the home environment. These are idea games for parents looking to assist their children with second language acquisition. Siblings can assist one another, and parents can begin acquiring vocabulary of a language they interested in learning.
Conversation Station and Viva Vocab are both available for purchase on-line at www.learningtools.co.za
To hear more about these great products, please email info@learningtools.co.za

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African Voice

African Voice | learningtools.co.za

Over the past 6 months I have developed 2 educational resources that are designed to facilitate critical thinking and help with second language acquisition. The rationale is that the same resource can be used for the younger child (aged 5 – 7) in mother tongue, and then in the older child (aged 9 – 12) in the second language. Both games use English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu. There are questions and vocabulary words, and how to pronounce the words too.

Conversation Station – This resource uses critical thinking questions to stimulate thinking, interest and conversation in the learners. Here the resource has 40 cards with pictures on the one side, and critical thinking questions on the reverse. The questions are repeated in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu. As mentioned above – the idea is that Grade 1 learners use this resource to stimulate thought and conversation in their mother tongue. The same resource can then be used for the older grade to stimulate conversation in the second additional language.

  • The teacher, mother, care giver, granny holds the picture side up for the child (pupils?) and then asks the critical thinking questions.
  • The younger child then answers the questions in mother tongue, and the older children attempt it in the second language.
  • The questions are designed to stimulate critical thought. There are no right or wrong answers, it is the child’s interpretation.
  • There are also vocabulary words listed on the cards that the mother / teacher can point out in the picture to reinforce vocabulary.

Viva Vocab – The second resource is a flash card game with the top 250 vocabulary words (it also includes greetings and expressions) in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu. On the one side is an image, and on the reverse the word in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu. It has the syllabic transcription for each word so a person can attempt to say the word with a certain degree of certainty in pronouncing it correct.

• The parent / teacher either lays out the cards picture side up and kids say the words
• The Parent / Teacher can use them as flash cards

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Gender Differences and Education

The topic of our genders and their differences has always been a sensitive one. Although stereotyping is a lot less acceptable now than it was even just a decade ago, not many people can say that they have never used the phrase “typical man” or “woman”, a phrase most often used to highlight the negative traits of a particular gender, but in itself an acknowledgement few can deny, that differences definitely exist. The line between recognising these differences and stereotyping however is often blurred. Yet to be able to differentiate the two as a parent or educator could mean the difference between demolishing a child’s self-esteem, or nurturing it. For example, forcing the old ‘sit still and listen’ technique of teaching puts girls at a distinct advantage and turns boys off learning at the very start purely due to neurobiological make-up. By recognising the effect of gender on the way the brain processes incoming sensory information one can provide equal opportunities for both girls and boys within a learning environment.

Every year as a new wave of students begins their first year in Primary or High School, the question comes up “single sex or co-ed, which is better?” Many parents have strong feelings for or against one or the other, citing various reasons for their choices, from a generational choice, to the schools subject or extra curricular offerings, or often in the case of boys, the schools stance on discipline. Fortunately, it is becoming a lot less simple to choose; fortunately, because it is good news that added to that, there is a growing trend amongst educators of both single sex and co-ed schools to recognise not only how your child is taught, but equally as importantly, how your child processes the information he or she is being taught. More and more research on the topic is helping parents and educators recognise that teaching a child is not only easier when the boy/girl neurobiology and their natural learning predispositions are taken into account, but it levels the playing fields as far as learning success is concerned by treating boys and girls differently in the classrooms.

Gavin Keller, Principle of the Sun Valley Group of Schools in Cape Town has studied the topic extensively, and has been instrumental in getting this message through to parents and teachers across the country in his presentation ‘Pink Brain Blue Brain’. “I never enjoyed school-but I saw an amazing opportunity. If someone could turn school into a good place-thousands of young people would feel good about themselves, taste success and learn vital skills, concepts and attitudes and values that would benefit them in life. School could be a great place-a spring board to adult success.” He explains his vision by saying “It’s is not about one sex being better than the other. It is about biology and brain processing and finding ways to ensure that all children, despite their chromosomes, are given a chance to taste success. Hopefully, this will lead to a massive reduction in the high drop out rate we are experiencing in our schools.”

So what are the differences? Four distinct areas are social, intellectual, emotional, and physical. Socially, research done in the intermediate school phase showed that student’s perception of the social support they receive from parents’ teachers and friends, found significant gender differences. While girls report that friends provide the most social support, boys report that they get less support from their friends than any other source. Although there are other factors that will contribute to a child’s social development, educators need to take gender into account in the planning of activities to promote and develop social interaction. Intellectually, girls tend to excel in the reading and languages department. They are known to start speaking earlier than boys, converse more with adults, and have a larger language centre in the brain. When reading, they use right and left brain hemispheres, where boys use only the left. Girls use up to 12000 words per day, four times that of the average boys 3000. A mixed gender class being taught to read on the same level, will only enhance the sense, most common in boys, that they are weak in this area, prompting disinterest and a lack of confidence in reading, which is fundamental for developing good language skills. Boys on the other hand will generally be stronger in the areas of maths, sciences and sport. This is because boys tend to be more visually and spatially aware and are often better at mental manipulation of images, which may benefit problem-solving, design and construction skills. Emotions typically are what girls “do”. This is because the amygdala which is the collective word used for a group of neurons in the brain that is linked to the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain used to process thought and language has a strong influence on the memory of emotional reactions. Girls, are able to develop the connection between the amygdala and the cerebral cortex faster than boys, which influences their ability to talk about their feelings. Boys whose development in this area is slower, will react negatively and often with aggression as they find it a lot more difficult to express themselves in an emotional situation. Physical differences will show up predominantly through fine and gross motor skills, and a girls ability to master fine motor skills such as writing through the ability to hold a pencil correctly, cutting out shapes with scissors, and colouring is much quicker than boys. The area of gross motor skills is more often dominated earlier by boys, who have faster developing spacial awareness and therefore thrive in sporting and other physical activities as well as making them more likely to be risk takers.

Of course the disparate male and female brain functions as far as learning is concerned, is far more complex than what is outlined here, and many teachers and parents will point out the that fact that some girls can excel in maths and sport and some boys can love reading and be adverse to physical activities. There is no disputing the fact that a large number of other contributing factors outside of brain function in a child’s life be they male or female will either negatively or positively influence the outcome of a their learning ability. However, what is an exciting, forward thinking development in teaching in this century, is the fact that with the help of important research, educators are realising that it is not enough just to divide particularly the foundation phase classes by gender, but that it is in general, girls and boys process information differently, and that within that learning environment opportunities must be available for them to ensure that in order to provide a fair start, each gender’s educational needs are met from the very beginning of a child’s learning journey thus ensuring school and learning is a positive rewarding experience.

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Glossary of Perceptual Skills

Perception

As discussed in my previous blog post. Perception underlies all the important school tasks including reading, writing, math, memory and spelling. It is vital for the acquisition of both language and knowledge. Without perception learning cannot take place. This is a basic glossary of perceptual skills that you should encourage in your children.

Auditory Perception (Hearing) – The way in which the brain interprets what is being heard by the ears. This is an important skill for auditory learning.

Auditory Discrimination – The ability to hear and discriminate between different sounds. This skill is important for speech development and spelling

Auditory Memory – The capacity to remember what has been heard.

Body Image – How a person views his/her body

Body Awareness – The cognizance of the body, and how it functions

Classification – The ability to sort objects according to kind or class

Discrimination – The ability to recognize similarities and differences between objects

Hand-Eye Coordination – The link between the hands and the eyes that is important for skills such as writing, drawing, threading and ball skills

Fine Motor Coordination – the capacity to direct the movement in the small muscles of the hands, fingers and mouth which is important for writing and speech

Form Perception – the ability to identify and name shapes and forms within space

Form Constancy – The capacity to recognize forms and shapes from varying angles, and in various sizes and colours

Gross Motor Activities – Activities that involve the ability to direct the large muscles of the body.

Gross Motor Coordination – This is the ability to move the large muscles of the body (arms, legs, neck etc.) in a coordinated manner

One-to-One Correspondence – The capacity to match similar objects or groups to one another.

Phonics – The sounds of the letters in the alphabet

Visual Perception (Sight) – The manner in which the brain interprets information received from the eyes. This is an important perceptual skill for all visual learning

Visual Discrimination – The capacity to recognize similarities and differences in information by sight. This is a vital skill for all school learning areas.

Visual Memory – The ability to remember what the eyes have seen

Visual Sequencing – The capacity to arrange objects, words or numbers in a logical order

Visual Seriation – the ability to place objects in an orderly series based on visual cues (from biggest to smallest, from lightest to darkest)

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The Importance of Perceptual Development

perceptual development

As new parents you would be forgiven for taking your child’s developmental milestones for granted. What parents often don’t realise is how a child’s perception is developing right from conception. Perceptual development that is vital for a developing child’s cognitive abilities, for him to be able to socialise, develop a sense of self-awareness, master hand-eye co-ordination and memory skills. Without the ability to perceive, it is impossible for the developing child to have a real sense of who they are and how they fit into the world. First one experiences a sensation, such as touch, smell, taste, sound or sight, and then there is an interpretation, followed by perception, resulting in a response. This is how your child makes sense of the world, and in this world of ever-changing technology and consumerism which target every aspect of your how your child perceives the world, as a parent your awareness of how your child’s perceptions are shaped should be of utmost importance, and should be consciously guided right from the foundation phase, in other words the very beginning of your child’s life. From as early as one month old, a baby will begin to coordinate information from their senses and will intentionally repeat actions that occur automatically as pleasurable reflexes, such as thumb sucking. Babies this age can also coordinate auditory and visual sensations by turning toward sounds.

Although it is important to remember that no two children share the same set of strengths or weaknesses to the same degree, and therefore may reach normal developmental milestones at varying stages, it is a myth that the earlier a child reaches those milestones, the more intelligent they are. What is true however is that a child’s range of perceptual development is not pre-determined at birth, and in the right environment, a child’s IQ can be increased if it is consistently nurtured and strengthened. Again, parental awareness of what is required to encourage healthy perceptual development is fundamental. Although there are many types of perception, the two most common areas of difficulty involved with a learning disability are visual and auditory perception. So much information is processed through sight and sound that a child with visual and or auditory perception disorder would be seriously disadvantaged in for example a classroom situation, where learning aids are presented mostly both visually and verbally. Parents with children diagnosed with conditions relating to perceptual disability should be encouraged by the fact that, with the right intervention, their child can learn to build up areas of weakness. While it is important to address the area of need directly, it is also necessary that children be able to function successfully in the classroom. Using visual aids in conjunction with verbal instructions and eliminating noise distractions for a child with auditory or speech perception difficulties for example, can easily be incorporated into a home or classroom environment with little disruption.

With knowledge and understanding of how their child responds and reacts to the world, parents who support their children early, with understanding and the right developmental aids can greatly benefit them in giving them the advantage in preparing for what is required to properly process, and therefore react appropriately to situations governed by social norms and therefore function successfully and confidently as adults.

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What is perception?

Contact | learningtools.co.za

Children learn through their senses. Perception refers to the way we make sense of the world through our sensory system that is our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and sense of touch. We do not merely see, smell, hear, taste or feel something – we must interpret the various stimuli and give it meaning in order for it to guide action. Most easily put the senses send info to the brain, which processes the information and sends out the relevant response.

There are numerous perceptual skills related to each of the 5 senses. These perceptual abilities are learnt through play, first-hand experience, interaction with others and exploration – they cannot be taught in the conventional sense.

Children move through three phases of learning namely concrete, semi-concrete and abstract. From birth right up to age 12 children need concrete real life experiences to make sense of their world. Within this time frame children may move through all the phases of learning to a greater and lesser degree, but each phase needs to be completely developed in order to ensure success in the later phases. Repetition becomes essential within each phase of development. The basic perceptual skills learnt in the early years will form the basis of all further learning and will have a definite influence on later functioning

Perception underlies all the important school tasks including reading, writing, math, memory and spelling. It is vital for the acquisition of both language and knowledge. Without perception learning cannot take place. Encouraging your child to enhance their perception through appropriate games and activities will be beneficial to their schooling.

All physical abilities rely on perception, without the appropriate perceptive skills we would be unable to walk, brush our teeth, climb or pick up a ball off the ground. Perceptive skills are also important in terms of socialization, emotional response and in the development of a personal identity.