Friday, July 20, 2012

Outdoor phonics fun - Jacob Ballas Children's Garden

I did a guest post for a friend Winnie recently  and found out that she likes the outdoors too! Hence I reached out and ask if she is able to do a post for an "Outdoor Fun" series which I have been planning to start for the longest time with the aim of promoting outdoor family fun.

Here, Winnie shares her thoughts and some tips on incorporating some phonics fun during a trip with her little one at Jacob Ballas Children's Gardens.

I understand that you are a fan of phonics! How do you use phonics during outdoor field trips?
All work and no play makes EV (my 2.5YO) a dull girl. I like to bring EV, my first born, out whenever possible, whether it is to the supermarket or the beach. Every outdoor experience is a learning experience for her. I just need to find inspiration from my little one's point of view and identify learning points that we as adults often take for granted as part of everyday life.

One of the key focus during our outdoor adventures is language. In this aspect, I try to reinforce what we are learning during our home teaching sessions and infuse the alphabet and, letter sounds. We will look for animals, insects, plants and things that allow us to practise our letters and sounds. We do that even during our walk around the neighbourhood. Besides vocalising the sounds of the names of the animals, for example, when we see a cat, I say /c/-/a/-/t/ and emphasize the 'c' sound. The purpose of this is to demonstrate that a word is made up of different sounds that are represented by their corresponding letters. I also look for other learning opportunities by pointing out the colours and shapes of the things we encounter, or we will have a short chat about the weather and how the sun is helping plants grow.

As the basis for reading and spelling, it is not enough to know the alphabet and the sounds they make. Just to share a little about phonics. An important pre-reading skill required for phonics is the development of phonemic awareness. This is an understanding of the relationship between a letter (grapheme) and a sound (phoneme). Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, access and manipulate the sounds of a language, and helps kids understand that letters are representations of sounds. It prepares kids for more advanced phonics that involve blending skills for deciphering new words.

One of the places EV and I love to go is the Botanic Gardens. It is a conveniently located green breathing space, with a kids' friendly Jacob Ballas Children's Garden that is perfect for inquisitive little toddlers like EV.

Hunting for 'I'
It was 'I for Insect' week, so we went in search of insects or anything that started with the letter 'I'. I began the trip by telling EV the purpose and vocalised the 'I' sound and the word /i/-/n/-/s/-/e/-/c/-/t/ to her. We found lots of insects – creepy crawling ones and those that fly. It was a hot day, so many came out to play in the shade. We saw many millipedes, ants, a dragonfly, butterflies and a white insect with a feathery behind that we did not know the name of. For those that we know the names of, I voiced the sounds, paying attention to the first letter sound that the word starts with. I said, “Dragonfly. /d/, /d/, dragonfly starts with the letter d'.
 When we saw the butterfly, I reminded EV of The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, a story that I have been reading to her for a long time. We also chatted about The Grouchy Ladybug, one of her favourite books, and searched in vain for ladybugs.

We also saw ixora plants along the way, as well as a plant with 'heart-shaped' leaves called 'Pomea Batatas'.

Let's sound it again
Apart from the main theme, I also like to bring EV's attention to things she knows and make the sounds of the letters that make up those words. For example, on the MRT train on the way to Botanic Gardens, I pointed out a flower-print dress that a girl sitting opposite us was wearing. I sounded out all the letters of the word /f/-/l/-/o/-/w/-/e/-/r/, emphasising on the first letter f. I also highlighted that the word started with the letter f. Then I brought EV's attention to the orange flower design on the girl's mother's shoe. Another lady nearby was carrying a pink bag with white flower prints and EV was able to easily find it once I described it to her. Each time, I would repeat the sounds and letters to her.

EV remembered the ducks from her last trip to the Gardens, so we visited them again. Another perfect opportunity for me to revise the sounds for /d/-/u/-/c/-/k/. I was also able to explain to her how the duck feed with their beaks, move by waddling their feet underwater, bathed and preened themselves with their beaks, and fly with wings like an aeroplane.

What sound is that?
Another thing I like to do during our outdoor trips is to get EV to listen to the sounds around us. I would ask her 'what sound do you hear'. Then I prompt her to a particular sound and try to describe it to her, while trying to sound out the sound myself. At the Gardens, we heard the soft rustling of leaves blowing in a light breeze, the buzzing wings of a flying dragonfly and the splashing of a duck washing itself. The purpose of this is to fine tune her awareness of sounds, which will help as she grasps the sounds in language.

Words, shapes and colours around us
To help her understand that letters are representations of sounds and that a spoken word is a string of sounds while the corresponding written word is a string of letters, I like to read signs to her wherever possible, like the signs at the Gardens which describe the plants, or the labels on the MRT train.

Similarly, I point out the shapes, colours and patterns of the signs to further the learning. The Gardens is also a treasure trove of shapes, patterns and colours, like leaves of different shapes and sizes, and the flowers.

At night during story time, I ask EV questions about our outdoor trips. This gives her a chance to reflect on what she saw, allows me to reiterate where necessary and is a good way for me to gauge her understanding.

I use phonics not just during outdoor trips, but everyday too. Everything around us is a potential learning experience. The challenge is how to transform these experiences that I take for granted into fun learning points for EV. Once I do it successfully, it is always delightful to see the look of joy on EV's face once she discovers something new. It is this that keeps me going, to continually look for new things to inspire her to learn.

About Winnie Lee

Winnie Lee is a FTWM to a pair of girl and boy, aged two years and four months respectively. She home teaches and is a firm believer of play and the great outdoors.

Winnie shares her parenting and home teaching adventures at

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