Learn from home experiences

31st August 2007 at 01:00
Board games and shopping lists are everyday uses of maths and literacy that teachers can build on, writes Adi Bloom.

PROGRAMMING THE DVD, reading a timetable and going to the sweet shop are all regular activ- ities for children and can have direct relevance to their work at school.

Researchers from Bristol University believe that children's home experiences can enhance their school-based learning and say teachers should capitalise on these by incorporating out-of-school activities into the classroom.

Many already build on children's literacy and numeracy skills. Board games such as Monopoly often require basic mathe- matical calculations. And children are regularly asked to help compile shopping lists or calculate shop change.

Watching television and films at home also contributes to learning. The researchers said: "This could be seen in their emerging understanding of features of narrative, such as genre, character and plot."

Working with four primary schools in Bristol and Cardiff, the researchers helped teachers to implement a series of pro- jects tapping into pupils' home experiences.

Children were given disposable cameras and asked to take photos of their out of-school lives. Snaps of activities that involved mathematics, such as reading a train timetable, were discussed during maths lessons and other pictures were used in writing activities.

Pupils were asked to bring in shoeboxes filled with personal possessions from home, such as favourite toys or photo- graphs. Teachers then used the items as the basis for literacy lessons.

One of the schools in the project also invited parents to come in to help their children to make and play mathematical games.

These activities were complemented with outreach work in which teachers briefed parents on the work their children were doing at school. Guidance sheets, booklets and newsletters gave information about teaching methods and the curriculum.

One school put on an exhibition of literacy materials, including children's work, in a local supermarket. This was aimed at parents who were reluctant to come into school.

Both strands of the project met with approval. Parents felt they had a much greater understanding of what went on in school.

Teachers also benefited. One school adopted the shoebox activity as a way for teachers to get to know a class at the start of each year.

One teacher raised a point: "If you look at these boxes, you can see all the differences in just a small group of children. Do we make them conform too much?"

The researchers recommended that teachers reflect on each activity as they develop it. "Build on successful activities. If something works, then it makes sense to extend it... rather than branching off in a different direction," they said.

Equally, teachers should be aware of children's right to privacy. Not all children will feel comfortable exposing aspects of their home life to the class.

The researchers concluded: "The crucial task for both parents and teachers is to help children make meaningful connections between the different kinds of literacy and mathe- matics which they encounter inside and outside school."

* martin.hughes@bristol.ac.uk

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