Language Arts Activities

The language arts are extremely important. They are the means through which your children are able to receive information, think logically and creatively, and express their ideas. In the school curriculum, this includes reading, writing, spelling, vocabulary building, listening, speaking, handwriting, grammar and storytelling.

The following language art activities can help children build their skills in several areas. It is especially beneficial for them to do these activities in the summer to keep their skills sharp. Some of the activities are primarily designed to help students having problems in these areas. Others will reinforce skills through games. Many are designed to be done by several family members—thus promoting family fun.

Memory Skill Fun

Whether your children are in preschool or high school, part of their schooling is likely to include the memorization of rhymes, poems, songs, and lots of facts. Help them get a head start with the following activities:

Preschool and Kindergarten

Have your children memorize short, popular nursery rhymes like "Jack and Jill" and "Hickory, Dickory, Dock." It will give them some of the awareness of sound that they need to become readers. If you also have them act out the rhymes, it will make the language more meaningful, as children this age learn through their bodies.

Grades One, Two and Three

Children in these grades should be memorizing longer nursery rhymes and poems such as, "The House That Jack Built." Learning longer pieces will help them acquire memorization skills.

Grades Four and Beyond

Sometime in school, almost every child has to learn the names of the 50 states. One of the most enjoyable ways for them to do this is by learning to sing the catchy song "Fifty Nifty United States" which was written by Ray Charles. We know college students who still recall the names of all the states by singing this tune. It is not always easy to find. Try music stores first. If they do not have the sheet music, the stores can order it from Shawnee Press. Or you can visit the company's Web site at www.shawneepress.com to find dealers who carry this song.

Fun Ways to Improve Handwriting

Handwriting skills remain important, as most schoolwork is still done with pencil and paper rather than on computers. Plus, poor handwriting is bound to influence teachers' reactions to your children's papers.

Preschool and Kindergarten

The better the small motor skills (manual dexterity) your children have, the more prepared they will be to learn how to write well. Here are some activities to prepare them for handwriting:

  • String beads.
  • Do finger pushups by opening and closing clothespins with the thumb and index fingers. See how many repetitions everyone can do.
  • Move objects with tweezers.
  • Put pennies into a piggy bank.
Elementary
  • Keep improving your children's small motor skills by having them eat with chopsticks and play the game Operation.
  • Select an alphabet letter, then give each child a favorite book. Have the child write as many words as possible beginning with that letter found in the book in 5 minutes.
Middle School and Beyond
  • Gather all the photos in your home and place them in albums. Have your children use their best handwriting to label the pictures.
  • Introduce your children to calligraphy. Encourage them to make signs to display in your home.

More Ways to Improve Handwriting

Summer is a great time to focus on improving your children's handwriting skills. Legibility really counts on all the work your children do.

Preschool

Show your young children how writing is used to communicate with others. Let them see you write notes, and then read the notes to them. Give the children a good supply of paper and a wide variety of writing tools—from crayons to marking pens—so they can "write" notes to you.

Kindergarten

Help your children have fun as they review the letters that they know. They can use paint brushes and water to write these letters on the sidewalk and trace them in sand, dry jello or salt. If they are interested, teach them how to write their first names. It is helpful if children can do this before they enter school.

Elementary and Middle School

Twenty-five percent of all math errors can be traced back to sloppy handwriting. Have your children make up complex addition and multiplication problems for others to solve. They will need to write them neatly. To check the answers, they can use a calculator.

Old-time Handwriting Fun

Have your children experience different forms of handwriting that were used in the past. Have them try writing with a stylus on clay or Play Dough as the first writing was done. Next, they should discover what it was like in the Middle Ages when illuminators and painters often used very fine brushes and ink.

Then your children can relive how students did their classroom work in the early 1800s using quills and ink. This will be messy! However, even today, quills are still being used by professional calligraphers. After the 1820s, metal pens were used with ink. You may not be able to find these pens. However, if you have old fountain pens, let your children experience writing with them. Then bring them up to today and have them write with markers.

Becoming a Better Listener

Listening is one of the most important language-arts skills. We have suggested activities for different levels at school, but almost all of the activities can be adapted for every age level. Besides being fun, all of the activities will improve your children's listening skills.

Preschool and Kindergarten
  • Go outside two or three different times in the day. Everyone should shut his or her eyes and listen for several minutes. Then in turn, everyone should tell one thing that he or she heard until all the sounds have been named.
  • Use books in which your children press a button to hear sounds from the story.
Elementary School
  • Find a docent-led tour of a museum that would be fun for your children to visit. For example, you might go to a toy, children's, or car museum.
  • You and your children can visit a shop, art gallery or museum where you follow instructions to complete a craft project.
Middle School and Beyond
  • Join your children at a cooking school, like those you see in grocery stores. Everyone will have to listen carefully so the food items will taste like they should.
  • Listen together to the news or a talk program on the radio. Or listen to a television program without looking at the picture. Then talk about what you heard.

Lots of Talking

How well your children can speak in school influences their participation in classroom discussions and their ability to give oral reports. Confident speakers tend to get higher grades because their verbal skills impress their teachers. The more your children talk at home, the better they will speak at school.

Preschool and Kindergarten
  • Have your young children practice telling you their names, addresses, telephone numbers and how to contact you. Then let them have fun with this information by recording and listening to it.
  • Instead of reading a familiar story to your children, take turns telling the story.
  • Stop while reading a story and ask your children what they think will happen next.
Elementary School
  • As a speech icebreaker at the dinner table, play games. You might have everyone ask questions to guess the name of an object in the room or of a family friend, relative or famous person.
  • Using paint and scraps of material available in your home, have your children dress up their fingers as different characters in their favorite stories. Then have them use their finger puppets to act out the story for friends or other family members.
Middle School and Beyond
  • Encourage your children to talk with adults in your family about their recollections of landmark events in their lives. They will also be learning a bit of history as they talk about such things as the first landing on the moon, Pearl Harbor, Sept. 11, and Vietnam.
  • At the dinner table, have everyone, including parents, narrate their daily experiences in sequential order. This could become a favorite family nighttime routine.

Storytelling

This is a skill that helps children develop their oral language skills and teaches them how to present material in a sequential order. Being a good storyteller definitely pays dividends at school. It can be especially enjoyable to practice this skill around campfires in the evening.

Preschool and Kindergarten
  • Take your children to a storytelling session at the local library so they will learn to truly appreciate how great a good storyteller is.
  • Have your children frequently retell favorite stories. Encourage them to change the ending if they would like to do so.
Elementary School
  • In the car or at a picnic, have your children take turns telling a story alternating between using "Luckily ..." and "Unluckily ..." to start each sentence. Or every sentence can start with one or other of these words.
Middle School and Beyond
  • Encourage your older children to play games that actually involve some storytelling, such as Fabrication, and they'll discover storytelling is fun.

More Storytelling Fun

So much emphasis is now being placed on developing children's creativity. Here's a storytelling activity that not only will increase your children's language arts skills, it will also boost their creative-thinking skills.

To prepare for this activity, have your children find 15 to 20 or more rather flat rocks that are approximately 2 inches by 2 inches in size or larger. Have them decorate the rocks on one or both sides as both characters and objects. They can use paints, marking pens, yarn, paper, stickers and so on to create the storytelling rocks. The rocks are then placed in a bag.

To start the activity, one or more rocks are blindly selected from the bag, and a story is devised about these rock characters and objects. As the story goes on, more rocks can be drawn from the bag to embellish the story. If children find difficulty starting a story, you can give them a starter such as, "Once upon a time, a frog was living in a house...

Fun Ways to Improve Spelling

Many people now say that spelling is not important because you can always use the computer to spell check. However, most classroom work as well as the SAT essay is still done with paper and pencil.

Preschool and Kindergarten

• Give your children sidewalk chalk. Then encourage them to write words, letters or messages on the sidewalk for informal spelling practice.

• Have your children write words or messages using glue to form the letters and then sprinkle the glue with glitter or sand.</>

Elementary School
  • Play Boggle frequently with your children to build spelling skills.
  • Dump the contents of a box of alphabet cereal, candy or crackers or the letters from Scrabble on a table; then have your children dive into the pile and make as many words as they can in 3 or 5 minutes.

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Middle School and Beyond
  • Introduce your children to the word searches and crossword puzzles in newspapers, children's magazines and books.
  • Three other games that encourage spelling practice are Hangman, Scrabble, and Bananagrams, an easy type of Scrabble game that is a lot of fun.

Ways to Build Vocabulary

The larger your children's vocabulary, the better they will read and even score on the SAT. Here are some entertaining ways to build their vocabulary.

Preschool and Kindergarten
  • Every family outing can be used to build your children's vocabulary. At the grocery store, you can acquaint them with food items that are not in their everyday vocabulary such as lima beans, pecans and prunes. A visit to a hardware store can be a definite vocabulary builder as your children learn about pliers, drills and wrenches. Even a fun trip to a railroad museum is a vocabulary builder as your children pick up new words such as caboose, locomotive and diesel.
Elementary School
  • While your children look at the story with you, read Amelia Bedelia books to them. It's a great way for them to learn about the interesting way words can be used, especially homophones, literalisms and idiomatic expressions.
Middle School and Beyond
  • The British and Americans use different words for the same object. Can your children find the American equivalent for these words: draughts, lorry, dummy, biscuit, chips, bonnet, nappy, queue, jumper, lift, hoover, anorak, bobby, cot, boot, wardrobe and sweets? They can search online for a Web site that provides this information or use a dictionary.
  • Have your children type a paragraph from a story or the newspaper on the computer. Then they should use the word processor thesaurus function to change as many words as they can while keeping the original meaning.

Reviewing Basic Grammar through Games

It should be helpful for your children to review this important aspect of language arts before school starts. Bring grammar alive through these games.

Preschool and Kindergarten
  • Tell your children that the names of people, places and things are called nouns. Then have them name all the things that they can see in a room or during a car drive. Remind them that these words are nouns. Do the same thing to name people and places.
  • While in the car or at the dinner table, you can play the "I pack my suitcase, and I put in a ..." game. Each player names an object (noun) for a successive letter of the alphabet.
Elementary School
  • Take any object (apple, pencil, toy) and have your children take turns using a word to describe it until they can't think of any more words. Be sure to mention that all the descriptive words are called adjectives.
  • Divide everyone into two teams to play Verb Charades. They can use such easy verbs as "kick," "run," "jump," and more difficult ones like "think," "move" and "raise."
Middle School and Beyond
  • Gather several pictures. See how many objects (nouns) in a picture each player can write down in one minute. Declare the one who named the most different objects the winner.
  • Play 20 Questions to review question words and how to form questions.

More Grammar Games

Your children can have fun making and playing with sentence cubes. They will need eight old blocks or little blocks of wood or newspapers cut and folded into cubes. On each side of a block, they will put a single word.

It is more educational if they color code the words according to their part of speech -- nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions and so on. Sentence building works best if the children include the words: "a," "an," "the," "and," "I," "you" and "to."

Young children can begin by making two-word sentences (noun, verb). Then they can extend the sentences by adding adjectives and adverbs. Older children should be challenged to make eight-word sentences. The most amusing can be displayed on a shelf. For example, the children might come up with sentences like this: "I think that mom and dad are funny." "You cannot eat too much pizza or cereal."

For a variation on sentence building, 50 or more individual words can be written on small cards and then placed in a bag. The children can draw a word at a time from the bag until someone is able to make a sentence.

Word Games

Word games are great for children of all ages because besides having fun playing a game, children are also expanding their vocabulary and spelling skills. Many games also can enhance their critical-thinking skills.

Popular board games such as Scrabble, Boggle and Bananagrams often have versions for different age levels. Older children should be introduced to the challenge of crossword puzzles and cryptograms.

For younger children, word games can be made from words they know or need to know. For example, you can make two sets of word cards -- each with the same words -- and then use them to play the card games War, Go Fish and even Old Maid. These same cards can be used to play memory games by laying them out and turning them over to find matching pairs.

Here is an intriguing game that can challenge family members of all ages. Play it until everyone in the family knows the secret of choosing the right words to show the pattern of the two words. Here are several examples: (1) It is school. It is not vacation. (2) It is good. It is not bad. (3) It is deer. It is not dog. (4) It is poor. It is not rich. (5) It is apple. It is not orange. If you can't figure out the word pattern secret, you'll find it at the end of the next learning activity.

Creating Picture Stories

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. In this activity, let your children stray away from traditional language arts activities to writing stories largely with pictures.

The first writing was pictures drawn on cave walls. Let your children go back to those times and make up stories using as many pictures as they can. For example, "I love you" could be expressed with the picture of an eye followed by a heart and then the letter "U."

When children first start to write, they often use some pictures for words they can't spell out. The representation of a word or phrase by a picture is called a "rebus." For fun or a challenge, have your children go online and search for rebus stories. They will find ones for different age groups that will be fun to read.

Older children can look for lists of emojiis on their computers or cellphones. Then they can have fun writing messages to friends or family members using as many as emojiis as they can.

Answer to the previous Word Game: The correct answer is that the first word always has double letters while the second does not. We hope that you had fun with this!

Playing with Words

Your children can have fun making and playing with sentence cubes. They will need eight old blocks or little blocks of wood or newspapers cut and folded into cubes. On each side of a block, they will put a single word.

It is more educational if they color code the words according to their part of speech -- nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions and so on. Sentence building works best if the children include the words: "a," "an," "the," "and," "I," "you" and "to."

Young children can begin by making two-word sentences (noun, verb). Then they can extend the sentences by adding adjectives and adverbs. Older children should be challenged to make eight-word sentences. The most amusing can be displayed on a shelf. For example, the children might come up with sentences like this: "I think that mom and dad are funny." "You cannot eat too much pizza or cereal."

For a variation on sentence building, 50 or more individual words can be written on small cards and then placed in a bag. The children can draw a word at a time from the bag until someone is able to make a sentence.

Try Rhyming Word Fun

Read nursery rhymes to your young children, and you will be giving them a head start on phonics. All of our first set of "Skinny Books" on this website and at the app store have rhyming words, as they teach young children to read. For example, they can read about Mox the Ox and Tut who had a hut and the cat who sat on a rat on a mat.

Introduce older children to the poems of Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and Bruce Lansky. They'll discover what fun poetry can be. For example, they'll find themselves laughing when they read a poem like "When Grandma Visits" in "A Bad Case of the Giggles," a book of poems selected by Bruce Lansky. The poem starts:

When Grandma visits you, my dears, be good as you can be. Don't put hot waffles in her ears or beetles in her tea.