coaching, reading and writing skills, story writing

Writing stage two: The writer stays in control.

The writing Roles of ‘writer’ and ‘editor’ help keep your writer in control of their writing. 


hainvg fun learning

Dear families.

Many of us have a tendency to believe that we know more than our children…and often we are right, but in the case of writing stories I can’t emphasize enough the importance of NOT taking over your child’s writing because you believe that you have better ideas! Before you know it, you will be writing for them, or dictating what they should write. How does that help them find their own writer’s voice?

When the child is writing a story, their role is that of ‘The Writer’ and so they must keep control of their writing, which includes choice about what and how they write.

You are ‘The Editor’. You are often the expert about spelling and grammar and can help them with proofreading their work.

Another important role as ‘The Editor’ is to motivate them by offering writing suggestions, but you do not decide or pressure them about what they will write so please remember to suggest possible plots and scenarios and characters in a way that they do not feel pressured to accept them.

Only make suggestions relevant to them. People write more expressively and in more detail about what they know about. They can base adventure stories and fantasy on scenarios and with people they know well. The best stories are based around skills the writer has, such as riding a scooter or skate board or bike, and they are set in areas they know well, and with characters based on people they know. For example, my students have written about creatures from outer space but set the landing of their space-craft in their town. They have written about a young spy based on themselves and friends, and  using events happening at school or at their home. They have written about fairies living in a piece of wilderness, or by a stream, or in a garden they know well. They went snorkeling and then wrote about a fantasy world under the sea.

In order that  I don’t take over the writing I pause in between suggestions, to give them a moment to think whether that idea would work for them. After offering two or three suggestions I often pause again to discuss why they don’t like those ideas, or do like them but have reservations about them. Then I can make suggestions closer to what they want. If they don’t like any of my ideas I stop discussing writing until the next suitable coaching time. Remember…no pressure!

When ideas start flowing write them down immediately. Flow charts and mind-maps as well as lists are useful ways to get ideas down onto paper. If your child is not at all keen to write, you can write story ideas down as they tell you. The time spent thinking up ideas and then ordering these ideas is valuable and often underestimated. Successful adult writers often spend a lot of time thinking before they write.

A simple way I often use with writers is to have a piece of paper folded width-ways into three parts which you head up with “Beginning, Middle, and End”, then ask them to write down very briefly what happens. I always lean heavily on the question starters ‘what, where, when, who, why, and how.

Under the Beginning you can ask them to describe where and when the story takes place and who is in it. For example, Where are you? When is this happening? What can we see? What can we hear? Who is with you? How old are you in the story? The beginning is where the writer introduces their character(s), describes the background the character(s) are moving around in, and may even jump right into the middle of the difficulties those in the story are experiencing What is happening? What do you do?

The main action happens in the Middle so “What happens next? What terrible or exciting, or weird thing happens now? What trouble do they get into? How do they solve that problem? are good questions to ask. This is where the hero(es) solve a crime or mystery or have an adventure or series of adventures where they overcome difficulties.

Endings can be difficult if not thought through in the planning stages, and a satisfying ending is very important when you are telling a story. How can we end it? and What will happen at the end? are useful questions to ask.

The good thing is that this planning process can be on-going, and indeed the first ideas can be discounted and radically changed at times as the characters develop and change and as twists and turns of the plot reveal themselves. Get the writer to quickly jot down new ideas on their planning page as they occur.

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homework, Math, reading and writing skills

How to help your child so reading, writing, and Mathematics becomes fun.

Reading, writing, and doing Mathematics: How not to help your child.

Think back to when you were a child and being told that you would like something you had already got to dislike. Do you remember how annoying and unhelpful those talks were? You didn’t believe them. You wished they would stop trying to convince you. You avoided talking with them about it if you could.

In my memory that well-meaning adult would just keep on trying to convince me that understanding Physics, eating lumpy porridge, or throwing a baseball was fun and easy.  I have stubbornly persisted in not finding lumpy porridge or throwing a baseball easy. Fortunately I am learning to be very interested in Physics, but I have had some good coaches along the way who have persisted in discussing ideas with me, shown me how Physics ideas work, and believed I’ll understand physics ideas over time.

Here is what I find works when helping your child read and write and do Mathematics – and anything else, even Physics and skateboarding.

having fun learning reading, writing, and MathematicsDon’t ‘just tell’ them something is fun and interesting. A mistake adults often make when helping their children learn a reading, writing, or Mathematics skill or any other skill, is to ‘tell’ them encouragingly how much fun and how interesting a particular skill or topic is that the child doesn’t yet like and can’t yet do. They won’t believe you, and why should they? Their experience is that that skill or topic is very difficult and quite boring.

Show them how fun and interesting you find a reading, writing, or Mathematics skill or topic. When you truly do like that skill or topic, you can show them it is fun and exciting by smiling as you do it, even glowing with enthusiasm and excitement. You can also talk enthusiastically about the topic. Just don’t over-do it, and keep enthusiastic comments brief. You can gently continue to say and show that you really enjoy/like/love that type of mathematics, that book, that topic, each time you work with them. They don’t have to like it yet but you already do.

Tell the truth. If you don’t like a reading, writing, or Mathematics skill or topic, be honest and tell them how you managed to learn it anyway, or how you will now learn it with them. If you also find that skill or topic difficult, please tell your child. You can let them know you will both learn how to do it together so that you both get to like/enjoy/master the skill. This means that you can  work on an equal footing together, as two students, to understand and master difficult reading, writing, or Mathematics skills. I have personally found this a very powerful and useful way to coach a student when I am unsure yourself about a topic or skill.

As a coach, I have found that being honest about my thoughts and feelings when coaching reading, writing, or Mathematics skills is always the best policy. Some of my best coaching sessions have been when I was not comfortable with teaching the topic or skill, and we worked together to master it. As I tell them – the best way to learn something is to teach it.

Thank you for any feedback. Love hearing from you!


coaching, Math, reading and writing skills

Coming from left field when coaching reading, writing, or Mathematics: The importance of surprise!

Coming from left field: How to use reverse psychology when coaching reading, writing, or Mathematics skills.

Surprise works! Your main aim when teaching your children is to encourage your student to stay alert, or in optimal learning mode while learning reading, writing, or Mathematics skills. So I often do the opposite of what an adult teaching a child normally does.

For example: Is it useful to remind a child who doesn’t concentrate well to concentrate when working with reading, writing, or Mathematics skills? Try it. They concentrate briefly on the reading, writing, or Mathematics they are doing, then they stop concentrating again.

Instead, I try to beat them at a simple game called ‘First up to 5 points’. I assure them I should win because they can’t possibly concentrate enough to beat me. Play while they are working independently on completing reading, writing, or Mathematics tasks.

  1. Randomly check whether they are concentrating on their reading, writing, or Mathematics work or checking out the room. Take a sneaky peep or look at them suddenly while they complete the reading, writing, or Mathematics task.
  2. If they are working on the set reading, writing, or Mathematics tasks I have to give them that point, which I do with a show of reluctance or disappointment.
  3. However if they are not concentrating on their reading, writing, or Mathematics task at that moment, I gleefully give myself a point!

I have played this game with off-task students from five years old to teens as they complete reading, writing, or Mathematics tasks. They love to beat me. I hate losing and love to beat them. Sometimes whoever wins gets a sweetie. I have often sucked it with enormous pleasure in front of them. It is amazing how fast children who didn’t seem to concentrate well when working on their reading, writing, or Mathematics, keep their heads down throughout the reading, writing, or Mathematics task, or when there are distractions around, look up, check out the situation, then get on with their reading, writing, or Mathematics work.

Warning: Take your child’s disposition into account the first few times you play this game when they are working on reading, writing, or Mathematics tasks. They should never feel greatly discouraged, just convinced that if they concentrate when completing reading, writing, or Mathematics activities, they will beat you. For easily discouraged children you can subtly ‘cheat’ in the beginning by noticing slightly more when they concentrate on completing reading, writing, or Mathematics tasks.

Tips to help your child concentrate when working on reading, writing, or Mathematics activities:

  • Competition is a good thing for all of us – when we have a reasonable chance to win. Teach them the rules so they understand exactly what they have to do.
  • Play like a foolish gambler. Always give them the impression that you believe you will win every game you start when they are completing their reading, writing, or Mathematics tasks; and when you lose, show surprise.
  • Play each game wholeheartedly. Be disappointed when you lose and pleased when you win. They will deeply enjoy and indeed gloat when you lose, and when they lose to you, they will be determined to beat you the next time.
  • Play more than one game if possible. While they complete reading, writing, or Mathematics tasks you can play several games in a row. I often say, “Darn! Thought I’d beat you then. Let’s have another game!”
  • Don’t give up playing if your child cries or tantrums when they lose. In the long run losing isn’t bad for them, but not playing the next day or making the game too easy so they always win is bad for them. I have played this game with students who usually were ‘bad losers’ but who learnt to handle losing after a few games.

Other possible situations you can use reverse psychology:

  • Play ‘first up to five so they use the correct hand-grip while completing reading, writing, or Mathematics tasks.
  • Trick them with wrong reading, writing, or Mathematics answers when they tend to say ‘yes’ without checking (many children do this so watch out for it).
  • When they are reluctant to read and/or write or do Mathematics, show your keenness. For example, be super keen to have your turn when you share-read or share-write with them. If they read or write more than agreed-upon, you can indignantly say, “You just took my turn!”
  • When I want children to write I tell them they are only to write for ten minutes.
  • Be surprised when they write more than expected, or master a reading, writing, or Mathematics skill faster than you thought. I tell them that I didn’t know they could do that so well or so fast.
  • Congratulate them as one intelligent human being to another. Tell them that they have mastered a particular reading, writing, or Mathematics skill and shake their hand.

Don’t act like many other ‘kind’ adults who usually:

  • Praise children as they work on reading, writing, or Mathematics skills using a kind voice.
  • Earnestly tell children that, “You can do this reading, writing, or Mathematics skill if you just try.” It hasn’t worked for them before, why should it now?
  • Tell them how well they are doing with learning reading, writing, or Mathematics skills when the child knows perfectly well that they aren’t achieving well in relation to their peers.
  • Call them ‘good children‘. Calling them ‘good` can be manipulative and patronising. ’Good’ generally means that they are doing exactly what you wanted them to do. Your child is actually an ‘intelligent child‘, when they master a reading, writing, or Mathematics skills.  What I want children to do most of all – is to think for themselves so call them intelligent rather than good and see what happens.
  • Check out further advice here

How to Develop Mutual Respect When Helping Your Child Learn New Skills

The honeymoon is over: How to develop a respectful coaching relationship to help your child master reading, writing, and Mathematics skills

A respectful coaching partnership: Different but equal.

Your child can be keen to work with you at home on reading, writing, and Mathematics skills in the beginning. If you had a honeymoon period when you both loved working together on reading, writing, Mathematics skills- and the work was fun – I hope that you enjoyed it. The coaching honeymoon period is usually over after a few weeks, and if you haven’t formed a close, equal, and respectful coaching relationship together when helping your child develop reading, writing, and Mathematics skills, that might be difficult for you both.

After the honeymoon period your child might stop cooperating as easily with you when it is time to read, write or do Mathematics. They might moan, procrastinate, have a tantrum, argue, and not remember the reading, writing, or Mathematics skills they had previously learnt or even where their books and pens are. You might find you begin to ‘forget’ to coach them reading, writing, or Mathematics skills they want to avoid, or find other urgent and more important tasks. However, if you can find a way of keeping on coaching your child those reading, writing, and Mathematics skills they are so reluctant to learn; amazing and unexpected progress will be made over time.

There are many pluses to letting go of being ‘The Boss’ when you form a coaching partnership with your child.

  1. They will learn reading, writing and Mathematics skills faster and easier.
  2. You will both form a more respectful working relationship that you will both deeply enjoy, and
  3. Learning reading, writing, and Mathematics skills will become fun for your child.

You may be home-schooling your children or wanting to help them do better in the classroom. You may want to help your child improve their reading, writing, and/or Mathematics, or to ride a skate board.  Whatever you are coaching and for whatever reasons I encourage you to invest time and effort into developing a respectful coaching relationship with your child. When you work harmoniously together, learning even reading, writing and Mathematics skills your child finds difficult, scary, or boring becomes easier and more fun for them. My families and I have always found that when the coach develops this respectful relationship with their child, coaching reading, writing and Mathematics skills becomes a pleasure instead of a chore, and your children learn faster.

I suggest you climb off your parenting chair and step down to the coaching chair so you sit nose to nose with your child.  Only then can you both decide how you will work respectfully together on mastering the reading, writing, and Mathematics skills that will make them excellent students.

The roles: You both have different but complementary coaching roles that are a little different from the roles of parent and child. Your child as the student often knows what reading, writing, and Mathematics skills they need to learn, and when they might need a short break, or have had enough learning about any new  skills and knowledge. You as the coach know what has to be taught to learn those reading, writing, and Mathematics skills and ways to teach them. You both need to develop a partnership as two relatively equal people with different roles so your child work harder and willingly to learn reading, writing, and Mathematics skills and you use less effort when coaching and see greater results. The key to working smoothly with your child is the respect you consistently show them, and expect from them.

“Respect is taking into consideration the views and desires of others and incorporating it into your decisions. Being truthful to people. When you respect another, you factor in and weigh others’ thoughts and desires into your planning and balance it into your decision-making” Webster’s Dictionary.

Give respect and expect respect. You are the adult and you have to begin first. You can’t expect your child’s respect if you are not giving them respect. Talk and act respectfully and expect the same back from them when coaching reading, writing, and Mathematics skills. Experiment with negotiating with your child on some or all of the following:

  •  what reading, writing, and Mathematics skills will be coached,
  • how the coaching will happen, when it will happen, and
  •  for how long.

More importantly, watch your attitude and thoughts towards your child and change them when they become disrespectful. When you feel, think, and act respectfully towards another, the other feels valued as an intelligent being – whatever their age and you will notice your child quickly gains in skills and confidence when learning reading, writing, and Mathematics skills. Contact me if you have any questions.



reading and writing skills

The first years of school

In the southern hemisphere another school year is rushing towards us like an out of control train and your child is going to walk into another phase of their life – as a school kid. Start getting your child ready for school now. There is a great deal you can do to help your child when they first enter school, and the help you give will make a great deal of difference as to how fast your child learns how to read, write, and understand Mathematics. All families do their best to help their children, but many don’t really know how to. Yet just some basic support from you will make a world of difference on how well your child does at school. Here are some ideas I have found helpful on how to coach your child so they learn to read and write with ease when at school.

Teach your child phonics. Recent research has shown that a good grasp of phonics or the letter-sound relationships are a very first step for your child to when they are learning how to read and spell. don’t believe that understanding basic phonics is a difficult thing – it isn’t. If you understand how to coach your child in phonics skills your child will definitely pick up reading and spelling skills much more easily. Check out the websites on phonics and master basic phonics yourself, then look for simple phonics games and drills to play with your child. You can help them understand and use the letter-sound relationships necessary to write and read easily by playing phonics games and drills with them 10 minutes most days. I have created a game which you can buy if you want a fun and easy game that will have you both competing to win. If learning is fun – we can all learn quickly and relatively effortlessly. Learning the letter-sound relationships in fun, competitive ways will have your child reading books with pleasure and ease and full understanding before the end of the first year.

Regularly read to them and with them. You don’t have to stop reading to them or reading with them until they ask you to. Maybe they are in their early teens and you still read to them because they like it so much. Read books they can’t quite read yet, but are interested in. It will extend their vocabulary, their ideas about people and the world generally, as well as develop their ambition to read those books independently later.

  • Make sure they are following the words you read with their eyes. You can slow your reading down and slide your finger along, and when the word is one they know – ask them to read it.
  • Remember as you read with them that reading is fun and have fun with your child. That means you read books that you both like a lot, that you stop when they have had enough, and sometimes stop at an exciting part of the story so that they want you to read it again soon.
  • Discuss the ideas, happenings and characters in the book as one reader does with another. Stop to answer questions and discuss ideas and thoughts that pop up as you read. Remember that it is not how much you read together, but how you read with them that makes beginning read to fun for your child.

Make sure your child is pronouncing words correctly when they speak. If you listen closely you might notice that they might not be pronouncing all the sounds correctly. Perhaps they can’t quite hear the differences between similar sounds, so gently but persistently help them with that. Correct pronunciation of words will help with their reading and spelling skills.

Make sure they are using the correct pencil grip. Many children write using a fist grip, or a grip which requires them to move their whole hand instead of just the fingers when writing. How exhausting! Help them out by gently and persistently correcting their grip.

Many are using the incorrect direction when they write letters. Make sure that they write all the letters using the correct direction and they are more likely to easily remember how to correctly write all letters. They may write from the bottom instead of the top of the line. This can lead to confusion when they write ‘b’ and ‘d’ for example. A few minutes extra practice writing at home will help them a great deal. Sometimes they just get a little confused and the sooner you help them sort that confusion the better.

My last suggestion to you is that you make coaching time with your child fun for you both. There are many reasons for that but perhaps the most important one is that then you will both want to spend coaching time developing your child’s ability to read and write, and so are more likely to coach regularly. Any other questions you have, please feel free to ask.

homework, Math

Maths is easy too!

Recently several mothers confessed that they had trouble helping their children because they failed at Maths at school. Those mothers and I had a lovely time learning fast and easy ways to coach their children number facts, addition and subtraction of 2 and 3 digit numbers such as 358+249= and 89-35= and multiplication and division.

Don’t let your lack of knowledge stop you from helping your child. Learning together is an extremely successful way to coach children. They love teaching you, and figuring out with you. You don’t have to be an expert to be a coach! Google ‘nzmaths activities’ and you will find yourself in a very useful website with lots of ideas, games, and information about basic Maths skills taught in the primary classroom.

Recent research described the importance of home-school partnership for children to do well educationally. It found parental involvement in children’s learning to be a key factor in children doing well at school. (Ally Bull, Keren Brooking & Renee Campbell, 2008).