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Play games, in English!

I often get asked by parents, "Claire, how can I get my child to practice English at home, between lessons?". I'll be honest, there is no one size fits all solution, but there are tons of ways to get your child using English outside of scholastic contexts. It just takes a little patience to find what works for you, and then a lot of consistency on your part. This week, I'll give you some tips on how to use games, perhaps games you already play in your child's first language, to sneak English into their daily routine at home.


What child doesn't love playing games?

Everyone loves playing games, even us adults, right? I bet your child asks you at least once a day if you want to play a game with them. I get it, you're a busy, working parent, and perhaps don't always have the time or energy to give into their requests, but trust me, even 5 or 10 minutes of a quick "brain break" will benefit both you and your child! Here are some ideas, trust me, they're easy, fast, and require absolutely no extra preparation on your part!

  1. Hangman. Kids love hangman. Over the holidays, I was at one of those never-ending Italian lunches, and across the table from me was the cutest little 8 year old, who of course came prepared with books, paper and markers. At first she was a bit shy, but as soon as she understood that the adult in front of her with the funny Italian accent was more interested in using her colors than eating the 100th plate of food put in front of her, she warmed right up to me, and I think we played about 50 games of hangman, which, me of course being the English teacher that I am, I quickly turned into games of English hangman with simple words like the colors, basic animals and foods. There's no easier game in the world to put an English spin on!

  2. I spy. Take a look around you. There are infinite possibilities, anywhere you are! If you haven't got a picture book, poster or some other child friendly visual, you can even sit down in your child's room or playroom and take a minute to observe all their toys, books, colors, etc. Start describing an object, using easy prompts like, "I spy something red", or "I spy an black animal", and have your child run to pick up what you're describing. If they know the word in English, have them tell you in English (you can even pretend you don't know how to say "hat" or "cat" in English, I promise they'll be excited to show you that they know more English than you!).

  3. UNO. If you haven't got a set of UNO cards, go buy one. Right now. I'm not kidding. It's a game that you can play with your child, or that they can play with their siblings or friends, and it's a great way to get even the youngest kids using colors and numbers. You can also use it to introduce basic phrases to older kids like, "It's your turn", "You win", etc. etc. Have you bought the cards yet? GO, NOW!

  4. Tic tac toe. All you need is paper, a pen and a bit of imagination. I use this in my lessons whenever we have a bit of extra time. You're thinking, "Yeah, Claire, writing X's and O's on a piece of paper isn't using English". Here's where your imagination comes in. For every X or O that your child writes on the paper, they have to answer a question for you, for example, "What's your favorite color, food, animal, etc.?", or "What color is this?" (while pointing to something). The possibilities are endless.


I'll leave you with these four games for this week, try one out, trust me, you'll be surprised how quickly your child forgets that they're using English, and this is the best way to start developing a positive attitude towards learning another language. It has to be something useful for them, and if it's a way to get your attention for a few extra minutes a day as well as play games, I promise, they'll be all for it. Let me know what you try and how it goes!


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