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Daily Ten – A Lesson in Play-Based Learning

Kathryn Young Thompson

My five-year-old is struggling with writing.  Well, he’s not so much struggling as he just hates it and thinks it’s a waste of time because it is in no way related to video games.  He’s not quite up to grade level halfway through kindergarten and, although I’m not freaking out, I’d like him to be confident going into first grade so I want to help him do as well as his personal development and motor skills will allow.

On his progress report, his teacher encouraged me to keep encouraging him to write at home, writing notes and words and just anything he can think of.  I laughed a little because I could not imagine myself convincing him that writing was not a chore.  While his older sister has always loved writing, any word, any letter, anything she can put down on paper, when I ask Magoo to write anything, even something fun, he acts like he’s being tortured.

But his teacher is a wise woman so I got to work.  I got out a cool new Mario Brothers notebook and marker and told him we were starting a game called Daily Ten, in which he would write ten words on a given topic each day.  He liked the notebook but was pretty skeptical about the “game.”  And the truth is, it wasn’t a game so much as boring practice drills in a cute notebook.

After a week of Daily Ten, sometimes taking as long as two hours to write ten words, I was already noticing improvement in his writing and he even seemed more interested in reading and spelling words in his head.  The problem was, he was growing to dread that notebook and writing even more.  He cried about it and then sat at the table and stalled for as long as he could, while complaining about how hard it was.

I didn’t quite know what to do because I wanted him to keep improving (and I’d already seen some good progress) but not if it put him at war with me and at war with writing.  If he learned to be decent at writing, while at the same time learning to hate it, that would be really detrimental to him in the long run.

So I racked my brain trying to come up with a way to make writing fun and I finally came up with a game plan.  First I changed Daily Ten to Daily Five.  For a person who absolutely cringes at the thought of writing a single word, writing ten at a sitting was too much.  Second, I decided to do the writing with him.  I have my notebook and he has his.  Third, I made the whole process into a game, similar to Scattergories.  I pick a topic like colors or video games or friends from school and we both try to write down an answer that we think will match.  We do one word at a time and we do it together.  When all five words are down, we reveal our answers.  I ask Magoo to read mine and see if they match his. And he doesn’t balk at sounding out the words because it’s all part of the game.

Magoo loves the Daily Five game because it’s not about writing, it’s not about reading, it’s about playing with his mom.  In fact, he's asked me to please turn it back to Daily Ten and he's getting better every day.  I’ve been hearing a lot lately about play-based learning and this experience has me totally on board.  It takes more time, more preparation and more creativity, but it’s more enjoyable for everyone and he may actually discover that writing is fun.

Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler, and a deceased betta fish. She can also be found at The Parenting Post, and occasionally the gym.