Help your child increase their awareness of details
Awareness of details in the world and people around them is an important skill for children learning to read. Find out how to help increase your child’s awareness of details by trying these simple tips.
Awareness and Reading
I am going to go off the path a bit here and talk about the importance of awareness. By awareness I mean attention to detail. This can be anything from using clues to help figure things out, the desire to figure things out, and the ability to figure things out. Awareness in reading involves things like noticing a certain line in a letter, being careful of which way to write a letter, or reading a word out loud and correcting it so that it matches an actual word in the English language. I notice the gap in awareness levels in my youngest students when they are in my classroom. I believe that awareness of details is very closely tied to reading.
Some people are just more naturally aware of things. I have four kids and all of them, I’d say, had different levels of awareness when they were learning to read. I have a few examples.
My Two Sons
One of my sons has always been aware of everything going on around him. Maybe it is because he is the youngest, and it was his way to survive. He taught himself to zip up his jacket, find his name and address labels at his spot at the preschool table, and figured out–by reading one of the boxes from an old Lego set– how to type www.lego.com into the laptop so that he could peruse the Lego website to look at the fancy sets. This son did all of this and taught himself to read by age 4. He knew every name of every student in kindergarten–not just in his class, but in the other classes, too. One day, he came home very upset and asked, “How come kids don’t know my name, and I know their name?”
He can also “read the room” and picks up on people’s motivations and emotions.
The Case of the Black Pick-up
One time, when this super-aware child was in about second grade, we were driving down our street and saw an unknown black pick-up truck with a man in the driver’s seat parked in front of a house. We had been having some trouble in the neighborhood, were on alert, and were noticing out-of-place vehicles. My daughter and I both remarked about the truck as we drove by. We ran errands for about an hour and on our return trip saw that the man in the black pick-up truck was still there.
My daughter and I both thought that was a little odd. We surmised the man could be one of the workers doing construction on a nearby house. But then, my super-aware son spoke up from the back seat. He said, no, that it was the man who lives in the house where the truck was parked. Since those neighbors were new, I had not met them yet.
We asked my son how he knew that. He explained that he always rode his bike past that house and had seen the new neighbors. According to him, the man who lived there owned that black pick-up because it had a certain sticker in the window. He added that the man we could see in the truck had a certain kind of detailed star tattoo on his left forearm and that was the same as the man who lived in the house.
Well thanks, young Sherlock!
I laughed at the time because it showed how unaware I was of the new neighbors. I vowed to do better.
The Case of the Missing Dad
Now on to the other son. This child had a very different level of awareness of what was going on around him. Here is his example.
When my children were little, my husband used to have to take work trips overseas. One time he was on a long trip to the Philippines. My husband was gone for almost a week when my not-quite-as-aware son came into the kitchen for breakfast. As he was eating his toast he asked, “Where’s Dad?”
We all turned and looked at him in disbelief.
He had just then realized that Dad wasn’t home. Before my husband left we had made a point to have a special meal, to give big hugs, and to say goodbye.
My youngest son of course piped up, “Dad’s in the Philippines. He’s been gone a long time. Didn’t you even notice?”
Then, my not-quite-as-aware son remembered. “Oh, yeah,” he said with a look of dawning realization on his face.
These two sons had, and still have, different levels of awareness of the world around them.
Awareness and Learning Differences
Children with learning differences may be hyper aware of some things to the point that they are missing or not paying attention to other things. My son who is not quite as aware was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade. He has an amazing ability to hyper focus down on tasks once he can “get lost” in them. Almost nothing can distract him once he gets in that mode. It’s like the world around him disappears.
Children who have autism may be extremely aware of the details in the world around them but may not be able to communicate that. I worked with an adult with autism, and he was super aware of phone cords. If the phone cord was not in just the right place as it draped across the counter he would have to go move it. If he came home and the phone cord was out of place, the first thing he would do upon entering the kitchen was to go fix the phone cord so it was draping the “right” way.
Awareness may certainly be affected by different kinds of minds. However, working on increasing awareness to detail could certainly help most learners–as long as it does not add unnecessary stress.
Tips to increase awareness in children
Once I took a class presented by a woman who had worked in the security industry. Her topic was child safety. Most of her suggestions involved teaching children to be aware of their surroundings. She said with her own children she would play some games involving noticing and remembering details.
For example, when they were walking through a mall she would tell her young children, “See that man walking towards us? Look at him and remember everything you can about him.” When the man passed, she would ask her children to tell her one or two details about him. They may tell her what color of shirt he wore, what color hair he had, if he had a beard, etc.
As they got a little older she would ask her kids without prompting first, “That woman who just walked past: what type of shoes was she wearing?”
She did the same with cars and license plates. She would ask her young children what color the car was that just drove past or what was one letter or number on the license plate of the car that just drove past. With practice, the children could remember more and more details and became experts at identification.
Games to help increase awareness
The Tray Game
This game was a 1970s birthday party favorite, but I have used it in the classroom and the students love it.
For the Tray Game, place items from your junk drawer on a baking tray. Try to use items that are familiar to your child. The younger the child, the fewer the items you should use. You will have to kind of gauge the amount of items to use for your child or your group. You can even vary this from round to round.
Have your child study all of the items on the tray for about 2 minutes. Tell them to try to remember as many items as they can. Then take the tray into another room and and remove some of the items. Bring the tray back and have the child study the tray again and see if they can name the missing items. You may want to start with 10 items and then remove 3 items and then move up in number from there.
For older children or at birthday parties, fill the tray with a lot of items and have the children study it for 2-3 minutes. Then remove the tray. Give each child a piece of paper and pencil and have them write down as many items as they can remember from the tray. Then bring back the tray and have the child check their list against the tray. Do several rounds of this and vary some of the items. Have the students check their memories and see if they can increase the amount of items they remember with each round.
Hide the Thimble
My Irish grandmother used to keep me busy when I was little by playing Hide the Thimble.
It is best to use an actual thimble to play this game. If you don’t sew and don’t have a thimble, check the sewing section of your local big box store or a sewing store for a thimble. They are useful items. At school I have played a version of this using a Duplo block or Lego block, but those aren’t as much fun as a thimble.
Thimbles are small and are open on the bottom and this makes them easy to hide in plain sight. They can perch on the tip of a pencil or on the tendril of a houseplant.
You’re getting warmer!
Hide the Thimble is a game of hot and cold. The child leaves the room, and the parent hides the thimble in a spot in the room where the thimble is plainly visible. The most fun is when the thimble is an obvious spot that could be easily overlooked–like the tip of a pencil in a pencil jar. When the parent calls the child back in the room, the child begins looking for the thimble. The parent calls out hot, cold, or warm depending on how close the child is to the thimble. As the child moves closer to the thimble the parent tells them, “You’re getting warmer!”
If the child moves farther from the thimble the parent tells them they are getting colder. If the child is right on top of the thimble and should see it, the parent says, “You’re hot!” When the child finds the thimble they can wear it around on their finger for a while.
Perhaps the best part of the game is when the roles reverse. It is the child’s turn to hide the thimble. Trying to decide where to hide the thimble can often take some time. The child really has to think through details. They need to ask themselves, “How can I hide something in plain sight?”
Since this is Step 5 of the 10 most important simple steps to teach your child to read series, now is the time to practice letter awareness and sound awareness. Call attention to details. Look at signs and say the letters in the words on them: Stop, Enter, Exit. Have your child learn to say their address and a parent’s phone number. Have them learn to say the day and month of their birthday. It is amazing how many children do not know these things upon entering kindergarten. Learning to pay attention to the little details in the world around them will help your child. Children’s brains actually undergo a change when they learn to read. Increasing their awareness of details may just help prime their brains for this change.
You may find the other steps in the series 10 most important simple steps to teach your child to read here:
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