Usually when the postman arrives, he comes bearing toy review boxes. This week, he came with two very sturdy, very interesting looking parcels for the boys, from Mrs. Wordsmith. Now sit tight, because this is going to be a long one. I’ve realised more and more over the summer holidays that despite no longer being an active teacher in a school, I can’t let go of my need to talk about education – and so we have a LOT of posts coming on Primary Education, ways to help your little ones and ways to make it fun. So here’s our first review – and it’s really, truly worth reading.
BACK TO SCHOOL
School is around the corner again sadly [I’m already feeling all melancholy that they’re back to school and I won’t have them at home with me] and although we’ve been doing our homeschool thing over the past six weeks [with a break for Granny and Grandad’s house], and we’ve managed to get our love of maths back for Jensen and develop confidence in Lyoto, mathematics has been our main focus.
It was refreshing when Mrs. Wordsmith arrived at our home. There was a larger, orange box for Jensen [and Lyoto] and a smaller, blue box for Hero [and Lyoto]. Lyoto is six and can benefit from both of the parcels, labeled as the Social Journey and the Narrative Journey.
SO WHAT IS MRS.WORDSMITH?
Mrs. Wordsmith is everything I wish I’d had as a newly qualified teacher looking for the answer as to how to enrich my 34 little students’ brains with language in the little time I had. Now, as a parent of three boys [8, 6 and 4], it’s the solution to the problem I have of trying to make a difference in my own boys’ educational lives in a short space of quality time each day that will make a difference, whilst not frustrating them and making them feel as if I’m just extending their school day for no point.
Jens generally comes home from school and tells me that literacy is horrible, he’s cried because he can’t get sentences out in the time frame given by his teacher and he finds it all very boring. As his parent, this is heartbreaking at best but also frustrates me no end because firstly he’s actually very bright and at home will write and write things that interest him.
So, whilst I obviously have no control over what’s happening in the classroom, I am desperate for him not to lose his love of literacy as he did with maths [which was our big love before he began year two in school. My postgraduate dissertation was on the pedagogy of maths, his dad is an IBMer [computer software engineer] as was his Grandad, and his other Grandad [my Dad] is an engineer and HUGE maths whizz. We LOVE maths as a family. That is, until year two, and three of Jensen’s school life – and this summer has been devoted to maths storybooks, board games, puzzles, role play, supermarket challenges – you name it, we’ve done it. We’re feeling the love again.
Literacy is a huge area to try and conquer. Reading, writing, listening, speaking – there’s so much that it’s hard to know where to start. What we did realise as parents very quickly is that vocabulary is tremendously important. Lyoto has a speech impediment which means that he stammers quite a bit at times, the letter L is nearly impossible for him [although we’re getting there] and the letter M takes a long time to come out from start to finish [Mmmmmmmmom]. He’s made huge progress and is very determined – but what has really helped him at school, and what’s been noted in all of his reports, as he’s ironically assessed as greatly exceeding expectations for his age range in speaking – is his very wide vocabulary. He LOVES words. So much. Even when he can’t get the word Mom out or say his own name properly, his language is beautiful. He chooses words like he’s facing a pick and mix sweeties station, and I don’t ever want that to stop. But how to encourage and nurture that? I had no idea, besides exposing him to as many resources as possible.
Then Mrs. Wordsmith arrived with the exact answer. A 10,000 word answer to be precise.
THE 10,000 WORD JOURNEY
10,000 words sound like quite a few flashcards, huh? Well, the team at Mrs. Wordsmith used data science and “Machine Learning” [I had to turn to Gav to discover what that was as apparently it was developed at IBM] and they distilled the over 1 MILLION words in our language down to the 10,000 most important words for our children to grow and develop into successful human beings. So 10,000 it is. *Gulp*
If you’re wondering just how the importance of these 10,000 words can be imparted to the afterschool loving, crazy-haired child that’s wearing a superhero cape and flying about the trampoline this evening, their formula is very clever indeed. When you read Mrs. Wordsmith, it’s common sense, although we all know how hard it is to apply common sense to parenting at times, especially when you’re exhausted and you just want to get them to learning something.
Here’s how it works as described by the team at Mrs. Wordsmith. I took a while to let that sink in and think about my own experiences teaching both my classes and my boys. I was all about the visual images, catering to the visual learners – but humour? The laughter of 34 little seven-year-olds gets quickly out of hand and so as a teacher, I was delighted when my class were happy but also keen to keep a lid on it, as it were. Looking back, that’s awful. I’ve no idea why I didn’t just let them laugh – and learn. We all remember without effort things that make us laugh – and more than that, we should be building a love of learning, shaping little brains to be happy and healthy.
So we have the success of Mrs. Wordsmith as soundly scientifically based [there’s a lot more to it obviously]. What about real life application?
THE THINKING INSIDE THE BOX
Inside the HUGE box we found a ringbinder, a word of the day booklet, and a set of cards. There’s an instruction sheet to refer to also.
Our journey began with Character Words. Everything is colourful and the illustrations are brilliant – by the team behind Madagascar. The idea is that the boys learn one word a day to add to their vocabulary by following the instructions in the Daily Workbook. The little cards are for learning on the go, which is perfect for when we’re waiting for Gav to finish work, in a long checkout queue or waiting at Disney for a show [we used Top Trumps this time on our maths love quest but these would have been a fantastic alternative].
The “Character” words this month are split into:
- Eye Words
- Beautiful Words
- Big or Fat Words
- Small or Thin Words
- Confident Words
- Shy or Uncertain Words
- Clever or Sly Words
- Clumsy or Silly Words
On the back of each illustrated word [which the boys took quite a while to explore and absorb every detail of because they’re completely captivating] is an activity surrounding synonyms, word pairs, and then a final step is to use a favourite word pair to write a sentence.
Each day the word sheet is displayed on the Word of the Day board in the boys’ bedroom, and then filed into his little ringbinder proudly.
At the end of each set of words is a little review sheet, which Jensen loved. When all of the words have been completed, there are glossary sheets to add to the binder as a reference which is a genius idea for helping with homework and SO much better than a thesaurus when you’re 8 years old.
WHY I LOVE IT
It’s obvious that the boys love Mrs. Wordsmith. It’s so different than a list of spellings to look, cover, write and check. There’s colour, humour and it only takes around 15 minutes a day, and they get immediate success and they actually retain what they’ve learned.
As their parent, I LOVE Mrs. Wordsmith. Jensen has never learned his spellings nightly as expected from school and has a seemingly natural ability to spell correctly which I’m always assuming comes from his reading as it did with me and Gav when we were younger. As a teacher, although I was required to ask my class to learn spellings, they very often had no idea of the meaning behind so many of them – and even if they did, rarely retained them and hardly ever used them in context in their writing, which for me made the learning of them pointless at best.
I’m delighted that this isn’t a digital resource and is on paper. Mrs. Wordsmith’s file is something Jensen and Lyoto will refer to over and over as they grow – the way that the words are organised in the glossary will make assignments faster and learning more enjoyable because they’re not struggling to access vocabulary they need – not only there are choices that they can make at their fingertips which will be absorbed into their natural, daily useage, but the activities which they complete on every worksheet are also there to refer to. It’s quite simply brilliant.
A QUICK WORD ON MRS WORDSMITH AND THE SOCIAL JOURNEY
I know I’ve rattled on quite a bit, and I hope you can see why. I just wanted to mention here that we’ve been using the Narrative Journey with Jensen and Lyoto as they’re of school age, but there’s also [you can see the little blue box in the photographs] The Social Journey. The Social Journey is similar in approach but contains a storybook, with age appropriate activities that won’t bore your little one and are actually useful in encouraging language development instead of simply being fillers, and a set of cards too.
We’re going to be starting using the Social Journey with Hero when his brothers are back at school this September. If you’ve been with us for long, you’ll know that we decided to delay Hero going to school until he’s of compulsory school age. As he’s a late summer baby we decided it was in his best interests given what we’ve seen in our other boys’ classes. We’re in no rush for him to be confined to a desk for hours, and Mrs. Wordsmith is perfect for him. Take a peep at the photo below for an example of the activity for collaborate.
THE FINAL VERDICT
So, would we buy Mrs. Wordsmith? I think we all know the answer to that one. Yes, absolutely – and if you have little ones who are about to begin their learning journey too, I can’t recommend it enough as a parent and teacher. It’s a brilliant resource that actually TRULY will help our boys without feeling onerous to them. It’s so refreshing to have an educational product that we as parents can TRUST is actually of real benefit to our children and not just something to try and alleviate our guilt in the education at home arena. I only wish I’d had it when I was teaching.