"Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, one teacher can change the world." Malala Yousafzai

You look at your little boy walking into the school gate on his very first day of Grade 1. He looks like a dapper young gentleman who will soon blossom in a personality of his own. He will become a character unlike those whom you have read to him about in his favourite books, but his own person. You will be informed about how he communicates in the English language, how he performs academically and develops socially during his foundation phase journey. He will get a report card at the end of each term which will give you details about his performance at school.

At  primary school,  children start to gain skills in their home language from the foundation phase. During Grades 4 to 6, whatever was learnt in the first phase of schooling gets retaught, refined, and more intense. There are many parents, like you, who have questions about primary school content, particularly primary school English questions. You look to your child's teacher for answers and guidance. Surely, you will be able to help your child better should you know what primary school English topics get covered in the syllabus.

Primary School English Topics Explained

Children go to Grade 00, and Grade R prior to being enrolled in Grade 1. The difference is that Grade 1 is the key year for children to learn and understand English concepts and topics. Children at a Grade 1 level follow assessment guidelines from a Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS document).

Despite the country allowing students to be taught in their home languages, most schools prefer to learn in English only. Thus English is the language that is a core part of education and a subject in which children need to strive for excellence. All instructions given by teachers are dished out in English and that is why it is so vital for students to understand English.  Instructional time for English in foundation phase classrooms is 8 hours for Grades 1 & 2 and 7 or 8 hours of instructional time for Grade 3's.

Despite having 8 hours weekly of instructional time for English, the language is integrated into every other subject. For example, to tackle a word problem in mathematics, your child needs to know English to be able to read and understand the question first before he or she can solve the problem. Hence English forms the basis for understanding every other subject as well.

As a subject, English is broken down into three main aspects for Grade 1:

  • Listening and speaking
  • Reading and phonics
  • Writing and handwriting

So all you as a parent need to do is give your child a pen to work on handwriting, buy him or her books to improve reading and the phonetic sounding of the words, and offer him or her a listening ear when he or she is ready to share stories.

As a parent of a primary school learner, what is expected of you?

Your task is to improve your child's grammar, assist with reading and pronunciation, and engage your child in discussions.

Correct grammar is importantCorrect your child's incorrect grammar utterances. Source: Unsplash

English Grammar Lessons

Grammar is taught to your child by his or her teacher through corrections and role modelling practices that involve good grammar. However, not all children can produce grammatically correct utterances.

So how will you know if your child is struggling with grammar and understanding the proper grammar rules?

Aside from the termly report card that your child will bring home whereby the teacher may mention that your child battles with grammar, there are a few warning signs that are indicative of poor grammatical skills. You should look out for these signs:

  • Your child takes far too long to formulate a proper sentence
  • Your child talks to themselves over and over to try and understand what they are saying
  • Your Grade 1 child still sounds like a baby when he or she speaks
  • Your child cannot adequately differentiate between tenses and switches between the tenses while speaking
  • Your child tells stories or recalls events in a mixed-up way and not in chronological order
  • Your child battles with understanding what a sentence that you have said means
  • Your child confuses words and the phrases that he or she says thus making you overly confused about what has been said

If you notice any of these grammar flaws in your child, you can consider getting extra help for English for your child. There are many highly qualified Superprof English tutors who can remedy any grammar setbacks immediately. In fact, a tutor may be able to identify grammar-related issues that you may not have noticed.

If you have noticed poor grammar, you can consider rectifying your child's mistakes by yourself. Try these tricks: If your child says a sentence that is clumsy and confusing, point out that the grammar of the sentence is incorrect. Correct any incorrect sentences uttered by your child the instant that you hear it. Get your child to communicate with you and others regularly. Play interactive games with your child and promote the use of good grammar by providing positive reinforcement to your child when she or he says grammatically correct sentences.

Work on English Pronunciation

When children speak, they articulate the words that they are saying. For this to happen their lips, tongue, teeth, and jaw needs to move in the correct way to ensure that words are articulated properly. Many Grade 1 children get over their inability to pronounce certain sounds and words, however, they are still a select few children who constantly resort to using baby language. To identify if  your child actually has a pronunciation problem you will notice a few of these signs:

  • Your child gets annoyed when communicating with others
  • His or her words and sentences sound highly unfamiliar and unknown
  • Your child sounds very unclear and is not able to articulate feelings like other Grade 1's
  • Your child finds it easy to utter one word only but finds it daunting to string more than one word together
  • Your child has a lisp when speaking
  • Your child cannot read and pronounce many different sounds

There are not many activities that you can do to instantly fix articulation and pronunciation problems.  All that you are doing as a parent is enough. Continue to play with your child and encourage the pronunciation of familiar words that have a "sh", or "ch" sound. Talk to your child properly. Maintain full eye-contact when you converse with your child and eliminate all other background noises when engaging in discussions with your child. If your child says an unclear sentence, repeat the sentence in a way where the message of the sentence is more clear and the sentence is accurately pronounced.

If you would like to work on improving your child's vocabulary and pronunciation, you can play games with your child. The nursery rhyme books that come with a CD, are excellent to play on repeat for children who cannot articulate themselves well. Get your child to name items when you go on a shopping trip, and encourage conversations about items contained on a shopping list. Model correct sounds repeatedly until your child is able to articulate the sounds properly as well.

yellow toy car on bookshelf with books
Reading is a basic component of everyday English. Source: Unsplash

Learn English Reading

To emphasise the value of reading during the foundation phase years, let's start with a quote by most children's favourite author.

"If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books." - Roald Dahl

This quote serves as an inspirational message that shows the importance of reading. In fact, the Western Cape Education Department has supplied a whole list of books that parents can buy for their children for each grade in the foundation phase.

Children (especially smaller children) find it boring to read a good old-fashioned book. Hence we suggest that up until Grade 3, you must read to your child every single night and during the day as well. Constantly probe during the reading process. Ask your child how she or he felt when something in a particular scene happened. Ask your child questions about the main characters in the book and about the story itself. Younger children are curious beings and it is up to you to motivate them to continue being curious and learning from their curiosity. Take your child to visit the local library often, and even visit Exclusive Books to gift your child new books regularly.

Remember your child may not be reading on his or her grade level. Some children can read higher grade level books while they are in Grade 1, and other children are still trying to read on a Grade R level during their Grade 1 year. So allow your child to read at a level appropriate to the reading level where he or she is functioning at. Let your child take note of words that are unfamiliar. Assist your child by looking up these unfamiliar words in a dictionary. Once all the unfamiliar words have meanings, allow your child to silently read in his or her mind for a few minutes. Thereafter allow your child to read, pointing at each word to encourage fluency and guide the reading. While we advocate finger reading in Grades 1 and 2, we totally steer away from finger reading at a Grade 4 level.

Getting children to role-play scenes from books that they have read is an excellent way to improve your child's speaking skills as well. Once you tackle grammar, pronunciation, and reading skills, you know that you are doing a great job. Attempting to improve handwriting and cursive writing will come slowly thereafter.

Although school creates an optimal learning environment, it does not at all indicate that learning should stop at school only. While teachers work to improve your child's reading, writing, and grammar,  your job as a mom or dad is to reinforce all that has been learnt in school.

Assisting your child will prove to your child that you are keenly interested in his or her academic well-being. Your child may be motivated to work well at school because of your parental involvement in his or her studies.

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Laila is an enthusiastic English educator and a fun-filled freelance writer. She has accomplished her dream of getting her first book published and has managed to write over 1 000 000 words since beginning her freelance career. In her free time, she is a travel blogger who explores all South Africa has to offer.