Click to Look Inside: MAXIMIZE YOUR CHILD'S BILINGUAL ABILITY

Why You Must Put a Whiteboard in the Bathroom

October 22, 2012

What animal is big and gray, has a long nose, can fly, and makes a buzzing sound?

The last time we traveled back to the United States to see my family, in 2008, I made an interesting find in a school supply store: a pack of “self-stick dry erase sheets,” like large stickers that can be affixed to the wall and used as a whiteboard.

At the time (Lulu was then 4 and Roy was just a year old), I wasn’t sure how I might make use of them, but I thought they were cool and could come in handy one day.

In fact, these “whiteboard stickers” turned out to be the perfect tool for promoting captive reading.

Messages, riddles, and more

I’ve described how I now post short stories on the bathroom door to increase the amount of reading my kids do. Well, before they reached this somewhat higher reading level, I took advantage of the same captive reading strategy by putting one of these large “whiteboard stickers” on the bathroom wall and writing a simple sentence on it each day.

Sometimes I wrote short messages (like “Watch out! I’m going to give you a tickle when I see you!”). Other times I wrote little riddles, usually about animals (“What animal is black and white, runs fast, and looks like a horse?”), without offering the solution. After puzzling out the text, they would run to me with their answer.

Both of those worked pretty well, but I think the kids’ favorite was a crazier kind of riddle that combines two animals. For example, here’s the question I posed earlier, along with the answer (just click the plus sign to open the box)…

What animal is big and gray, has a long nose, can fly, and makes a buzzing sound?
An elephant-bee.

Let’s try one more…

What animal is fat and pink, with a curly tail, swims in the sea, and has lots of sharp teeth?
A pig-shark.

In fact, since I introduced these “Crazy Creature Riddles,” they’ve become part of our mealtime conversations, too, with Lulu and Roy eager to join in and ask their own inventive riddles. (Try it in your own target language! It’s a fun, imaginative way to engage a child’s oral ability!)

Of course, this same captive reading idea can be used to support an earlier stage of literacy as well. If your child needs practice on phonics words, or sight words, why not display a handful of these each day? It won’t be long before you can combine such words into simple sentences, then gently increase the length and difficulty of the target text.

I highly recommend putting one of these removable “whiteboard stickers” in the bathroom or another “captive location” in your home. (The stickers are ideal for this activity, but a regular whiteboard, or even just sheets of paper, will serve the same purpose.) It’s a cheap and effective tactic for bolstering a child’s budding reading skill, at any stage of proficiency.

How about you? Do you make use of captive reading to support the literacy development of your children?

1 Olena July 20, 2013 at 7:22 am

That is awesome idea! Would not even think about it! Will be definitely buying those dry erase sheets.

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2 Adam July 20, 2013 at 10:16 am

Olena, I’m glad you like the idea. It was the start of my ongoing efforts at captive reading, which has proven to be a very successful strategy for boosting language and literacy development. Best of luck!

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3 Raira July 25, 2013 at 2:55 pm

We already have a board we used during playtime but since it is a bit thick and big, I think it is not best to use in the bathroom! I’ll try to find some in amazon! I think this is cool! Thanks Adam! I’m getting excited to have it soon! Today, I think we’ll go with a piece of paper and a pen!

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4 Adam July 25, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Raira, in Japan, I’ve seen large “whiteboard stickers” at 100-yen stores! Go to a big store and you’ll probably find one!

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5 James M November 26, 2013 at 5:53 pm

How do you adjust your reading for kids of different ages? Mine are 10 & 7. I try to read something at night (unless it is too late – getting them to bed is difficult). The 10-year-old enjoys it & the 7-yo turns off the light so I can’t see to read.

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6 Adam November 27, 2013 at 6:36 am

James, thanks for your question. It’s great that you’re trying to read to your children every night. Reading aloud to our kids regularly has a huge impact on their language development. (For more, see The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child.)

Because your kids are reasonably close in age (similar to mine, who are 9 and 6), you should be able to read one book to both if their language levels aren’t too far apart. The challenge involves choosing suitable books: stories that are pitched at an appropriate level for both children, and that both can enjoy. A good series would do wonders to hook them on your nightly reading sessions—for suggestions, see How to Get Your Child Hooked on Books.

As for the younger child turning off the light, maybe this could be handled by simply using a flashlight in the dark. It might even add to the fun and thrills of these stories!

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7 James M November 27, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Hey thanks! The flashlight is a good idea!

I’m reading “Swallows & Amazons” to them (something my father gave to me) – I think it isn’t working that well (too much sailor tech). I’ll try for something they might both like. They do like “Mama’s Coming Home” by Kate Banks. I read that each night that my wife has a night shift (and doesn’t get home until after they are at school – unless it is also a weekend). Finding something which will last 15 min is another challenge!

I bought a stick-on whiteboard at Daiso today (and a set of coloured whiteboard pens). Kids not home yet.

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8 Adam November 27, 2013 at 1:27 pm

James, best of luck with the whiteboard. As for books, a suitable series will make your reading time both fun and effective. Definitely check out the list of titles at the link above. Keep reading!

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9 James M November 28, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I got 2 of The Magic Tree House series as eBooks from my former home library today. Looking forward to the next read!
My 10-y-o is writing on the whiteboard (takes some imagination to re-process her spelling!) slower progress with the 7-y-o.

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10 Adam November 28, 2013 at 3:38 pm

James, I hope your kids enjoy the books. (With “The Magic Tree House,” it’s best to read the books in order.)

As for the whiteboard idea, I used this for reading practice only (I was the sole writer), but you might have success with both you and your kids writing messages to one another.

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11 Eric May 17, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Hi Adam,
Great idea and really great site! Just found your blog through another blogger (http://chinese-englishbilingualparenting.blogspot.com/2014/02/our-methods.html) and really have enjoyed reading through the content. I’m also a dad raising bilingual kids (english and mandarin chinese, in the United States), and have recently found more time to think about these things. I’m going to have to try the whiteboard in the bathroom technique! I’d like to share two related variations of this that have worked for me:

1. “The Switcharoo”
After they watch a show/movie on the iPad (usually a weekend treat), they invariably ask to watch another one (what kid doesn’t?). Sometimes I say “No, we only watch one movie on “movie night””, but then…casually yet excitedly…I mention a new educational app that I downloaded recently (practicing our “minority language”, of course!). “Want to check it out?” Invariably they wind up spending even more time interacting and learning through this educational app – a win win situation!

2. “Secret Note Exchange”
I often exchange “secret” notes with my daughter (in the minority language, if possible), who is 7. (My 4 year old can’t quite participate in this yet, but will soon). If it’s something like “what should we do for Mommy’s birthday?”, the notes go on and on and on. Through the “conversation”, she practices reading, writing, and creativity, and loves it (as do I)!

After reading your post, I realized I have been doing a similar thing. “Screen time” and “secret note writing time” = two more captive reading opportunities. Works for us at least, would be interested to hear if it works for you.

Keep up the inspiring work!

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12 Adam May 17, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Eric, welcome! And I appreciate the kind feedback. I hope you continue to find my site helpful to your efforts.

Thanks, too, for sharing your good ideas. Notes are something I’ve tried to use regularly with my own kids, though I’m afraid I’m doing this less frequently as they get older. So your input is a useful reminder for me to again ponder how I might incorporate this effectively.

Here are a couple of prior posts on the subject that may be of interest…

How Messages in the Minority Language Can Boost Literacy (and Much More)

What Positive Action Have You Been Putting Off When It Comes to the Minority Language?

All the best on your Mandarin mission! (You might enjoy receiving my weekly newsletter, too!)

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