I got the idea for the mystery box game from a blogger who uses it to spark a guessing game when teaching English as a foreign language. The basic concept is mystery and I just adapted it for learning literacy skills. First I discreetly put an object in a large box and then we look how heavy it is and what sound it makes when we tip it. Next I write the name of the object on a slip of paper and tape it to the box (with the sticky tape that comes off easily). Motivated by the desire to discover the mystery object my daughter quickly sets to reading the label and opening the box to verify.
The mystery element definitely livens things up and the game also provides a strong mental link between objects and their written name. Labelling objects with post-its does too, and we’ve played at reading labels and then sticking them on the relevant objects all around the house, but the idea of an item hiding in the box waiting to be found provides higher motivation.
We then moved on to hiding an object of my daughter’s choice in the box and writing the name of it in French to take to her dad to discover. I had to guide her choice of object to things with simple names (sac, bol, etc). I thought that seeing daddy accurately guess what had been secretly placed in the box would drive home the wonder of literacy, the way it can evoke so efficiently what is unseen. However, at 2 and 3/4 I think she still believes us to be all-knowing and all-seeing (long may it last). What’s more she had trouble not telling daddy what she had put in the box well before he got close enough to read the label. Nonetheless, she had a whale of a time sharing her game while shouting out the contents.
The next phase was to turn the box into a lucky dip of actions. I wrote messages like jump, hop, run fast, get a cup, sit down, stand up, put a peg in a box, hug mummy, and so on. We take turns drawing a slip of paper, since that adds to the suspense, but we both do the actions together. I would never have thought teaching my daughter to read would leave me this breathless.
A random note on the side: I have known a couple of children who will write their name backwards – a perfect mirror image. When it came to ‘GET A [top line] CUP [bottom line]‘ my daughter surprised me by reading: A TEG CUP. So she still needs reminding occasionally to start from the top left. I won’t be starting on Arabic just yet.