Mystery box game

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.

mystery box

mystery box

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.

4 Responses to “Mystery box game”

  1. nad says:

    So mixing things up (order wise) is normal?
    I get worried every time my 3 year old get his syntax mixed up…

  2. I don’t think you’re supposed to worry about anything at age 3! From time to time when my daughter has been talking French with daddy she’ll turn to me and say something with the adjective after the noun, like: “There’s the cat black, mummy.” Is that the kind of thing you mean? It doesn’t worry me at all, just like if she gets conjugations wrong in French. If she gets enough exposure it’ll come right in the end, and if she doesn’t, well that’s our fault.
    Or are you not talking about something which stems from speaking two languages?

    • nad says:

      I still need to correct his syntax, especially when asking questions.
      I grew up hearing that a child’s brain is like a sponge and that a child can learn as many languages as he is exposed to, but there is recent research which is concluding that a child can only learn 2 languages at the same time. The third will suffer and no room for a fourth.
      My kid’s first language is English. I know that he speaks French, but not to us, nor to anyone that he knows speaks English. His French teacher at school says that he is fluent in French. I know that he understands everything in Arabic, but he resists speaking it too.
      So my concern is that it might all be too much (Ok I stopped with the Mandarin recordings), but on the other hand, I don’t want him to loose on a good opportunity to learn at this age… AND I don’t want to be too pushy when he is obviously not comfortable communicating in those two languages.

  3. I think your kid has got you sussed – why speak French to you when he doesn’t need to? I live in fear of this happening with my daughter! The absence of need is all too obvious. Is there a strong need in the community? Is there the option to put him in a French school? If so I’d say don’t worry about French, but hang in there and keep up his exposure to it, just as you have before. Likewise I can imagine that he hasn’t yet come across an Arabic speaker who spoke only Arabic or overwhelmingly Arabic in his presence (not just to him). Perhaps, until he sees the point then he just won’t do it. Can you create more of a need in some way, to avoid him following the path of least effort?
    As for his syntax, he is only just three, no? Are three or four languages too much? Think of countries where three languages is the norm (India, many African countries). The fact is the children don’t necessarily learn those languages perfectly simultaneously. One of them is often the language of education and they only have limited exposure before being plunged into it aged three or older. However, it is a ‘prestige language’, locally regarded as the ‘proper’ or ‘clever’ way to speak. Do all your languages have enough prestige? English is the one we don’t have to worry about, as its international dominance and prestige will make up for any lack of exposure at home. For French and Arabic we need to compensate.

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