How many stories high is your family? Add everyone's height (younger kids can use feet without inches), including grandparents and cousins if you want. Then calculate how tall your "family building" would be (figure ten feet for each floor).
Use goofy rhymes and alliteration throughout the day, suggests Sheila Clonan, Ph.D., assistant professor of educational studies at Colgate University, in Hamilton, New York. You might describe your child's sandwich as "Lunch, lunch, lovely little lunch" or make a straight-faced request like, "Please put on your moos -- I mean your boos -- no, your shoes!" You can also make your child laugh by starting all your words with one letter: "Feen-fup fime. Feese, fick fup four foys."
Have your child think of words starting with the letters on a license plate. For example, 7-year-old Kevin Iwai, of Mountain View, California, says that the "EHH" on his mom's license plate stands for "Elephants Hug Hippos."
Make up a song featuring your child's name. Instead of B-I-N-G-O, try "A lucky mommy had a girl, and Katie was her name-o, K-A-T-I-E, K-A-T-I-E . . . ." Add siblings and friends ("A girl named Maggie had a brother, and Caleb was his name-o . . . .").
Weigh your child, then have him get on the scale with each of your family pets to see how much they weigh. If he can't pick one up, check what she weighed on her last trip to the vet. Do a total and make comparisons. For example, does your son + your two beagles = Dad's weight?
Using pictures from old magazines or newspapers, draw cartoon speech balloons for people in the ads and let your child think of the script. Depending on your child's age, either she or you can write in the words.
Form a letter with your fingers and ask your child to guess what it is. Then think of a word that begins with that letter, suggests Lori Goodman, coauthor of Word Play.
"I spot a tree," Sonja Lyubomirsky, of Santa Monica, California, often calls out while she's driving. Her 5-year-old daughter, Gabriella, might respond, "Tree rhymes with three." Sonja comes up with another rhyme, and they take turns until they can't think of any more; then they start over with a new word. You can make it more challenging by asking your child to think of as many rhymes as she can before you get to the next stoplight.
Describe letters visually and see whether your child can guess the letter. You might say, "It looks like two mountains pushed together," or "It's round like a doughnut."
Before reading to your child, find a common word, such as the or you, in the book. Point it out and spell it out loud. As you turn the pages, ask if she can find the word. Give her hints ("I see that it's on this page three times"). Or find a word for her to follow throughout the book and see whether she can pick out words that rhyme with it (The Cat in the Hat works well for this one).
Put prices on cans of soup and on empty boxes of cereal, pasta, and crackers. Give your kids some change or Monopoly money, and let them shop. If they're old enough, they can be the cashier and ring you up.
Make as many words as you can from the letters in a sign. Older kids can do this by mixing up the letters, and younger kids can look for whole words, such as rest in restaurant.
Get in the habit of leaving notes under each other's pillows. You can also leave notes around the house with clues telling your child where to find the next note.
Have younger children try to spot a certain number on the license plates they see. Or have them find the numbers 1 to 9 in order. Older kids can add all the numbers in a license plate and "win" by finding the plate with the highest sum.
You might say, "I'm thinking of a word that rhymes with boat." Then ask your child to give his guess in the form of a definition, such as, "Is it filled with water, and does it go around a castle?" or "Is it something you wear when it's cold?"
Have your child trace a letter on your back, and you guess what it is. Older kids can spell whole words.
The Debnam family likes to pick three random words and have each person make up a story using them. "The silliest set of words that we ever used was earthworm, sausage, and fairy," says Mio Debnam, who now lives in Hong Kong.
Make an outline of your child's foot on a piece of cardboard. Cut it out, and let her measure things. How many "feet" long is her dresser? Or give her a tape measure and ask her to find two things in the house that are the same length, or to figure out which is longer, the couch or her bed.
Pick a word, and ask your child to think of other words that mean the same thing. Happy? Glad, gleeful, or cheerful. Sad? Glum, teary, upset, or totally bummed out. Or you could have him think of a word that means the opposite. Then let him pick a word for you.
Dr. Clonan and her kids write and illustrate versions of their favorite stories, substituting personal details. For their Goodnight Moon, for example, they wrote, "In the blue room, there were some bears, some books, and a car that went vroom."
Copyright ? 2006. Reprinted with permission from the August 2006 issue of Parents magazine.