A recent research study by the University of London’s Institute of Education found that children who read for pleasure develop better vocabulary, spelling and maths skills on average than those who don’t. If this seems like an obvious, common-sense finding, then it must apply even more so to children who openly embrace study and the development of their academic skills outside of school too.
My oldest son, Isaac, has just started Year 1, and it’s fair to say he’s a studious type in the same way both his parents were. We’re always looking for ways to stimulate his voracious appetite for learning, but also mindful of not wanting to push him too hard or pulling in a different direction from the KS1 curriculum.
As such, I was delighted when the folks at Parragon Books asked me to road-test a couple of workbooks in their Gold Stars range. Isaac’s immediate reaction when I showed him the books? “I’m so excited. Let’s start right now!”
We were off to a good start …
What are they like?
We have spent a few evenings over the past week working through the KS1 Ready for School (128 pages, RRP £7.99) and Maths (32 pages, RRP £2.99) workbooks, These are typical examples of the Gold Stars range, which focusses on English and Maths skills from pre-school up to KS2, covering ages 3-11.
Father and son have been suitably impressed. Each page contains activities which take anywhere between five and 15 minutes to complete – just right to hold the attention of a boy with a short attention span – depending on how deeply we explore them. Upon completion of each page Isaac got to stick one of the gold stars provided to the bottom of the page, giving him the satisfaction of an immediate reward.
The content of each page is rich, layered and well thought through too. A writing exercise, for instance, might offer the opportunity to name and spell familiar objects, practise writing both upper and lower-case letters, or think of an item which starts with a particular letter, all on one page. I particularly liked the variety and flexibility of exercises on offer, meaning that we could flick through and select whichever took our fancy at a given time.
It works on different levels too. In some cases I allowed Isaac to complete a page unsupervised – he found the exercises to be intuitive and engaging enough to do on his own. At other times we worked through them together, giving us the opportunity to approach learning from as many different ways as our combined imaginations would allow.
We’ve been typically doing two or three pages most evenings, and he’s just as enthusiastic about the books now as he was on day one – a good sign. Alongside the obvious educational value, you get a lot of bang for your buck with these – much more so than with a typical £2-£3 educational magazine where the content has less depth and provides perhaps an hour’s worth of entertainment at most. These workbooks will keep Isaac going for weeks, occupying opportune moments after school and at weekends.
So, having tried out these Gold Stars books for the first time, will I be dipping into my pocket to buy more myself? Undoubtedly, yes. They’re good value for money, and anything that can engage a child academically and put a smile on their face at the same time is something work investing in as far as I’m concerned. And it’s a good opportunity as a parent to get hands-on with my son’s development beyond the usual bedtime stories, which is a real bonus.
(Disclosure: I was provided with free workbook samples by Parragon, but was not paid to write this review. Parragon is the world’s leading publisher of illustrated non-fiction books. The Gold Stars educational range is aimed at children of preschool or primary school age and is available at all major book retailers. Find out more at www.parragon.com.)