All posts by rightfromthestart

Picture Books to Inspire Children’s Art Projects

Art is not part of the curriculum in our school district, instead all elementary art lessons are taught by parent volunteers.  Once a month I volunteer to teach in my daughter’s class.  A monthly art lesson seems a little piecemeal and I often wish that there was time to delve deeper into projects. With this in mind, I often teach lessons that inspire children to discover a new medium or learn about an unfamiliar type of art.  Picture books can be a good starting point. Below are some of my favourites .

  1. The Noisy  Paint Box

My children are fascinated by abstract art. I recently introduced them to the works of Kandinsky after they created abstract art on our mirror table. This book tells the story of Kandinsky’s life as an artist and explains how he expressed his feelings and senses through painting.  As a boy he felt he could hear the paint box hissing and at a classical music concert saw colours and shapes before his eyes, that expressed the music.

After reading the book,encourage children to paint what they feel as they listen to a piece of classical music. Discuss their feelings and document some of their comments with the painting.  Try playing different genres of music to see how their reactions change and explore together how this was reflected in their painting. A large scale collaborative painting to music could develop this theme further.  Explore the differences in expression and how they all fit together to make a complete painting.

2. Korgi 

The captivating black and white illustrations in this textless graphic novel inspired this project about monsters.  The drawings here were in charcoal but pencil drawing or pen and ink would work equally well.


3. The Mr Men

Strangely, the Mr Men have been one of the girls favourite things to draw and  model for some time.  The book’s back cover displaying all the Mr Men make it easy for them to choose a Mr Man to copy.

WP_20151119_001 1

They used polymer clay to make 3D representations. Their simple forms make them perfect for introducing young children to polymer clay or modelling smaller characters.  It also helps them to see how their drawings can be translated into a 3 dimensional model.

Mr Men polymer clay models

They even created their own Mr Man – Mr Tae Kwondo.

Mr Tae kwondo


4. How are you Peeling?

We loaned this book from the library and it was a firm favourite.  On each page fruit and vegetables are photographed to represent an expression or emotion.  It has inspired us to search the supermarket for interesting vegetables and would be even more fun if you grow your own. It would make a wonderful photography project.

5. Leaf Man

Leaf Man is a good introduction to collage and art using natural materials.  The story of leaf man is illustrated using photocopies of leaves on a colourful torn paper background.  We used this for an art lesson in my daughter’s Kindergarten class and here are some of the finished projects.


 Further Suggestions

The Tiny Seed – paint flicking

The Hungry Caterpillar – collage (Eric Carle describes how he creates his pictures in this slideshow.)

Camille and the Sunflowers – a story about Van Goch




Why Singing and Dancing Promote Social Skills and Friendship

singing kidsResearch has shown that singing increases happiness and emotional well-being.  People feel happier after singing than simply listening to music, probably due to the release of neurochemicals in the brain.

It isn’t news to me that singing lifts your mood.  The quiet teenager that would skip along the road after my weekly singing lesson, head held high and ready to conquer the world is testament to that. When I sang I came alive, through singing I could truly let go. I grew up loving musicals, perhaps because it is perfectly acceptable to sing and dance down the road in a musical and everyone is always happy.

Singing as a group has additional benefits, according to recent research from Oxford University.    Singing in a group encourages social bonding, and singing groups form friendships more quickly than in other group activities. Group dancing also produces similar results, suggesting that a shared musical experience and working together are key factors.  Many of my closest friends were made during my musical theatre days and joining choir was the perfect way to meet people and make friends, when moving to a new country.  A large proportion of the ladies in my choir joined because they were new to the area and wanted to meet new people, whilst sharing their passion for singing. Perhaps if we mix in a little dance we will be even closer?

Singing is a natural way for parents to bond with babies .  As a singer, I instinctively sang to my newborn babies when I was alone with them for the first time.  Often a parent will get their first reactions from a baby when they sing to them. Smiles, laughter, calming, eye contact or gesture can all be encouraged through singing.

When my eldest was born, I felt privileged that as an early education teacher, I  knew lots of songs to share with my baby. With this in mind, I started a baby music group with my antenatal group. My aim was to reach out to others and introduce them to songs that they could share with their babies.  With hindsight, this not only helped the babies but also gave this group of new mothers the chance to socialise, at one of the most vulnerable times of their life. As new mothers singing to their babies, it didn’t matter if they felt they ‘couldn’t sing’  and we quickly built strong friendships.

Group singing was an important part of my teaching day and something I was very comfortable leading.  This confidence wasn’t shared by all the teachers but some approached singing time with enthusiasm and energy, even if they believed their own singing voices to be terrible. The children responded to the teachers who could have fun and draw them in, musical proficiency was never a factor. Singing in a group is a fundamental part of many preschool settings and is one of the ways in which children learn to work together. In order to create a unified sound the children have to listen to one another and share in the experience together.

Young children are instinctively drawn to music and dance and sing without restraint. This usually remains with them until the age at which they become self-conscious and concerned about whether they are good enough. Reluctance to sing may also arise as singing becomes  performance focused rather than purely for pleasure.

One of my favourite memories of Christmas time, was the year my great aunts came to visit my grandparents. The sisters sat around the keyboard as my Auntie played and we all sang for hours.  That family togetherness is difficult to replicate in other situations. My great aunts grew up in the era before television, when singing around the piano was part of everyday life.  I believe that it is important for children to see that singing (and dancing) isn’t about winning a talent show.  Sing along to the radio on car journeys, make up silly songs or fire up some karaoke videos and sing along.

When we have friends around it nearly always ends up with a round of karaoke and it has paved the way to some of the best parties. I love that young and old, singers and non-singers join in and it is always accompanied by laughter and friendship.singing

The Elephant and the Bad Baby: Why Toddlers Like Repetitive Books

All 3 of my girls had the same favourite book at the age of 2. I didn’t encourage it, but somehow ‘The Elephant and the Bad Baby’  by Elfrida Vipoint hit the spot for all of them.
The story is highly repetitive, so much so that it drove my husband insane every time he read it. It is also quite long.
So why would it be so popular?

The repetitive text is most likely what they love the most.

Repetition is important for young children as it helps them to remember and learn. Knowing what comes next is comforting in a generally unpredictable world. Small children love repetition, it means that they can join in and demonstrate how much they know. As they hear the story language time and again, they come to anticipate words and phrases and will insert the vocabulary if the reader pauses at key points, as seen in the video clip.  They will even correct you if you get it wrong (as I did).   Children, as they become older, memorise repetitive books and can be seen to be ‘reading’  them to themselves, before they can actually read the text.  This is a very important starting point for learning to read.

Other repetitive books:

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen

The Very Busy Spider – Eric Carle

Peepo – Allan Ahlberg

Hairy Maclary – Lynley Dodd

Farmer Duck – Martin Waddell

A Squash and a Squeeze – Julia Donaldson

The Little Red Hen

Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell

Bark George – Jules Feiffer

Spider Web Activites for Children

spider web activities

This time of the year there are spider webs everywhere. We stopped to watch a spider devouring a fly on our walk home from school and one has built a web right outside our window, so we watch his antics everyday. If your children are interested in spiders or you are looking for spider activities for Hallowe’en, here are a few we have tried.

  • Tie sticks together into a star shape and weave a web  with wool or string around them, wrapping around each stick as you go.

spider web

  • Weave a spider web inside a hula hoop for a large-scale decoration.

spider web on a hula hoop

  • Turn a round table upside down and give the children a ball of string or yarn to make a web around the table legs.
table spider web
spider web on table
This child had watched the spider wrap up it's prey, so hung these around the web.
This child had watched the spider wrap up it’s prey, so hung these around the web.
  • Make a Velcro web and bugs from old socks or pairs of tights.   Throw the bugs at the web and see how many  get stuck.
velcro spider web
Spider web game At-Bristol
  • Sing the elephant and the spider web song
  • Pipe an icing spider web onto a plate and make spider cakes to fit inside.

spider cakes

  • Find a spider web to climb inside
dr mazes farm
Giant spider web at Dr Maze’s farm
  • Read books about spiders

  • Observe real spider webs
spider eats fly

The End of an Era – Goodbye Under 5’s

As an early education consultant, today is a momentous day. Tomorrow is my youngest daughter’s 5th birthday and so, after 11 and a half years, this is the last day I will have children under 5.

A few years ago I looked forward to the day when my children would be growing up but today I am a little sad for all the things I will miss.

  1. Their chubby little faces and hands
striped hat

2. Watching them play

3. Cute drawings

child's drawing

4. Messy faces


5. Thumb suckers


6. Kisses, cuddles and holding hands

mother kissing baby

7. Having a constant companion


8. Learning to sing

9. Sleeping babies

Had enough now mum
Had enough now mum

10. Everything about this

Luckily, I have almost a year before she goes to school, so lots of time left as a pre-schooler. Happy Birthday little one and as your t shirt says ‘Never Grow Up’
never grow up

Goals, Early Literacy and What is Really Important?

alphabetOne of the biggest parental concerns when children start school is how easily their child will learn to read.  This eagerness to give children the best start is driving academic instruction at an early age.  I recently heard of a school that had under 2’s learn flashcards, before they could move into the 2’s classroom. This anxiety about children reaching goals is often well-intentioned but it is a little like teaching a child to walk before they can stand.

Research suggests that there is a strong correlation between a child’s vocabulary and how easily they will learn to read.

Years of research has  told us that language is the foundation for literacy. Children arriving at school with lower levels of oral language proficiency, for whatever reason, are therefore at a distinct disadvantage for learning.

explain Professor Courtenay Norbury and Debbie Gooch in their article “Too much too soon? What should we be teaching 4-year-olds?” They recommend that the first year of school, is focused on developing these oral skills.

In Finland, children are only taught to read in kindergarten if they are able and interested. A far cry from the expectation that children will read in the US and UK systems. If the academic benefits aren’t convincing enough, then recent research from Stanford University suggests delaying kindergarten and prolonging play are also beneficial to a child’s mental health.

What about those children who already have the foundational skills for reading?  Would they be left behind if a play based curriculum without direct reading instruction was introduced? My belief is that most children who have developed an interest in reading and have the foundational skills, will read quickly and easily. Children who are ready to read, will have individual attention and not have to complete easy worksheets with the rest of the class,  in a school system that is released from the constraints of ensuring all children will learn to read in their first year. The teacher will be able to support those children to develop their literacy in a meaningful way.

If we want our children to be interested and skilled in literacy what are the most important factors? My article for Parentmap ‘What’s really important in early literacy?’ explores this further.

I sometimes wonder what parents aspirations are for their children.  If we constantly drive them towards academic goals and achievements, to extra credits, advanced classes and better colleges so that they can have careers that demand long working hours but good pay, what message are we giving children? That working hard, earning money and being successful are important at the expense of life experience, family life, fun and hobbies?  I wish it were easier to stop worrying about what our children will achieve and think more about what sort of people they will be.

Hallowe’en Activities: Spells and Witches Brew

spells and witches brew

One of my favourite Hallowe’en activities as a teacher was creating spells and dancing around the cauldron. The children were transfixed by the iron cauldron that emerged from the kitchen and wondered if it might belong to a real witch. Dressed in witches hats and cloaks, we would imagine fantastical ingredients and create spells that would transform us into dragons, frogs or birds, that would make us fly, shrink or become invisible. It was a fun way to explore rhyme, share ideas and use our imaginations. We left ‘spell books’ in the mark making area and the home corner became a witches cave complete with potion bottles, spell books and jars of bugs, bats and frogs.

My girls love to make potions, so when I told them about it, they loved the idea but wanted to make a real witches brew.

tin foil wand


To start, we made wands from tin foil and chose witches hats and capes. Tin foil wands are simple to make if you have limited time; wrap tin foil around a pencil or simply roll and scrunch the foil into your desired shape.   If you are more ambitious, make wands from sticks by stripping off the bark, adding ribbons or painting them in special colours. I also like these Harry Potter wands from Red Ted Art

With wands in hand, they chose ingredients to go into the brew.  They didn’t think witches and wizards used shaving foam or cornflour to make a spell, so they chose gruesome alternatives.  Flour became giant’s dandruff, hair gel was ogre snot and fuzzy balls became warts.


The girls wrote down their ingredients so they could remember the order in which to add them .

quill writing

It didn’t matter that my youngest is only just beginning to write, she found her own way.

potion recipe

spell ingredients

Armed with spells, wands and witches hats, they made their way outside to the cauldron at our potion station. One by one, they tossed the ingredients into the cauldron, stirring it and modifying the quantities until they were satisfied. Then it was time for the spell.

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wog

See the little jumpy frog

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wagon

Turn the frog into a dragon

We looked for the dragon but decided it was hiding amongst the clouds.

witches brew

The dance around the cauldron resumed with another spell.

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wog

See the little jumpy frog

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wat

Turn my mum into a bat


Thanks girls, I’m not sure  I want to hang upside down from a tree.


witches brew
The potion remained in the cauldron for sometime and became the central point of their witch and wizarding school.

Suggested ingredients for a witches brew

  • Jello/jelly powder (makes it smell great)
  • mud
  • hair gel
  • shaving foam
  • flour
  • glitter
  • coffee grounds
  • leaves and petals
  • plastic bugs
  • coloured water
  • baking powder-

Further Ideas

  • Give the children collection bags and a card with ingredients for a spell, in picture and written format.  Ask the children to find the objects they need and place them in the bag.
  • Give the children a group of objects and ask them one at a time to add a specific number into the brew.
  • Chant around the caldron and make spells that require the children to make specific movements e.g make us slither like a snake, make us jump or stretch up tall.