20 Children’s Books to Prepare for a New School Year

Typically when I think about books that prepare children for school, stories about starting school come to mind.  However, when I received a couple of books encouraging self reflection for older children and teens, I was inspired to compile a list that could prepare children of all ages to face the challenges of the school year ahead.  I was helped in this endeavour by literary expert Sally Allen.    A writer and speaker, Allen advocates for reading books that inspire us to think more deeply about our world and to empathize with others’ experiences. In her latest book, Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers (Griffins Wharf, 2015), she explores these beliefs while providing reading lists that deliver on the promise of inspiring empathy. Sally’s recommendations are in the chapter book section. The list also includes recommendations from my 12-year old daughter.

Picture Books 

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Not to leave out books about starting school for the first time, my favourite starting school book is ‘I am too absolutely small for school by Lauren Child.  Narrated by the  charming and comical Charlie and Lola, it is a wonderful book for children who are anxious about starting school for the first time.

Ming goes to School  by Dierdre Sullivan

This picture book with simple text is perfect for younger readers or perhaps those who are beginning to read on their own.  The beautiful watercolour illustrations are delightful and tell the story of events in an ordinary school day.

children's books for back to school

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

This classic back to school book  deals with separation and the reassurance that you are loved, as you leave for your first day of school.

Something Else by Kathryn Cave

A heartwarming tale about being different and making friends and one of my personal favourites.

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

This children’s classic encourages children to share and find happiness through making friends.

Chapter Books

The Clarice Bean Trilogy by Lauren Child

This trilogy deals with many issues from childhood in a wonderfully humorous and endearing way. The third book in the Trilogy ‘Don’t Look Now’ finds Clarice in a turmoil when her best friend moves to a different country.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Ten-year old Auggie wants what most kids want, but a facial deformity has kept him apart from his peers. Told from multiple points of view, his story of seeking acceptance and community unfolds as he enters a regular school to attend fourth grade.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The first in Stewart’s series brings together a group of gifted children who go on secret missions to save the world. Beautifully written and moving, the story highlights how even the smartest among us benefit from friendship and teamwork to overcome challenges.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Witty and touching, this graphic memoir is named for the superhero personal Bell crafted for herself in childhood. She recounts her early hearing loss, growing up with a Phonic Ear and hearing aid, and the challenges of young friendships and first crushes.

Liesel and Po by Lauren Oliver

Oliver’s mesmerizing and brilliantly plotted story about loss has heavy and difficult but ultimately rewarding moments. With the help of a ghostly figure called Po, orphaned Liesel escapes her bleak existence and sets off on a mission to bury her father’s ashes at the place he most loved.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Autobiographically inspired, this poignant verse story describes the narrator’s last days in Saigon, fleeing from Vietnam, and struggling to adapt in a new country.

Give Me Liberty by L. M. Elliott

In the early days of the U.S. revolutionary war, a young indentured servant grapples with the contradictions and injustices contained within the emerging country’s battle for sovereignty.

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

A young girl, Penelope, travels spontaneously between her time (the 1930s) and the 1580s, where a plot is underway to save Mary, Queen of Scotts. In this potent meditation on the power of witnessing, Penelope cannot bring anything from one world into the next or affect the outcome of the doomed plot.

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Seventh grader Georges struggles to face up to bullies at school and a frightening situation at home. This heartening story is about learning to face up, speak up, and take control when faced uncomfortable and scary situations.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson’s moving and eloquent memoir in verse follows her from Ohio, to the Civil-Rights era South, to Brooklyn in the 1970s. Her exquisite sensory poems touch on race and injustice, friendship and family, and finding one’s purpose.

Books for Older Readers

how to be you

 

How to be You by Jeffrey Marsh.

This is an interactive book that is warm and upbeat and shares a clear message ‘There is nothing wrong with you’. It invites readers to write, colour and engage with the activities within to internalise the concept presented in the book. Interlaced with stories from real lives, a humorous voice and reminders that they are not alone, it is the perfect book for those who feel like an outsider.

self help book for teens

Start Where You Are – a Journal for Self Exploration by Meera Lee Patel

My personal favourite because it is visually stunning and includes inspiring quotes from many of my favourite authors and artists. It features Meera’s hand lettering and watercolour illustrations on every page, alongside exercises to spark reflection through writing, drawing and chart-making. I found it difficult to give this one up to my daughter. It would make a wonderful gift for anyone who wishes to reflect on life and get to know themselves better.   The exercises would be  valuable start of term activities for older children and teens.

Very Good Lives by JK Rowling

This is JK Rowling’s inspirational commencement address at Harvard University, in book form. It is perfect for anyone who finds themselves at a turning point in life.

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Helper

When her mother moves to start a new venture, Penny is made to leave her lifelong friends and city life to start again in a small town. This book deals with transition, change and friendships and the uncertainty and hope that accompanies a new life.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  Copies of some of the books on this list were received for review purposes. All books in the list are personal recommendations and no payment was received for writing this post.

A Picture Book for Father’s Day.

My Amazing Dad is an endearing picture book that would be perfect for Father’s Day.  The simple text tells of a dad who isn’t very good at practical things like mowing the lawn and fixing things but is great at having fun. The dad in the book is a stay at home dad and the children love that he is unconventional.  This is a nice touch, moving away from traditional parenting norms that you see in most children’s books.

It would be a great book to inspire a dad project at school or pre-school provoking questions like

What is your dad good at?

What fun things do you do with your dad?

What things is he not so good at?

What makes your dad amazing?

What do dad’s do?

Depending on the family situations of the children in your class, you may want to do this as a class discussion or on a one-to-one basis.

Disclaimer: A copy of the book was received for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.

 

Jerome Bruner and Early Education

 

Jerome Bruner

Photo credit Poughkeepsie Day School

This week one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Jerome Bruner, died at age 100. If you have studied psychology or education you will most likely have come across his teachings. It’s easy to forget what we have been taught once college days are over, so I have been reminding myself of his teachings and their importance to early childhood educators.

  1.  Scaffolding   

Bruner proposed the concept of scaffolding. Scaffolding is the action that an adult performs to assist the child in learning something that would otherwise be beyond them. Examples of scaffolding include modelling, making suggestions,or structuring learning into manageable parts. As the metaphor suggests, the scaffold supports the child as they build skills so that it can eventually be reduced and removed completely.

The following video illustrates a number of points about scaffolding. Notice how the amount of scaffolding from the adult is minimal or non-existent for the eldest child (aged eight). Some scaffolding is offered to the three-year old in the form of suggestion and answering questions but lots of scaffolding is required by the one-year old.  The children themselves also offer scaffolding to each other, as they watch what the others do and  try things for themselves.

2. Bruner believed that learning was an active process and that children could discover complex concepts at any age.

“Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child,” he wrote in “The Process of Education,” “providing attention is paid to the psychological development of the child.”

This concept heavily influenced the view of the capable child in the schools of Reggio Emilia.  Bruner was a regular visitor to the schools even into his 90’s.

 

3. His work was fundamental in raising the profile of early education and his ideas contributed  heavily to the development of Head Start.

4.  Spiral curriculum

This method focuses on revisiting learned content at set intervals and re-teaching it at a more refined and difficult level. Eventually, learned content from one subject informs more in-depth discussion of content in another subject. Learning through play allows us the luxury of visiting concepts multiple times in different contexts.

Studies are not isolated but intrinsically linked with a common thread running through them all. Bruner believed that learners should go beyond the information given and understand the process in order to generate ideas of their own.

With over 70 years of research, this list only scratches the surface.  I found this video useful for understanding his key contributions.

 

 

 

 

Big Rock Park

We consider ourselves very lucky to live in an area where there are lots of great parks. Last week saw the grand opening of Big Rock Park, so we took a trip to see what it was like.

I liked that it didn’t have the same old playground equipment.  The slide was built into a hill, with a natural climb up to it and the zip wire was low enough for young children to climb on independently. There were also a number of climbing posts made from tree stumps and plentiful building blocks crafted from branches.

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They have really tried hard to maintain this as a nature park.  The fences are all crafted from rough cut wood and they are still cultivating the meadow around the slide complete with little peep holes. In collaboration with STEM High School, Big Rock Park will design an environmental education programme and promote renewable technology.

Beyond the playground you can head down to the nature trails.  On the way admire the giant nest built by local families last year.

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At Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands centre, in England, the playground (wellyboot land)  had giant bouncy eggs. This nest is crying out for some of those.

slimbridge eggs

As you head into the trails you have a number of paths available, all well signposted.  The trails aren’t very long, so perfect for little legs to explore.

Leading towards the trail is another little guest.

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Where would Big Rock Park be without a big rock?

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This was easily the main attraction. The trails circle around the rock and lead back to this wonderful natural climbing area.

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We loved the new park and will be heading back soon with the older children, who were sad that they missed it.

Wire Sculptures Inspired by Giacometti

Since we hadn’t yet explored any three-dimensional art,  our final art lesson this year was inspired by the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti.

Giacometti
Photo Credit Art Poskanzer

Step 1:  Make the shape of the person using wire.IMG_1502

I pre-cut three pieces of wire. The longest piece for the legs, slightly shorter for the arms and a shorter piece for the torso and head. With my own children, I would allow them to cut the wire with wire cutters but with only an hour, I wanted to make sure we had time to complete the sculptures.  The children bent the legs into shape, looped a head into the shorter piece and joined the pieces by twisting them together.

Helpful Tips

Some of the children needed help with this part and some of the joins were a bit wobbly.  With very young children you could make the wire a structure ahead of time and let the children bend it into a pose.

Our trial sculpture had a pose with arms on hips. This was difficult to keep steady and needed a lot of adult help. Older children may be fine but since this was a larger group of 7-year-olds, I suggested they make a pose that wasn’t touching another part of the body.

Step 2: Cover the wire with plaster bandage.

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Each child had a pot of water and a pot of pre-cut pieces of plaster bandage.  Dip the plaster bandage in water for five seconds then wrap or squish around the wire, smoothing out any holes with your finger.

Helpful Tips

Some children found it easier to work with small pieces, as in the picture but some preferred slightly longer pieces that they could wrap. I would suggest giving children a mixture of sizes.

Start with the joins, if they are a bit wobbly, wait a few minutes for these to dry ( you may need a few layers ) and then the model will hold still without moving.

Keep the water pot and plaster bandage away from each other. If the plaster bandage gets wet and is not used straight away, it won’t work and will crumble away.

Leave a section of wire at the bottom of the legs uncovered for inserting in the stand.

Step 3: Make a stand.

sculpture with plaster

We used air-drying clay for the stand because it was heavy enough not to tip but easy to insert the wire into. The shape of the stand was dependent on  the way the model balanced.  Some models required  clay moulded around the legs, others needed a wide base and some had two stands to help it balance. Working out how to balance the model on a stand was a challenge to some.

Helpful Tips

Place the finished models on a piece of paper towel to dry to avoid the clay cracking.

Step 4: Paint the sculptures.

painting sculptures

We used acrylic paint with a gold metallic sheen to replicate bronze,  Giacometti’s chosen medium.

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more sculptures

models

 

 

finished sculpture 2sculpture gia 3sculpture gia 4sculpture giacometti

I think they look great and I’d love to try them again to see what magical creations older children would make.

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Teacher? Play Worker? Educator? What’s in a Name?

beachcombingMany years ago, straight from college and failing to find a teaching opportunity in my locality, I accepted a job  leading a play scheme. This was a new concept at the time, the first after-school and holiday club in my town. I learned a lot. I learned that play doesn’t need to have an end product in mind, I learned the importance of open-ended materials and space, I learned how to work with parents and the huge responsibility of being in charge of somebody else’s child.  Through play work I learned that I loved working with the youngest children  in a play-based environment. I no longer looked for teaching posts with 7-11 year olds but volunteered at a local nursery school to learn the trade of being an early years teacher.

As a young aspiring teacher, I was never proud of my title – play worker.  I was always sure to let people know that I was actually a qualified teacher, that I had been to university for four years and wasn’t just a child care worker. When I got my first teaching post, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Stuck in a classroom of five and six-year olds with nothing to play with apart from a pack of modelling clay, I was quickly disillusioned.

My next job, in a nursery was very different. I worked with a team of teachers and nursery nurses who bounced ideas off one other, who valued play, who cared that the kids were happy and were passionate that teaching was far more than imparting knowledge.  I watched, I listened and I learned. One of my colleagues was wonderful with the children and the parents loved her but she didn’t have a single child-care qualification. I quickly learned that having a teaching qualification didn’t make me better than those less qualified ; we could all learn from one another and had our own contribution to make.

Teacher Tom’s post, I’m Not Sure That’s Teaching ,reminded me of this. Tom questions the meaning of the word teacher and whether or not those who follow the children’s interests, supporting them as they go, are teachers as most people perceive them.

Peter Moss describes Loris Malaguzzi’s role in the schools of Reggio Emilia, as an educational leader whose role was

Not to tell others what to do, not to lead a pliant following wherever he chose – it was to create and evolve an educational project in his city, but always in relation with others and in a spirit of participation and co-operation

I’m currently reading a selection of Loris Malaguzzi’s writings and speeches. The rise of the preschools in Reggio Emilia as a reaction to education built on pre-determined knowledge imparted bit by bit, seems to ring truer today than it ever has.

Labels are complicated and to this day I’m not really sure what I’d prefer to be called. A teacher? educator? play worker? early childhood professional? I’m not sure any of them are quite right. Perhaps that is why I often struggle for a title when people ask me what I do.

Most of the children I have worked with in my career have called me Rachel. Not teacher Rachel, Miss Rachel or Mrs McClary  but simply Rachel. Perhaps titles don’t matter that much after all.

 

We’re Going on a Bug Hunt

Some children hate bugs, they think they are disgusting or scary. That’s why I love our annual preschool bug hunt in the  woods. The children look for bugs, find out about them, collect them in bug jars and bring them back to observe in a terrarium for a few weeks.

bug hunt

In our front garden we have a wildflower border.  As we pass it each day we look out for bees, ladybirds and butterflies. When we found aphids on the lupins, we hoped they would attract ladybirds.

“Why can’t we spray them?” my daughter asked. She had been learning about aphids at school.

“If we spray them”, I explained, it will disrupt the ecosystem, “the ladybirds won’t come and ladybirds are good food for birds.  If we kill off all the bugs we will have fewer birds and small mammals in the garden.”

They don’t like every bug – they are a little afraid of spiders, think mosquitoes are a nuisance and my youngest is a little unsure about worms but they don’t see that as a reason to kill them. We know the worms in our compost bin turn our scraps into compost for the garden , spiders can be left alone if they live outside and they are good because they eat flies and even mosquitoes provide food for bats and birds. This is a useful resource for explaining to children why bugs are good.

There are two kinds of bug we don’t collect on the bug hunt.

  1. Termites because they will eat our preschool.  The children know that termites are important for breaking down old wood from fallen trees but they need to stay in the woods.

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2. Slugs because they will eat all the produce we have planted.  There is plenty of food for them in the woods.

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There were other bugs to collect.

Lots of worms and millipedes.

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Spiders

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and evidence of caterpillars munching leaves.

leaves

We looked up
children and teacher look at trees

and down.
looking for bugs in a decomposing log

We saw evidence of how the bugs break down an old tree log so that it can go back into the soil.
tree log hollowed out

It gets smaller every year, we used to be able to fit inside.

girl balancing on hollow log

Sometimes it is useful to add a focus to a walk and those tiny bugs can easily be forgotten, so next time you walk with your kids, turn over some logs and stones and see what you can find.

Play, Early Education and more…

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