Category Archives: books

Using Characters and Themes to Inspire Early Learning.

 

Using Characters and Themes to Inspire Early Learning  supports practitioners in planning and resourcing topics based around popular themes in the early years. Each theme is introduced through a ‘spark’. The ‘sparks’ are an object, or group  of objects, found in the classroom, for example a magic seed.  The projects then develop by presenting letters, posters, postcards etc. from a characters ( these can be found in the appendix of each section).  The characters in the book have been invented by the writers, Jo Ayers and Louise Robson but I see no reason for not utilising other familiar, book, TV or film characters.

Each chapter introduces a new character and theme, including pirates, knights and castles and people who help us.  For those settings who revisit these themes every year, the sparks and resources presented in the book would offer an exciting new angle for engaging the children.

Who is it for?

The book is targeted at teachers in the 3-5 age group, personally I felt some of the themes and activities were more suited to the upper age group, but I would still use the sparks with a younger group and adapt activities to their level and to fit the classroom environment.

How Does it Work?

The book emphasises planning with the children after igniting the initial spark, gathering evidence from comments, questions, observations, photographs and recordings.

The introduction states that topics were chosen based on gathering children together and asking them about their favourite interests.  I would have liked clearer descriptions of the  children’s involvement in the planning, as some of the topics felt more adult directed than others.  In a session which began by finding a mysterious seed, an alien is grows in the seed but it is also mentioned that this could also be an insect.  I would have liked to have seen a description of the thought process behind the decision to make it an alien. Did the children decide it was an alien?  There is a good mind map in the appendix showing the children’s comments and questions which explains this to a certain extent, but I would have liked a little more clarification as to how these comments and questions fed into planning.

The Activities

The chapters are clearly laid out and contain plenty of photographs and support materials.  I would have preferred to see the support materials alongside the description of the activity rather than in the appendix ,as I found flicking between the two distracting. The scenarios weren’t always easy to visualise without reading the materials in the appendix.

I particularly loved the Nancy the Knight and Lord Lawrence chapter for a meaningful approach to the topic of castles. I felt the description of this topic flowed well and the activities were hands on and playful.  I could also see how the children led the learning in this topic.

Who would Benefit Most From this Book?

The book would be a great resource for settings following a topic based approach. It would add wonder and awe to familiar topics and I can see it working really well in reception, kindergarten or year 1 classrooms.  I love the idea of the sparks and think these could also be useful in settings that use more in the moment planning.  With a bit of imagination, one could listen and observe the children, discover their interests and invent a character and scenario that would help them answer questions or develop their interests further. This book would be a great starting point for doing that..  For a theatre person like myself, I can easily imagine adopting this approach in the classroom but it may not be for everyone.

What Did I Think

I love the approach but wish the book was laid out a little differently. I really wanted to hear the story of how each project developed, to hear the children’s voices and see how the children’s ideas and questions led to the next stage of the project or even perhaps how different classes adapted the same scenarios but in different ways.

There is plenty in the book for those who would like to try this approach by following scenarios that work for others or for those who want to try this fun approach but adapt it in their own way.  I think it would be a great addition to a teaching library for new teachers, teachers looking to add a but of fun to their curriculum or those looking for a different approach to topic based learning.

The authors are keen to see how settings are adapting their approach on their social media channels  – Facebook and Twitter

 

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Personalised Books for Your Easter Basket

If, like me you like to find a gift for Easter that isn’t chocolate, a book is always a great option.  Put Me in the Story have gorgeous personalised books, available as stand alone books or gift sets with a soft toy, making an extra special Easter gift.

I Love You Honey Bunny & Plush Gift Set

 

I often shy away from personalised books because the stories are a bit dull, but these are sweet stories with your child appearing as a character in the book. The stories are well written and include favourites like National Geographic, Pete the Cat, Curious George and Lemony Snicket.  You can add a dedication on the cover and a photograph of your child if you wish.

Put me in the Story offered me a book to try out – I chose “An Easter Surprise”.

An Easter Surprise

AN EASTER SURPRISE / AN EASTER SURPRISE AND PLUSH GIFT SET

$19.99 paperback, $34.99 hardcover ,$44.99 gift set

This takes your little one on an egg-hiding adventure around the world.  An Easter Surprise gives your child the chance to plan his or her very own Easter mission. Soaring as high as the moon in a hot air balloon, delivering eggs all over town, and stashing tasty treats all down the streets, your little one will be thrilled at the surprise twist in this Easter adventure.

The story is a simple, sweet, rhyme and features your child  as the Easter bunny. There is a challenge to find all the hidden eggs in the book  that I know my six-year-old is going to love. I think this could be a book that will be returned to time and again.

There are sweet books for slightly younger children, I LOVE YOU HONEY BUNNY is a lovely book to remind children how much you love them and for those who would rather celebrate Easter as a religious festival there is MY FIRST BOOK OF PRAYERS.

You can also personalise colouring books for older kids KEEP CALM AND COLOR ON: FOR YOUR INNER CREATIVE  and KEEP CALM AND COLOR ON: FOR STRESS RELIEF

 

Keep Calm and Color On For Your Inner Creative

There is still time to order for Easter but if you miss the boat, there are many other options for celebrating other occasions.  Personalised books are available for delivery to the US, Canada and the UK.

Disclaimer – a sample personalised book was provided for writing this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collage Inspired by Eric Carle.

Eric Carle collage

A friend recently gave me a beautiful book about illustrators and the story behind their work.

The cover design of Artist to Artist was the inspiration for my art project for 2nd grade. I read the Eric Carle section of the book with interest and looked up videos of Eric Carle explaining how he creates his illustrations.

Materials

Various shades of blue tissue paper

Scrap book paper

glue and scissors

black sharpie

After watching the video with the children, I explained our under the sea themed collage.  The children would draw and cut out sea creatures using scrap book paper and then the sea around it (or over the top if they preferred) would be made using a collage of tissue paper.

The children chose their paper , drew sea creatures of their choice, cut them out , drew features with a sharpie and stuck them onto their paper.

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Following this the children added different colours of tissue by tearing it into strips or small pieces to make the Ocean.  I showed them how they could put a thin layer over their creature to show it was under the sea and give it a shadowy effect or collage around the creatures.

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Some children didn’t want to have sea creatures in their picture and instead chose to draw stones or shells.

under the sea collage

I explained that we would combine the pictures to make a complete under the sea scene.  Some had clear ideas as to where their picture should fit into the display. This child for example asked if the dolphins could be jumping out of the ocean and used white tissue to make the foamy waves, her picture was placed at the top.

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Once the pictures were dry, I coated them with modpodge. This gave them a varnished effect and helped loose bits of tissue to lay flat.

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One observation I have made with this class is that often I come away feeling that some children have been so carried away with the process that the finished product feels rushed and very messy.  I wish we could have a process session before making a product as I do with Kindergarten .  However, my main observation is, even when I feel some children’s projects really will not come together properly, somehow they always do.  Every child has a different idea (which I encourage) and somehow they all work in different ways in the end.

IMG_0962IMG_0963Eric Carle inspired collageocean Eric Carle collageEric Carle Ocean collageIMG_0959

And once they were all put together they looked like this.

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We have an art walk later in the year. I intend to add a 3-D art project to this piece and hang it, so it looks more complete.

Alex and Eliza: A Love Story – Young Adult Novel for Hamilton Fans

Alex and Eliza is a young adult novel, documenting the love story between Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler.  Written by best-selling author Melissa De La Cruz, it is likely to be a popular choice for young Hamilton fans. Netgalley  offered me a sneak peek of the first 4 chapters. Will Hamilton fans be disappointed?

The prologue gives an interesting historical insight into the Schuyler family history. As a  prologue should, it left me wanting  to read more . The opening chapter introduces the Schyuler sisters.  Their portrayal is different to the girls presented in Hamilton the Musical.  Eliza is the central character and the author clearly has a strong emotional attachment to her . She is presented as both clever and beautiful, very principled and caring little about the common frippery of young girls seeking a husband. Angelica, certainly in the first part of the book, does not appear to be the leader of the sisters (although she is also described as beautiful, intelligent and the boldest of the sisters) and seems more interested in looking beautiful and attracting men than more intellectual pursuits.  Eliza is independent of her sister in the novel in comparison to her portrayal in the musical. This is also reflected in her initial meeting with Alexander, where her clever use of wordplay puts Alexander down a peg or two. The characters are immediately likeable and interesting and have enough depth to make you care about them.

I was interested in my teenage daughter’s view, as an avid Hamilton fan who has researched the history behind the Hamilton story intensively.  I personally like the way the Schuyler sisters were portrayed but wasn’t sure how close the representation would be to her understanding of the sisters.  She liked it and didn’t find the different portrayal from the musical annoying, as I had wondered she might. She said that she found the switch between the traditional use of language used by the characters and the more modern narrative voice strange at first, I personally didn’t notice a strong switch in tone. My daughter liked it and wanted to read the rest of the book but wasn’t chomping at the bit because she only had the first four chapters.

To be honest that was also my opinion, I liked it, the characters were compelling and I would like to finish reading the book but I wasn’t desperate to read it in one sitting which is always my benchmark for my favourite books. Perhaps only having four chapters and already knowing the main plot was a factor, so I’m still looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Alex and Eliza is available to pre-order with a release date on 11th April 2017.

 

Pre-order on Amazon.com

Pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

 

This post contains affiliate links. No payment or product was received for review purposes.

Picture Books: Future Releases to Look Out for in 2017

A Pattern for Pepper by Julie Kaulis

 Click on image for link for US readers.
 Click on image for link for UK readers

I absolutely love this one. Pepper visits a dress-maker who is making her a dress for a special occasion.  Pepper can’t decide which pattern she should choose for the fabric, so the dressmaker shows her different patterns, explaining their origins and meanings.  Julie Kraulis’ illustrations are adorable; delicately drawn with a simple colour pallet of blue, white and red. The patterns form the background to the illustrations as they are explained in the text, merging text and illustration beautifully. This would make a wonderful read-aloud story to introduce pattern to young children.  I learned a lot!  Available for pre-order, release date 1st August 2017.

Further Activities

1. Bring in different fabrics – can the children identify any of the patterns in the story?  Are there any other patterns? Do all patterns have names?  Make a matching or sorting game.

2. Ask the children to create their own pattern (limit the colours so they focus on the pattern element).  What do you call your pattern and why?

3. Creative writing : what is the story behind your pattern – this could be done orally for pre-writers.

4. Discover fashion designers, look at sketches and photographs of fashion shows. Create designs from pieces of material and scrap materials and role-play a fashion show.

5. Investigate how textiles are made both in modern times and in the past – visit a mill or find a visitor who can spin wool.

6. Practice cutting out pieces for a pattern, laying them on fabric and drawing and cutting around them.  Perhaps try sewing the pieces together with small groups of children or cut them in paper and see if the children can piece them together with tape to make a garment.

Different? Same! by Heather Tekavec illustrated by Pippa Curnick

 Click on image for link for US readers

Link for UK Readers

This non-fiction title, highlights  differences between animals and then asks the reader to stop and think about how they might be the same.  The simple repetitive pattern of the text encourages children to look closely at the animals and predict their  similarities, before it is announced in the text.  This makes it a lovely interactive  book to share with young children.  The illustrations are bright and bold.  At the end of the book, you will find additional activities and further descriptions of the animals featured in the book.

Available for Pre-order: Publication date 2nd May 2017.

Further Activities

  1. Sort other things into same and different groups e.g. fruit and vegetables, transport, natural materials, household objects.
  2. How are you the same as other children in your class/family? How are you different?
  3. Play a guessing game – show four objects and work out how they relate to one another.
  4. Explore animal skins, shells and /or feathers or choose two objects of the same category and describe them orally for young children and in writing for older children.

Where Will I Live by Rosemary McCarney

Click on image for link for US readers

Click on image for link for UK readers
This powerful photo-based picture book for young readers, written by Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, tells the story of the hundreds of thousands of children around the world who have been forced to flee their homes due to war and terror.  The photographs are stunning, and depict the hardships these children face and their resilience without being disturbing to young children.  The text and photographs work together to explain the plight of refuges to young children in a completely age appropriate manner.  A perfect book for introducing a difficult topic to young children.

Available for pre-order: publication date 4th April 2017.

Future activities for this one will undoubtedly arise from the children’s questions.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links

8 New Picture Books to Add to Your Christmas List

At this time of the year I love to add books to my children’s wish list, but it often takes a lot of research to find new books that I know we will all love. I have received a large number of books to consider for review during 2016, so to help those of you who are seeking inspiration, I compiled a list of some of my favourites.

The Barefoot Book of Children

The Barefoot Book of Children is an absolute joy of a book and a clear favourite.  I would urge any parent or teacher to add it to their collection.  This non-fiction title is a celebration of our common humanity and helps facilitate discussions about race, diversity and inclusion. It looks at how other children live, how we are different and most importantly how we are alike.  The book is full of questions that provoke discussion , “How do you share your love? ”  “What would you like to do if you had a chance?” “Do you have a special place?” As a teacher, I would share a few pages each day to lead a discussion or topic.  Detailed descriptions of the illustrations can be found in the reference materials at back of the book. Children who love facts, can find out about the cultures depicted in the book including names of houses, meanings of names, special celebrations or cultural foods. This section has further talking points, to develop the thinking of slightly older children.  My youngest daughters shared this book together and were completely absorbed by discovering new things and discussing the questions together.

The Barefoot Book of Children is not available until the Spring in the UK but is currently available in the US.

The Branch by Mireille Messier illustrated by Pierre Pratt

The Branch is a charming story book featuring a little girl, who has a favourite branch on her tree where she likes to play and watch the world go by.  One stormy night, she is devastated to find her branch laying on the ground. Her mother agrees that she can keep the broken branch, for a while. Mr Frank, her neighbour understands the little girls sadness and seeing  potential in every piece of wood, he crafts the perfect gift from her favourite branch.The relationships in this book are portrayed beautifully through the text and illustrations.  I particularly love the sequence where the old man and the little girl, work together in the workshop to create something special. The Branch is a perfect book for children like mine, who love to climb trees.

The Littlest Family’s Big Day by Emily Winfield Martin

The Littlest Family’s Big Day is about moving to a new home and is perfect for younger readers.  The simple text will keep their interest and the beautiful, detailed illustrations have plenty for children to explore. This would make a wonderful bedtime book as you snuggle together and point out all the tiny details of this woodland world.

A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery

A Squiggly Story is the tale of a little boy who wants to write stories like his big sister, but hasn’t yet learned to write words.  His sister encourages him to tell his story, using individual letters and shapes. He tells the story to his class at school, who contribute more ideas.  This is a great read aloud  book for pre-school or kindergarten teachers, perfect for showing children that you can tell a story even if you can’t write words.  It would also make a lovely gift for an older sibling to give to a younger sibling practicing emergent writing.

Lily the Fancipoo and Piper was Afraid

These books come in gift sets, complete with a soft dog and adorable little mouse. The toys are of excellent quality and are totally irresistible.  I didn’t get chance to review Lily the Fancipoo as it was held up in transit, but we received Piper was Afraid. Piper was Afraid, is about a big dog who misses out on all kinds of fun because he is afraid.  The book had two features that made it an instant hit with my kids – the added bonus of the cuddly toys and an interactive element where you find the mouse hidden on every page.  Either book would make a perfect gift for young children.

Leonard’s Beard by Nancy Cote

Leonard’s Beard, is a comical story about a writer who becomes so absorbed in his stories, he forgets about the outside world. His beard grows and grows until one day  during a storm, Leonard realises how out of control it has become. He cuts his beard, revealing all manner of interesting objects. As he removes them, he discovers that being absorbed in writing has stopped him having his own adventures. This would be a good book to encourage children to get outside more or move away from a screen.

This or That: A Busy Morning by Wendy Kronick

A perfect book for babies and toddlers.  It follows the RIE parenting model , offering choices  to the child as he moves through his day. This is a lovely, interactive book to share with a young child.  At transitions during the day the toddler is presented with two options, “the bib keeps your clothes dry and clean, which will you wear, the red or the green?” Simple rhyming text will appeal to small children and it is perfect for promoting early social, emotional and communication skills.

Mr Matisse and his Cutouts by Annemarie Van Haeringen

Mr Matisse and his Cutouts is an ideal book for teachers or parents wishing to inspire art projects.  The story focuses on the latter part of Matisse’s life, when due to cancer he was no longer able to create art as he had done before.  Matisse found new ways to create, by cutting shapes from paper and displaying them around the room.  I’m looking forward to using this one in my art lessons next year.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  I recieved review copies of the books featured in either digital or traditional format.

8 Spooky Picture Books

Perhaps a little late for Hallowe’en, but if you have kids who love spooky things, wizards, witches or monsters here are a few recommended picture books to share.

1. The Ghosts go Scaring

My kids love this one. Set to the tune of ‘ants go marching’, you can read or sing along as different ghosts come out to scare people.  My children loved counting the ghosts and finding their favourites on each page.  If you are looking for new rhymes and songs to add to the Hallowe’en preschool collection, this book is a perfect choice.

2. Brunhilda’s Backwards Day

An amusing tale about Brunhilda the witch, who likes to cause mischief with her spells. One day her cat decides to make trouble and casts a spell that turns Brunhilda’s mischief into good deeds. Brunhilda’s Backwards Day is a charming story, with vibrant illustrations and I’m sure will become a firm favourite.

3. I Want to Eat Your Books

A zombie book that really isn’t scary.  The rhyming text tells the story of a zombie who comes to school to eat books but soon discovers a love of reading.  The book has a nice message and would make a good class read aloud book, as the children chant ‘I want to eat your books’.

4. Winnie the Witch

We love the Winnie the Witch stories and the audio books are also a nice addition to the collection. These comical  books share the adventures of Winnie and her cat Wilbur as they get themselves into all kinds of situations through casting spells.

5. Titchy Witch

Titchy Witch is another family favourite.  Titchy Witch is a little witch who faces the challenges of life as a young witch.  She deals with challenges that many children face, like having a new baby, bullies, inviting her school friends to her party,  learning to read and having a pet, but through the eyes of a witch.

6. Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters

We bought this book for an art project and fell in love with the illustrations.  This is a perfect book for little ones who are afraid of monsters, to help them see that monsters are really just like them.

7.Monsters Love Underpants

My youngest daughter’s favourite monster book. A silly, rhyming  tale about monsters who love to wear underpants, from the authors of Aliens Love Underpants, Pirates Love Underpants and Dinosaurs Love Underpants.

8. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs

An old one, but a great story that captures the suspense that children feel as they encounter the unknown. The anticipation of the little mouse as he wonders what is at the top of the stairs makes this a perfect book to read at Hallowe’en.

Let me know your favourite spooky books in the comments.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.