Category Archives: children

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

What Toys Should I Provide for Babies and Toddlers?

Toy shop shelves are laden with toys claiming to be educational. For toddlers and babies, this usually means something noisy, requiring batteries.  I have always held that there is little educational value in such toys. In my experience children play with them for a short period of time before moving on to something else.

Alison Gopnik discusses the manner in which children experiment with toys in her book the Philosophical Baby.   A toy that  worked by moving levers was presented to a group of 4-year-olds.  The adults demonstrated to the first group, how it worked, while  the second group were left to work it out for themselves.  The second group spent significantly more time playing with the toy than the first, who quickly abandoned it once they understood its function.

Another recent study led by Professor Anna Sosa of Northern Arizona University  focused on children between the ages of 10 and 16 months old. She gave families three different kinds of toys to play with; books, traditional toys like stacking blocks and electronic toys. The toys that stimulated most conversation were books, closely followed by blocks. The families playing with the electronic toy shared very little conversation, allowing the toy to do the talking for them.

If you are considering which toys to buy for a young child, these points may help.

  • The most important resource we can give to babies and toddlers is ourselves. Spend time playing tickling games, singing to them, playing rhyming games, blowing bubbles or rolling a ball.
  • Other suitable toys for babies and early toddlers include small musical instruments for exploring sound ( saucepans, spoons and homemade shakers work equally well), a treasure basket or board and cloth books.
  • Think about toys that they will play with for a long time.   The best  toy investments for our family include magnatiles, wooden blocks, paper and pencil, a magnetic drawing board and play food.
  • Toys do not need to be expensive. Children can have hours of fun with a balloon, pot of bubbles, home-made play dough or  a cardboard box.

The infographic below has many more developmentally appropriate ideas for play.

Helping Your Child Develop Through Play
Helping Your Child Develop Through Play by Wooden Toy Shop

Bainbridge Art Museum: Not Just for the Grown-Ups

Occasionally, you come across an unexpected treasure. Anticipating a fleeting look around the Bainbridge Art Museum with the children in tow, I was pleased when the assistant greeted the children warmly and entrusted them with a task.  The children were given a list of thirty animals that were hidden in Nancy Thorne Chambers’ ceramic installation ‘A Story Place’.  If they could find them all, they would be rewarded with a special prize.

A story place - Bainbridge art MuseumMotivated by the prize at hand they made their way to the exhibit.  They worked together to find the life-sized animals , studying every angle of the exhibit. They were captivated by the detail and wondered how something so delicate was made and transported to the museum.  The animals are reminiscent of  Beatrix Potter characters and took me back  to my childhood passion for those stories.

The story place mole and Beaver

My favourite piece was the mole wrapped up in the girl’s sock and the children loved the girl and boy mouse, huddled together with their tiny tea tray.

the story of the story place

A Story Place remains at Bainbridge Art Museum until June and is worth seeing if you are visiting Bainbridge Island with children.  Entry to the museum is free of charge so visiting this installation alone is worthwhile.

The children were equally compelled by the adult exhibits.  It’s easy to assume that children will find art galleries boring but their fascinated faces reminded me that children often find pleasure in unexpected places.

bainbridge art museum

They were mesmerised by models that fold into boxes by Nancy Smith-Venturi and wouldn’t leave until they had seen the slide show of the whole collection.

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The younger children wanted to understand  each of the models and read the descriptions with interest.

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‘What does this one say?’ asked my youngest pointing to a textile on the wall.  I read the description. ‘How does it look like wind?’ she asked. ‘It could be because it moves’ I replied ‘ but you might see something different, you don’t have to see the same thing as the artist.

The girls were completely absorbed by the museum and we spent a leisurely few hours there.  I think we may have discovered a new passion.

* Children aged 5,7 and 11.

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

Finished!
Finished!

5. Thumb suckers

thumb

6. Kisses, cuddles and holding hands

mother kissing baby

7. Having a constant companion

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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

Woodland Park Zoo for Under 8’s

zoo offer

When I ask the girls where they would like to go, a popular response is the zoo.  In the UK we were members of Bristol Zoo and visited there regularly.  Having membership made our visits more relaxed, we didn’t have to run around trying to see every animal and if the children wanted to play in the playground all day that was fine too.

Woodland Park Zoo is more spacious than the zoo back home so we are able to see larger animals. Recently, we were invited to Woodland Park to see some of the activities available  in the Zoomazium  – a nature inspired play space for the under 8’s.  To be honest we have always avoided Zoomazium during previous visits, expecting it to be a large, noisy soft play.  I was pleasantly surprised however, to see a mix of play spaces and activities.  There is a designated space for toddlers, fully enclosed and safe, with a library  area to the side.  The children can also explore the cricket exhibit.

toddler play space
toddler play space
library area
library area
cricket exhibit
cricket exhibit

The play area for older children has rope bridges, places to climb and lots of little caves that are perfect for hide and seek.  There are also tables with toys for building, a stage area and a sensory area to explore.

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Zoomazium is the perfect place to explore if you want to escape the heat (or cold) for a while but it is also a good starting point for your visit to the zoo.  Creature Feature occurs every morning at 10.30 and encourages children to get close to some of the smaller animals at the zoo and learn about them from zoo staff.  Our visitor was an armadillo.

armadillo

My favourite Zoomazium offering was activity backpacks that the little ones can take with them around the zoo.  Each one has a different theme and they are packed with activities, toys, books, magnifiers and things to look out for during your visit.  After a lot of deliberation,the girls chose one each; the back yard and big cats.

zoomazium backpack

I love the design of the backpacks, they look so cool and we had lots of comments as we wandered around.  The backyard backpack had a number of activities to complete in the backyard of the Zoomazium or  when exploring the rest of the zoo.

Can you find these things?
Can you find these things?
“This feels smooth”

The big cats backpack was a good starting point for exploring the new Banyan Wilds exhibit.

finding big cat markings

tiger markings
I found a tiger.

Having the backpacks, encouraged us to take it slowly as the girls wanted to stop and take in the contents of their packs.

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The squirrel puppet from the Backyard pack was a definite favourite and was a constant companion.

IMG_0802Completed activities can be traded for Nature points at Zoomazium’s Nature Exchange.  The points can be exchanged for interesting, rocks, fossils and natural materials on display.  Nature loving children can also create projects at home to earn additional points. Older children are not left out, there are activity sheets to suit all ages. My eldest chose a worksheet relating to the otter exhibit.

otter exhibit worksheetOur favourite part of the day was having the opportunity to feed animals.  Bird seed on sticks can be purchased for $1 and the birds fly down to feed from your hand.

Feeding the birds

The best experience of all though was getting close to the giraffes and hand feeding them. The keeper was great at encouraging the children to ask questions and it was a truly memorable experience for all that I will definitely do again.  Giraffe feeding is $5 per person and under 5’s go free with a paying adult.

giraffe feeding

A day at the zoo was perfect for my nature explorers.

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Membership Offer

Zoo membership is perfect for families with young children. There are a number of membership options to suit different needs and admission is free for children under 3.

Right from the Start readers can benefit from a special offer.

Quote MOM15 at checkout to receive a 10% discount plus entry into a draw to win 2  giraffe feeding tickets and 2 tickets for a carousel ride.

Disclaimer:  Complimentary tickets for 4 people were received.  All opinions are my own and we were under no obligation to write about our visit.

Finding the Perfect Preschool

muddy feet
A place where I can kick my shoes off and sink my toes in the mud.

Regular readers will remember that when I moved to the US, I struggled to find a preschool that I was entirely happy with.  I became so disillusioned that I decided to home preschool for a year. I’d lost faith of ever finding a preschool that valued play, independence and individuality above academics and rigid schedules until a friend told me of a preschool situated on a farm.  The preschool shared my belief that children learn best by doing things that have relevance in their lives through exploring, discovering and creating.

The school is so popular that it was a whole year before I had a chance to visit and see the school for myself. Children were busy pulling apart sunflower heads on the covered deck area whist others moved freely between the different activities indoors and outdoors. The teacher’s enthusiasm and passion for both the children and the setting was evident immediately and a bubble of excitement rose up within me. Our name was put on the waiting list for Sept 2015 but before Christmas a place became available in the co-op class so finally my youngest daughter had the chance to attend.  This was perfect as I also had the chance to be involved in this wonderful experience as a parent helper.

There was little doubt in my mind that this was the perfect preschool for my outdoor loving daughter. My expectations were high. I have been fortunate to teach at a highly acclaimed nursery in the UK and to visit the best preschools in my local authority as an advisory teacher. My experience of this school has surpassed all my expectations, I couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect preschool for my daughter and I am only sad that my older daughters didn’t have a chance to go there. After she started, it just seemed to get better.  Regularly she would come home covered from head to toe in mud.  To some parents this would be horrific but to me it meant she had the freedom to be herself and have fun.
ducklings
Being a part of the co-op class means that I get to help out once a month. This is the most exciting part for me as I get to join in.   I love the covered deck area which enables the children to play outdoors all year.  The children explore the whole farm for the 2nd part of the session, mud, water, animals, climbing and balancing. They are actively encouraged to take risks.

long paintbrushes.
As we arrive my daughter always chooses to paint . She liked this painting activity with paintbrushes placed on extended poles.
painting with feathers
Painting with feathers

What makes it so perfect?

1. Children are individuals

Small classes and the dedication and experience of the teacher, mean that she understands each child as an individual. My daughter who is uncomfortable speaking in a group or to unfamiliar adults is given time to think about what she wants to say, often being presented with a question at the start of a session and returning for a response later.  The child who hates to get his hands dirty is offered alternative tools and all the materials are open-ended so that children can use them as they see fit.

2.Children are competent

Children are always encouraged to try things for themselves, even when they ask for help they are first encouraged to try.  The children are trusted to use adult tools for woodworking and tinkering, peeling vegetables and cooking.  The teacher shows them how to use the tools safely and responsibly and thereon in they are trusted with them.  The children cook their own green eggs and ham on the tiny stove, they dig with metal shovels, they observe candle flames and peel carrots with a peeler.  Outside they are permitted to climb trees, feed the animals, hold guinea pigs and dig in the mud. The children are trusted to handle precious materials like birds eggs, chicks and nests.

This tinker table is always available. I regularly see children sawing pieces of wood placed in the clamps, hammering nails or taking apart electronics with a screwdriver. In the nursery I taught at we had a tool bench with real tools but we weren’t confident enough to leave it out all of the time. I have never seen a child have an accident or do anything dangerous with the tools.
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climbing trees at preschool
My daughter loves to climb trees – I’m not sure I could find anywhere else where this would actively be encouraged.

3. The Preschool fosters understanding and respect for nature.

Many of the activities involve the natural rhythms of the farm, collecting the produce, understanding the cycles of the plants and learning about the animals and creatures they find.

After the first few sessions, my daughter told me they had unicorns at preschool but that it was too small to have grown a horn yet. A preschool with unicorns? Could it get anymore magical?
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ducklings.
When the duck’s eggs hatched the children were allowed to hold them.
bug hunt
A bug hunt in the woods

4. Children’s thoughts and opinions are important

Each session the children are asked a question and the answers are recorded for parents to read on the wall outside.  The children listen to each others responses and discuss them with respect.  The children’s choices are respected as they are presented with a number of activities to choose from at leisure. They also have opportunities to choose the songs they will sing and are confident at asking for things.  The children are offered a snack, they choose when and if they would like to eat it .

5. They have fun.

wading in  the swamp
On the last day of school, parents are invited to join the children as they wade in the swamp.

horse riding on the last day of term
horse riding on the last day of term

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Best of all, I feel that my daughter experiences something here that she would never have the chance to experience elsewhere.  I feel so fortunate to have found this preschool and that my daughter has one more year there.  When our time is over I will be so sad but I hope I can remember her teacher’s words of wisdom.

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