Category Archives: parenting

Snail Mail: Book review & classroom activities

Snail Mail  by Samantha Berger is the story of a girl, who sends a letter to her friend on the other side of the country, delivering it the traditional ‘snail mail’ way. As the four special snails slowly travel across the country, they find by taking their time, they discover beauty in the world.

The illustrations by Julia Patton, show four snails with unique characters. Children will enjoy looking at the equipment each snail takes with them on their journey and tracking how it is used in the different climates. The snails move across the United States, through deserts and mountains, passing famous landmarks, through flat prairies and different weather until they reach New York City.  The illustrations are quirky, full of expression and packed with tiny details that children will return to time and again.

The story of the snails delivering their precious cargo emphasises the magical nature of receiving something in the mail. It is a reminder that in the modern world of email and texting, there are some things that are more special if they are delivered by post.

My children loved it, they thought it was a charming story and spent a long time pouring over the detailed illustrations.  I love the sentiment of the book, reminding children of the magic of receiving a special message in the mail.

This would be a perfect book for a classroom as an introduction to many projects

  • writing letters – practice writing letters to friends or family, set up a class mailbox to post them, find a class in another part of the country/world to be pen pals with.
  • sending postcards – provide postcards in the writing area. How is writing a postcard different from writing a letter? Have the children ever received postcards – bring them in to talk about.  Do we still need postcards, make notes for and against.
  • making and writing cards – create a greeting card station, provide lots of examples, make and write cards.
  • how does mail get from one place to another? Find out about the mail service – how does mail get from one place to another? Find out if the way people receive mail is different in other countries.
  • the post office – set up your role play area as a post office, visit a local post office or sorting office
  • introducing maps – look at maps of the united states and mark the route the snails took. Has anyone visited these places? Encourage family and friends to send the children letters – mark on a World and US map, where the children’s letters have travelled from.
  • the desert – research desert climates and the animals and plants you can find in a desert.  Write a piece of informational writing about a desert animal.
  • mountains – research mountain climates and the plants and animals that live there. make list of similarities and differences between deserts and mountains.
  • Famous landmarks around in United States – talk to the children about some famous landmarks they may have visited, ask them to share pictures and stories – make a class book about the wonderful places they have seen.

Snail Mail is published in the US on May 1st by Running Press Kids.

 

Disclaimer: links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links.  Advance copies of the book were received for review purposes.

Advertisements

Visiting New Zealand with Kids? Try these exciting and educational activities.

Today I have a guest post from Harper Reid.  Harper Reid is a freelance writer from Auckland, New Zealand who has a passion for child learning and development. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her reading through the latest E-learning trends and early childhood activities. You can find more of her work on her Tumblr.  (Disclaimer: this post does not contain sponsored content).

Though I haven’t visited New Zealand myself – it is top of my list (alongside Reggio Emilia) of must visit places in the world. If you are lucky enough to visit New Zealand, you may like to try out some of her suggestions.
Whether you’re from or live outside of New Zealand, vacationing around Aotearoa with kids, is the family adventure for a lifetime. New Zealand’s towns and cities are a veritable treasure trove for tourists – and especially for families. With outdoor experiences and historical sights galore, you won’t have to work too hard to schedule an exciting itinerary for your time in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
1. Explore the country’s national reserves

new zealand park

Image Source Park via Pexels.com

New Zealand’s national parks and reserves make introducing your kids to the country’s topography and native wildlife a dream – and with so many to choose from, you’ll have no shortage of outdoor days. Some of the most beautiful reserves include Abel Tasman National Park on the top of the South Island, Tongariro in the central North Island (particularly stunning in winter), and the stunning Mount Aspiring National Park near Lake Wanaka.

What’s more, the reserves are dotted with informative plaques, native wildlife habitats, and informed guides to get your mini-biologists looking out for specific species of flora and fauna.

2. Go on a heritage tour

Because New Zealand’s recorded history spans just over a couple of centuries, many of the country’s first settler houses and towns are still in pristine condition. This is great news for budding history buffs in the family.

To explore 19th-century New Zealand’s goldrushing history, put Arrowtown in Central Otago  on your map, and consider road-tripping around Hokitika on the West Coast to discover some pioneer-era halfway houses. You’ll also want to schedule in a stop at Waitangi to discover more about Aotearoa’s fraught bicultural past – a great way to introduce your kids to issues of colonisation and land ownership.

3. Get involved in rural life

agriculture-animals-blue-skies-710263

Photo credit Gabriel Peter

New Zealanders take great pride in their rustic roots, which is why the national education system makes room for unique outdoor play experiences like Calf Club and Agriculture Days.

Held in the springtime, Calf Club and Agriculture Days are a wonderful way to get up and close with New Zealand’s preeminent dairy and agriculture industry, and will allow your children to see what’s distinctive about an NZ upbringing – namely, the ability to rear your own sheep, calf, or goat, and bring it along for judging!

You might also consider attending an A&P lifestyle show, which is basically a Calf Club Day on a larger scale. Complete with horse and cattle events, shearing, and fun food stalls and rides for all the family to enjoy, you’ll be feeling like a local in no time.

4. Visit one of NZ’s top museums

New Zealand may be small, but its museums are world-quality. Auckland’s Maritime Museum, the Otago Museum, Te Manawa in Palmerston North – near every major centre, will serve up culture and history to feed to your kids.

Wellington’s Te Papa, in particular, is sure to enthral children and adults alike. With exhibitions about everything from World War I, to giant squid, to New Zealand’s Maori culture and heritage, there isn’t much you won’t find at Te Papa. And make sure you experience the earthquake simulator, too.

5. Encounter the Antarctic

newzealand aquarium

unsplash-logoCaroline Hernandez

Probably because of its geographical proximity to the continent, New Zealand is host to a variety of Antarctica-related experiences which you’d be smart to take advantage of whilst you’re in the country. If in Auckland, make a beeline to Kelly Tarlton’s, the world-famous aquarium which offers an “Antarctic Encounter” experience complete with penguins and snow.

Go all-out in the South Island with a trip to Christchurch’s Antarctic Centre, a vast warehouse near the airport which is just about as close as most of us will ever get to Scott’s Base.

You’re My Little Cuddle Bug: A perfect gift for your baby or toddler (Book Review)

I always choose a book for my children’s Easter basket and if I had babies or toddlers, You’re My Little Cuddle Bug would be top of my list.

The rhyming text is simple enough to engage toddlers, or younger babies will enjoy pointing and naming the bugs and feeling the shapes as they pop off the page.  The illustrations are bright, engaging and extremely cute and the loving theme of little bugs cuddling with their parents makes it the perfect book to share with a child at bedtime.

You're my little cuddle bug

You’re My Little Cuddle Bug is a good-sized sturdy board book and will easily stand up to a young child’s rough handling. It would be a great new baby gift or first birthday present if Easter has already passed you by.

You’re My little Cuddle Bug is currently available for $4.99 at Amazon.com and will be released in the UK on May 3rd.  (These links are Amazon affiliate links, if you buy the book via one of these links, I receive a small compensation).

Pink is For Boys: Book Review

(This Post contains Amazon Affiliate links: if you buy a product using these links, I receive a small commission)

If you have been waiting for a book for young children that challenges and encourages discussion about gender stereotypes, then add Pink is For Boys to your library.

This timely and beautiful picture book rethinks and reframes the stereotypical blue/pink gender binary and empowers kids-and their grown-ups-to express themselves in every color of the rainbow. With the help of a diverse cast of characters, readers are taken through the spectrum of the rainbow demonstrating that gender does not dictate their favourite colour or hobby.

My family loved it. My teenager asserted ‘ this is great’ and my younger girls said ‘I love this book’. It feels refreshing and not at all preachy. The text is understated, follows a familiar pattern and is clear in its message, without being too obvious.  I love the illustrations, the children reflect diverse cultures and look like they are having loads of fun. My only criticism (and this may only be true of my advance review copy) is that the shade of yellow chosen, looks more like lime green.

Using Pink is for Boys in the Classroom

I can imagine using the book in school or preschool to open discussions about gender stereotypes. It would be a lovely introduction to an art or writing project describing their favourite activities entitled ———- is for boys and girls.  You could encourage children to bring in photographs of themselves doing activities traditionally attributed to a singular sex and talk about their hobbies. Start your discussions from the things you hear children say, or try one of these prompts.

  • Are there any boys who go to a dance class? How does it feel to be in a class with only girls? Would it be better if boys were in the class? What stops boys wanting to go to dance class.
  • Do any children play sports where only girls or only boys are allowed? Would they prefer mixed teams?
  • What would they say are boys toys and girls toys? Is there a difference? Should there be a difference?
  • Do boys and girls play different things at recess? Have you ever been told you can’t join in because of your gender?

Coincidentally, when my youngest came home from school today she told me a group of her friends go to girl scouts. ‘I wish I could go to boy scouts’ she said ‘Why can’t I?’.  Wouldn’t it be great if it were no longer segregated and children could simply go to scouts!  This would be a great talking point for kids – make a list of activities that are segregated by gender. What kinds of activities are they and why do the children think they are segregated. Do the children think these activities should be segregated or inclusive? Older children could write a piece of persuasive writing explaining their views.

Pink is for boys is written by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Eda Kaban . It is recommended for children aged 4-8 years.

It is released in the US on 5th June 2018 for $17.99 and in the UK on 28th June 2018 for £12.99 pre-order is available.

 

Hamilton; The Hottest Ticket in Town: Does it live up to the hype?

Hamilton Seattle 2018

My first introduction to Hamilton was two years ago at the Tony’s. Around the same time, it took my daughter’s middle school by storm. She memorised every word and introduced Hamilton to her younger sisters, who were soon gripped by Hamilton fever.

The whole family took on the challenge to learn the songs and dress up for local Hamiltunes events and my two youngest daughters started a Hamilton club at school.

 

The long wait to finally get to see Hamilton was over this weekend, when we visited the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. Our only sure-fire way to guarantee tickets when Hamilton arrived in Seattle was to buy a seasons pass and we haven’t regretted it. Every show we have seen this year has been fantastic but Hamilton was the prize ticket.

With two years of hype and excitement, there was a danger that

  1.  The kids would be sick of Hamilton by the time it arrived.
  2. It wouldn’t live up to our expectations.

The show opened with a very different type of Burr to the Odin Jnr we were used to. The first five minutes were spent getting used to the new voices and intonations but by the end of the opening we had warmed to the new cast and we were carried away by the spectacular show.

It is solid testimony to the creators of Hamilton, that a show touching the hearts of the nation through the soundtrack alone, is such a visual delight.  The choreography, lighting and set are breathtaking but even more spectacular is the way in which all these elements work together to create the story.  If you feel you’ve heard the soundtrack, so don’t need to see the show, think again. Seeing the show provides not only a deeper understanding of the plot and characters but also an utter visual delight, incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen on the stage.  Lin-Manuel Miranda has certainly set a high bar  for all future musical theatre productions. It feels truly groundbreaking,  similar to seeing Les Miserables for the first time in the early 90’s.

Shoba Narayan as Eliza and Ta’rea Campbell as Angelica will blow you away with their incredible singing voices and emotive presence. Even knowing the story so well, it is difficult to hold back the tears during the second act.  The party behind me (who I suspect didn’t know the story as well) sniffed their way through the performance from ‘Burn’ to the end of Act 2. The perfection of the final lighting cue, shows focused attention to detail and how carefully thought out every moment of Hamilton is.

Is Hamilton suitable for children?

My youngest children are 7 and 9 and big Hamilton fans.  Even if children are Hamilton fans, there are a few things to be aware of.

  • Act 1 is long – around 30 minutes before the interval my 7 yr old told me she was tired and started to get a bit fidgety.  If your children don’t know the story or the sequence of songs and are not good at sitting for prolonged periods, I would suggest waiting until they are older.
  • Make sure you get a booster cushion (we took an extra with us just in case). The theatre will be full and most likely there will be an adult sat in front of them.

Hamilton was a wonderful experience for our family. The children are regular theatre goers and know the show well.  If your children are not used to the theatre, children under the age of 8 may not get the full benefit of the experience. Also being aware that this is a once in a lifetime experience for many adults, may help you decide if your child will be a distraction or not.

The final verdict

Hamilton

Smiles all around.  Hamilton is the hottest ticket in town with good reason. If you are lucky enough to have the chance to see Hamilton, wherever you are, don’t hesitate – you won’t be disappointed.

Breathe Like a Bear: 30 mindful moments for kids to feel calm and focused – Book Review

I used to be a mindfulness sceptic. Being mindful, seemed like a short-term fad, soon to be replaced by another buzz word. My views changed last year, when one of my children had a teacher who promoted mindful activities. My daughter blossomed during that year, from struggling to cope with anxiety when things didn’t go her way, to recognising  her emotions were taking over and seeking ways to overcome them. It didn’t stop her rolling her eyes when we talked about being mindful but the strategies helped her to focus, make friends and practice self-control.

book about mindfulness for young children

Throwing my scepticism out of the window, I decided to review a new book promoting exercises for children to practice mindfulness, “Breathe Like a Bear”. I’m glad I did, because this really is a great book. It is beautifully presented, resplendent with Anni Betts’ vibrant illustrations and contains a variety of simple, fun exercises that won’t make you feel like you are leading a meditation session. The activities are developmentally appropriate for children young and old and might even be useful visualisations for parents and teachers.

“Breathe like a Bear” is written by Kira Willey, a children’s music artist and kids yoga expert. Kira provides enjoyable, engaging activities children will love. The book’s focus  on fun, rather than lots of explanations about the mindfulness message, makes it especially appropriate for young children.

The first section focuses on calming, for when children feel they can’t sit still. It is difficult for children of any age to sit still all day and many children become agitated after a period of time. These exercises are designed to encourage children to slow down. They would  be perfect for those days when children have boundless energy but can’t get outside to let off steam. The title “Breathe like a Bear” comes from one such activity. The children pretend they are a hibernating bear, breathing slowly in and out through their noses. Each section has a variety of exercises and encourages you to choose the one you feel most comfortable with. You may need to try a few to find what works best for your child or class.

mindfullness activity for children

Section two promotes concentration and focus. There are a mixture of activities in this section. Some are slow visualisations focused on breathing and others involve following actions, movement and sound. I particularly like how varied the activities are.

Section three comprises exercises that stretch the imagination. I think these are my favourites and can imagine using them during a rest time for young children, or to calm an older group when they get noisy or over excited.  They would also be useful for bedtime. They could be read to children before they sleep or recorded to play in  children’s bedrooms.

Section four is for energising children when they are feeling sleepy or lethargic. These would be great for the start of the day, to wake children up or during a lull later in the day. The exercises include moving your facial muscles, clapping hands, making twisting movements with your body and creating various sounds.

midfulness for children

The final section is relaxation for when we are feeling stressed. Stretching like a cat or scrunching and releasing sound deeply satisfying to me.

If mindfulness is your thing, I believe you will love this book. If it isn’t, why not try it anyway? You may become a convert, just like me. My next stop is to investigate Kira Wiley’s music, if it is as beautiful as her book, I’m in for a treat.

Amazon Affiliate link for Amazon US  Breathe like a Bear available from Dec 2017 priced $10.99

Amazon Affiliate link for Amazon UK Breathe like a Bear available from 13th January 2018 priced £11.99

Disclaimer: links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you order via this link I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price. No payment was received for writing this review. I received a complimentary review copy of the title.

My Top 3 Picture Book New Releases

From my most recent Picture Book new release previews ,the titles below are my favourites.

  1. For under 5’s and early readers

I Am BatI Am Bat by Morag Hood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the simplicity of I Am Bat. I can easily hear it being read in my own child’s voice and see her acting out and reciting the text as she does with Elephant and Piggie books. Bat is over dramatic in a similar way to Elephant and this really appealed to my kids.  The illustrations evoke the bat’s emotions perfectly. A wonderful book for younger readers.

2. For parents and middle children

Middle Bear

Middle Bear by Susanna Isern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a parent of 3 children, I love Middle Bear. It is heartwarming and uplifting without being overly sentimental and conveys perfectly the mediocrity of being a middle child. I love the shell-shocked/glazed expression of the bear and the use of child like illustrations, as they convey perfectly his perception of himself as unremarkable. As the story unfolds, middle bear find out that there are some things he is just perfect for. I loved the way this unfolded and it made me smile.  A perfect book for middle children everywhere.

3. For Teachers

Chocolate CakeChocolate Cake by Michael Rosen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book by Michael Rosen about stealing chocolate cake. What isn’t there to like? The sumptuous use of onomatopoeia and descriptive language makes it a perfect book to use in the classroom. Chocolate Cake would provide lots of inspiration for children developing their descriptive writing and would be a great opening to language and vocabulary lessons. I love the way the typeface changes to enhance the descriptive words as they work seamlessly with the pictures. The illustrations are atmospheric and  the boy’s expressive eyes are skillfully drawn to show every emotion throughout the book. (currently only available in the UK).

 

 

Disclaimer – Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning I receive a small commission if you order via these links.