Category Archives: writing

‘ Once Upon a Time’ Raising Money for Save the Children

Once Upon a Time

A few weeks ago I responded to a request to contribute to a children’s story book entitled ‘Once Upon a Time’  to raise money for Save the Children.

I have always wanted to write for children but have struggled with the inspiration.  This was my perfect chance to have a go and raise money for a fabulous cause. Myself and 16 other bloggers have written short stories for young children.  The only rules were that the story should begin with ‘Once Upon a Time’ and should be written in 350 words.  I was lucky to already have an idea in mind. This was based on a story I  told to my 7 year old when she was afraid of going to bed because she thought she might have bad dreams.  It was incredibly difficult to condense this into 350 words .  After multiple edits I got it down to under 400 but not quite to the 350 .  It made me realise that writing for young children isn’t as easy as it looks.

The illustrations in the book are all provided by our own children – this is my 7 year olds picture that appears with my story.

All the writers have given their services for free so that we can raise as much money as possible.  The book looks really beautiful and would be a very special present for a child who loves stories.

I  hope this won’t be my last attempt at writing for children, I have ideas for a few more projects so watch this space.

To order  a copy and view a preview click on the picture on the top right hand sidebar or  here .

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Can Technology Engage and Improve Boys Literacy?

How many times do you hear stories about boys falling behind girls in their literacy scores?  In the last 2 years the Foundation Stage Profile Results ( assessment at the end of the child’s first year in school) show that girls are outperforming boys and that Communication, Language and Literacy has the widest gap.

My opinion  is that to a large degree it is down to the fact that boys are not motivated by literacy, because it is not taught in a way that is relevant or interesting to them.  It is important that this is addressed at an early age, rather than once they have already lost interest and are failing.

Children are growing up in an increasingly technological world.  Think back to how much has changed in the last 10 years and we can not possibly imagine what life will be like for our youngest children by the time they leave school.  There is no doubt that children’s experience of literacy in the future will be very different to the pen, paper and print concepts they learn about today.  

 Children’s experiences with technology in the home are generally incompatible with  what they see at pre-school or nursery.  In my experience, having visited many nurseries, technology is generally used in a piecemeal way.  If  I compare this to my children’s  experiences at home it is vastly different.  At home my children play on games consoles, operate the television by remote control, talk to family via video chat, watch cartoons on the laptop or mobile phone, take photos and videos using a mobile phone, record their voices onto a laptop or mp3 player, draw pictures on a drawing tablet, play games on a mobile phone, search the internet for information and much more. The richness of their home experiences are not reflected in their learning at pre-school.

Often this is based on fear, an uncertainty about introducing children to technology (especially screen based) because it will lead children to become lazy and replace more healthy, active or outdoor pursuits.  I recognise those fears; none of us want our children to grow up as screen junkies or for technology to replace important things like reading to your child.  However, I would argue that as technology is evolving, it is becoming more accessible to pre-school children and the opportunity to use it in innovative ways in a play based setting presents itself.  Technology is an ever growing part of their lives and it is important that it is utilised as a natural part of children’s play in pre-school settings.

Boys generally love anything technological and lack interest in reading and writing – this is a generalisation but on the whole it is the case.  I hear people ask all the time ‘ how can I get my son off the computer?’  So maybe instead of trying to ban the things they are interested in we should be using it to our advantage.  I was told a story just a few days ago about how a boy aged 11 who could never understand how anyone could choose reading or writing as a pastime and had joined a computer club at school.  The teachers had shown them how to create animations and story boards.  Following this he has gone away and invented characters, writing comic books and animated stories with such enthusiasm that he couldn’t get to the club quickly enough. 

If we can encourage this enthusiasm at pre-school, maybe we could avoid many of the negative feelings that boys have around literacy and inspire them to be literate in a different way.

This premise forms the basis of my proposal for Phd research ( subject to finding the necessary funding). The hypothesis is that if boys were given opportunities to learn the foundations of literacy through technology, then they would be motivated to learn and this would in turn improve their literacy outcomes.  I would  create a play based environment whereby children could explore the underpinning skills of literacy, through the medium of technology.  This would occur alongside more traditional activities to see whether the technological experiences were more engaging. Technology would be integrated into ongoing practices of teaching and learning.  Each classroom would be designed around the needs and interests of the children. Technology would be freely available and would be used both indoors and outdoors.  I would hope that it would also inform those who create technology, software and applications highlighting possible future developments.  To work together to provide suitable experiences for our youngest children that would reframe  long held notions of literacy.

World Poetry Day – Musings on Poetry and Some to Share

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There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks amongst mummy bloggers  as to whether or not we would be prepared to share poetry that we had written as teenagers.  The general concensus was ‘no way, it is far too personal and embarrassing’.  When I joined the discussion, I had just found my book of poetry from my teenage years and started to read it.  I agree that much of it is very naive, about love and loss of love and the desperate nature of teenage romances.  However, some of it is about other issues.  It shows the common beliefs that you hold when you are young , a sense of injustice and the hope that you will change the world some day.    I wrote lots of poetry as a teenager , helping to frame my thoughts and work through issues.  As an adult I write them less frequently, usually when I am unhappy and still find it therapeutic.

I’ve decided to be brave and share a poem that I wrote when I was 16 years old – this was written in the mid/late 80’s when there was lots of scaremongering about nuclear war – remember the dramas about what would happen if a nuclear bomb exploded? It’s unedited and uses the punctuation that I chose when writing it.

The End of the World

Screeching! Wailing! Shouting! Screaming!

People run to take cover where they cannot be saved.

Heart jumping, legs quaking, head  pounding,

I watch the sky for the beginning of my fate.

Then it comes, with no noise, people silent,

As we watch the air explode into smoke

See the world turning purple, red and yellow,

I feel sick, on my tears I could choke.

  

Bring my hands to my eyes and bury my head

To protect me from the great blinding light.

What’s happening? Help me! I can’t see!

Am I dead? Is this Heaven? Help me out!

Crumbling world all around me, dying people

But it’s all brought about by greedy men.

It’s the innocent , God fairing children

That are punished and have said their last Amen.

 

In my last few moments I remember a land

Full of green, much love and content.

See the earth slip away – not just my life

But a place, far too late to repent.

Dust fills my lungs and I crumble to the ground,

And though I am weak and my brain is concussed,

I still know how appropriate those funeral words are

of Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust.

 

I asked my 6 year old daughter to write something for me to share on my blog.  She loves poetry and often chooses a book of poetry as her bedtime story.  My husband taught her to recite ‘ Custard the Dragon’ by Ogden Nash, it was lovely to watch them doing this together and I’m sure it has helped with her expressive reading .  She used to add in her own bit when Custard cried for his nice safe cage – she would add in a deep ,whiny voice ‘Boo-hoo I want a safe cage’.  I think my 2 year old will follow in her footsteps.  She often chooses singing books at bedtime which include a mixture of song and rhyme.  Learning poetry by heart is such a valuable skill for young children.  It covers so many things that are important for becoming competent readers, awareness of rhythm and rhyme, use of alliteration, memory and the use of expression to convey meaning.  And of course it is fun.

Here are my daughter’s poems

Elephant

Elephant, Elephant

Wrinkly and Grey

I’m going home in case you

Step on me on the way.

Treasures

I love jewels on the walls

Crowns and diamonds all at the piemans

Money, money it’s so funny

Garnets and rubies at St Cuby’s

Who touched your life when you were a child? – Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture

I have finally managed to watch Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture.  How refreshing to hear someone from outside of the world of Education recognising how undervalued the Early Years profession is.  The lack of financial reward and status means that many of the UK’s brightest individuals are discouraged from entering the Early Years profession.  Working with our youngest children is one of the most important occupations of all, as Morpurgo put it

‘a pound spent in the early years can save ten pounds later’

Thank goodness some of us care enough not to desert the profession.

The lecture also decried the target driven education system we have in this country.  When everything relies upon targets and league tables it is easy to forget about the individuality of each child and how their needs can be met.  Morpurgo explained how  in New Zealand children enter school on their 5th birthday, thus allowing teachers time to get to know each child individually , rather than having a class of 30 all arriving at once. Also in Finland, which comes 2nd in the OECD World Education rankings, children do not start school until they are 7 years old.   With an education system built on targets and children starting school at such a young age we are setting our children up for failure.  No wonder we  keep seeing headlines about how boys are failing to read.

Morpurgo argues that the most important part of a child’s education is building trusting relationships, focusing on the unique qualities of each child. When teachers and adults are passionate about a subject, be it reading, music, sport or science they enthuse children to enjoy those things too.  This reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’.  In this he talks about how each of us have something that we excel at , that we enjoy and is at the core of our very being.  Many of these things are discovered by perceptive and enthusiastic adults when we are children, others of us do not find our ‘element ‘ till much later in life, if at all.

There are a number of people who helped me to find a passion.  My mother read me books, took me to the library and showed me that books were special, instilling in me a love for reading.  The primary school teachers who first put me on the stage in school shows and sowed the seeds for a love of performing and my secondary school English teacher who recognised my talent for writing and called me her ‘shining star’ helped me to believe that I could.

It also made me think of another thought I had earlier in the day as I taught my eldest daughter to play clock patience.  I thought about all the things my grandfather taught me to do when I was young.  Not only clock patience, but how to make a paper hat and paper aeroplane, how to play pick up sticks and two little dickie birds with pieces of paper on your fingers – things that I hope I remember well enough to pass down.

Working in Early Years Education I am sure that we touch children’s lives in many ways, with the experiences we give them, through listening to them and sharing their worlds and understanding their needs.  In some ways it’s a bit sad that few of the children we teach will remember the influence we had on their lives, they wont cite us as someone who touched their life, but I’m pretty certain we did.

For a full transcript of the Dimbleby Lecture    http://www.michaelmorpurgo.com/news/read-michaels-dimbleby-lectur/

 

Storytelling and memory

This week is National Storytelling Week.  I was going to write about my experiences of story telling with young children.  However,something else that I have been talking about this week seems to relate very well to story telling.

I have been having a sort out of the endless ‘stuff’ we accumulate in our house. One part of that has been to thin out all the things we have stored that we never use  and  collate our photographs in one place.  During this process my husband found a box full of old letters, certificates and notebooks which contain memories that would otherwise be forgotten.  We looked at photos of years gone by and the way that we remember things.  I also had a conversation relating to memory with a neighbour who recently had a large family gathering.  She talked about how when they all got together and talked about past shared events, they each remembered it differently.

How much of our lives get lost because we don’t document it?  When we need to find evidence of how we felt, often we can only say, I don’t remember it like that but maybe that is how it was.  Sometimes I wish I had documented my life so that I could look back and say with confidence , that is what happened, this is how it happened and this is how I felt.

At times I have kept diaries, mostly during my teenage years. I was so embarrassed by my thoughts when I  came across them years later, that I threw them away but a part of me wishes I hadn’t.  I have kept diaries of my pregnancies and early days of the children because the children won’t remember those times. I hope that one day I will be here to answer their questions about it but maybe, like my own mother, I will be gone by the time those questions arise.  I kept a journal during my honeymoon, I don’t often read it but sometimes it’s comforting to look back on the best times in your life.

My point is that when we think of story telling we automatically think of fiction, but our lives are a story – often the most interesting stories come from real events.  What may seem irrelevant or waffly thoughts right now will someday mean something to our children and grandchildren.  My most treasured possession is a letter that my mother wrote when she was in hospital after having me.  My dad found it after she had died and it is my only account of how she felt to be a mother for the first time .  Stories don’t have to be about dragons and adventures, let’s not forget that our own stories matter too.  For National Storytelling week I will not tell a story but will try to begin to tell my story so that I don’t forget and will not be forgotten.