Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle.

Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle, illustrated by Maggie Prewett is a fascinating story about life in the desert for three children and the trouble with the red dust that blows in and over everything in it’s path!


This group of desert children invite their school teacher, Mrs White, home for dinner to show her why they always bring in grubby homework. BUT – little do they know what mother nature has in store for them all!

They live in a higgledy-piggledy house with a higgledy -piggledy garden but they play outside, tell stories in the sand, have vivid imaginations and love learning.

Maggie Prewett’s illustrations highlight the spareness of the desert and dominance of the red sand after a sand storm! It reminded me of the many times I have spent in the desert and the fact that even months after returning home, I still found that red dust in pockets of clothes and gaps in the car seals!

I loved reading this story to my children and to classes at my school during library lessons as I was able to tell them about the desert and the amazing landscape we have in Australia. We were able to discuss how theses people live near waterways and if they don’t – water needs to be trucked in – a very foreign concept to city based children.

When we read books to children we open their minds to how other children live and therefore increase empathy and awareness of the world around them.

So what can you do with this story at home or in the classroom?

  • Look at a map of Australia and see where remote communities live. How do these people live in these areas?
  • How do children go to school when they live remotely? Explore School of the Air and Central schools. Compare how you go to school to how they do. Look at this school in Broken Hill 
  • How did the children in this story pass on stories and learn? Have you ever told a story without writing it down? Try and tell a story or two using only spoken word and perhaps a drawing or two as you talk.
  • How did they use their imagination when they heard unusual sounds? Close your eyes and listen to the outside world – imagine what those different sounds could be.
  • Explore personification throughout this story. How does making the objects alive add to the story? Create your own personification sentences.

Looking further:

 

 

Don’t forget the numeracy skills

There is a lot of focus on Literacy skills – and so there should be BUT numeracy is equally important and the embedding of those basic skills in the early years is really important.

However, many parents may feel that numeracy doesn’t play a role in home readers and sight words BUT it can.

  •  Count the letters in each word in the selected group of sight words. Group them according the number of letters in each group.
  •  Clap out and talk about or write down the amount of syllables in each word.
  •  Stretch out each word and count how many sounds there are in the word as opposed to just letters. (e.g. shop has ‘sh’ ‘o’ ‘p’)

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When reading:

  •  Look at the page numbers – discuss odd and even numbers. Look at how many pages there are and count on from the last number.
  • How many illustrations are in the story?
  • How many full stops?
  • How long is the book? Use informal measurements such as fingerspaces before you measure in centimetres.
  • How heavy is the book? What might it weigh the same as?
  • What shape is the book? What else is shaped like this? Count sides and then think about why books are square and not triangle or circular!

 

And perhaps consider this article, a very good reason to help your child to love mathematics: http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/a-dire-lack-of-interest-in-students-wanting-to-pursue-maths-careers-20170330-gv9pwa.html

 

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

‘Never step on a snail’

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan explores a relationship between two boys or brothers over the course of the summer holidays. This book is shelved in the Fiction section of our library and although younger readers may enjoy the pictures – it really is a book for readers who can think more deeply about what is happening as each page is turned.

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There is no particular narrative in this story but rather a series of rules that one must not forget if they are to survive summer.

Each page adds more intrigue to the story being told through pictures and leaves many questions being asked by the reader. You may find many questions of self reflection being asked about children’s own approach to different situations and why that crow appears in nearly every page.

We had a lot of fun working through this picture book in four lessons. If you would like to go on a summer journey too: Visit my TPT store to purchase the lesson outline you can use with your group to explore:

– Details of the pictures

– The role adults play in the lives of children.

– Changing perspective.

– Creative thinking through the KAPLAN model.

Playing a role in your child’s education

How can I play the best role in my child’s education is one question that many parents ask. 

This is a great question and more parents need to ask this. It seems that many parents see school as a separate entity where they send their child to learn and there is no connection with what they do or day at home with how their child achieves at school

But, there is a strong link and if parents become positively involved in their child’s education their child will be more motivated, have higher self esteem and higher self efficacy. It is important to note that we do not want to smother our children if we are to be involved in their education, we just need to support them in a positive manner.

There are some simple steps you can follow.

  1. Understand your child, where they excel and where they need support.
  2. Know the school and the best schooling option for your child. Understand their policies, teaching methods and how they cater for different children within the classroom.
  3. Connect with the school – this could be through meeting the teacher, taking part in parent and family school activities, volunteering somewhere in the school, reading the school newsletter etc.
  4. Get to know other parents in the school community. This will make your school experience positive and influence how you speak about the school. Getting to know the parents of the children your child is friends with is also a positive step in knowing your child better.
  5. Don’t be negative in front of your child. When you are unhappy with something that has happened at school try to find out as much as possible before commenting. Your child needs to see you being fair to the school and the teachers.
  6. Trust your instincts about your child. You know what is best for them so support them in the way that is best for them.
  7. Involve your child in the decision making process throughout their schooling. Remember it is ultimately their education. You can help them make their decisions but make sure it is in the best interest of your child.

But what else? 

Ultimately, at school,  we want our child to learn new ways of thinking, new facts and new skills but we also want to develop their social skills and emotional skills. By playing a positive role in your child’s education that is not smothering is key. We want our children to be resilient and self confident so that they can make decisions themselves without us always having to be nearby. By showing that you are involved in the school, are positive towards to school and have belief in your child is the first step.

Resilience is something that parents can develop at home. There is a great model called the Resilience Doughnut and is definitely worth checking out as it is such a useful tool for parents.

Basically the doughnut’s centre represents the intrinsic beliefs and motivations of a person. It looks at how the person views themselves, how confident they are and who they feel they can go to for support.

The outside of the doughnut has seven factors which are all related to external influences on the person’s life. They are:

  • The Parent Factor: characteristics of strong and effective parenting .
  • The Skill Factor: evidence of self-competence. How does the person view their abilities?
  • The Family and Identity Factor: What is your family identity?  How do we connect to our family? Do we feel respected? Accepted? Siblings? Trusting adult?
  • The Education Factor: experience of connections and relationships during the learning process. How do we feel towards teachers? Strong relationships with teachers? High expectations? Optimistic? Positive world view? Enjoyment of learning?
  • The Peer Factor: where social and moral development is enhanced through interactions with peers. Development and maintenance of friendship? Belonging, acceptance, peer support, loyalty, self regulation.
  • The Community Factor: where the morals and values of the local community are transferred and the young person is supported. Sporting clubs, religious groups, activity groups…Having links to the local community and supportive social services has been shown to have a major impact on contributing to building resilience Shared values.
  • The Money Factor: where the young person develops the ability to give as well as take from society through employment and purposeful spending. Learn about spending, consuming, material possesions, self regulation. Budgeting, gratefulness.

So that’s just a snapshot of the resilience donut, I recommend you sit down and take a look at it so you can ensure you are playing the best role in your child’s education – remembering not just school facts and skills but skills for life.

The importance of nature play. 

There is a lot of new research coming out on the importance of play and the importance of play outside.

As a teacher I have always observed children learning best when they are in a relaxed and informal environment. In saying this, there is always a place for teaching and mentoring but there is also a place for exploration, making mistakes and collaboration.


I love being outside – it just makes me happier. I love being in natural areas where there is less human activity and more time to sit back and admire what is around us. So when I became a librarian I couldn’t think of a better way to get children outside than through books!

Research shows that playing outside increases happiness, problem solving and motivation. When children play outside they use more imagination as there are less boundaries, they can problem solve and they can learn about the world they live in through their 5 senses.


Now, you often think of books as an inside activity – which they can be (and often are) and this is fine BUT what if we can take ideas from these books and use them to inspire some outdoor play?

Here are some books which might inspire you to take a trip outside!

 

Go on an adventure

We are going on a bear hunt

This is a classic book that we all know and love. It is so much fun to read and sing to and is a favourite of ours.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Go on your own bear hunt! Find some swishy grass, splashy water and sloshy mud – lots of fun!
  • Can you go on a native Australian animal hunt? Which animals live in your area?
  • Pack a bag and go on a short hike. Think of the different things you need to cope with storms, rain, wind and sunshine!

Worm explorers

The worm who knew karate by Terry Denton and Jill Lever

The worm who knew karate By Jill Lever and Terry Denton is a hilarious book about a worm who decides to become a braver and stronger worm through the art of karate! Which made me think….how can we help our children to build their confidence? And what do those worms in my worm farm really get up to? Maybe it’s a secret dojo I have never been aware of….

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • go and dig up some dirt – find some earth worms!
  • Go and buy a worm farm or explore your local community garden worm farm.
  • Feed the worms – what do they like best?

Create a garden

The curious Garden by Peter Brown

One boy’s quest for a greener world, one garden at a time.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is a book based on fact. The Highline is an abandoned railway line that people began to take back over and return it back to nature and open spaces for people to enjoy.

It is a poignant book as many cities, suburbs and towns are starting to explore how they can become greener, literally.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Keep a seed diary – plant a seed and watch it grow! (use quick growing seeds like herbs, beans or sunflowers)
  • Look at a local park or your own backyard and redesign it so there is more growing and more green.
  • Make an inventory of the nature in your area. Discuss biodiversity of plants and animals.

Explore insects

Mechanics by Lance Baldachin

Mechanica: A beginner’s field guide by Lance Baldachin is a picture book for those who love the earth but wonder what is to become of it if we keep treating it the way we do.

It is circa 2250 and the earth is devoid of any natural life due to human destruction and consumption. However, mechanical creatures have been made to replace what was lost – though these are not always as kind as they look!

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Find some insects and sketch them. Look at how they move their arms and legs. Try to recreate an insect out of natural material.
  • Create an insect house for your local insects. Many insects are lacking in city gardens as there are not enough small holes for them to live in.
  • Look for signs of life cycles of insects  – these can be hard to find but it will make your child look in the small places that we often overlook.

Explore new places

Bogtrotter by Margaret Wild

The Bogtrotter is a delightful creature that lives in the bog – a gloomy, marshy, mushy bog! Bogtotter, written by Margaret Wild is a book that focuses on belonging, trying new things, playing outdoors, loneliness and discovery.

The illustrations by Judith Rossell are marvellous, really bringing to life the Bogtrotter and his feelings.

The reader steps through into the life of the Bogtrotter, watching him start off doing the same thing every day, not knowing how to make a change. It is through talking to other animals around him and picking a flower that he sees that there is more to his bog.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Go to a new park, a new national park or any outdoor space.
  • Walk a path you walk everyday but do it slowly and try to notice the small things as you go along. Talk to people, say hello and notice what is happening.
  • Take something outside that you normally do inside – does it make a difference?

 

Imagination

Incredibilia by Libby Hathorn

I loved reading Incredibilia by Libby Hathorn and illustrated by Gaye Chapman to my children, the pictures really transport you to an imaginative world full of crazy creatures, whispy clouds and natural beauty. We loved looking at each page and imagining what Georgie was thinking about, what she was playing and how the others could play to.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Take some ribbons, balls, string and scraps and see what you can do with them outside rather than a specific toy.
  • Create new names for the local insects, trees and flowers in your garden or local park – imagination!
  • Go somewhere or find something that you think is incredibilia!

Being Green

Leaf by Stephen Michael King

Leaf shows the love of nature that children can have when given the chance. It also shows the adult world and how everything needs to be neat, tidy and regimented. A sad story on adults behalf!

In this magical story a little boy  grows his own seedling in his hair and loves it, cares for it and shares many adventures with it. He spends every waking minute finding the best way to care for his seedling.

Unfortunately it’s time for a haircut and the adult world tries to take his small tree away from him. However, his determination and resilience shines through and he continues to care for the tree as he grows older.

This is a beautifully drawn book which not only intrigues the reader but really hits the spot on how we need to take a step back and let the natural world become a part of our daily lives.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Perform a puppet show outside with leaves as the characters – draw on them and create a story!
  • What can you grow out of different substances? Explore how seeds grow and what they need to grow.
  • How heavy are different trees. Use problem solving to try and work this out.

 

I hope this has inspired you to read some books and play outside! I have many more ideas each week on my blog so please sign up to flickingonthebook.wordpress.com

 

 

When should we send children to school?

This is a question that I am asked very often!

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The main people who ask this are parents of children who are born between Jan – June – they are either going to be the youngest in their grade: Still four when they begin the school year or will be the eldest, possibly turning six before they begin school.

So, as  a parent, what do you need to consider for your child?

  • If your child goes to preschool or daycare ask what they think. They see your child in a different way to a parent so trust their opinion.

 

  • Consider if your child is ready emotionally. Do they cry easily? Do they anger easily? How do they solve problems? Although your child will learn these skills as they grow up, in order for them to be happy socially, they need to be able to get along with other children as much as possible. They need to be able to talk to other adults and deal with small problems without breaking down. Keep in mind that some children will always be sensitive – have a look at this article about overexcitabilities to see if your child fits into this category: http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/overexcitability-and-the-gifted

 

  • There is some new research that is shows there can be harm in sending your child to school early rather than sending them late. BUT in saying that some children will be ready early as perhaps they have an older sibling or perhaps they are socially ready, eager and ready to learn. Check your child is ready – don’t send them because you want them to go or their friends are going. Send them because they are ready. 

 

  • Don’t think that sending them early is going to mean they will be able to read within a month. Kindergarten is now a time and a space for children to learn through play. Lessons are not as formal as they used to be and children are encouraged to move, talk and touch things in order to learn. Children need time to learn and by pushing them to know their alphabet or sight words will just turn them away from their ingrained passion to learn.

 

  • In saying that – read to your child. Encourage them to sound out words but do it in a fun way. No threats! Yes, reading is a very important skill and once we learn to read we can do so many things BUT pushing your child can teach them the incorrect skills which can do a lot more harm than good.

I once taught a kindergarten girl who was an excellent reader but had no comprehension skills. This was causing a very big issue as she was slowly dropping in her self esteem – she thought she could read and had been praised but now there was something related to reading that she couldn’t do. She had to go back to basics which was very difficult for her. 

 

  • Talk to the school. Ask what they think and allow them to meet your child. They may have open sessions where they can watch your child interact with other children around them and also how they approach different activities.

 

  • Trust yourself. You know your child better than anyone else. Trust that you know what is best for your child. You have raised them to be the best person they can be so far and I am sure you can continue to. Trust that you know what your child can do.

 

  • Keep reading those picture books! Enlighten your child to the world around them. Let them see words, play with vocabulary and have fun looking at pictures.

Crusts by Danny Parker

Wow! This book is so much fun and so creative.

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Who would have thought a great story of loss, adventure, creativity and hope would all stem from some crusts of bread!

Crusts by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley is an adventure story which will inspire those of any age to think about how something small and simple can make a big difference if we put our minds to it!

What would you do if you had kept all your crusts from your childhood? Our main character, Jacob comes up with a brilliant idea and saves a neighboring planet from doom.

So how can we link this to sustainability? 

  • Think about what you do at home or at school with your food scraps? Food waste that is placed in a regular bin can take up to three times longer (or more) than scraps placed in a compost bin or worm farm. Compost bins and worm farms are very easy to come by and require minimal maintenance. Perhaps considering buying one or making your own!
  • Conduct a food experiment at home. Test how long food takes to decompose. Place some in the compost bin, some in the worm farm, some in a plastic bag in the outside bin. Although it is a stinky experiment try to do it for about three weeks. See what happens! You will be surprised!!
  •  Perhaps adults don’t waste their crusts but I am sure many of them waste those disposable coffee cups. What can you do with those waxy lined coffee cups? Or better still – could you buy yourself a reusable cup?

Coffee cup ideas:

  • Plant some seeds in them for the garden
  • Cut them down to make mini bird feeders.
  • Turn them upside down to make some mini scare crows (or chicken scarers)

Left overs

  • What can you make with your dinner left overs (before they go into the compost bin) a fun, yet messy activity! Allows for creativity and imagination.

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We made a little hanger for birds and possums. This was the tops of some burnt cupcakes. (Whoops, we were playing outside and forgot the timer)

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  • Visit places in your local area who collect excess objects that can be put to use in other ways. Reverse garbage is great and you can come away with lots of goodies for craft.

Social Justice

Learn about companies that put left over food to good use. 

Think about how you can create less food waste by being creative with leftovers.

Creating

Create your own spaceship out of food scraps – real or imaginary. Draw up the plan to scale and work out how you would stick it all together. Lots of fun!

 

I loved this book and I hope you have fun with it too!