Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dinosaur party

My gorgeous little grandson is four years old tomorrow.

He is captivated by dinosaurs and engages all members of the family in playing dinosaur games.

To celebrate his birthday this week, I decided to make this little book about a dinosaur game with his family members (little sister Anna, parents, an aunt and uncle, and two sets of grandparents).

I hope you enjoy it too!

There are 2 choices of format: read it by yourself or read-along with me.

Read it by yourself:

You have three choice of arrows to use to page through the book : on the book itself, below the book, or on your keyboard.

Click on the full screenbelow the image to view in full screen.

Read-along with me:

Click on the arrow to hear a reading of the story.

Related article:

Play. Dinosaur party (


Making friends with exercise

Exercise and I have never been friends.

Okay. Maybe “never” is an exaggeration, but our relationship has been quite frosty for most of my adult life with only occasional attempts at reigniting the friendship.

As a child I played on the beach, swam in the sea, climbed the cliffs and played in the bush near where I lived.


As a teenager I played tennis in a school team and for fun with family and friends in outside of school hours.


At college I played on a basketball team and went out dancing at least once, and sometimes up to three times, a week.NBA_Court_Sports2010

But always my preferred activity was to be lying on my bed engrossed in a good read or scribbling ideas in a notebook.


Then came adulthood, work and parenthood; a life brimming with activity but no scheduled “exercise”.


All too soon middle age, with its stealthy creep, could hide no longer; and my youthful fitness, feeling the dejection of being taken for granted, promptly left.


I know. I know. Exercise is important; not only for body but also for mind.

I always made sure that my own children and the children I was teaching got plenty of opportunities for exercise. But my own body, that’s a different story.


There were already too many other things I wanted to do. How could I possibly fit in something that I didn’t want to do?Green Eggs and Ham

With apologies to Dr Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham”, I offer the following:

Ode to exercise

Exercise. Exercise.

I do not like that exercise.

7271-Stick-Figures-Woman2-1-webI do not like the time it takes.

I do not like the effort it makes.

I do not like being sweaty and hot.

I just don’t like it. I do not.

I do not like it with a trainer.SteveLambert_Woman_on_Exercise_Bike

I do not like the circuit strainer.

I do not like it in the gym,

I do not like a vigorous swim.

7273-Stick-Figures-Woman2-1-webI do not like the heating sun.

I do not like an outdoor run.

I do not like it on a bike.

There’s very little I would like.

Would you like it on TV?exercise TV

Would you, could you with a Wii?

Okay. I’ll try it on TV.

Okay. I’ll try it with a Wii.

7285-Stick-Figures-Woman2-1-webOh I love it.  Yes I do.

This exercise is good for you!

I could do it every day.

I would do it, step this way.

I would do it on the floor. 7266-Stick-Figures-Woman2-1-web

I would do it right indoor.

Exercising with the Wii,

I have found the one for Mii!

Computer and video games had been a source of much fun for me since the days of Atari and others in the 80s. When the Wii Fit came out, I thought that if anything could get me to exercise, this would be it.

Although I still don’t manage to incorporate it into my routine every day, I am doing a lot more than I would without it.

These are the top 10 reasons I love my Wii Fit:

10.  I can do it in the privacy of my own home.

9.  I can spend the amount of time doing it that I choose.

8.  I am sheltered from the outdoor weather – it’s always a beautiful day on the island.

7.  It gives me positive feedback and tells me that I am years younger than I really am! (Who can argue with that?)

6.  If I get lost (which has happened) I don’t have to find my way back; I can just stop and I’m home.

5.  It notices if we haven’t seen each other for a few days and tells me I’ve been missed.

4.  I can choose from a wide variety of activities including juggling, tightrope walking and flying as well as step, jogging and cycling.

3.  I see and have the support of family and friends who “accompany” me through their Mii characters.

2.  I can listen to audiobooks or Ted talks while I am jogging or cycling — good for my mind as well as my body. The especially great thing about listening to Ted talks, is that most of them are of about 15 minutes’ duration: just how long it takes me to jog or cycle around the island; and because I am listening and learning

1.  I don’t even notice that I’m exercising.


If this sounds like a sales pitch for Will, it probably is, because I am sold on it.

If you are one of those lucky people who enjoy exercise, then good on you, I say. So many times I have been told, “You’ll feel better after you do it” – something to do with endorphins, I believe.

I wish. I’m yet to experience that exercise glow. It would make it all so much easier.

A little while ago Talli Roland wrote a post for Women Writers about “how to avoid writer’s arse”. I think I’ll have to become even better friends with my Wii Fit in the future to stop this becoming a big problem for me, now that I am spending a lot more time sitting on my posterior, writing for posterity.


Just in case you are wondering what other “exercise” I dabble in from time to time:

  • On work days I include a 10 – 15 minute walk from car to office and back again
  • In summer I do a very gentle swim-ercise in my very private backyard pool
  • I take frequent walks from my desk to the kitchen and back again throughout the writing day
  • I participate in active play with grandchildren (but only when a book won’t do!)

What about you? Are you one of the lucky ones to whom exercise is a pleasure?

Or, like me, do you always find there are 1001 other things you would rather be doing, and struggle to find the time and energy?

Images from open clipart and eLearning Brothers.

Affirmations: How good are they?

In a recent post, Happy being me I wrote about the fragility of self-esteem and how affirmation songs such as those by Anne Infante, can help to build a positive environment.

‘I am Freedom’s Child’ by Bill Martin Jr. (mentioned in a previous post ‘I love the mountains’) is another great song of affirmation.

Click on the link to view a poster outlining the benefits of singing Affirmation songs in the classroom.

I invite you to submit any additional benefits of singing affirmations that you would like included on the list and I’ll be happy to update it.

Feel welcome to make a copy of the poster to share with others if you wish.

PS I made this poster using a template and cutout people I purchased (along with many others) from the eLearning Brothers. Check out their website here. I found out about them on another great site: the elearning coach.

Happy being me


One of the most precious but fragile qualities of a person is their sense of self and self-esteem.

A positive word of encouragement can reinforce the strength of one’s self-image.


image courtesy of

But that image can be shattered all too easily through a sigh, a grimace, an ill-chosen word or careless remark.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Our self-esteem flourishes when we are happy and wilts when we are sad. It is much easier to boost someone when they are up, and to hit them when they are down. Maintaining a healthy self-image requires just the right amount of self-knowledge and confidence to be resilient when faced with negative feedback and to not adopt an inflated sense of importance when receiving false, or genuine, positive input.

Fostering self-esteem in the classroom

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

As a teacher I have always considered it to be equally or more important to strengthen a child’s self-image as it is to extend their thinking and learning abilities.

My primary aim has always been to cultivate a group of happy children, with strong senses of self, confident in what they could do and willing to have a go to extend their learning. I believe that these qualities are necessary in order for children to learn efficiently.

A child who lacks confidence and is fearful of having a go lest a mistake be made, will make slow progress, finding it difficult to move out of the “comfort zone” into the unknown.

Because children have no choice in whether to be in school or not, despite whether they like it or not, then, I believe, it must be a happy place, a place where they want to be and look forward to coming. How powerless must they feel if they are compelled to attend every day in a situation which gives them no pleasure.

image courtesy of

Sometimes the response to this remark is, “It’s life. They just have to get used to it.”

But really, when you think of it, adults, no matter how trapped they may feel in certain situations, do have a choice. The choices may be no more palatable than the one they are in, but they are able to make that choice. My point is: children don’t make this choice. The choice is made for them. We are lucky that most children accept, and most rather willingly, indeed with enjoyment, this institution of childhood.

Start each day with a song

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Because these beliefs and values guided the choices I made as a teacher, I started every day with at least a song or two, and always one of affirmation. It is almost impossible to frown when singing, and almost as impossible to not join in when everyone around is singing too.

There were mornings when it was just as important for me to sing the songs as it was for the children. As for them, it gave me time to forget the problem that had occurred outside the classroom, the difficulty getting something to work the required way, or the disagreement that had taken place some time earlier. As for them, it gave me a quiet time to reflect and reassure myself, “I’m okay. I can do this. Let’s get on with our day.”

I noticed, too, that when parent volunteers or other visitors were with us for our song, they also joined in with our singing and invariably followed up with a spontaneous comment about how much they appreciated, and needed, the song as well. Many times I received comments from passers-by about how the class’s happy singing had helped them start their day.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

I took every possible opportunity to remind parents of how wonderful their children were and we always shared at least one of these songs with parents during end-of-term celebrations of work. I believe the songs help to model, for parents as well as teachers, a way of sharing positive feedback and affirmations with their children.

Affirmation songs

Some of the songs we sang regularly in the mornings were from Anne Infante’s “Special as I can be” CD, the title song of which is my favourite and always the first I introduce to the children.

Anne Infante (image courtesy of Anne)

Anne Infante (image courtesy of Anne)

Image courtesy of Anne

Click here to find out more about Anne and her songs.

I always wrote the songs out on charts so that, from the first day of school, we could follow along with the words as Anne sang them, even before most of the children could recognise any of them. The melody and repetitive structure of each verse invited the children to join in:

Nobody else is just like me. 

I’m as unique as I can be.

I am beautiful, wonderful and

beautiful, special as I can be.”

The following verses substituted things such as “Nobody’s face, nobody’s smile, nobody’s eyes.” I simply told them, before the verse started, the words that changed each time.

It wasn’t long before the children were joining in with the singing and recognising some of the words repeated in the songs e.g. “I” and “beautiful”.

If ever I was called away during the song, they took great delight in being the one to point to the words for the rest of the class to follow.

As the children became confident with one song, I would introduce another; and as our repertoire built, we would sing a different one each day. Sometimes the children would change the chart I had selected for another of their choosing for that particular day.

The children loved these songs, and often during the day, while they were working on another task, someone would start quietly singing a song, and before long everyone would be joining in with joyful affirmation. I loved it when they left the classroom in the afternoon singing another of Anne’s songs, “Today I’m feeling happy. I am, I am, I am.”

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Singing an affirmation song is a little “happiness pill” you can take every day without any side effects.

Happy being me

Affirmation songs provide benefits in many ways:

  • Share the joy of being alive and happiness with self
  • Put a smile on everyone’s face
  • Invite everyone to participate
  • Encourage acceptance of and respect for self and others
  • Reinforce self-esteem
  • Insulate the classroom from outside troubles
  • Quiet the mind and settle the body in preparation for the day’s work
  • Provide words to express feelings
  • Give musical pleasure
  • Are an avenue for literacy learning.

Please feel welcome to share your thoughts.

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“I love the mountains”

More than 30 years ago I had the extreme good fortune of being at Brown bear brown beara literacy teachers’ conference at which Bill Martin Jr. (author of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear”) was speaking. What a memorable occasion it was.

At the moment I can recall no other speakers, but I have never forgotten the captivatingly melodic and sonorous voice of Bill and the power of his message.

Bill inspired his audience as he spoke about coming to reading later than most, at about the age of twenty, by teaching himself to read through his love of poetry. He attributed this love to being read to daily as a child. His delight in and playfulness with language was obvious as his voice danced through his stories, poems and songs to the accompaniment of his rich lilting laughter.

He demonstrated, through audience participation, the joy of learning through song and the importance of the sounds and rhythms of language. Having fun and playing with language provides much joy for adults and children alike.

In the days of overhead projectors, long before the now familiar electronic slideshows, Bill displayed a simple song “I love the mountains” on the screen. In an instant he had the audience rollicking in their seats, singing along with the words on the screen, and following the rhythmic lead of his voice without any other accompaniment. The energy created by this spontaneous engagement of the audience was electrifying. How could anyone not wish to participate? I quickly noted the words and tried desperately to commit the tune to memory. (I have since found out that this is a traditional camping song but, since I am not a camper, it was unfamiliar to me at the time though it may have been known by other members of the audience.)

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Every year since then, I have shared that song with my children.

At the beginning of year one, in their 2nd or 3rd week of school, long before many of them could read or write very much at all, I would write the words on a chart and have them singing along, sharing through me, Bill Martin’s joy of song and language.

One title in the "Sounds of Language" series

One title in the “Sounds of Language” series

Then, as soon as they were masters of the tune, we would engage in another of Bill’s suggested activities, “transforming sentences”. As Bill recommended, they were “taking an author’s structure and hanging their own thoughts on it.” (Sounds of Language, 1972)

We changed Bill’s choice of “loves” for our own, and wrote our own collective song, which we sang repeatedly and with great gusto. Although the original did include a rhyme, we didn’t concern ourselves with that at this stage. We just concentrated on sharing our loves in a song such as this one:

I love chocolate

While they were having fun with language, the children were also learning a subtle and unstated lesson about how powerful a tool for communication self-expression through language, both oral and written, could be.

The children’s suggestions for things they loved were many more than the lines of one collective song would allow, so there was nothing else to do but write one of their own. Which they did. They had already seen how easy it was. They knew the rhythm.  They had the basic sentence structure. All they had to do was substitute their own thoughts and make the song their own.

How wonderful it was to hear the children singing their own lyrics as they wrote them, ensuring that the words telling of their loves fitted the rhythm of the song. The children delighted in sharing their songs with each other and with anyone else who would listen. At the end of the day they took them home to share with their parents as a special gift of themselves for Valentine’s Day.

While my children did not have the benefit of Bill’s magical voice, or even a tuneful model from me, they delighted in his song. You can share a version (without Bill’s voice, or mine) by clicking here.

Why not create your own songs, and support your children to create theirs, using this song model. You’ve seen how easy and joyful it can be. A song to sing about things you love is a little “happiness pill” that can be taken daily with no known side effects.

I invite you to share your own versions here for us all to enjoy.

Bill Martin Jr. wrote in Sounds of Language (1972):

“As children gain skill in using their ears to guide their eyes in reading, they have a qualitatively different reading experience. Consider the young child who has frequently heard his teacher read “Ten Little Indians.” Once a child has these sounds clearly and solidly in his ear, he has little difficulty reading this old rhyme in its printed form. Once his ears begin telling him what his eyes are seeing, he approaches the reading with confidence and expectation. And when he comes to his teacher and exultingly declares,

I know that word, Miss Barber! That word is “little!”

she has evidence that he is relating sight and sound in reading.”

What a joy and honour it is, as an early childhood teacher (including parent) to share a child’s journey into independent and joyful reading and writing.

Nor and Bec readingwriting

Robert 2

It was a sad day when Bill Martin Jr. passed away on August 11, 2004, but his legacy lives on in the hearts of many readers, both young and old, whose lives have been touched by his love of language, and who may have indeed stepped across the threshold into reading through one of his many wonderful books.

Click on the title to listen to Bill singing another fabulous song “I am Freedom’s Child” and his message for democracy: what another great song to start each day!

I will have more about Bill Martin Jr. and his legacy in future posts.

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The accidental home educator

In a previous post “To school or not to school” I discussed thoughts I had pondered and issues I had considered when deciding the future education of my daughter.

Although the main focus of that article was whether to school or not, home education was not only not my first choice, but not even a consideration.

The merest hint of an idea of starting my own school had niggled away in the back of my thoughts for a long time. More than ten years before that article was written, I was in college studying the teaching of literacy when the idea popped into conscious thought. In response to an assigned task, which required that I explain how I would implement a literacy program in a school, I surprised my lecturer (and myself) by explaining how I would do so in a school that I established. Although I was never afraid of placing my own spin upon a set task, I never really expected the idea of establishing a school of my own to be anything more than just that.

In the ensuing years prior to the birth of my daughter, my son completed his primary schooling and I taught in a variety of roles, some of which were the most rewarding of my career. During those years I met many other teachers with a similar dream of starting their own school. They were mostly creative and innovative teachers, passionate about their own learning as well as the learning of their students. They inspired their students with an energy that at times seemed infinite. But they felt stymied by the formality and top-down approach of traditional schooling which they, like me, believed to be detrimental to children’s learning and personal growth.

Many of these teachers left the profession, unable to conquer the battle between philosophy and practice waging within. Others continue teaching, constantly trying to balance their beliefs about learning and the needs of their students within the confines of the expected formal and didactic approach to teaching. Others have become burnt out, feeling isolated and unsupported, succumbing to the pressure to conform.

Few teachers take action to make their dream a reality. Whatever one’s beliefs, it takes a great deal of courage to step outside the norm of accepted practices. To establish an alternative school, in addition to this courage, requirements include a bottomless well of financial resources, an infinite ability to persist under the onslaught of unremitting obstacles, and a firm commitment to ideals and philosophies.

When Bec was born the nagging of this idea was so insistent that I was compelled to bring it out from where it was hiding and give it some serious consideration. Without any real understanding of the magnitude of the task ahead, without a well of financial resources, but with a firmly-held belief in what I was undertaking, I set upon the road to turn the dream to reality.

Me with a group of my young learners.

Me with a group of “my” children, including Bec in the middle.

When Bec was about 2, I established a small home-based (but not profitable) business providing educational care for other 2-3 year olds and educational play sessions for parents and children.

For the children in care, I provided a stimulating learning environment with lots of talk, books and hands-on exploratory activities. I provided support as they learned to have a go and developed confidence in their abilities.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

In the play sessions I guided parents’ engagement with their children in play, explained how they could develop vocabulary and concepts, and provided suggestions for them to continue at home. Even after 20 years, parents still tell me how valuable those session were to their children’s education.

At the same time I investigated and explored alternatives to traditionally schooling available in my area but was disappointed that none exactly met my criteria. Some were too laissez faire, others followed pedagogical approaches I believed to be unsupportive of children’s learning, and others were based on philosophies I didn’t agree with.

I began constructing a vision of what my ideal school would be. I invited other like-minded teachers to join me and we got to work on building a team, enlisting families, and seeking out a facility.

Composing the vision statement.

Composing the vision statement.

Approval by the education department was easily achieved and interest of parents was forthcoming. In the end, the greatest stumbling block and final inhibitor of the project was town planning.

Throughout those establishment years Bec was not enrolled in a school. She was educated at home while we waited for my alternative school to open. We participated in some home schooling group activities, and I continued to conduct home-based educational sessions for Bec and other children. After about 5 years and two aborted starts, the project was terminated and Bec’s home education came to an end. Well, it really didn’t come to an end. She continued to do a lot of learning at home, but as she was enrolled in the local government school, it was her official education provider.

I often wonder what our lives would be like now if my dream of opening an alternative school had been achieved.

It was difficult making the decision to let it go. I was torn between two equally compelling but conflicting pieces of advice which vied for my attention:

snagit persist and listen

I do believe I gave the dream my best shot, but after a long time and many false starts, I decided that perhaps I should listen to the messages. With most families, like ourselves, more interested in an alternative school than in home schooling, it was time to let it go. Other families, like me, were not enamoured with the local offerings, but then, also like me, had to decide the future of their children’s education.

I no longer felt comfortable asking families to stay committed to the goal with no tangible start date in sight, and after a final search for a suitable property hit another dead end, the idea was abandoned. I was not committed to home education as a long-term alternative for Bec’s education, and so finally, in year 4, she started school.

What you don’t know . . .

One of my favourite quotes is that of Manuel in the BBC television series Fawlty Towers: “I know nothing.” I love quoting this but, just like Manuel, I too am learning. And what a wonderful gift it is to be able to learn.

Recently I read a post This time it’s personal by Tony Burkinshaw on his blog.

He explained unconscious incompetence in the following way: “A total ignorance of just how much you don’t yet know for the simple reason that you don’t yet know enough to recognise that you don’t yet know what you don’t yet know.”

This got me thinking about knowledge and learning and about some of the subtle ways in which our attitude to knowledge and learning is manipulated.

When I was a teenager, my brother wrote for me in my autograph book: “What you don’t know won’t do you any good either.”

My father was not impressed and stated quite emphatically, “What you don’t know won’t do you any harm.

I think he subscribed to the same philosophy as many of my teachers: “Ignorance is bliss.”

I mentioned in my article To school or not to school, a belief that the natural curiosity and eagerness to learn I’d had as a young child had been somewhat diminished during childhood by the attitudes of others around me. That’s not to say that they didn’t want me to do well in school, for they did, and always encouraged me and supported me to do my best; but it was my best at what the teachers told me to do and what the teachers told me to learn.

Ready for school - year 2

Ready for school – year 2

Knowledge is power; and one of the easiest ways to suppress and maintain power over others is to keep them ignorant.

While I am certain that my own willingness to be manipulated and need for acceptance also contributed, an encouragement of curiosity and active inquiry would have had the opposite and more positive effect. I am sure there are others who may not have bent so willingly under pressure and whose natural love of learning flourished despite it or even in response to it. But I know there are many more who bent and failed to rebound and are now trapped by their “unconscious incompetence” in an unassailable comfort zone; not knowing what they don’t know, for “Ignorance is bliss”.

I am one of the lucky ones for, while I know a lot about some things, I know that there are things that I don’t know, and lots of them! Rather than make me a conscious incompetent, it makes me a willing learner, and passionate about ensuring the flames of curiosity and love of learning are maintained in others.

Throughout their childhoods, I encouraged my children to question everything, including me, for I wanted them to arrive at their own understandings and did not want their thinking to be restricted the way mine had been.

For many of you, a love of learning and an ability to acquire knowledge may have been a constant throughout your life. I ask then, that you do not dismiss those who don’t have the advantage of your information and your education. Many do not know what they do not know and they can’t even begin to imagine the questions they could start asking to ignite their learning. If they have had their natural curiosity suppressed and their wills broken, been convinced that submission and conformity were the way to being “good”, and willingly entered the cage and threw away the key; instead of judgment, derision and laughter, what they need is to be shown the open doorway … shown what they don’t know so they too, can start asking questions and filling in the gaps in their knowledge to regain power over their own lives.

The saying “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is very true.

How many times have you heard someone bemoan, “I wish I knew then what I know now”?

What can you do to encourage a love of learning or pique someone’s interest today?

How has your attitude to learning been influenced by the attitudes of others?

Enhance learning potential – talk and read daily

Reports in the media this week asserted that parents are not making the time to read to their children on a regular basis. They also stated that children are beginning school unable to talk.

So what’s new and why does it matter?

Beckii readingSimilar allegations have been made for decades and it is saddening to see that the situation persists despite the increased volume of good quality children’s books being readily available at affordable prices and the torrent of information available in easily accessible media, including information about the importance of talking with and reading to children.

Children who start school with a love of reading and learning have an enormous advantage over those who don’t.

Robert 2Teachers of children in their first years of schooling are easily able to identify the children who have been talked with and read to in their before school years. These children display a broader general knowledge, a larger vocabulary and fluency with language, a comfortable familiarity with books and an expectation of enjoyment with learning.

Children whose before school years have been bereft of meaningful conversations with adults and lacking in regular and frequent incursions into books, generally present with limited general knowledge, restricted vocabulary, little expectation that books will provide joy and diminished interest in or incentive for learning.

Why then are parents not making the time to talk with and read to their children?

Busy schedules and work commitments make it seem as if there is just not enough time to fit in talking and reading to children every day. But how much time does it take to do that?

Simple changes in routine can open up new avenues for communication without requiring an extra commitment of time.

reading Spot

Here are just two suggestions for easily adding a talk and a book to the daily schedule without requiring any more time.

Sit a child on a stool beside you and chat about the day’s events while preparing the evening meal.

Beckii on stoolThis simple activity requires no further expenditure of time but greatly enhances the child’s communication skills and the parent-child relationship as well. Vocabulary is extended to include words that name and describe foods and the actions that are used in the preparation. Enlisting their help further boosts their sense of self and independence and may encourage a greater willingness to try a wider variety of foods.

The promise of a story at bedtime can help to make the transition from a busy day to a restful night easier and more enjoyable.

Reading magicA short time is all it takes to share the joy of a story.  In her book Reading Magic Mem Fox recommends 10 minutes of reading to children every day. Ten minutes of story time gives far more pleasure to both child and parent than ten minutes fraught with coaxing and struggling. Snuggling up in bed for a special quiet story time with a parent eases the child into relaxation and a slowing down in preparation for sleep.

In addition to strengthening the child-parent bond, a love of books and an enjoyment of language and story is being nurtured; a love that can be maintained throughout one’s life.

Nor and Bec reading

How do you fit talking and reading into your busy schedule?