Monthly Archives: June 2015

Can you dig it?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about dirt and has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about dirt.

In her post Charli says that,

writing is like gardening - Charli Mills

and talks about sowing compassion to make our world a “worthier place to live”.

These are wonderful ways of thinking about dirt and good reminders of the importance of the earth beneath our feet, which is often taken for granted, even ignored, unless one is a farmer, a gardener, perhaps a miner, or possibly a child.

Children are often admonished about playing in the dirt, as if washing off a little soil  was the greatest difficulty. In our towns and cities we cover the soil with concrete and leave few patches of bare earth where children have an opportunity to dig.

Soil, though an essential resource of our Earth, is often overlooked. Ask a young child what living things need and they may say “water, air, food, sunshine and shelter”. Soil won’t rate a mention. But without it we wouldn’t have a thing to stand on! Nor would we have our other essentials: air, food and shelter – all dependent on the soil for their production.  The importance of soil and of conserving becomes even more evident with the realisation of how little of the Earth’s surface is available for producing food.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin If Earth was an apple . . .

Another great gift from the soil is knowledge. Much of what we know of Earth’s history and human history has been revealed by the soil as successive layers have been exposed or excavated; uncovering secrets of the past and enabling a much richer understanding of earlier times.

dinosaurs at museum Jan 91

© Norah Colvin

Our knowledge of dinosaurs has all been revealed from the earth with the first discoveries and identifications made only a few hundred years ago.  And there is still much more to be discovered. My children and grandchildren, along with many other children and adults, are fascinated by dinosaurs. How exciting it would be to make a new dinosaur discovery, find hidden treasures or unlock secrets of the past!

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

It is possible that many more dinosaur, and other, discoveries are yet to be made. The world’s only known evidence of a dinosaur stampede was found in Australia just a little over fifty years ago.  Even more recently a gardener in the UK found a dinosaur bone in his backyard! In the US, if you find a dinosaur fossil in your backyard it’s yours to keep!

According to this video, finding dinosaur fossils is quite easy:

The excitement of making new discoveries  and finding answers to questions is motivation for many.

In his book Good Ideas: How to Be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher Michael Rosen relates a story told by David Attenborough. He says that, as a child, David took an interest in bones and if he was out walking and found some he would take them home and ask his father (a GP so would probably know) about them.

But his father didn’t just tell him. Wanting his son to be curious and interested in finding things out for himself, he responded, for example: “I wonder if we can work it out . . .” They would then look through books about zoology and anatomy and try to identify the bone’s origin.

Knowing that it is through the comparison of found bones with bones of familiar creatures that scientists have been able to work out much of what we now know about dinosaurs and other extinct creatures makes such an activity even more exciting and inspirational.

Rosen goes on to share an experience from his own school days. When a teacher confessed to students that he didn’t understand Comus by Milton, which had been set for study, the class and teacher spent the year together figuring out its meaning. Rosen compares the effectiveness of this approach to many others, stating that study techniques, “didn’t teach me how to find things that I really wanted to learn about. It didn’t take me down interesting side-alleys where I would find things that I didn’t know I would be interested in until I found them.” But he says what he learned from exploring Comus was “something that’s more to do with feeling than knowledge or learning: it was a confidence that I could investigate and discover things for myself. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that I got that feeling from someone who quite genuinely didn’t understand something?

A sense of wonder and curiosity, and a desire and willingness to find out for oneself answers to one’s own questions is fundamental to learning. Digging in the dirt occasionally can’t do that much harm. You never know what new discovery you may make!

Moini, A treasure chest with lots of twinkling gold coins,

Moini, A treasure chest with lots of twinkling gold coins,

The thought of just such a discovery is what inspired my response to Charli’s challenge:

Digging for gold

Her spade crunched against the obstinate soil. Then tap, tap, tap, another thin layer loosened. She scooped up the soil and tossed it onto the pile growing steadily beside the excavation site. With expectant eyes and gentle fingertips she scanned each new surface. Then again: tap, tap, tap — toss; tap, tap, tap —toss!

She pushed back her hat to wipe her sweaty brow, leaving a smudge of dirt as evidence. She glanced skyward. The sun was high. She’d been digging for hours. She must find something soon. What would it be? Pirate’s treasure or dinosaur bones . . .?


Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.





Empowerment – the importance of having a voice

I recently revisited a series of posts about the value of using Eric Carle‘s picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar in an early childhood setting; home or classroom.

In this post I share a follow-up to that series which addressed the issue of empowering children by giving them a voice. At the time the post attracted quite a few thought-provoking comments which are worth reading if you haven’t already done so.

In one of those comments it was suggested that perhaps a new edition with a correction made in response to children’s comments could be considered. It is not unlike the suggestion by Steven in the previous post that correct information be provided at the end of the book. It was felt that the “correction” would be seen by children as a response to their requests and help them see the value in voicing their opinions.

But this post goes beyond a debate about the correctness of “cocoon” or “chrysalis”. It states the case for empowering children by giving them a voice.

I appreciate your readership, and your comments. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post, including past and current comments.

Norah Colvin

In a previous series of posts I wrote about science inaccuracies in a picture book and questioned with whom lay the responsibility for providing young children with correct information.

While this post builds upon those posts, it also takes a divergent path: the need for children to have a voice; to be empowered to ask questions, to state their needs and report wrongdoings.

On a highly respected educational website Scholastic, with the by-line “Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life.”, in an article about Eric Carle author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, children are told that

“Eric already knows that a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis, not a cocoon! So don’t bother writing to tell him.”

This seemingly innocuous statement may be easily overlooked but packs a powerful message.

What does it tell children?

The author has been told many times, already knows and isn’t going to…

View original post 696 more words

Are you game?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about childhood games and has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a children’s game or rhyme. I think she chose this topic just for me. Thank you, Charli.

I love games and am a strong believer in the use of games to enhance learning. I have memories of playing games that span my lifetime, from early childhood until the present, and have visions of playing games far into the future.

Johnny Automatic, cartoon of a girl and boy playing with a ball

Johnny Automatic, cartoon of a girl and boy playing with a ball

One of my earliest memories of an organised game was of “Drop the hanky” played at a birthday party. I was about five years old at the time. I think that perhaps, until this event, I had only ever played imaginative games with my brothers and sisters. I was obviously not familiar with the rules or the ethos of the game. I’ll let my flash (non-) fiction explain.

Plum pudding

We sat in the circle chanting,

“I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it.”

“It” skipped around the outside, waving a handkerchief.

“One of you has picked it up and put it in your pocket.

Not you. Not you. Not y-o-u!”

Suddenly “It” was running and children were scrabbling behind them.

“Run,” they called.

Then “It” was beside me.

“Plum pudding!” they all screamed hysterically.

The adult pointed to the centre of the circle. “We’ll have you for dessert,” he grinned.

I cried, wondering what it would be like to be eaten alive!

© Norah Colvin 2015

© Norah Colvin 2015

Obviously I was traumatised for the memory to be so vivid and almost nightmare-like since the memory ends abruptly with the fear. Obviously I wasn’t eaten for dessert, I survived the trauma and, to complete the fictional narrative, I guess you could say “I lived happily ever after.”

But games don’t need to be traumatic. Games are better when they are fun; and I have many more memories of having fun with games than I do of being traumatised by them. Some of my “best” memories are of the laughs shared playing games like “Balderdash” and “Billionaire” when we (hub, son, daughter and partners) set aside traditional holidays for playing games together as a family. My house may have shelves laden with books, but they also have cupboards bursting with games.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

We didn’t always play purchased games. Sometimes we made up our own. It takes some skill in problem solving to think up a new game that will be fun to play with just the right amounts of challenge and competition, and an equal chance of “winning”, if there is a winner. Games without a winner, played for the fun of playing, are just as enjoyable.

I have always included games in my class program. As well as being fun, if carefully chosen they can also progress learning. Games can be played at the beginning and conclusion of sessions; at transition times to reenergise, refocus and refresh; and as part of the teaching/learning program with whole class, small group or individual participation for targeting practice of particular concepts.

One obvious benefit of playing games is the development of social skills such as:

  • Sharing
  • Taking turns
  • Cooperation
  • Dealing with competition
  • Accepting a loss
  • Accepting a win graciously

In their book “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change”, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown talk about ““arc of life” learning, which comprises the activities in our daily lives that keep us learning, growing and exploring.” They say, “Play, questioning, and — perhaps most important — imagination lie at the very heart of arc-of-life learning.”

Throughout the book they talk about the importance of collaboration in engaging online in multi-player games and say that When understood properly . . . games may in fact be one of the best models for learning and knowing in the twenty-first century . . . Because if a game is good, you never play the same way twice.


Robert Kiyosaki in his book “Why “A” Students Work for “C” Students and Why “B” Students Work for the Government” talks about the importance of learning through games and explains how he learned, and was inspired to learn more, about finance from playing “Monopoly”. He says that Games are better teachers than teachers.” While I prefer to not agree with that statement in its entirety (I don’t even like playing Monopoly), I could understand his reasons for making it.

Rarely a day would go by that at least one game wasn’t played in my classroom. We would play games in literacy groups that required children to read and think critically. We would play games in maths groups to practice skills in fun ways or to solve problems cooperatively. We would play games in science to try out ideas or research information. Some of the games involved physical as well as mental activity. Some were played with the entire class, and some on their own.

One game we used in maths groups as well as an activity in the last few minutes of the day was a problem solving game that I was involved with from its inception, The Land of Um or, as it is known in the UK, Scally’s World of Problems. (Also available as an app.)









When I was asked for an idea for a program, I suggested something that required children to explore to find out “what happens if” and “how things work”, much as they learn from their exploration of the “real world”. I also suggested that what they learn be consistent and apply at the next level. From that small seed and through the collaboration and synergy of a small group of creative people the “Land of Um” was born.

Because, in my recollections anyway, it was “my” idea, I am very proud of “Um” and enthusiastic about its potential to encourage children to develop the thinking skills involved in solving problems.

Um app

In my class the children worked enthusiastically and collaboratively in small groups on an interactive whiteboard, taking turns to control the “Um” while working together to find the solution to each puzzle. As the level of difficulty increased the children needed to plan ahead, to visualise steps and predict what would happen and the effects of different actions. At each new level and in each new world, while the basics remained consistent, there was always something different to learn and explore. The children never tired of the using the program and were always eager to be the one to suggest the solution to the next problem. It was/is a joy to know that I had a part to play in the design of this program that has so many benefits to learners, not least of which is the fun of working together to solve problems.

How significant are games in your life? What special memories do you have?

If you are interested, there are many more stories about games to read on Charli’s blog.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts on any aspect of this post or flash fiction.




Five Photos Five Stories — Day five

Back to Day one (books) and introduction to the challenge

Back to Day two (writing)

Back to Day three (Break out)

Back to Day four (My retirement jetski)

Happy birthday to me!

I had a wonderful day today. It was both my birthday and my final day of work for Education Queensland, my on-again off-again employer for more than half of the forty+ years since I began my teaching career.

My work colleagues spoiled me with kind words and wishes and generous gifts. We celebrated with lunch yesterday and morning tea today and shared stories, laughs and wishes for each other for the future. They made me a beautiful photo book filled with their thoughts and wishes. I think it is my new favourite book and will remain so for a very long time.

It was quite overwhelming to have such a demonstration of appreciation for my contribution to the team, especially when my intention was just to flutter out quietly as if carried on butterfly wings. They are a wonderful group of people and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity of working with them. They definitely belong to S.M.A.G. and I showed my appreciation for them by having some magnets made up to tell them so.

For morning tea I took along a marble mudcake in remembrance of the marble cakes my mother used to make for my birthdays. I intended to post a photo of the cake but got carried away chatting and totally forgot until it was almost all gone.

However I have something more special to share.

I had dinner with my family at the home of my son and his partner and children. Bec and Glenn were there, and Bob, and my sister Ruth. We had Thai take away, one of my favourites. But what was very special was that Rob and the children made a chocolate self-saucing pudding for dessert. It is Rob’s speciality. I’m sorry there’s not enough to share, but I assure you it was delicious!

Rob's self-saucing pudding 18 June 2015

Rob’s self-saucing pudding 18 June 2015

Of course my family spoiled me too with wonderful gifts and birthday wishes.

This is my last post in a series of five in response to a challenge by Geoff Le Pard. Thank you, Geoff. I enjoyed the challenge though I wrote more than I thought I would.

My week has been extremely busy with things to organise for my last week in this job as well as respond to this challenge so I have not kept up with reading posts and responding to comments on mine. Hopefully I’ll be able to remedy that real soon. Thank you for your patience.

I invite my sister Ruth Irwin to participate in this challenge. Ruth is just getting started with blogging, inspired by the flash fiction challenges by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch, and may find photos easier than text at this stage with just a phone for posting.

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

Thank you


Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.



Five Photos Five Stories — Day four

Back to Day one (books) and introduction to the challenge

Back to Day two (writing)

Back to Day three (Break out)

My retirement jetski

My retirement jetski

My retirement jetski

Geoff Le Pard threw me a challenge to post five photos and five stories over five days. He is probably just as surprised as I am that I took him up on it, especially as this week is particularly busy and significant.

Tomorrow I finally break up with a relationship that has been on-again-off-again for over forty years. Tomorrow is my last day working for Education Queensland. While I then become “officially” retired, some of you may know that I am not very fond of that “R” word and prefer to think of my life as taking a redirection.

In a couple of weeks’ time I commence another part-time job at the University of Queensland with the exact number of hours for me to remain “officially” retired, but nominally “working part-time”. The remainder of the week I will continue to write and work towards fulfilling my goal of establishing an online store of educational resources. This is where the jetski comes in.

There are many expenses involved with preparing content for the website including getting work illustrated, having the website designed and, hopefully, if I can figure out a way, having interactivity added to some resources. Deciding how much cost is acceptable is difficult when there is no guarantee of ever getting any return, and often the time I spend tapping away on my computer keyboard when I could be doing other things comes into question.

The fact is I love tapping away on my computer keyboard writing works of my choosing, and the expenses involved are necessary in order to make my “creations” available to others through a website. If I were to choose a jetski, a sports car or an around the world cruise as a retirement gift for myself, as many do, and spend hours each day riding the waves or the roads, no one would question my choice of activity or the cost of the initial purchase or ongoing maintenance. They would be pleased that I was having fun, enjoying my later years. Well, for the moment at least, writing is my pleasure and I (try to) justify the expense by calling it my “jetski”.

As my work targets an early childhood market, illustrations are an essential accompaniment to my work. When I first registered my business and domain name, my (graphic designer) niece designed my logo and beautiful banner, which you see at the top of my blog, and produced illustrations for some stories. Recently I have had other illustrations done by artists from 99designs so I am starting to make headway in that direction.

Kari Jones (ArtbyJonz), who did the S.M.A.G. badge has produced illustrations for two stories. Here is a sneak peek at one illustration from each:

ArtbyJonz ©Norah Colvin 2015

ArtbyJonz ©Norah Colvin 2015

ArtbyJonz ©Norah Colvin 2015

ArtbyJonz ©Norah Colvin 2015








and sneak peeks of illustrations for stories by Sketcherlady, Goetia and Tyohermawan, to whom I awarded the first contest.

sketcherlady ©Norah Colvin 2015

sketcherlady ©Norah Colvin 2015

Goetia ©Norah Colvin 2015

Goetia ©Norah Colvin 2015

tyohermawan ©Norah Colvin 2015

tyohermawan ©Norah Colvin 2015

I have been very happy working with each of these designers. They have all been very helpful and accommodating and worked hard to produce illustrations to match my requests. I am happy to recommend any of them if you are looking at getting some work illustrated.

The next step is to speak with a web designer. I must say I’m a bit fearful of the cost, but hey, it’s my jetski.

What seems to be more problematic at the moment is adding interactivity to some resources. PowerPoint has some facility but not enough. I looked at another program recently which promised any interactivity I could imagine. But unfortunately the program designers had not imagined what I had! I discussed some of my requirements with a friend who is learning to code and he thought it would even be difficult to code what I want. Since these open-ended interactions are to be a point of difference for me, if I can’t have them, I may need to trade-in my jetski on something completely different. Maybe a novel? (That must be pretty easy, eh Geoff?) I’m not sure I’m ready for that. If you have any suggestions about adding interactivity to resources I’d love to receive them please.

I nominate my lovely fellow local Queensland bloggers to take up this Five Photos Five Stories challenge should they so wish:

Irene Waters who writes memoir and blogs at Reflections and Nightmares and already shares many beautiful photos and stories;

Desley Jane, a girl with a camera who blogs at Musings of a Frequent Flying Scientist; and

Marigold Dicer who blogs at Versus Blurb but who has popped off the scene temporarily while she completes what used to be called “prac” teaching when I went to college.

Please be aware that your participation is completely voluntary. I know each of you already post frequent photo stories. However if you choose to participate, I hope you enjoy the challenge as much as I have. 🙂

The “rules” of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.


Five Photos Five Stories — Day three

Back to Day one (books) and introduction to the challenge

Back to Day two (writing)

Break out!

With this post I am going to “kill two birds with one stone” (though why I would want to kill any birds is beyond me).

I am posting a Day three photo and story in response to the challenge set by Geoff Le Pard, and responding to the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an animal rescue.


My children had pet-deprived childhoods. It could hardly have been any other way. Both their parents also had pet-deprived childhoods. I know all the theory about pets helping to develop responsibility, caring for others and compassion and I’m all for it. But with that responsibility comes restriction, and I’m not all for that. For me, a pet-free childhood led to a pet-free adulthood. I’m not certain that I am any less responsible, caring or compassionate as a result.

While Rob may have had the occasional goldfish or Siamese fighting fish and Bec may have had guinea pigs, mice and rats at different times they never got over the deprivation of not having a real pet, of not having a puppy. As soon as the opportunity arose, they each adopted their own puppy. This is a photo of Bec’s puppy.

My flash fiction deals with a situation in which a rescue is required. I realise that once again I have gone dark rather than light. Apologies. I hope you enjoy it.

Break out

Your wide-open eyes fix on me through bars, imploring and accusing at the same time.

Why am I here? Don’t leave me! I don’t – want – to be here! I want – to go – home!

My heart tightens in a vice-like squeeze. My palms sweat and hands tremble.

I meet your stare with overwhelming hopelessness and helplessness.

I didn’t know . . . I thought . . . I never meant . . . I thought it would help. 

They close the door, turn the key and lead you away.

“Damn those rules!” I scream silently, futilely planning your rescue.


Today I nominate the lovely compassionate Bec who blogs intermittently at There’s No Food and engages in discussions with challenging suggestions and new ideas in comments on my blog while working diligently towards completing a PhD in Environmental Management.

! also nominate the wonderful awe-inspiring multi-tasking Charli Mills to take up the challenge if she so wishes. As well as being a very talented writer and generous supporter of my blog, she also posts beautiful photo stories on a second blog Elmira Pond Spotter.

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.



Five Photos Five Stories – Day two

Back to Day one and introduction

What am I?

One may wonder why I have responded to Geoff Le Pard‘s challenge almost immediately when there are other invitations that have lain opened but unanswered for longer than I like to admit. For example, some months ago Anne Goodwin tagged me in a writing process blog hop. She shared the what, how and why of her writing process and invited me to share mine. She applied no pressure or time constraints and neither nudged me to comply nor chastised me for not having done so.  Not quite as long ago Sherri Matthews tagged me in a work space blog hop. She shared beautiful images and descriptions of her delightful Summerhouse writing space and invited me to share mine. Sarah Brentyn then shared some questions for writers that I hinted I might answer, but haven’t yet.

Why the procrastination?

  1. I’m still figuring out what kind of writer I am and how to describe my process.
  2. My writing space isn’t all that exciting. It’s a just a laptop sitting on a desktop that is cluttered with books and other paraphernalia waiting to be organised or dealt with, and surrounded by shelves filled with more of the same; not a bad analogy to my writing process perhaps.
  3. I’ve been working in other quadrants, dealing with ‘easier’ stuff as it arises.

As with Geoff’s challenge, responses to these blog hops are not compulsory and there is no set time-frame but I do wish to, and do intend to, answer them. Thank you Anne, Sherri and Sarah for your patience. I will get there. Eventually.

My writing space 14 May 2015

My writing space 14 May 2015

My procrastination is in part due to the way I view myself as a writer.

I find it difficult to define the “type” of writer I am. That I am a writer is true. But what kind? I wonder if I am a writer without a label, without a box?

Perhaps if you can help me answer this I’ll be more confident about joining in conversations about writing.

I am not a novelist, not a poet, not a biographer or an auto-biographer, not a picture book writer . . . I am an educational writer, incorporating something of each genre.

I remember doing a psychometric test at some past time. The results suggested that a desire to be everything to everybody would be my undoing. Perhaps that is also an issue with my writing?

Sometimes when asked by other writers what type of writing I do, for want of another label I refer to myself as an educational writer. I immediately feel a shrinking away as if educational writing isn’t ‘real’ writing and I’m perhaps not a “real” writer.

“Oh educational writing,” they judge, “that’s so prescriptive. It’s not creative.”

Sure I have done my share of prescriptive writing. The “writing” for which I have been employed for the past three years is definitely prescriptive – more cross the “t”s and dot the “i”s without a modicum of creativity; and as my list of publications shows, I have written workbooks for other publishers, “prostituting” myself one kind-hearted friend suggested. But there are worse ways to earn a living, right?

I don’t consider my self-initiated educational writing as prescriptive. Most of what I write is designed to encourage thinking, problem solving, creativity, interest in a variety of topics, or develop literacy and numeracy skills, but definitely not in a structured, skills-oriented, prescriptive approach. I write fiction, non-fiction and poetry; and open ended materials that encourage children to question. I love to add a touch of humour where possible and mostly aim for engaging materials that motivate thinking and learning.

My current writing schedule involves writing content for this blog and for an in-progress online store of early childhood educational resources.

So, what sort of writer am I?

There is one I know I am not. I am not a songwriter.

I nominate Anne Goodwin, Sherri Matthews and Sarah Brentyn to take up this Five Photos Five Stories challenge if and when they so choose. But they need to be aware that I require no more of them than they have expected of me!

The “rules” of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

Five Photos Five Stories – Day one

For the love of books

This week I was surprised to be nominated by, writer extraordinaire, Geoff Le Pard in a Five Photos Five Stories challenge. Geoff blogs at TanGental where he shares numerous and beautiful photos of his garden, family, travels and adventures. He writes an eclectic assortment of prose and poetry, memoir and fiction, with content both challenging and humorous. He also posts at the speed of light with at least one post each day. I can understand why the challenge would appeal to Geoff.

I’m not like that. I tend to stick to my routine of two posts each week and write mainly expository text about education with a response to a flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills thrown in. I rarely write explanations of or stories about photos and mostly use photos to support and add interest to the page. Why would Geoff nominate me?

Well it seems Geoff must have known something about me that I didn’t, as I have decided to throw caution to the wind and join in the challenge.

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

For my first photo I have chosen, and you won’t be surprised, books:


These are just a few of my favourites. As you can see I have chosen a range including picture books and chapter books for children and both fiction and non-fiction titles for adults. There are others that should have been there but I could not fit my entire collection into one photo!

Books have always been an important part of my life and I think a love of reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures. My love of books and reading is one of the reasons, if not THE reason I feel so passionately about education and the teaching of literacy. Sharing a learner’s excitement at becoming literate is both an honour and a joy. I have been privileged to share that excitement with many children during my teaching career, and of course with my own two children who both learned to read well before starting school.

I have written about the importance of reading many times before, including here, here, and here.

For this post, and for this photo, I will share ten totally random recollections of books and reading from my younger years.

I remember:

  • books as gifts for Christmas and birthdays
  • an expedition to the council library, a six-kilometre walk there and back, each Saturday afternoon for an armful of books to read during the week
  • being deaf to the world when totally absorbed in a book for hours on end (particularly so when there were jobs to be done)
  • the eagerness of wanting to get to the end of a book and the sadness and reaching the last page
  • the excitement of finding the next book in a series or by a favourite author
  • marvelling at words and phrases for the imagery or feelings they evoked
  • enjoying an author’s style and trying to emulate it by writing and writing and writing, and wishing to one day be an author too
  • the smell of new books
  • tracing the embossed lettering on the hardcover when the jacket was removed
  • being fiercely protective of my books and having a great dislike of seeing them torn or marked
  • the joy of ownership

And now I nominate the lovely Michelle James who blogs at Book Chat to take up this challenge if she so wishes. Her love of books is at least as great as my own!

Thank you


Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

Revisiting The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Recently, in a post introducing the idea of S.M.A.G. (Society of Mutual Admiration and Gratitude), I reflected upon my blogging journey and the gradual growth of readership and development of a S.M.A.G. over time. With this reflection came the realisation that many have missed earlier posts. That realisation, along with a comment by Sarah Brentyn, prompted me to share a few of my favourites.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The first posts I will revisit are from a series about using Eric Carle’s picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar for educational purposes in an early childhood setting.

The series of four posts;

  • explores benefits of reading picture books to children
  • questions the place of factual information in fictional texts, and
  • suggests the importance of teaching critical literacy from a young age.

Nor and Bec reading

I will provide a brief overview of each post. I would be delighted to have you  follow the links to read the posts in full.

Searching for meaning in a picture book — Part A

In this post I explained that sharing picture books with children has many benefits, including:

At home:

  • It can help strengthen the parent-child bond, becoming a special time of togetherness and of sharing stories and ideas.
  • It has a very positive effect upon their learning, helping them develop language, knowledge of print and books, and exposes them to new ideas and concepts.

8-12-2013 7-38-33 PM

In early childhood classrooms, The Very Hungry Caterpillar provides opportunities for work in many subject areas including:

  • Literature appreciation
  • Reading
  • Maths
  • Visual arts, and
  • Philosophical inquiry, but not Science (as I will explain later)


Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

In this post I discuss some purposes for using picture books and raise some questions about their content.

A sampling of purposes:

  • encourages a love of reading and books
  • develops vocabulary and knowledge of language
  • provides a link between the language of home and the language used in the wider community and in education
  • supports beginning readers
  • inspires imagination
  • provides opportunities to discuss feelings, emotions, ideas, responses
  • develops feelings of empathy, identification, recognition, hope
  • instils an appreciation of art


Some questions:

Do fictional picture books have a role, and do picture book authors have a responsibility, in imparting factual information in their books?

Does it matter:

  • that, although lions don’t live in jungles, they are often referred to as “King of the jungle” and appears in that setting in many stories?
  • if animals that don’t co-exist, for example penguins and polar bears, appear in stories together?
  • if the portrayal of animals in stories is not anatomically correct, for example spiders shown with legs joined to their abdomens rather than cephalothoraxes?

Do errors such as these influence children’s understanding of the world?

How should adults handle the misinformation when sharing books with children?


Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

In this post I refer specifically to inaccuracies in The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the pervasiveness of the misconceptions, if not totally attributable to the book, then at least in part. I suggest how acknowledging the inaccuracy can help develop critical literacy.

In his book Eric Carle writes that

“He (the caterpillar) built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and . . . he was a beautiful butterfly!”

Monarch butterfly

However, as this (hopefully correct) information from the Australian Museum shows, butterflies do not spin cocoons around themselves. Moths do. Some butterflies and skippers do form a silken shelter, but not a cocoon as in Carle’s picture book.

Unfortunately many articles found in an internet search share the same misinformation. I wonder how many adults grew up believing what Carle shared through his picture books. Even teachers have been surprised to learn that butterfly caterpillars do not spin cocoons.

In the original post I share some lovely videos related to butterfly and moth metamorphosis. It is worth taking a peek at them.

Does it matter if children (and adults) think that butterflies hatch out of cocoons? Eric Carle didn’t seem to think so. Do you?

Finding power in a picture book – the main event

In this post I argue that The Very Hungry Caterpillar has no place in a science lesson because of the misinformation contained therein: caterpillars do not eat many different foods and butterflies do not come out of cocoons.


The greatest value of the book is as a tool for teaching critical literacy; for teaching children that just because something is in print, doesn’t make it true. It is also important to realise that misinformation is not restricted to picture books, and that they need to question all sources of information for the author’s credentials and purpose in writing.

I suggest that teachers and parents:

  • point out inaccuracies and inconsistencies
  • encourage children to evaluate what they are reading and hearing against what they already know
  • support children to verify the source of the information and to check it against other more authoritative/reliable sources
  • help children to recognise that every author has a purpose and to identify that purpose
  • invite children to ask questions about what they are reading and to interrogate the content
  • encourage them to question, question, question.

Eric Carle says “If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can’t a caterpillar (sic) come out of a cocoon?”


What do you think? Do picture book authors have a responsibility to be accurate? Is a butterfly coming out of a cocoon in the same realm as giants tied down by dwarfs? Would we accept a child hatching out of an egg? What parts of a story should be based in reality and which parts can be imagined?

 “Why can’t a butterfly come out of a cocoon?” asks Eric.

Well, Eric, they just don’t.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any of issues I have raised in these posts.


Playing with possibilities


Creating an environment which nurtures children’s learning and development is as important as creating an environment that nourishes and encourages the growth of plants in a garden. The link between the two was first recognised by Froebel in the early 19th century when he coined the term “kindergarten” which translates to “garden for children” (kinder meaning child and garten meaning garden), and created the first educational toys.

Froebel “devoted his life to educating children and developing methods to maximize human potential”. He was the first to recognise the importance of a child’s early years (birth to three) and considered creativity to be something in all of us.

Froebel’s kindergartens were the first “formal” education for young children and his work greatly influenced that of other educators such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. His beliefs, for example that children have both unique needs and capabilities are still influential today. He believed in the importance of play and some of his toys were favourites of people such as Buckminster Fuller and Albert Einstein.

I have touched on the topics of play, creativity and children’s uniqueness in previous posts. A respectful, encouraging, nurturing and stimulating environment underpins all that I value in education; as does a belief in the power of play to develop understandings of self, of others and relationships, of the world and how things work, and to inspire thoughts of what could be, to imagine possibilities never before imagined.

The poem Education is expresses my beliefs about education and has informed my decision making every step of the way.

In documents prepared for introducing myself to other educators or potential employers I explained it this way:

Statement of values:

I value individuality over group consensus

I value creativity over conformity

I value self-discipline over imposed order

I value ingenuity over “one right way”

I value choice over restriction

I value questioning over silence

I value independence over dependence

I value self-confidence over submission

I respect children as people in and with their own rights. I provide an environment which is rich, stimulating, open and caring, and in which the characteristics I value can flourish.

At the time of writing it I believed it to be a true reflection of my values and the environment I provided in my “Create-A-Way” sessions, and would provide in the independent/alternative school I was working towards establishing.

The values of the “school” I was setting up were stated this way:

Colo Values

Just as it is important for gardeners to learn from the wisdom collected by other gardeners, it is important for teachers to learn from the wisdom collected by other educators.



Without a set of guiding principles it is easy to be blown off-course by the winds prevailing at the time. While I acknowledge that I may have fallen far short of the values espoused, that they guided my direction, decisions and choices could not be questioned. The current climate makes it difficult, but I am yet to read of a time that could be considered a golden age of education.


This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about roses; roses that grow in gardens and roses as symbols of life’s pleasures and joys. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a rose.

Because my blog has an educational focus, I always like to give Charli’s prompt an educational twist. Over recent months I have enjoyed the additional challenge of finding a way of applying the prompt to the life of Marnie, a character whose story I have been developing.

Marnie is from a dysfunctional family and suffers many disadvantages. Fortunately she has found an ally in an art teacher who helps her develop self-respect and hope for a better future. A few weeks ago (in response to a different prompt) we learned that she had lived under a different name after leaving home. Could it perhaps be Rose, a name inspired by this interaction with her adored teacher?


Still life

Marnie observed the roses Miss R. had arranged for class, carefully assessing the colours and studying the lines while sketching them on the canvas, striving to match their perfection. Oblivious to all but Miss R. and the roses, for one hour nothing else mattered.

As other students streamed out Marnie hung back to chat with Miss R.

Miss R. handed her a rose from the vase saying, “You are that rose. You may be surrounded by thorns, but the beauty of the rose is inside you. Remember that always. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.