Monthly Archives: September 2015

Well I declare

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is making declarations. Specifically she is declaring herself an author, making it clear what her writerly intentions are. I also have declared my writerly intentions. In previous posts, here, here and here, I shared my goal of establishing a website with early childhood teaching resources of my creation.

In her post Charli expresses it this way: success for her is publishing books. She wants to write books for readers who want to read them. Not only that, she wants to market her books “well enough to eat more than hand-picked dandelions from (her) yard”.

Change books to early childhood teaching resources and, for me it’s the same. I want to publish teaching resources that teachers want to use, that enhance their teaching and improve children’s learning. I’d also like to do well enough to not be reduced to eating dandelions from my backyard.

Some writers consider “educational writing” less worthy and lacking in creativity. “Oh educational writing,” said one disparagingly, “that’s so prescriptive,” and quickly moved on to discuss others’ more literary pursuits.  

I know some educational writing can be prescriptive. I have done some of that formulaic writing myself. However the resources I am creating do not conform to a formula, are not worksheets to be completed by students sitting quietly in rows.

I am developing a variety of resource types, some with interactivity, to help develop understanding and skills in a meaningful context. Many encourage critical thinking, problem solving and purposeful applications. Many are built around my own original stories and poems as well as non-fiction texts.

I have chosen this path in order to support teachers with ready to use teaching episodes and parents with suggestions for nurturing their child’s development. Prescriptive? Far from it. And please don’t prejudge my educational writing against the stereotype of formulaic worksheets and textbooks which are far too abundant and easily accessible on the internet and in bookstores.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

From the declaration of writing goals to a declaration of another kind, repeated often on my blog: my appreciation of all things early childhood, especially literacy and picture books, and the importance of reading to and with children on a daily basis.

The years from birth to eight, especially those before formal schooling begins, are crucial to a child’s development and have an enormous impact on future happiness and success.  It is during these years that basic skills and language are developed along with attitudes to self and relationships.

noisy nora

The picture book Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells is a delightful book about a middle child who fails to get the attention of her parents who are busy with the older and younger siblings. Finally Nora declares that she is leaving and never coming back. With Nora gone the house becomes unusually quiet and the family go looking for her. At last she declares herself back again as she clatters out of the broom closet.

(This information from Wikipedia explains why my cover differs from the one in the Amazon store.)

I took Nora’s declaration as the basis for my response to Charli’s flash challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) declare an intention in a story. Is it one person, a character speaking up or speaking out? Is it a group or a nation? Create a tension before or after the declaration. It can be private or public, big or small. Does it have power to those who state it or hear? What does it change?

While I wrote it with Marnie in mind, it could be about any number of others in oppressive situations and seems particularly appropriate to those trapped by the horrors of domestic violence which is at the forefront of our news at the moment. Unlike Nora, who declared she was leaving and never coming back but didn’t really leave, Marnie definitely won’t be coming back.

from "Noisy Nora" by Rosemary Wells

from “Noisy Nora” by Rosemary Wells


It was time. No more would they treat her this way. No more would she accept the cruelty of their world. She was more than this, more than they made her believe. With cash from a secret job stashed in her pockets, a few clothes in a backpack, and hope in her heart, she left. No need to follow a bag through the window. No need to wait for night’s darkness. No. She navigated past their stupor of beer, smoke and flickering screens; paused at the door to declare, “I’m leaving,” then closed off that life as she left.

Thank you

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




A celebration of Australian picture books #2 – Mem Fox

I own and have given away more picture books by Mem Fox than by any other author. To say I appreciate Mem’s work would be an understatement. I currently have on my shelves twelve of her more than thirty picture book titles and two of her eight nonfiction titles.

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Her first picture book Possum Magic was published in 1983. I love the story behind this book, as much as the story itself. Mem wrote the first draft in 1978 and over the next five years it was rejected by nine publishers. When it was finally picked up by Omnibus Books she was asked to reduce it in length by two-thirds and to change the characters from mice to possums. The book is now one of Australia’s most popular with more than 3 million copies sold around the world.

You can listen to Mem read Possum Magic or some of her other books here.

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In the ten years after the publication of Possum Magic Mem published almost twenty other books. I read her autobiography Mem’s the Word (released in the US as Dear Mem Fox) not long after it was published. At the time I was in my late thirties and was thrilled to find that Mem had also been in her late thirties when her first book was published. I thought there was still hope for me. I’d certainly had enough rejections by that time to fill a rather large shoebox, so maybe I just needed a few more!

Since then Mem’s output has hardly lessened and she has another new book coming out next month. In the meantime, I’m still hoping there’s time for me!

Mem is an author, not an illustrator. The twelve picture books I own were illustrated by eight different artists. Four illustrators did two of these books each. A quick glance at the list of Mem’s books confirms the number of artists who have been engaged to illustrate her work and the variety of artistic styles used. How wonderful for the artists to have that experience, and for teachers and parents the opportunity for discussing artistic styles with children.

My reason for raising this issue of author and illustrator is that I also am not an illustrator. A number of years ago when discussing picture book authors, an acquaintance scoffed at  my praise for Mem’s work: how could she possibly consider herself a picture book author if she didn’t do the illustrations? This acquaintance, in the process of having her first picture book published, was author and illustrator. In the intervening years Mem has gone on to publish a number of books, and this acquaintance none. Okay, neither have I. Yet!

Reading magic

Another thing that Mem and I have in common is our passion for literacy and our advocacy of reading to children every day. Mem’s book Reading Magic should be placed in the hands of every new parent along with a collection of picture books. I practice what I preach by giving a bundle of these as gifts to friends with newborns. I have written about that here. As well as Reading Magic, the bundle generally includes Where is the Green Sheep? and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, among others. Nurturing a love of books and reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.

The love of reading is gift

Below is a list of the Mem Fox books on my shelves at the moment (a few have mysteriously disappeared!) but the best way to check out Mem’s books is on her website here. While you are exploring her website, there is much else of value to discover, including suggestions for writers, teachers, parents, and children as well as other interesting information. Exploring Mem’s site is the best way of finding out about her wonderful books.

Here are the ones I own, in addition to the three mentioned above (in no particular order), with links to further information about each title on Mem’s site and to information about the illustrator where possible:

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Night Noises illustrated by Terry Denton

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Just like that (Now published as Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!) illustrated by Kilmeny Niland

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Shoes from Grandpa illustrated by Patricia Mullins

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Hattie and the Fox illustrated by Patricia Mullins

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Guess What? illustrated by Vivienne Goodman

Whoever you are.

Whoever You Are illustrated by Leslie Staub

Wombat Divine

Wombat Divine illustrated by Kerry Argent

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Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge illustrated by Julie Vivas

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Koala Lou illustrated by Pamela Lofts

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Sail Away illustrated by Pamela Lofts

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A Particular Cow illustrated by Terry Denton


Thank you

Thank you for reading. I hope you have found something of interest. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.




More than all the stars in the sky

When I read the challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a love story, I knew immediately that I would share some of my favourite picture books about love.

Love books

Of course these are about the love between parent and child, rather than romantic love, and it is from these I have drawn my inspiration. Finding a love angle that I was happy with was the first challenge and, as usual, telling a tale in 99 words was even more so. (I think I need some lessons about telling more in less.) This is my response. I’d love to know what you think.

More than all the stars in the sky

Child waited on the step, counting stars.

Soon the clatter of dishes ceased. Feet padded out.

Child snuggled into warm enveloping arms. The ritual began.

They picked out stars and constellations.

“And Venus,” said Child. “Tell me about the love planet!”

“Well,” began Parent. “Long ago there were two people who loved each other …”

“More than all the stars in the sky,” interjected Child.

“That they wanted a child to love too …”

“So you got me!” said Child.

“Yes.” Parent scooped up the child. “And just as there’ll always be stars …”

”We’ll always love each other!”


Now for the books, each of which is a delight to share with young children, for reading aloud at bedtime, or any time.

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Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney (Northern Ireland) and illustrated by Anita Jeram (Northern Ireland) is a beautiful tale of the love between Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. As they try to find a way of describing their love for each other, they find that love is not easy to measure. From this beautiful story comes the classic line “I love you to the moon … and back!”

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Love You Forever by Robert Munsch (Canada) and illustrated by Anthony Lewis (U.K.) tells of a mother’s love that lasts a lifetime, a love that is returned by a son and passed on to the next generation through the words of a beautiful song:

“I’ll love you forever.

I’ll like you for always.

As long as I’m living

My baby you’ll be.”

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Hey, I Love You by Ian Whybrow (U.K.) and illustrated by Rosie Reeve (U.K.) is about two mice, Small and Big. Before Big goes out to get supper Small shows that he knows what to do to stay safe when Big is away. Unfortunately they forgot to say their special words and Small doesn’t follow the instructions. Fortunately Small was able to catch up to Big without incident. Attention must be paid to the illustrations to see just how lucky that was!

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I Love You With All My Heart by Noris Kern is about Polo the Polar Bear who wants to find out the meaning of his mother loving him with all her heart. He asks the other animals how their mothers love them and finally discovers how his mother loves him and that he loves her with all his heart too. (A possible concern with this book is the mix of Arctic and Antarctic animals.)

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Koala Lou by Mem Fox (Australia) and illustrated by Pamela Lofts (Australia) tells of Koala Lou who is loved by everybody, especially her mother. Every day her mother would say, “Koala Lou, I DO love you!” But after other koala siblings arrive, Mother Koala doesn’t have time to give Koala Lou the attention she craves. Koala Lou comes up with a plan to hear those special words again.

Koala Lou leads beautifully into my next post which will showcase some books by Mem Fox. I hope you will join me for those.

One last thought:

I wonder what image of the Child, Parent and Family you formed from reading my flash. (I omitted some clues about other family members in the 99 word reduction.) I’d be pleased if you would share your thoughts about this.

You see, I attempted to be inclusive by avoiding specifics about things such as gender, family composition, culture and location. I wondered whether a story could be written so that each reader could interpret it to fit their own situation. Illustration could be difficult, but perhaps worth considering. This attempt to be inclusive was very different from my first thoughts to be specific to Australia, through stars observed, for example, and had nothing to do with my thoughts or opinions of the picture books shared.

However, looking back at the five books with these thoughts in mind, I notice that the relationships portrayed are:

Guess How Much I Love You – father and son

Love You Forever –mother and son

Hey, I Love You – father and son

I Love You With All My Heart – mother and son

Koala Lou – mother and daughter

What do you think? Is it worthwhile to attempt a story of the love between parent and child with an inclusive element, or is it enough that such a variety of books is already available? Do you have any other favourites, or suggestions, on this topic?

Thank you

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


A celebration of Australian picture books #1

Recently my friend Sarah Brentyn, who blogs at Lemon Shark: Navigating the Unchartered Waters of Parenting and Life, shared a series of posts about first lines (paragraphs, sentences and pages). She discussed the importance of hooking the reader and shared some of her favourite first lines from a variety of genres. When she shared picture books I was inspired to share some by our many wonderful Australian authors and illustrators.

These are just some of the Australian picture books I quickly located on my shelves:

Australian picture books

I own multiple titles of some authors’ work, and of others’ I own but one or two. Sadly, there are many whose work I don’t own. There are too many wonderful books to share in just one post so I have decided to write a series with a post dedicated to each author of whose work I own multiple titles, including Mem Fox, Narelle Oliver, Jeannie Baker and Kim Michelle Toft (and I might sneak in New Zealander Pamela Allen).

In this post I share some lovely books, their first lines (according to Sarah’s definition) and tell you a little about why they are on my shelves.

For this series I have commandeered “celebration” as a collective noun for Australian picture books so it is fitting that the first I share is A Compendium of Collective Nouns by Jennifer Skelly.

A Compendium of Collective Nouns

This delightful little book was a gift from my grandchildren (chosen by their mother). In the introduction Jennifer asks, “Do you remember laughing when you first learned that a group of crows is called a murder? Or a group of owls is called a parliament?” Like me, Jennifer has always been interested in collective nouns but, unlike me, she has published a collection of them. Her beautiful drawings illustrate collections such as “a crash of rhinoceroses”, “a flamboyance of flamingos” and “a wisdom of wombats”, but who ever heard of “a rabble of butterflies”?

While there are a number of Hippopotamus on the Roof books I have only the original, There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake by Hazel Edwards (illustrated by Deborah Niland).

There's a Hippopotamus on the Roof Eating Cake

It begins,

“Our roof leaks.




My Daddy says there’s a hole in our roof.

I know why there’s a hole.

There’s a hippopotamus on our roof eating cake.”

The copy on my shelf actually belongs to Bec. Her dad bought it for her on a trip back home to Belfast in 1990. He went all the way to Belfast and brought her back an Australian picture book! A good one though.

In this video Hazel Edward talks about the original idea for the book, other contributing ideas and changes as well as the the important relationship between author and reader. She also reads the book.

Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan (illustrated by Pamela Lofts) is a favourite.

Wombat Stew

It begins,

“One day, on the banks of a billabong, a very clever dingo caught a wombat …

and decided to make  …

Wombat stew,

Wombat stew,

Gooey, brewy,

Yummy, chewy,

Wombat stew!”

The amusing story tells how the animals trick the dingo and save wombat from his fate. It is a great book to read aloud with its rhythmic language and repetition of the song “Wombat stew” with slight word changes each time. Children enthusiastically join in with the reading and love acting it out. One year I wrote a play with my year one class and they performed it for the school and their parents. It was a lot of fun.

Little Bat

Little Bat by Tania Cox (illustrated by Andrew McLean) begins

“Little Bat was nervous.

She’d never done this before.”

With the encouragement of her mother and other animal friends, Little Bat discovers that she can fly. I like the story’s positive message that if you try you can succeed. Books with this theme were always popular and inspired lots of discussion in my classroom.

When I saw When the Wind Changed by Ruth Park (illustrated by Deborah Niland) in a bookstore, I had to have it for my bookshelf! When I was a child I, like Josh, must have been good at making faces, because my mother was always telling me that if the wind changed I’d stay like that. Well, I don’t think that happened to me, but it did to Josh! The book begins

“There was this boy named Josh.

He could do lots of things.

There was one thing he could do best of all.

He could make faces.”

Of course one day the inevitable happens! Fortunately the story has a happy ending, for Josh anyway – I’m not so sure about Dad!

Are you familiar with any of these books? Have you seen them in bookstores near you? What books by Australian authors have you read?

Thank you

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


Better than a trail of breadcrumbs

©Glenn Althor www. Used with permission.

©Glenn Althor  Used with permission.

When I think of children’s stories about being lost, Hansel and Gretel is one of the first that comes to mind. Whether or not this gruesome story is suitable for children, I’ll leave for another discussion. The children were correct in thinking it was important to mark their way into the forest in order to find their way out. They were incorrect in their choice of markers.

Encouraging children to identify features of their environment has benefits beyond encouraging them to question and wonder. It is important for children to learn, from a young age, to identify markers on routes around the neighbourhood, shopping mall and school, as well as strategies to implement if lost or separated. Taking note of seasonal and other changes, both temporary and permanent, in addition to permanent features helps to build knowledge of one’s environment. This knowledge can be developing long before the need to find one’s way alone arises.

One day there will be a need to navigate independently, whether it be to walk to school, go to the shop, visit a friend, catch a bus or drive a car. All of these will be far less daunting for the child, and much less worrisome for the parents, if the ability to find one’s way around has already been demonstrated through discussions or deciding which route will be taken for a journey.

Often the first time children are required to navigate independently is when commencing school. They may need to find their way to the classroom in the morning, or to the gate in the afternoon. They will have to find the way to the playground, the office, the library, and the toilets and back to the classroom. Just as parents show children around the neighbourhood by pointing out landmarks, it is important for teachers to orient children in the school grounds and ensure they know how to find their way around confidently.

A delightful book that can be used by both teachers and parents to discuss the importance of knowing one’s way around and of staying safe is the beautiful Pat Hutchins’ book Rosie’s Walk which tells the story of a hen who goes for a walk around the farmyard and gets back home safely in time for dinner. The story also introduces many positional words.

Rosie's walk

Understanding of positional terms and describing the location of neighbourhood and school landmarks in relation to each other  helps to develop spatial awareness along with language; for example:

  • past the shop
  • across the bridge
  • over the road
  • through the park
  • in the middle
  • beside the lake
  • along the road
  • next to the bakery
  • around the corner
  • behind the fence
  • as well as left and right.

Discussing the placement of landmarks on a mud map of the neighbourhood or school and discussing different paths that could be taken encourages divergent thinking about ways of getting from one place to another. Sometimes it helps children to think of these maps as being from a birds’eye view, or from a plane. Other maps, for example Google Maps and street directories are also useful and children can learn to point out or mark places they have visited.

mud map

There are many opportunities, whether in the car or on foot, to take note of landmarks; for example:

  • house numbers,
  • types of fences
  • the number of streets to cross
  • large trees
  • the shopping centre entry
  • carpark space row and number
  • bridges crossed

While the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week was to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about someone or something that’s lost, I have taken the theme of lost and used it to provide strategies that may help children avoid becoming lost. My flash is a rhyme for young children, and an example of the types of things that children can be encouraged to observe in their neighbourhood.

To Grandma’s House

Bub’s buckled in, away we go.

Mum’s going to work, we can’t be slow.

Down the street past the green painted door.

Past the house with big number four.

Stop at the curb and look each way.

Off to Grandma’s, hip-hip-hooray!

Quiet past here so the dogs don’t bark.

Left at the corner and cut through the park.

Up the hill, past the posting box.

Open the gate, give three big knocks.

Hugs for Grandma waiting for us.

Wave to Mum as she boards the bus.

Go inside for milk and toast.

Days with Grandma we like the most.

Thank you

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




Noticing and Wondering: Kicking off and supporting enquiry

I have written previous posts about the importance of nurturing the ability to wonder in young children and in ourselves, for example here, here and here. It is always a delight, then, to come across a post that expresses ideas similar to, but extending, my own.
This post by Aaron Eden on Edunautics, Exploring a World of Learning questions whether there could be any skills more important than noticing and wondering. He says that in school students are generally told to think and wonder about what someone else (the teacher, the curriculum writer, the policy maker) thinks is important.
Eden argues for the importance of learning to learn; of learning to identify what is important and of understanding how to learn it. He promotes developing an environment of questioning and suggests ways of extending students’ learning through participation in genuine inquiry based upon their own wondering and questioning. His suggestions help make the process more explicit, and therefore possible, for teachers to implement.

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

I’m new here

Australia is a land of immigrants. The first Australians arrived, it seems, about 65 000 to 40 000 years ago, after the second migration out of Africa. The second group arrived only little more than 200 years ago. Some think of Australia as a young country with a history beginning with arrival of Europeans in 1788. But Australia is not only the oldest continent, it is also home to the oldest living culture and was inhabited long before many other parts of the world. It is a tragedy that little recognition and respect is given to this culture and its peoples.

Disharmony and conflict, on a scale from the personal to global, often occurs because of perceived differences: “He’s not like me. She doesn’t think like me. They don’t believe what we believe. I am right and you are wrong.” The realisation that what we share in common far outweighs the differences, and the appreciation of those similarities and differences, would go a long way to soothing that discord.

The National Geographic Genographic Project aims to find out more of our collective human history; where we originated and how we came to populate the world. Projects such as this may help to strengthen the focus on what we share rather than ways in which we differ.

Young children are generally accepting of differences they may notice in each other and are usually more concerned about having someone to play with than about visible differences.  Fear of and discomfort with differences is often learned.

Mostly my classrooms were a microcosm reflecting the rich diversity of cultural heritages represented in Australia. Learning about those heritages from the children and their families, as well as through literature and other media, helped us all develop an appreciation for our differences as well as our commonalities.

The celebrations of International Days when children would wear traditional clothing, bring items from home to display and discuss, contribute cultural food to a shared lunch, teach how to play traditional games or share traditional stories were always appreciated by the children and families; including those who considered themselves to have a cultural background and those who didn’t.


Units of work, such as my Getting to know you — Early childhood history unit, learning to greet each other in the languages represented in the class, reading traditional tales and discovering each other’s favourites of anything also contribute to developing understanding and empathy.

Whoever you are.

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox is a wonderful picture book which can be used to discuss similar themes. It explains in a simple and beautiful way that although children around the world may live in different houses, wear different clothes or eat different foods, for example ‘inside, their hearts are just like yours.’ Mem Fox explains the story on her website.

I have drawn upon the ideas discussed above for my flash fiction response to this week’s challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows the interaction of a migrant culture on the place of migration.

Playground connections

The adults dotted the perimeter, holding tight to their own; bound by the security of sameness reflected in their own eyes, excluded by fear felt for differences perceived in others: different dress and hair, unintelligible words and unfamiliar scents.

In the centre the children romped together, united in the secret language of smiles and laughter, funny looks and gentle patting hands; no words needed.

The children smiled, waving promises of future plays, as one by one the adults called them home, delighting in their children’s easy ways, wishing for their own nonprejudicial days. A nod. A smile. A beginning.

Recently I found this quote on Yvonne Spence’s post in 1000 Voices for Compassion. I think it sums up the intentions of this post  beautifully.

we are together



Thank you

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



Between the lines

For a few months I had been aware of the new colouring books for adults craze that is sweeping the world but had chosen to ignore it. That is, until I read a blog post by Alana Munro stating that “According to Psychologists, Colouring is the Best Alternative to Meditation” and I thought I’d add my two cents worth.

I had already been urged by some writing, publishing and marketing entrepreneurs to quickly create a colouring book and cash in on this new lucrative market. Apparently it’s easy to create a book using royalty free creative images found online and publish the books on Amazon where they have their own genre.  People are buying them by the dozens. The books are also displayed prominently in bookstores, and promoted on social media.  What is there to lose?

As a teacher and parent I have never been in favour of colouring books for children. I know some argue that colouring does have a (small) place. Children may develop fine motor skills when colouring between the lines, and colouring is sometimes integrated with other things such as graphing, mapping, and colour-by-number activities.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

But I have rarely given a colouring book as a gift. I would rather give a blank art book and a variety of pencils and pens for children to create images from their own imaginings. Their fine motor skills and their creativity will develop perfectly well that way and it may help to avoid the feelings of inadequacy that can develop from spending too much time colouring the works of others.

That’s not to say that learning some of the artist’s techniques is a bad thing. Twenty-five years ago I did a short “Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain” course, based on the work of Betty Edwards. I didn’t consider myself an artist, and still don’t, preferring to write than to draw. But being interested in learning and anything to do with the brain, I decided to see what I could do. I was amazed at the results. Unfortunately, I don’t have many pre-course drawings to share with you, just this one of a gardener, but please take my word for it that I showed little promise.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In the course I learned the importance of drawing what the eye sees, not what the mind thinks it sees; for example we might think of the roundness of the rim of a cup, but what we actually see is an ellipse. The importance of seeing accurately is true whether drawing an actual or imagined object or scene.

In the first lesson we were given this picture to copy.


I admit that I didn’t have high expectations as I began. We were told to turn the picture upside down and to start copying from one corner. In doing this we focussed only on each of the lines, drawing just what we could see. We were not to turn the picture the right way up until we had finished. There was to be no interference from what we thought we were drawing to what we were actually drawing. Everyone in the class was amazed with their results.

This is mine:

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

And thank you to Bec, who was three at the time, for deciding it needed some colour!

For a short while I engaged in a flurry of drawing activities, but soon abandoned them to other more pressing or preferred activities. I had proved to myself it was possible. That was sufficient. Now someone just needs to come with a singing on the right side of the brain course for me!

These are some of the drawings I did at that time, each from observation of a real, not imagined object:

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In my pre-service teaching days I was cautioned to not use simple drawings on the board, for example a stick person or a smiley face sun, for the children to copy as it may limit their drawing ability. It was always a concern of mine. I didn’t want to limit anyone’s ability!

After doing the drawing course I bought a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain for Children and used its recommendations in art lessons. In his article about How to Teach Drawing to Children Marvin Bartel warns against showing children how to draw and emphasises the need for close observation, and practice, practice, practice. I agree with his advice to not add one’s own changes or lines to a child’s drawing.

In recent years I came across some fabulous picture books by Mo Willems.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

At first I didn’t find the books appealing with their simple black outlined drawings and minimal use of colour. It was only after a colleague’s repeated exhortations that I gave in and reluctantly read one. Halfway into the book The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!” I was a fan! With what appears to be a few simple lines, Mo creates a great variety of expressions and moods, telling stories that children can identify with and that have them (and their teachers) holding their sides with laughter.

In the app Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App Mo encourages children to add their voices, making the story their own. He also includes videos of how to draw the characters. The app is as much fun as the books. There are many videos by others on youtube sharing how to draw Mo’s characters, but none is better than Mo himself.

Here is a PDF of his instructions for drawing the pigeon:

Mo Williams pigeon_draw01

and a video of Mo talking about how he creates his characters. Sorry, Mo, I underestimated you at first.

So while I accept that colouring books may have benefits for mental health for adults who choose that activity and understand that colouring can induce a meditative state and be very relaxing, I think a blank piece of paper and a variety of pencils and pens would have the same effect and, who knows, you might unleash the artist within. I certainly don’t consider their use in the best interests of children’s development and creativity.

What do you think of colouring books for children and adults? Is colouring a recreational pursuit for you? Have you bought your first colouring book for grown-ups yet?

Thank you

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





What is failure?


Regular readers of my blog know that for the last eighteen months I have been participating in the flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. Each week Charli posts a prompt and invites readers to submit a response in exactly 99 words. I have participated since the first prompt and have missed only a few, maybe one or two.

I enjoy the way the prompt stretches both my thinking and my writing. I appreciate the opportunity to engage in fiction as a diversion from the mainly expository writing (and reading) I do; and to engage in a supportive and encouraging group of Rough Writers.

Since education is the focus of my blog I have given myself the added challenge of targeting an aspect of education in my response to Charli’s prompt. Mostly I have succeeded, though sometimes the posts may be a bit convoluted and the links rather tenuous, but nevertheless, I have been mostly pleased with my ability to find a link.

This time I didn’t think I was going to do it. While I grappled for a suitable link, none was forthcoming and I thought it was going to be an F, a no-show, this time.


You see, this week Charli is talking about the destruction caused by forest fires and other catastrophic weather events. Though Australia suffers its share of natural disasters, I am fortunate that I have never been more than inconvenienced by them. I haven’t suffered the loss of family, property and livelihood that others have; nor have I worked in a school where loss was experienced on a large scale. You could say I have lived a sheltered life, and I am grateful for it.

So without a personal experience to share, my next thoughts were to the curriculum. But I am an early childhood teacher, and young children don’t learn about catastrophic events unless they have a personal experience of them. The Australian Curriculum introduces learning about natural disasters in year six.

Another dead end. The F was looming. Would it engulf me?

Then inspiration! I remembered watching a video in which the possibility of an F being the new A was mooted.  I’m sure you’ve all heard about 60 being the new 40, for example; generally put forward by the 60s rather than the 40s I conjecture. But this was a new twist.

The article on Mind/Shift How we will learn entitled When Educators Make Space For Play and Passion, Students Develop Purpose introduced me to a Harvard education specialist named Tony Wagner who, like Ken Robinson, advocates for a reinvention of the education system.

In the video Wagner says that “What the world cares about is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know.” Content is now available through a quick internet search. We don’t need to have instant recall of numerous facts.

Instead of content, Wagner lists a set of core competencies he considers important. He says that to be lifelong learners and active and informed citizens, the following abilities are required:

  1. To ask questions through critical thinking and problem solving
  2. To work collaboratively
  3. To be flexible and adaptable
  4. To show initiative and be entrepreneurial
  5. To communicate effectively in both oral and written modalities
  6. To access and analyse information
  7. To be curious and imaginative

I agree that each of these attributes is important. I think I have mentioned many of them in previous posts.

Wagner goes on to say that what is needed is innovation: the ability to generate new and better ideas that can be used to solve the problems facing us today. He questions whether America’s reputation as a leader in innovation is as a result of or despite the education system. He then asks the audience to identify what the following four people have in common.

Bill Gates (Microsoft)

Edwin Land (Polaroid camera)

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

Bonnie Raitt (folk singer)

Did you, like the audience, think them to be dropouts? Wagner identified them as not just dropouts; they were Harvard College dropouts! Steve Jobs (Apple) and Michael Dell (Dell computers) were dropouts.

This fact about innovative dropouts inspired Wagner to investigate conditions that encourage the development of innovators. He interviewed many young innovators, asking if there had been an influential teacher or mentor in their lives. While not many could name one, those identified were outliers, engaging students in teamwork and interdisciplinary work involving problem solving and risk taking.

Wagner also interviewed people from innovative organisations such as IDEO, whose motto he quoted: “Fail early and fail often.” (“That’s because there is no innovation without trial and error.”) It was from a think tank at Stanford that the idea that an “F is the new A” came.

F is the new A

There are iterations, not failure, Wagner says, and he questions the way parents and teachers try to protect children from making mistakes saying that real self-confidence was only to be gained from learning that you could recover and learn from mistakes.

Tony Wagner - iterations

So perhaps in thinking about failure, I haven’t really failed. I’m learning. It is only to be hoped that the failures in fire management that Charli talks about in her post lead to improved management practices in the future.

For my response to Charli’s prompt, to  in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the need for help in an extreme weather event, I have chosen a weaker BOTS (based on a true story) from my childhood. The link may be tenuous but hopefully not entirely non-existent. I hope you enjoy it.


A big storm was coming. Two older ones were put in charge of two younger ones. They sat at the fence, watching. Soon other neighbourhood kids gathered, sharing storm stories, waiting.

Green clouds swirled as dark clouds played leapfrog races above. The children watched the storm rush closer; mesmerised by its beauty, mindful of its power.

Soon the winds whipped up, chasing the other kids home. The older two called to the younger, but they were nowhere to be seen. Mortified they hurried inside to alert their parents.

What relief. They were already in, telling of the storm’s approach.

Thank you

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