Monthly Archives: June 2016

Home is where the start is

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Early childhood years, from 0-8, are the formative years. It is during these years that most is learned. Children learn about the world through their explorations. They learn about themselves through the responses they receive from others, and learn about others through these responses also. Attitudes to most things begin in the home.

Children require warm, nurturing, positive relationships that demonstrate the way life should be lived, in actions, not just words. As Anne Goodwin, former psychologist says, the interactions with significant adults will greatly influence the adult that the child becomes.

If home is where it starts, then we can’t wait until the children are of school age. By then it’s too late. It is relatively undisputed that it is difficult for children to catch up what may have been missed in those early years. Sadly, much of the intense formal work in school does more to alienate these children further, rather than improve their opportunities for learning.

Therefore, we must begin in the home, and I don’t mean with formal structured programs. I mean with fun activities that validate parents and children and provide them with opportunities and suggestions for participation and learning.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children. © Norah Colvin

It is these beliefs that informed my home-based business Create-a-way,

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

and my idea for an early learning caravan that, staffed with an early childhood educator, would

  •  go to the parents and children in their neighbourhoods, meeting in a local park or community greenspace, on regular weekly occasions;
  • invite parents to talk with, read to and play with their children using provided books, games and toys;
  • model positive parenting behaviour, explaining to parents the benefits to their children of engaging with them in activities and discussions;
  • provide suggestions for inexpensive and easy activities to do at home;
  • encourage borrowing from a book and toy library.

Of course, for many parents, such as those reading this post, nurturing a child’s development is almost second nature. They have the education and resources, and a belief in the benefits, to empower them to nurture their children’s development. They require little additional support.

Requiring most support are those without the benefits of education, resources or a belief that life could be improved. If all they have experienced through school systems is failure and rejection, they will have difficulty in perceiving any purpose in trying. It is these parents and their children that we need to reach. If they feel valued, they in turn may find value in others. If we improve the lives of those marginalised by poverty or lack of education, it must contribute to improving our society, and our world, in general. This will help us to feel safe in our homes, in our localities and in the wider world.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about homes and the importance of having a roof over our heads. The way we treat each other, especially those hurting, indicates there is a greater need for compassion and for those in need to receive a helping a hand.

In my response to Charli’s flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about home, I attempt to show that the situation in which one is raised is not always a self-fulfilling prophecy. Out of the cruellest situations, hope can be born. We, as a society, need to do what we can to give hope to many more, to help break the cycle of despair.


The birth of Hope

Startled by the blueness of eyes and the intensity of unfamiliar feelings, she suddenly relaxed, as if finally, home.

She’d not known home before: not locked in a room with hunger the only companion; not shivering through winters, barefoot and coatless; not showered with harsh words and punishments.

She’d sought it elsewhere, mistaking attention for something more. When pregnancy ensued; he absconded. They kicked her out.

Somehow she’d found a place to endure the inconvenience. Once it was out, she’d be gone.

But now, feeling unexpectedly connected and purposeful, she glimpsed something different —a new start, lives entwined: home.

Thank you

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

Can I help?


I have written a few posts recently about requesting help and the difficulty many of us experience in doing so. It’s a topic that is oft repeated. Not only do many have difficulty in asking for help, we are often unsure about when to offer help, how to help, and whether any assistance will be beneficial.


In a comment on one of those posts Anne Goodwin, who blogs at Annecdotal, said that the way our first cries for help are responded to in infancy influences our attitudes to asking for help later in life. I suggest that the way we are responded to when offering to help in those early years also influences our attitudes later.

In an earlier post entitled Lending a helping hand, I asserted that

 “Little ones love to help and hate to be helped in almost equal measure. “Let me do it!” and “I can do it myself!” are two frequently heard phrases in households with little ones. Opportunities for both are essential for their developing sense of self, independence and confidence. Both require a great deal of patience on the part of parents and a larger allocation of time than one would normally feel necessary.”

Sometimes, when young children ask, “Can I help?”, parents are reluctant to involve them because of the additional time required, and often the extra effort it takes to clean up the mess that may also be created. However, I recommend that the time and energy expended are more than compensated for by the benefits to the parent-child relationship, as well as to the child’s development of knowledge and skills.

Nor and Bec reading

© Norah Colvin

Just as time to play together and read together is factored into the family routine, it is important to set aside time for tasks such as cooking and cleaning that help to develop independence and life skills.

With cleaning, as with other tasks, it is important to provide guidance and encouragement, and to accept the result. Don’t expect the child’s efforts to match yours. You can always finish off the task later, if you must, when the child is out of sight. Expecting too high a standard or being too critical will discourage a child’s willingness to try again.

As at home, in the classroom children can take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves and working together to keep the room organised and tidy on a daily basis. It may take a little longer to establish good habits initially, but the benefits are reaped throughout the year.

When I was in the classroom I provided children with a number of strategies to help them develop organisation skills.

  • At the beginning of the year I showed them how to organise their belongings in their tidy trays so that they could easily find what they were looking for. I made a photo display to provide visual as well as verbal reminders.
  • Throughout the day I would play music or transition games to help them move from one activity to another, and to indicate how much time remained until they were to be ready for the next activity.
  • We had a wonderful programme called You Can Do it! which helped children develop personal and social skills, one of which is organisation. We had a great set of songs to support development of the skills. At the end of each day when it was time to pack up, I would play the organisation song. The children would happily sing along and have the room neat and tidy and themselves ready for home by the time the song ended.

These simple strategies helped the day run smoothly and required a minimum of instructions and reminders.

cooking banner

© Norah Colvin

Cooking, or more specifically food preparation not necessarily requiring heat, in the classroom requires additional planning which will be influenced by the facilities and support available. Whenever possible I organised cooking experiences for small groups with the assistance of an aide or parent volunteer. This gave children more opportunities for discussion and involvement.

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

I always organised for the healthy smiley face sandwich to be made in small groups.

kebab 1

© Norah Colvin

Cutting up fruit and making fruit kebabs is suitable for small groups too. Children can be asked to bring in a serve of fruit to contribute to the choices. We used to have a daily mid-morning fruit snack so it did not require any extra effort on the part of parents, just scheduling on my part.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

One of my favourite cakes to cook with children is a moon cake. It is both fun to make and delicious to eat, and provides many opportunities for discussion. It is just as suitable for making in the classroom as it is for home. I have prepared a guided recipe which will be available on my readilearn website.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I recently made the recipe with my grandchildren. They were eager to help and took turns to add and mix the ingredients. There are sufficient things to do to give everyone in a small group an opportunity of being involved. However, it is also suitable to do with the whole class observing while individual children do different tasks.

tasks to do

Making the cake provides great opportunities for observing, turn taking, vocabulary development, curiosity, and development of science knowledge. All of these contribute to life skills and experiences. And then there’s the treat at the end!

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Although involving children in tasks like cooking and cleaning at home or at school involves extra organisation and time, it is well worth it for the long-term, as well as immediate, benefits.

Do you have any recollections of helping with tasks at home or at school? How did you feel about it? How has it influenced your current attitudes?

Thank you

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






Asking and accepting help

Last week I shared with you the post in which Charli Mills acknowledged that the Carrot Ranch was in Crisis. She admitted that, although she doesn’t like to ask for help, she needed it. She explained not only the type of help she required, but also the ways in which she is able to help others. I know many of you popped over to the Carrot Ranch to read Charli’s story and lend a helping hand. I sincerely thank you for doing so.

Difficulty in asking for help is something from which many of us suffer. The reasons are probably quite complex and may differ depending on the circumstance; for example, we may not:

  • wish to inconvenience others
  • consider ourselves worthy, there are always others with greater need
  • know who or how to ask
  • wish to admit that we can’t do it on our own, that we’re not perfect, not coping, or can’t do it all.

We may:

  • fear rejection
  • or fear making our vulnerabilities obvious when we had tried so hard to obscure them.

Of course, once one asks for help, then one must be prepared to accept kindness from others. Again, this is not always easy.

Susan Bruck who blogs at To Wonder at Beauty admitted as much in her recent post Appreciating kindness — the Practice of Gratitude.

Susan says, “I used to feel that I had to do everything myself.  I never thought I was perfect, but I wanted other people to think I was.” She says that she needed to learn how to accept that making mistakes was a part of life.

In the post, Susan shares some quotes from Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, including this one:

“One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on “going it alone.” Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.”

Barbara Vitelli who blogs at Book Club Mom also confessed her reluctance to ask for help in a post entitled The Art of Asking, using the title of  Amanda Palmer’s book, which she reviews. Although the title appealed for its “self-help” potential, Barbara considers herself to have been misled as it is “mostly a memoir about Palmer’s performance and music career.” I guess this demonstrates, in part, that admitting help is required, if only to oneself, doesn’t always bring forth the assistance required. We need to know where to look and who to ask.

Barbara alerted me to a  TED talk by Palmer about the art of asking.

Palmer talks about her time as a street performer, then as a musician when she asked her fans for a place to sleep, for food, and for musicians to support her performances. She talks about making her music available for free, and explains the difference between making people pay, and asking people to pay. My son-in-law has been telling me about this concept for some time as he uses it for music he performs and purchases.

Three other organisations that do something similar by requesting financial support rather than payment by subscription are Wikipedia, The Conversation, and Brain Pickings . I’m sure there are others but these ones came immediately to mind.

Launching soon - readilearn2

As readilearn, my website of early childhood teaching resources, moves ever so slowly towards launch day, these ideas have got me thinking about my decision to go with a subscription model. My intention is that some resources will be available free to registered users, but the majority will be available through an annual subscription of $25.

I’m not about to change my mind, but I wonder how well it would work if I was to ask users to pay on an honour system, as others do. Of course I don’t have a following like Palmer’s fan base, or a readership to match Wikipedia. How useful others will consider my resources is yet unknown.

It will be impossible for me to ensure that users of my site don’t share with others or keep resources after their subscription expires. It’s just the way it is in the digital world, and with teachers. I know that. In this way I am already placing a certain amount of trust in people’s sense of fairness. I hope they consider my price fair, and that they will treat me fairly in return.

It is an interesting concept. It is often said that you only get what you pay for. If you don’t have to pay, will you? Everybody loves to get something for nothing, don’t they? It would be interesting to be able to compare two similar (small) projects, one with a set price, one with an honour system.

What do you think? Do you find it easy to ask for help, or are you in the reluctant boat? Have you ever put your hand out and asked for help? Have you used an honour system of payment, either in a project of your own, or when using the products of someone else? Do you consider, as Palmer does, that the honour system of payment is similar to asking for help?

Thank you

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

You’d have to be mad!

That is, as in M.A.D. — Making a Difference.

I love to hear of children being involved in projects that help others, that aim to make a difference to the world. I have previously written about some of those projects here, here, and here.  Sarah Brentyn, who blogs at Lemon Shark, often shares about the wonderful ways in which she and her boys are making a positive difference in their community.

This week I read about the M.A.D. projects of Canadian teacher Peter Cameron (a.k.a. Mr. C) and his students. At the beginning of the school year Mr. C challenged his students with the question, What will you do to make a difference? The projects, which were selected, organised, and conducted by the students, were recently completed. They included things such as:

  • Helping others on snowy days by shovelling driveways
  • Helping parents, grandparents, and great grandparents
  • Giving compliments
  • Supporting Doctors Without Borders
  • Helping the elderly
  • Helping at the Humane Society
  • Keeping their school tidy
  • Assisting the homeless by collecting socks, making supper, and hot chocolate
  • Encouraging kids to eat healthy, and to spend more time outdoors.
  • You can see a celebration of their projects in this video.

Mr. C. said that it was one of the most rewarding aspects of his 20+ years teaching career. The acknowledgement received from their member of parliament in the Canadian House of Commons, and his encouragement for others to join in, further affirmed the merit of the project.

Now Mr C. is reaching out to other classes around the world to join in with their M.A.D. projects and form a Global Make a Difference Team in which participants complete a M.A.D Project to help make our world an even better, happier, healthier place to live”.  Their goal is to have 100+ classes join in. Will yours be one of them?

To make it easy, Mr. C is making available to teachers all of his resources which may be modified to suit individual classes and situations. He says,

“The goal is simple: challenge your school, class, clubs and individual or groups of students to make a difference and see where it takes them! Be sure to let us know that your school/class will be participating and fill in the form to add your class to our M.A.D map!”

Places on the map are so far confined to North America. How wonderful it would be for locations to be added from all around the world. Children would see not only the differences they are making in their own communities, but also the positive actions of others around the world, which may in turn, inspire further projects.

Be sure to let us know of other projects that involve children in making a difference. I know there are many, some conducted by organisations, and others by individuals and families. They are what give us hope for the future.

Thank you

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






Carrot Ranch in Crisis

For more than two years now I have been participating in the weekly flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. As well as the challenge, I enjoy the camaraderie and support from other writers, especially Charli who ropes us in with her prompts and encouragement.
For the last little while I have been posting my flash fiction responses on Tuesday evenings, just scraping in before Charli’s deadline. But not tonight. Tonight I am sharing Charli’s post, the post that would normally include a flash fiction prompt, but instead this time included a plea for help. Charli is in crisis mode, kicked out of home and in transit.
Often when friends are in need we can lend a hand by cooking a meal, offering a bed for the night, assisting with chores, and listening. But when that friend is over 12,000 kilometres away, helping out is not such an easy thing. For that reason, this evening I am sharing Charli’s post. Maybe one of you is able to help her out in her time of need.
Thank you for reading. As always, I appreciate your feedback.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Crisis. I don’t like word. I don’t like the circumstances. I don’t want to ask for help; I’m in need of help; I feel bitter if no one helps and embarrassed if anyone does. Let me back up because this began four years ago.

After fighting in court against a fraudulent mortgage, my husband and I lost our home to foreclosure in April 2012. Over the next few years I watched my husband unravel. Last year I began in earnest to get him in the US Veterans Affairs (VA). Even though his knees were destroyed by the time he was 25 years old (a hardship we’ve dealt with on our own since 1988), the VA finally recognized his disability in 2015. To this date we still don’t have an appointment to evaluate his PTSD.

After we lost our house and Todd took a job in Idaho (where he lived in…

View original post 1,324 more words

Recipes for the classroom

cooking banner

© Norah Colvin 2016

As completion, and therefore launch, of readilearn, my website of early childhood teaching resources approaches, it has become obvious that some categories are less well-resourced than others.

I consider food preparation to be a great way of involving children in learning that is fun, purposeful, integrates curriculum areas, and develops skills that can be applied in everyday life. I have previously written about learning in the kitchen with suggestions for parents at home.

In the introduction to the readilearn cooking resources I write

Cooking, including food preparation that doesn’t include any heating, is a great way to teach life skills and integrate learning in a meaningful and enjoyable way across curriculum areas. When children are involved in food preparation they may be developing:

  • Social skills of cooperation, turn taking, sharing, patience
  • Literacy skills – reading and following the recipe, selecting ingredients, writing a menu and invitations, writing a recount, writing a shopping list
  • Mathematics – counting e.g. the number of eggs, measuring with spoons and cups, measuring time, sharing (e.g. the number of cookies, how many slices to make)
  • Science – mixing, adding or removing heat
  • Safety – with knives, peelers and hot implements and ingredients
  • Social Studies: Culture – when preparing ethnic food

readilearn materials are designed to engage children in activities that are both fun and purposeful, with opportunities for learning across the curriculum in a meaningful context.

I was disappointed to realise that I had only one cooking resource prepared: How to make a healthy smiley face sandwich

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

A remedy was required and I tried to think of other resources I could add.

I have previously made ladybird biscuits by icing an Arrowroot biscuit and adding Smarties for spots. I will probably add that recipe in the future, but I was trying to think of something healthier to begin with. I wondered if it might be possible to make a ladybird from an apple. This is what I did:

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

When I made one for my grandson on the weekend, I was pleased that he recognised it as a ladybird beetle, even without the spots!

Unfortunately, it’s more suitable for an adult to make for a child than for children to make for themselves. Apples are too difficult for young children to cut. It is therefore not suitable for readilearn. However, I had fun making it and will continue to think of other recipes I can add to readilearn’s cooking collection.

Thank you

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

Truth or lie?

In my previous two posts, here and here, I discussed the issue of lying and the suggestions that:

  • lying may be a part of human nature
  • it is difficult to tell whether someone, even a child, is lying or not.

This morning when I parked my car at work, the young man in the car in the next parking bay called out, “I’m stuck.”

I asked him what the problem was, and he explained that he had parked too close to the car beside him and couldn’t get out.

I walked around his car and saw that there was a gap of about 15 centimetres between the two cars, not enough to open a door.

As I glanced along between them, I noticed that the side mirror of the other car, which had reversed into the park, was broken. I said nothing, and, so far as I am aware my facial expression didn’t change. However, the young man immediately protested, “I didn’t do that. I promise you, I didn’t do that!

I didn’t respond to his remark but thought, “Yeah right!” I then proceeded to guide him out of his car park by suggesting he tuck in his side mirror and straighten his wheels. He was then able to reverse out without hitting the car beside him, and drive back in giving himself enough room to get out of his car.

Although he stated his innocence, I didn’t know if he had caused the damage to the mirror on the other car.

  • Why did he protest immediately when I’d hardly had time to notice it, let alone mention it? Wouldn’t he have done better to say nothing?
  • Was it too much of a coincidence that the car should be damaged in a way that may have been caused by this young man trying to reverse out?
  • Why would he have even noticed the damage to the mirror or think it worthy of mention? Did his protests not imply his guilt?

What was I to do?

If he was guilty he should leave a note for the driver, apologizing and giving his details. If he was guilty and didn’t do that, should I leave a note telling the driver his licence number and explaining what I suspected? What if I supplied that information and he was innocent?

What then? I’d be telling a lie.

Call me gullible but I do prefer to take people at face value and believe in their honesty. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a suspicious mind. However, I had no way of ascertaining, without access to transdermal optical imaging, as mentioned by Kang Lee whether this young man was telling the truth or a lie. So I wished him a good day and left it at that.

When I returned to my car in the afternoon, both cars were still there. I checked the young man’s side mirror to see if it was damaged. I thought that if he had damaged the other car’s mirror with his, then his mirror would likely be damaged too. But it was not.

Was he telling the truth? Was it just a coincidence? I’ll never know. But it did give me something to think about.

What do you think?

PS The characters in this story are real, as are the incidents. It was a young male driver, and not me, who was having difficulty parking! And me who helped him!

Thank you

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

If not you, then who?

Earlier this week in my post Smile! It’s contagious I mentioned the commonly held misconception that adults usually know when children are lying. I say ‘misconception’ because it’s been shown that adults have no idea whether children are lying or not, and it appears that children, also, have no idea if others, even their siblings, are lying.

This inability to distinguish the liar from the truth-teller is portrayed clearly in an incident in the book Ugly, a memoir, by Robert Hoge. We’ll call it The Chocolate Incident.

Ugly cover

Robert is the youngest of five siblings. One day the five of them were called to a family meeting in the lounge room. When they were all standing up straight in a line from oldest to youngest Robert knew that something was up. Their mother soon informed them that chocolates had been taken from a box on top of the fridge, and not just a couple that wouldn’t be missed, but more than that.

Both parents were involved in the interrogation. Their mother said, “We’re going to ask who took the chocolates. We’re going to look you in the eye and ask you, and you’d better come clean or there’ll be real trouble.

Robert explains that in turn she approached each child, starting with the oldest. She stared at each for a few seconds, then asked, “Did you take any chocolates?” In turn each child replied in the negative and, as they did so, turned to look at the next in line.

As the parents moved from child to child Robert, knowing he was innocent, observed the responses of his siblings. Who took the chocolates? The looks of dread, panic and fear that were so obvious on each face convinced him of their guilt. But no, each sibling denied it.

When the fourth child denied taking chocolates and turned to face Robert, he realised that he was the last in line, “there was no one there for me to look at. Not even Sally, our dog.

He continues, “I started crying before Mum got to me. One by one the others turned to look at me. Dad glared ominously over Mum’s shoulder and I tried to say, “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me.” But everything was lost to my sobbing and I got the blame. I still don’t know who took those chocolates.

I wonder if there’ll ever be a confession! Or if the culprit ever felt remorse for Robert, the youngest, having to take the blame.

There is more to Robert than this one incident portrays. His is a remarkable story. I have heard it many times and am yet to tire of hearing it. I first heard him speak at a writers’ seminar, the seminar that was the final impetus to set me on my blogging journey. I heard him speak again at a Writers’ festival at which I purchased his memoir. I have also seen him tell his story on television more than once.

My signed copy from the writers' festival!

My signed copy from the writers’ festival!

I own three versions of Robert’s memoir: paperback, audiobook and the Kindle version for younger readers. Robert reads the audiobook, which is a special treat. It gives authenticity to the listening experience, particularly since I was already familiar with his voice. It also means when I read his books to myself, that I hear his voice telling me his story. All versions are written in a pleasant, easily readable and conversational tone, as if we are sitting together, chatting over a cup of tea and a Tim Tam.

tim tam and tea

When I handed my Mum a copy of the book, I wasn’t sure whether she’d enjoy it or not. However, after 70+ years of adult reading (she was 90), she informed me that it was the best book she had ever read.

I’m not sure why this story makes such a strong impression on us. Maybe it’s because we think it could have happened to either of our families. Robert is only two years older than my Robert, and six years younger than Mum’s youngest of ten.

Houghton Highway

Maybe it’s because the family’s culture, growing up in another Brisbane bay-side suburb just across the bridge, was similar to ours.

Maybe it’s because it’s a story of resilience, of survival against the odds, and of making hard decisions. Maybe it’s a bit of all of these, and more, including the raw honesty with which Robert writes.

Ugly for kids.PNG

There are many opportunities for learning in Robert’s book, many different topics I could choose to write about; so many that I haven’t known where to start. After the previous discussion about lying, this seemed an appropriate introduction.

I haven’t told you much of Robert’s story. It is better to have him tell you himself. He introduces himself in this TED talk.

Links to other interviews, and to connect with Robert online, can be found here

I recommend Robert’s story to you. It is definitely a story worth sharing.

Thank you

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