Monthly Archives: August 2016

Where will the children play?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about playgrounds. I love playgrounds. Who doesn’t? They are a familiar part of life. Most neighbourhoods have at least one park or playground where children can go to play.

Playgrounds are great places for children to:

  • Meet other children
  • Learn to socialize, through sharing of equipment and taking turns
  • Develop physical skills such as coordination, balance, strength
  • Develop confidence and persistence, and a willingness to have a go and try out new things
  • Play imaginatively, on one’s own or collaboratively
  • Be outdoors in the fresh air and in nature
  • Be active

Charli suggested we think about empty playgrounds. I thought about the differences between modern playgrounds and the playgrounds of my childhood.

So many pieces of play equipment that were common and popular in “my day” are no more. They disappeared over the years, due to changing attitudes to safety and responsibility. So much of the playground equipment I played on as a child would not be allowed in a playground today.

Alanspeak, A slide for children to play on

Alanspeak, A slide for children to play on

It got me thinking about the history of playgrounds and playground equipment, and I was surprised to find that playgrounds are a fairly recent invention, little more than 150 years old. This article about playgrounds on Wikipedia states that playgrounds originated in Germany and were attached to schools. The first “purpose built public-access playground was built in a park in Manchester England in 1859.” The first in the USA appeared in San Francisco in 1887.

Other articles such as How We Came to Play: The History of Playgrounds, Evolution of American playgrounds, History of playgrounds and The history of playgrounds – past, present and future provide an interesting overview of the changing landscape of playgrounds over the years.

I was pleased to find that the philosophies of both Froebel and Dewey had been influential in the early days of playground design. I wrote about Froebel, the father of kindergarten, and provided links to information about his works in a previous post Let them Play! My thoughts about education and pedagogy were heavily influenced by the philosophy of progressive educator John Dewey. I previously shared some of his ideas, though not specifically related to play, in  John Dewey’s Dream.

Of course I couldn’t write about playgrounds without including something about school playgrounds. I hope that all schools have somewhere for children to run and play at break times. I recently read This is why Finland has the best schools and was impressed to find that

‘schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, “There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing.””

The benefits to health, happiness and learning must be enormous.

Play at break time can be the highlight of a child’s day. Children may love the opportunity to run and play with their friends in a relatively unstructured, but safe environment. However, it is not so for all children. Some children dislike the freedom, the space, the lack of structure, the noise. Some don’t know how to make friends or how to play.

While it is great for children to have unstructured play time. It is also important to have equipment to support their play, be it imaginative, social, or physical. I have seen many disagreements occur when children have nothing to play with and no ideas for creating games of their own. It seems that many of the games we used to play, before the invention of video games and (cough cough) television, have been lost to subsequent generations. One day I will compile a list!

For now I will leave you with my response to the flash fiction challenge set by Charli at Carrot Ranch Communications. She challenged writers to

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an empty playground. Is it abandoned or are the children in school? What is it about the emptiness that might hint of deeper social issues. It can be a modern story, apocalyptic or historical. Go where the prompt leads.

I didn’t find it as easy as I thought I might.

From empty playground

She stopped abruptly as her scattered thoughts aligned to focus on the playground gate. As if restrained by an invisible chain, she was motionless. Beyond the gate children called to each other; but never her. She was not welcome, never included. Their taunts stabbed at her emptiness, twisting as they penetrated deep into the chasm within. She’d wait until they’d gone.

Suddenly a child was there, eying her quizzically; then a mother, appraising her, uncertain.

“Miss. Miss. Are you all right?”

“Y-yes,” she said, straightening herself. “J-just reminiscing.” How could a life once empty, be now so full?


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Welcome to spring!

Responses to a previous post on the importance of feedback suggested that I trial republishing readilearn posts here.  As the suggestion came from a number of people I considered it sound advice and worth trying. As always, I will be interested to hear what you think.

This post is republished from the readilearn blog.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

The first day of September marks the first day of spring in Australia. It is also recognised throughout Australia as Wattle Day.  The golden wattle is our national floral emblem. Its colours give the recognisable green and gold to our sporting teams.

Like the people of our land, it is a plant that shows both diversity and resilience. There are hundreds of species of wattle growing in many different habitats across Australia.  They may be seen growing wild in bush areas and national parks, and cultivated in botanic gardens, on footpaths and in home gardens.

© Bec Colvin

© Bec Colvin

I have three varieties of wattle growing in my garden. Last year, when the plants were one-year-old, they flowered abundantly and were home to ladybirds. It was wonderful to watch each stage of the ladybird’s growth, from egg to adult. This year, the trees were more heavily laden with blossoms, but there were no ladybirds. I was disappointed as I was looking forward to seeing the ladybirds again. However, it has been suggested that the absence of ladybirds may indicate the tree is healthier this year. I don’t know.

In Australia we generally refer to seasons as occurring in particular months:

Spring in September, October, and November

Summer in December, January, and February

Autumn in March, April, and May

Winter in June, July, and August.

However, it is not as simple as that.  Australia is a land of extremes, with different climate zones and types of weather experienced across the country. It can be cooler in the summers of southern areas than it is the months called winter in the north. For example, the average January (summer) daytime temperature in Hobart is 21.7⁰C, and the average July (winter) daytime temperature for Darwin is 30.5⁰C.

Spring is a great time for exploring the garden and it’s inhabitants. What is spring like where you are?

Getting to know readilearn resources

Also coinciding with the beginning of spring is the Australian Father’s Day, celebrated on the first Sunday in September. It is a day not just for dads, but for grandfathers, stepfathers, and other male carers and role models. It is a day to let them know how much they are appreciated.


how to make a book cover - cover

One great way of providing children with a purpose and targeted audience for writing is to get them to make a book for their father figure. I have provided some ideas to get the writing started in the resource How to make a book cover. The resource itself provides step by step instructions for making a cover for a book using complementary colours. The instructions can be displayed on the white board for children to read and follow.

Suggestions for writing include:

  • A list of statements about their Dad e.g. My Dad goes to work. My Dad makes my breakfast. My Dad has curly hair and a bushy beard. Children write and illustrate one statement on each page.
  • A recount or memoir about a favourite holiday or activity they do with their Dad.
  • A series of things about fathers e.g. Some fathers ride motorbikes. Some fathers ride horses. Children finish with a statement about their own dads, for example; But my father rides a skateboard.
  • A list of things that Dad likes, one to each page.

Five Fabulous books to read for Father’s Day

2015-09-19 10.52.00

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram

My Dad

My Dad by Anthony Browne

going on a bear hunt

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Just Me and My Dad

Just Me and My Dad by Mercer Mayer

2015-09-19 10.54.00

Hey, I Love You by Ian Whybrow, illustrated by Rosie Reeve

Of course, there are many more too.

The Ice Cream Shop - estory

The readilearn estory The Ice Cream Shop also features an outing with Dad. However, before reading it with your children, decide if you wish to use the interactive covered cloze version with them.  If desired, for most effective teaching and learning, the covered cloze should be used prior to any other familiarisation with the story. (You can find information about covered cloze as a teaching strategy here.)

Please contact me if you have any questions. I welcome your feedback, especially suggestions for improvements to existing resources or ideas for new ones.

Remember to use your coupon codes at the checkout to activate your discount. If you can’t see where to enter the coupon code, select “View basket“.

ncblog firstin2


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Digging for dinosaur bones

Dinosaur Adventure, Norwich © NorahColvin

Dinosaur Adventure, Norwich
© NorahColvin

My family has had a love affair, some might say obsession, certainly a fascination, with dinosaurs for almost forty years. My son initiated the affair when he was about three after being undecided whether to watch or not when dinosaurs burst onto the drive-in screen in One Million Years BC. I’m not sure when I first discovered dinosaurs, but It may have been at the same time.

By the time Rob was four, like many children, he knew the names of a great number of dinosaurs and could rattle off screeds of information about them. It had been a steep learning curve for all of us, though he remembered far more than I. A travelling encyclopedia salesman was so impressed by his knowledge that he gave him a book about dinosaurs. (I’d already purchased; it wasn’t an incentive.) Later, his little sister Bec shared his interest.

dinosaurs at museum Jan 91

© Norah Colvin

Now the affair continues with Rob’s own children. Six-year-old G1 can name and identify far more dinosaurs than I realised existed.  His younger sister G2 is not far behind. Such is the power of these mighty, and not so mighty, beasts to excite the imagination. The entire family become dinosaur experts in support of the children’s quest for knowledge.

I recently accompanied the family to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I have mentioned this previously here. Both were wonderful learning experiences.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

La Brea Tar Pits is a museum located at a fossil site where there are ongoing excavations. In the grounds, we saw realistic sculptures of prehistoric woolly mammoths trapped in the tar. Inside, we saw fossilised skeletons removed from the tar pits; including skeletons of animals such as mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, dire wolves, and camels. Yes, camels originated in North America.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Walking the grounds, we had to sidestep the smelly tar that still oozes in puddles around the site. It’s an amazing experience, walking on the same land where these prehistoric creatures walked, their presence almost tangible. In an enclosed area, a group of paleontologists were working with fossils recovered from the site. Scientists use these fossils to help construct our understanding of life before human history began.

What I find interesting about the understandings derived from these fossils, is that much of it is guesswork; educated guesswork, yes, but fossils tell only part of the story. The rest must be filled in using knowledge of contemporary and recorded life. Sometimes assumptions are made, especially when only partial skeletons are found, that must be altered when, or if, complete skeletons are found.

American Museum of Natural History © Norah Colvin

American Museum of Natural History © Norah Colvin

I was very impressed with the way this aspect of science was dealt with in the American Museum of Natural History. Many signs informed us that scientists don’t know for sure, but that they have substantial evidence for making their assumptions. Other signs told of claims that had been revised as new information was discovered. I appreciated being told, in essence: “This is what we know, this is what we think, and this is the evidence to support our claims.”

This talk by palaeontologist Jack Horner, which I discovered via a link from Charli Millspost, demonstrates the process with some fascinating dinosaur discoveries and assumptions.

This recent BBC article Meet Nanotyrannus, the dinosaur that never really existed provides additional evidence to support Horner’s claims.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

A study of dinosaurs provides many opportunities for learning across the curriculum and what a great way to incorporate children’s natural interests and curiosity when looking at topics such as scientific method, evolution and climate change.

I’m grateful to Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch for the incentive to write about this topic with her challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.)

Since “discovering dinosaurs”, so to speak, I’ve always thought how wonderful it must be to unearth a great find. I haven’t made it an ambition, but I appreciate the potential for excitement. Here’s my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

Old Bones

She scratched at the surface tentatively at first, all senses keened, certain of imminent success. She’d uncovered bones here before. Usually one meant there’d be more. All it required was patience and persistence. Suddenly she contacted something more solid than the surrounding earth. She froze. Then exhaled. Could this be the object of her search? Frantically she scraped away the surrounding soil, exposing her find. She stepped back momentarily, assessing it, assuring herself it was real. Then with one final swoop, she removed the bone as carefully and proudly as any paleontologist would a dinosaur bone. “Woof!”

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Why school this way?



Any material being read, or listened to, will connect with individuals differently, depending on their prior knowledge and interests. An idea might spark curiosity in one, that another would dismiss as inconsequential. Sometimes a reader will pick at a thread that hadn’t been intentionally placed for further investigation. Oftentimes, authors don’t get to benefit from readers’ feedback, and may not be inspired to conduct further research for themselves.

But bloggers do!

Or bloggers with wonderful readers who participate in discussions and share their ideas! I am always grateful to you my readers for your encouragement to keep on learning. You are constantly challenging my assumptions, offering alternate views, and inspiring me to seek more information. I love it.


While I emphasize the importance of maintaining a sense of wonder, and of encouraging children to ask questions, I’m not always good at asking those questions myself. I learned that lesson well;  so am appreciative when others stimulate questions.

During this past week there have been a couple of robust conversations here: one about audiobooks and cheating; and another about common curricula. The conversations branched into fields as different as science fiction and history. Thank you to those who joined in.

In This too will pass I mentioned that each state in Australia had its own set of curricula. This places an extra burden on children changing schools, particularly interstate. The mention of our new National Curriculum made Charli Mills curious about how US education evolved. She assumed it was fairly uniform across the states, with the school year developed around farming so that children could help out in the fields.

old school room

I thought that our Western systems of schooling had originated with industrialisation. However, Charli responded saying that industrialisation had had little influence on education in the West (of the States). So of course I was compelled to check my assumptions!

A Google search brought me to this document Industrialization and Public Education: Social Cohesion and Social Stratification which does seem to verify a relationship between industrialisation and schooling. (But one of the most interesting things to me is the cost of a chapter, and of the entire book this first page comes from. Have a look!)

money bag

I also found an abstract of Chapter 2 Long-Term Trends in Schooling: The Rise and Decline (?) of Public Education in the United States, from another book, that seems to support Charli’s understanding of the homogeneity of education in the United States. I haven’t read it yet, but it could be informative.

I couldn’t let the topic of schooling and industrialisation go without sharing a talk by one of my favourite educators Sir Ken Robinson. This is a shorter animated version of a longer talk, which I’ve also included if you are interested in listening to the original.

This is the animated abridged version:

This is the original:

Now, I have to wonder, in light of the discussion about cheating mentioned earlier, would watching the shortened version qualify as having watched the talk, or would it be considered cheating?

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This too will pass

When the idea of an Australian National Curriculum was mooted, many teachers and parents looked forward to the uniformity that would enable students to move from school to school or state to state without the impediments to learning posed by different curriculums. Each state had its own curriculum, its own school-starting age, its own handwriting style, textbooks, exercise books, and so on. Each state trained their own teachers in different philosophies and pedagogies, and few states gave automatic recognition to qualifications earned in another. In addition to state differences, each school had its own uniform, variation on rules, routines, and culture.

When children arrived at a school from interstate, making the decision about which class to assign them to was always problematic. Should they be placed with age peers, or with those who had been at school the same number of years, or with those at the same level of achievement? Rarely was there a neat match between even two of these, and there were just as many reasons for and against each placement.

With a change of school, particularly with numerous changes occurring frequently, children may have missed key areas of learning. Sometimes they would be challenged by work that was too difficult as they had no foundation on which to build. Other times the work would be too easy, often requiring repetition of familiar material. Such was the inconsistency from state to state.

There are many reasons for children and their families to transfer interstate, and not all doing so are itinerant. Some make a once-only move.

Some families move:

  • when a parent is transferred for work, including military transfers
  • because they are part of a travelling circus or show
  • to obtain seasonal farm work
  • to flee difficult circumstances
  • for a change of lifestyle or location
  • to be closer to, or further away from, family or friends
  • when they lose their home and/or employment.

There are probably as many reasons as there are families. In addition to differences in curriculum and school culture, each family has its own set of issues to deal with when moving interstate. Not least among these are the emotional and social issues for children who leave behind established routines and possible friendships, and face learning new routines and making new friends.

How well children cope with the change depends upon many factors, especially the reason for the change and the parental response to it. The number and frequency of changes will also be influential and it would not be unexpected for each to require a period of adjustment.

school cropped

Students who arrive one at a time for a lengthy stay, are easier to accommodate than an influx of transient students staying for just a few months; for example, for harvest season. The attitudes of the community in general, including that of teachers, parents and children, are not always positive towards itinerants. Many hold pre-conceptions of families and their children as having deficits in learning, potential, and lifestyle. These views create barriers which can be difficult to overcome, and compound rather than alleviate any problems.

Of course, while it was hoped that an Australian National Curriculum might overcome the difficulties caused by curriculum disparity, it wouldn’t necessarily be able to address some of those associated difficulties faced by individual children, their families, the schools, and their communities.

Although the national curriculum has been rolled out, it wasn’t the panacea hoped for, even in with regard to curriculum uniformity. Indeed, the imposition of uniformity of content and pedagogy has been riddled with controversy and it has not been fully embraced, with only partial implementation, in differing degrees, by each state. It has recently undergone a review from which came a number of recommendations for improvements.

It seems that curriculum disparity cannot yet be removed from the list of problems faced by children when changing schools.

What got me thinking about these issues this week is the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. Charli, who has recently had homelessness thrust upon her, wrote about some of the issues she is now facing being transient, and how she is learning to cope with them. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something or someone that is transient. It can be a fleeting moment, a rogue vagabond, or ephemeral like trending hashtags. What is passing by and how can you capture the passing in a flash?

For my flash, I have decided to write about an itinerant child, one who has been on the move, and faces yet another first day at yet another new school.

Déjà vu

“I don’t wanna go.”

“You have to.”


“I have to work.”

“I could look after m’self.”

“No. You have to go to school.”

Tears cascaded as the parent thrust the child onto the back seat littered with clothing, books, and assorted paraphernalia.

“How long are we gonna be here?”

“How long?”

A small hand thumped the door. Feet pushed hard into the back of the front seat.

Hands trembled on the steering wheel. Ash tumbled.

“I don’t know.”

“Where are we?”


Finally, with only a cursory glance at the sign, they approached the school office.



If you wish to do further reading on the topics of itinerant students and the review of the Australian National Curriculum, here are some links:


Review of the Australian Curriculum Final Report

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Cheating? It never entered my head


ausines headphones

I have previously mentioned the enjoyment I get from commuting. It’s not the sitting in traffic I enjoy, it’s the extra time for reading I have while I’m driving: reading with my ears rather than my eyes. I have a new-found love of audiobooks.

Over the past few years my library of audiobooks has grown alongside my library of ebooks and printed books. The range of genres represented in each category is pretty much the same when considering recent acquisitions, though measured alongside the collection of a lifetime the comparative numbers may differ. My collections include fiction and nonfiction, memoir and biography, children’s stories and picture books. Sadly, books of poetry are almost absent from recent purchases, though I do have one on order. Maybe I should improve on that sometime soon.

Although I have rarely been disappointed by any narrator, I especially enjoy it when authors read their own work. I recall disappointment and the need to correct, in my head, the narration of only one book. (It wasn’t read by the author.)

Three things I like about audiobooks:

  • They increase reading time. I can listen while I do other things like driving, walking, ironing.
  • I can take them anywhere and, with a pair of headphones, listen anywhere.
  • There are many genres and titles to choose from. I can catch up on classics I’ve missed, or read new releases.

Five things that disappoint me about audiobooks:

  • Not all titles I would like to read are available.
  • They are not cheap, with prices equivalent or higher than a hardback edition. The last audiobook I bought was A$38; the next on my list is A$52!
  • It is difficult to skip forward or back, find a particular place, make notes, or highlight quotes (if I find I want to do this with a book I have listened to, I invariably purchase it as an ebook or printed book, and sometimes both).
  • Sometimes, but not always, my place has been lost when I have closed one book and opened another.
  • They cannot be lent or transferred to another device (or maybe that’s because I buy them on iTunes for my iPad and I do not own any other Apple devices. Maybe someone can let me know.) This is probably better for the authors and their royalty payments.

I find that I very much enjoy being read to, listening to the words spoken by another, thinking about the richness of the voice and its accent, allowing me to be transported into the writer’s world through the voice’s musicality. It is like the author is speaking directly to me.

I was interested then, to recently read the opinions of two other writers about audiobooks:

Virginia Franken wrote My Sweet Love Affair With The Audio Book  for Women Writers, Women(‘s) Books, and

Daniel Willingham posted Is listening to an Audiobook “Cheating” on his own blog.

Virginia explains her recent delight in finding audiobooks as a way of making more time for reading after her first child was born. She wonders how much boredom may have been prevented in previous years had audiobooks been available. She says,

‘even the most frantic among us probably has a few minutes in the day when we can listen to a book, even if there’s no time to physically sit down and read one. Working out, cleaning, commuting, watching your kid’s baseball practice, procrastinating at the office and yes, even grading bananas – now all have the potential to be a lot less dull.”

As I do, she finds listening to books as she commutes to work a real bonus. In addition to the excitement of listening, Virginia is excited that her novel Life After Coffee is to be produced as an audiobook. How exciting.

Virginia refers to the Association of American Publishers and its findings that sales of audiobooks are increasing and may be overtaking those of ebooks. Obviously Virginia and I are not the only ones enjoying audiobooks. But are we cheating by listening rather than decoding? Is listening not real reading?

Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist, also has books available in audio format.  I listened to and enjoyed Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom a few months ago. The focus of Willingham’s post about audiobooks is a little different from that of Virginia’s. I guess we should expect that from a cognitive scientist.

Willingham says that he’s been asked numerous times if listening to an audiobook is cheating. As I indicated in the title, I wouldn’t have thought of it in that way, other than perhaps cheating time. Is making more efficient use of time cheating?

Willingham says he doesn’t like the question. He chooses to rephrase it this way:

“does your mind do more or less the same thing when you listen to an audio book and when you read print?”

He says mostly it does, that “listening to an audio book is exactly like reading print, except that the latter requires decoding and the former doesn’t.” The same language processes are involved, and this is especially true when the purposes for reading are similar to the purposes for listening.

He cites research showing that differences in reading ability in lower grades are due to differences in decoding ability rather than language processes, and that in higher grades the differences are more to do with language processes that support comprehension. He says that there is a high correlation between listening and reading comprehension in adults.

However, he says that the processes may differ according to purpose; for example, when studying for a test or a quiz, or scanning for information, perhaps a printed text may be of more benefit. I agree but suggest print is definitely a better choice in these circumstances (see things I listed as disappointments earlier). He implies that listening, however, might provide additional meaning and aid comprehension through intonation. I think this is possibly true too.

Willingham - reading and listening

In conclusion, Willingham explains that

Listening to audiobooks is not cheating because:

  • “Cheating” implies an unfair advantage, as though you are receiving a benefit while skirting some work. Why talk about reading as though it were work?
  • Listening to an audio book might be considered cheating if the act of decoding were the point; audio books allow you to seem to have decoded without doing so. But if appreciating the language and the story is the point, it’s not.
  • Comparing audio books to cheating is like meeting a friend at Disneyland and saying “you took a bus here? I drove myself, you big cheater.” The point is getting to and enjoying the destination. The point is not how you travelled.

What do you think? Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you consider it cheating? Why would you, or would you not, choose to listen to audiobooks?

Thank you

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