Monthly Archives: January 2017

What do you create?

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I am a fan of creativity. I like to develop my own creativity, and I like to encourage the development of creativity in others.

One thing I always loved about teaching was the opportunity it gave me to be creative: writing stories, units of work, and lessons plans to interest and excite the children about learning. It is this love that drives me to write my blog posts each week, and to create new early childhood teaching resources for readilearn nearly every week.

Just as exciting was the opportunity to support the development of children’s thinking, imagination, and creativity. I am more in favour of treating children as individuals, than as one of a homogeneous group from which any difference is considered an aberration.  After all, imagination and creative thinking are what inspire and drive improvement, innovation and progress.

I affirm my belief in the power of creativity in my tagline: ‘Create the possibilities . . .’, a tagline I previously used for an independent school I was establishing.

create-the-possibilities

Preceding both was my first independent undertaking: Create-A-Way.  Create-A-Way provided a richer educational and social setting for my young daughter than what was generally available, allowed me to share my educational philosophy and knowledge, and provided the same rich learning opportunities for other children and their parents. The development of imagination and creativity was a focus.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

One of the things I love most about responding to the weekly flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch is the additional opportunity to engage in something creative and to hone my writing skills. The supportive environment of a welcoming community makes it a safe and enjoyable experience. There is something affirming about belonging to a community of other creatives, online or in -person.

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On Saturday I, along with a whole bunch of other women creatives, attended an excellent Book Marketing Masterclass conducted by authorpreneur Karen Tyrrell. (I am looking forward to interviewing Karen for the Author Spotlight series on readilearn in March.) The class was attended by writers of a variety of genres; including memoir, romance, science fiction, fantasy, YA, and picture books.

One of the attendees Chrissy Byers has created a lovely picture book The Magic in Boxes which “aims to capture the imagination of young readers and inspire creative play.”

the-magic-of-boxes

Not only does the book suggest ways of stimulating creativity using recycled materials such as cardboard boxes, the book is made from recycled paper. I think that’s pretty awesome. It’s a beautiful book with a wonderful aim.

lemons and grapefruit

For a little more on creativity; in a previous post, Are you a lemon or a grapefruit? I shared ten articles about creativity. They are still relevant and worthy of a read if you haven’t yet done so.

I also shared one of my favourite TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson How schools kill creativity. If yours is not yet one of the over 41 million views, I urge you to watch it. As well as sharing a very important message, Ken is hugely entertaining.

I hope I have convinced you of the importance and power of creativity. I thank Charli and her flash fiction prompt for the opportunity of revisiting some of my favourite articles and talks about creativity. This week her challenge is to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.” It can be art, sewing, ideas, babies. What is at the heart of women as creators? Go where the prompt takes you.”

I’m a woman, and I create, and education is in my heart.

In response to Charli’s challenge, I thought I’d get a little dirty. I hope you like it.

Prize pies

“Life’s not on a plate. It’s what you create.”

Two little girls in their Sunday best

Snuck outside when they should have been at rest;

Splashed in the puddles, laughed in the rain,

Shared mud pies and murky champagne.

 

Two young girls with flour in their hair

Climbed on the bench from the back of a chair;

Opened up the cupboards, emptied out the shelves,

Less in the bowl and more on themselves.

 

Two young women watching TV

Decide master chefs are what they will be;

Enter the contest, invent new pies,

Wow the judges and win the prize.

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

 

 

Reading across the curriculum – Readilearn

The importance of reading cannot be overstated. It is an essential skill, integral to almost everything we do. Teaching children to read is one of the most important, and most rewarding, aspects of our role as early childhood educators.

Some children come to school already reading. Others come not yet reading, but with a love of books and an expectation that they will learn to read. They understand that reading involves making sense of the squiggles on the page. These children usually learn to read effortlessly regardless of what we do.

Other children come to school with little experience of books and reading. For them, learning to read is a mystery and a greater challenge. For these children especially, it is important that we provide an environment rich in language and book experiences. We need to excite them about books and reading, interest them in words and language, and show them that books can be both a source of enjoyment and information.

I often hear teachers lament that there’s just not enough time in the crowded curriculum to read to children any more. But reading aloud to children, especially early childhood children, should be non-negotiable and a priority every day. How can we excite them about books, and interest them in reading, if we don’t read to them?

It is impossible to turn children onto books in one isolated reading lesson each day. In fact, reading lessons as such probably don’t turn children onto reading at all. That is not their purpose. Their purpose is to teach skills. But those skills should always be taught in context, and never in isolation. Nor should they be confined to lessons timetabled for English. Reading must occur across the curriculum and for a multitude of purposes throughout the day, from noting who is at school, interpreting the job roster and group allocations, to understanding connected text in various subject areas.

Many readilearn resources are designed to provide children with opportunities for reading across the curriculum. Even those designed specifically to develop reading skills have application in other subject areas.

Continue reading at: Reading across the curriculum – Readilearn

Scratching around the quarry

charlis-quarry

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.”

I usually find Charli’s prompts a challenge but, with a bit of digging around in the old brain cells, I can usually concoct something with which I am reasonably happy. This time I’ve been scratching around the surface but have found little worthy of further investigation.

I considered a story of epic proportions, as I can’t think of a quarry without thinking of Gilgamesh.

Many years ago, I took my teenage son and a friend to a performance of the ancient story in a disused quarry. Whether it was part of their English or theatre studies, or what prompted the outing, I can’t recall. I think they were no more familiar with this “first great work of literature” than I; and I knew nothing. The performance made a lasting impression, both for its setting and the repetitious dialogue. I recall little of the hero’s epic journey. We were amused rather than awed.

From Gilgamesh, I considered play of a different, but more familiar kind: play in a sandpit or the dirt with diggers and trucks.

The sandpit was always popular for play at lunchtime, particularly if diggers, trucks, and other tools were available. Often the same children would play day after day, creating and re-creating the same scene with roads, rivers, bridges, and cities. Each seemed to have a particular role and responsibility. Found objects; like leaves, bark, feathers, sticks, and stones, would also be incorporated into the designs.

This play was great for the imagination, and for developing the friendship skills of cooperation and getting along, teamwork and working together. Surely I could find a story in there? But any ideas disintegrated faster than the sandpit structures.

It seems timely then, to revisit previous discussions of the difficulty experienced by children when expected to write to a prompt that may have little significance for them, and about which they may have little opportunity for discussion, reflection or planning.

I discussed this in both Writing to order – done in a flash! and Writing woes – Flash fiction. I suggested that, rather than  using a one-piece response to a prompt to assess children’s writing, the use of portfolios would provide more valuable information about children’s writing development.

A portfolio, similar to that of professional writers, would consist of work at various stages: some as ideas jotted on slips of paper, some in planning stages, others in draft form, others completed and waiting for the next step, and others in publication. Rarely would a piece need to be completed in one sitting, let alone judged for it worth on the spot.

I believe that:

  • a one-off writing assessment task does not give students an opportunity to show their best work and puts pressure on them to perform
  • a portfolio of work collected over time provides a clear picture of student ability, development, and next steps for learning.

However, that writers have a choice about responding to Charli’s flash fiction prompts, makes the process quite different from that experienced by children responding to a prompt as a requirement.

Writers have a choice whether to participate, in what genre to respond, and how to interpret the prompt.

In recent posts Charli has discussed the importance of accepting our first drafts as “raw literature”, as part of the process. She provide us with the opportunity to hone our writing skills, and share and receive feedback on our writing in a safe, supportive environment. Surely this is no less important when encouraging young writers.

Out of sympathy for the requirements imposed on children almost every day, I thought it only fair to respond to Charli’s prompt. This is it.

The Quarry

Old and disused, the bare earth was dry with no hint of topsoil or sign of life. Rock fragments, remnants of its past, littered the surface still pockmarked by tyre tracks. One wall, etched by diggers’ teeth, stood silently telling its story. Circles of ash littered with shards of glass and cigarette butts told another. But tonight it was to tell a story as old as time.  Where once huge trucks had carted away boulders carved from its interior, now rough timber platforms stood.  As darkness fell, flaming torches cast an eerie light as storytellers wove their epic tale.

Thank you

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

 

 

 

 

Introducing Illustrator – Helene Magisson – Readilearn

This week I am very excited to be interviewing the wonderful illustrator Helene Magisson, my first guest for the Illustrator Spotlight series.

Before we begin the interview, let me provide you with a little information about Helene.

Helene began her artistic career as a painting restorer in Paris, where she also trained in the art of medieval illumination*.

Helene has lived in countries all over the world, including Africa, France, and India. Her travels both inspire and enrich her work. She now calls Australia home, and it was when she settled in Australia, that Helene began a new career illustrating children’s books.

Helene has illustrated four books for New Frontier Publishing including The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco, and The Night before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. She is now working on her seventh book for Wombat Books.

In this interview, Helene and I are discussing her work illustrating Magic Fish Dreaming, a beautiful book of magical poems by June Perkins who featured in the Author Spotlight in November 2016.

Continue reading at: Introducing Illustrator – Helene Magisson – Readilearn

Who gives a crap?

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills asks “Who gives a crap?” and about what. She declares some things that are important to her, things she gives a crap about, including, but not limited to:

  • the environment
  • nature
  • truth
  • principles
  • equality
  • diversity
  • jobs for all
  • literature and it’s role in society, and
  • conflict resolution.

She says that

“Conflict resolution is finding a peaceful solution to a disagreement. It’s drawing back my hand from the urge to smack. It’s letting go of a need to punish. It’s hearing both sides of the concerns and working toward a way to save our environment and jobs. It means acknowledging the rights or privileges of all. It means agreeing to disagree with compassion for the other. It means uplifting the lowest in our midst instead of only seeking to better our own. It also means checking our words and behavior.”

I give a crap about education. I care about the education of our children. It is through education that we can make a difference in the world; but we can only do that if we educate our children to be thinking, caring, responsible, contributing participants in society and inhabitants of the planet.

We need to teach children about their relationship with the environment, and the impact of their individual, and our collective, actions.

We need to give children time to experience nature and the outdoors; to marvel at its beauty, to appreciate its diversity, and to wonder …

We need to model for children a principled life, in which truth, equality, and diversity are valued, and in which the collective good is more important than an individual’s need for fame or fortune.

We acknowledge that making mistakes is integral to an individual’s learning and tell children it is okay to make, and learn from, mistakes. We encourage them to think for themselves and to be innovative, to see alternative solutions to problems.

If we were to teach them to just accept things as they are because that’s the way they’ve always been (and I query that statement!) how can we expect them to come up with solutions to issues that confront us?

Some of the conflicts mentioned by Charli; for example, providing jobs and preserving the environment, have resulted from our learning, our development, our education.

Maybe we should consider that making mistakes is also integral to our collective learning and development; and be prepared to accept them as such, learn from them, and devise alternative solutions.

For example: We learned about fossil fuels. We saw how they would enhance our lifestyle, and we implemented that learning, creating many new jobs as a consequence.

Now we see that some of those advancements are not as beneficial overall as was initially thought. We made a mistake. It is time for reassessment, for learning, and for thinking of new strategies. We need to leave behind what does not work, and embrace the next step in our development.

Charli asks, “When did we start thinking that only our crap matters and stop giving a crap about others?”

For a while the focus moved away from the importance of community to the importance of the individual and individual rights. Maybe now it’s time to put the focus on community and the role of the individual in it. Let’s not ask what the community/humanity/the world can do for me, but what I can do for the community/humanity/the world.

This brings me back to Charli’s flash fiction prompt to: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that expresses a strong concern, something to give a crap about. Something that brings out the feeling to stand up. How can you use it to show tension or reveal attitudes?”

This is my response. I hope you enjoy it.

Pulling together

“It’s mine!” they spat at each other. With faces red and contorted, they pulled in opposite directions.

The object finally stretched to its limit and ripped apart, catapulting the opponents backwards to land on their derrieres.

“Now look what you’ve done!” they accused each other, and scrambled to retrieve what was salvageable.

They contemplated the useless fragments. There were no winners, only losers. Their eyes, previously filled with hate, now brimmed with sorrow.

“What have we done?”

Moving together, each comforted the other, feeling as much for the other’s loss as for their own.

“Let’s start anew,” they said.

I’d love to know what situation you think my story might be about. I’d also love to know what it is that you give a crap about.

Oh, and thanks to Bec’s reminder, I will mention the Who gives a crap toilet paper (that is far from crappy and great for the environment) that Charli mentioned in her post, and I previously mentioned in Around the Campfire.

Thank you

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

Counting one hundred days of school – Readilearn

With the commencement of the Australian school year still two weeks away, it might seem a bit early to be thinking about the 100th day. Let me assure you it’s not. It’s great to be ready to start counting from day one. However, if you miss the start, you can always go back and count the days on a calendar. For those of you in the US and UK, the one hundredth day will be coming up soon in February.

In Australia there are 200 school days in a year. So, once you have counted up to 100 days, you are half way through and can then count down the number of days remaining. The US and UK have fewer school days: 180 in the US and 190 in the UK; so they are more than half-way through by the time they reach their 100th days.

Whatever their year level, children are always excited to count the days to this milestone, and it provides wonderful opportunities for learning about number.

Several readilearn resources support you and your students as you count up to and celebrate one hundred days, including:

The interactive digital resource Busy Bees 100 chart is great for all your usual number board activities, and can be used to keep a count of how many days you’ve been at school. Simply display the resource at the beginning of each day and move the bee to the next number.

Just this week, I have uploaded a short video explaining how to use the resource. I am also including it here. I’d love to know what you think.

Click to continue reading: Counting one hundred days of school – Readilearn

Can I keep the change?

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

Charli mentioned a variety of rattling sounds:

  • Hail – “Balls of ice the size of frozen peas” rattling on her RV

(Here’s a video of some pea-sized hail dancing in my garden recently.)

  • Political divisions and discussions, with each side clamouring to be heard but only sounding “like discordant hail on a fiberglass roof”

(Remember that saying about “Empty vessels make the most noise?”)

plato-empty-vessels

  • The saber-rattling incident in Chilean history “when a group of young military officers protested against the political class and the postponement of social measures by rattling their sabers within their scabbards.”

In her prompt, Charli suggests that the rattling sound could be “an intimidating sound of protest, a disorienting loud sound, a musical expression or a gentle baby’s toy.”

I thought of the rattle of coins – reasonably familiar in my childhood, less so now.

australian-imperial-coins

When I was a child, most transactions involved the use of cash – notes and coins. Back then, before the introduction of decimal currency just over fifty years ago, we had pounds, shillings and pence.

Decimal currency certainly made calculations easier but, though I remember my mother occasionally writing a cheque, transactions were still made mainly with cash.

I am from a large family and the finances didn’t stretch to pocket money. However, I do remember the occasional threepence to spend at the shop beside the school. I think they may have been gifts from the “tooth fairy”. How we agonised over which sweets to buy – maybe a rosy apple, four aniseed balls and some musk sticks.

Occasionally we might find a coin in the sand at the playground or beach, or be gifted one or two from an aunt, uncle or grandparent. Sometimes, when sent to the shop for bread or milk, we’d ask if we could keep the change. Sometimes the answer was “Yes”!

Although the anticipation of a purchase was heightened by the sound of a couple of coins jingling in a pocket or purse, we were also keen on saving them toward future desires.

The money box most of us had back then was a tin replica of the Commonwealth Bank’s head office in Sydney.  The clink of coins being added to the box was music to our ears, as was their rattle as we shook it to determine how full it might be and how much we may have saved.

The trouble with these money boxes was twofold:

  1. It was impossible to do anything with them quietly, and
  2. It was practically impossible to extricate any coins once they were in. The tins could only be opened with a tin opener! Sometimes, with the right tool, the opening could be widened and one or two coins could be removed, but the shaking and rattling required was a real give-away.

How different it is for children today. Not only are many transactions made using credit or debit cards, many purchases are made online. No cash, no “money” is seen to exchange hands.

Nonetheless, it is still important for children to understand monetary values and to be able to calculate the cost of items. I think it is good for children to have pocket money for which they can make decisions regarding spending or saving. The ability to save up for something, to delay gratification, is an important part of maturation. I wonder how many of today’s children are sent to the store on their own and, if so, whether they can keep the change.

The use of technology means that even cashiers (is that term also becoming outdated, like hanging up the phone?) are no longer required to calculate. The register does that for them. Yes, they do have to count out the change, but that involves little calculation.

With the changing values, too, Australia no longer has one or two cent coins. Five cents is the lowest denomination, and I doubt that a child could buy anything with just one, not even an aniseed ball or a musk stick. I wonder how long before it too disappears.

While online shopping, and paying with cards and phones is becoming commonplace, it is still important for children to handle, recognise, and become familiar with money. They need to be able to compare the value of coins and notes, and perform calculations with them. It is important for children to realise that a greater number of coins doesn’t necessarily mean more money.

australian-coins

The images on the coins and notes also provide an opportunity for learning about our Australian animals and significant people and events in our history. Perhaps in the lifetimes of today’s children, coins and notes will go the way of our Imperial currency and become simply items in a museum and history lessons.

For my response to Charli’s prompt, I have gone back to the days of coins rattling in pockets and money boxes, when thinking of the wonderful things that a few coins could buy was pure delight.

Can I keep the change?

With the string bag slung over his shoulder and the purse clutched tight, he was on his first big boy errand. And, he could keep the change. He rattled the purse. What possibilities awaited. Should he hurry to get the money, or dawdle and contemplate? Regardless, he got there soon enough.

He handed the purse to Mrs Kramer, who extracted the list and gathered the items. As she counted the coins into the till, he announced, “I can keep the change.” She peered over her glasses, then held out one large brown coin. He trembled: what could he choose?

australian-imperial-penny

A penny for your thoughts!

Thank you

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