Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to Australian author and illustrator Josh Langley who advocates for children’s mental health, including developing their self-esteem, friendship skills and creativity through his books and online course. These topics are close to my heart and regularly appear in our readilearn posts and feature in our teaching resources.
With next Wednesday 21 April being World Creativity and Innovation Day, I thought now was the perfect time to share with you Josh’s recent post Why It’s More Important Than Ever to Let Kids Daydream.
First let me tell you a little about Josh.
Josh is author of the award winning ‘Being You is Enough’ books series for kids and promotes positive mental and emotional health messages for kids through his books, presentations, primary school talks, videos, charity work and courses, like ‘Here I am!’.
“After suffering childhood trauma, I feel driven to make sure kids don’t ever have to feel like I did. That’s why I want to give them the emotional and mental skills to be resilient to what is thrown at them and the inner knowing that they are ok the way they are. And the only way I can do that is in my own fun and unique way! Thankfully parents and kids love it.”
If there’s one thing that writers can do is write their characters out of any situation. What many of them wish they could do is write themselves into a publishing contract. Whatever we choose, we all must be the hero of our own journey.
Nearly every class has a clown who becomes the hero for students by adding a humorous diversion that reduces the stresses of the day. The same student may frustrate the teacher by disrupting the class and not taking the lesson seriously.
While I was never the class clown—I wouldn’t have enjoyed the attention and would never have been considered funny—I always liked to consider alternative possibilities and was sometimes accused of not taking things seriously enough while fending off accusations of the opposite by others. You’ve probably noticed similar in my writing. What can I say? I’m a Gemini.
Not so much in the younger grades in which I mainly taught, but in the older grades, students are often provided with hypothetical situations for which they are required to provide survival strategies. I’ve gone for the opposite of the literal cave, as Charli suggested, but still the literary cave.
I hope you think my class clown/writer has used their creativity to solve the teacher’s survival puzzle. If only it were that easy.
“Consider this,” said the teacher. “You’re stranded alone in the desert. Your vehicle has broken down about 15 kilometres from your destination. Your visit’s a surprise so you’re not expected. There’s no internet service and your phone is dead. You’ve packed water and a little food in a backpack. What else should you take to be the hero of your own journey?”
The students huddled, discussing options.
“Compass,” suggested one.
“Pocket knife,” said another.
“I’d just add an ‘s’ — change that desert to dessert and she’s sweet.”
“You’re our hero,” the others agreed, laughing.
Note: ‘she’s sweet’ is an Australian saying for everything’s okay.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.
Next Saturday 17 April is Haiku Poetry Day. Why not prepare for the day, by reading and writing haiku during the week leading up to it, or for those of us in Australia still on school holidays, celebrate the week after. Of course, any time is good for reading and writing haiku — no excuse is needed.
What is Haiku?
Haiku is a short poem of only three lines with a very structured form. There only 17 syllables in the entire poem:
five on the first line
seven syllables come next
and five on the third
The purpose of the haiku is to capture a brief moment in time. Traditionally, it is written about the seasons but can be used to write poems on any topic. Haiku poetry often concludes with a feeling or observation. Sometimes the feeling is not explicit but is left for the reader to interpret.
What is a syllable?
Before you begin to teach your children to write haiku, they need to know what a syllable is. Whether you are teaching or revising syllables, readilearn has some resources to support you, including:
As usual, my thoughts turn to children and education. The one year later prompt made me think of the déjà vu situation that must occur when children are required to repeat a year at school.
This is my response to Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it. Below are the thoughts about repeating that led me here if you are interested.
Dear Mr Emu,
As Eddie performed below expectations on some tests, he must repeat next year.
Dear Mrs Grimbald,
Which tests did Eddie fail? I’ll bring him up to speed over the holidays.
Dear Mr Emu,
Eddie’s ground speed is unmatched. He failed lift-off.
Inability to lift-off is inherited. No one in Eddie’s family ever lifted-off. Advance him.
Dear Mr Emu,
Parents shouldn’t discuss limitations lest they become self-fulfilling.
Inability to lift-off does not limit Eddie any more than your inability to run limits you. Adjust your curriculum. Progress our Eddie.
Principal Grimbald huffed. How impertinent.
Thoughts about year level retention
I have never been one to suggest that a child repeat a grade at school and always reluctant to agree if suggested to me. If schools really espoused what they profess about children being at the centre of a process that recognises individual development and personalises education, there’d be no such thing as repetition of a grade level. In fact, there’d be no grades and children would learn what they were interested in at their own pace.
I saw a great poster recently (sadly, I didn’t keep it and can’t remember where) that said something like,
We teach children at their own pace and then use standardised tests to assess their progress.
It not only sounds crazy, it is crazy.
With our current system of graded classrooms, there will always be children who don’t achieve what’s expected by the end of the year. Repeating them may seem like we are recognising they haven’t achieved it ‘yet’ and are giving them extra time to do so. However, in most cases I have seen, it does little to enhance academic achievement and causes more damage to self-esteem than it is worth. Often it results in reduced expectations for the child. Centring education on the child rather than other-imposed content is long overdue.
As part of my studies of literacy acquisition and development, I worked with adults who had not yet learned to read — such a debilitating and often humiliating situation for them. These adults had low self-esteem, lacked confidence and little sense of self-worth. All claimed that they weren’t clever and apologised for not having done well in school. Each one admitted to having repeated a grade in school even though I hadn’t requested that information. I was saddened, not only that they were unable to read, but that they were still so weighed down by their repetition at school. I thought if school had failed anyone, it had failed them.
I saw the same thing in my role as a literacy support teacher for those not making the expected progress in primary school. Most of those requiring support in the upper year levels had already repeated a year of school. When asked what year they were in they would say something like, “I’m in year five. I should be in year six, but I got kept down in year two.” How sad that they had been crushed so early in life. I tried to reassure them that there was no need to explain or apologise. I felt if anyone should be apologising, it should be the system.
While these are my perceptions formed from my own experiences, research supports my thinking. I read only one paper, that by Brenda S. Tweed of East Tennessee State University, that appeared to show positive results of repeating. However, even in that paper, the importance of maintaining a repeating student’s self-esteem is recognised.
This paper, published by Frontiers in Psyschology, recognises grade retention as a more contentious issue and concludes, as do I, that it has a more lasting negative impact.
Similarly, an article published on Healthy Children.org responds to the question ‘Should my Child Repeat a Grade?’ with ‘Ideally, no. Repeating a grade―also known as “grade retention” ―has not been shown to help children learn. Children won’t outgrow learning and attention issues by repeating a grade. In fact, repeating a grade may contribute to long-term issues with low self-esteem, as well as emotional or social difficulties.’
In the paper To Repeat or Not to Repeat?, Dr Helen McGrath of Deakin University in Melbourne summarises the conclusions from research into repeating this way:
• Repeating does not improve academic outcomes
• Repeating contributes to poor mental health outcomes
• Repeating leads to poor long term social outcomes
• Repeating contributes to a negative attitude to school and learning
• Repeating results in students dropping out of school
• Repeating decreases the likelihood that a student will participate in post-secondaryschooling
• Repeated students demonstrate higher rates of behavioural problems
• There is no advantage to students in delaying school entry for a year in order to increase‘school readiness’
• There are huge costs associated with students repeating a year of schooling.
• Some students are more likely to be recommended to repeat than others
It seems that most of the research supports conclusions I drew from my observations. I’m sure you will all have your own opinions. Some of you may have repeated a class at school or have a child who has repeated or was recommended to repeat. I’d love to know what you think. As an educator, I couldn’t help sharing these thoughts and ideas that led to my flash fiction response to Charli’s prompt. I hope it now makes sense.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.
One of the things that brings most joy to our world, that inspires imagination and sparks creativity, is variety. The richness of our multicultural world is to be celebrated and the current recognition of the need for diverse picture books in which children from every culture and family background can find themselves is long overdue. The collection, though still small, is growing.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD) is an organisation that has been promoting multicultural children’s books for the past nine years. Founded by Valarie Budayr from Audrey Press Books and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom in 2012, MCBD has a mission ‘To raise awareness for children’s books that celebrate diversity by getting more of these books into classrooms and libraries. This non-profit also strives to shine the spotlight on the diverse books and authors that often get overlooked by mainstream publishing and media.’
On the last Friday of January each year, Multicultural Children’s Book Day is celebrated with reviews, promotions and other events. I have been delighted to join in the celebration of multicultural books by sharing reviews for the past three MCBDays.
I participated for the first time in 2019 with a review of I am Farmer by Baptiste and Miranda Paul with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon.
I Am Farmer is the story of Tantoh Nforba, an environmental hero in the central African nation of Cameroon. Tantoh was bullied as a child and nicknamed ‘Farmer’ for his interest in plants, the earth and nature. He now bears the name ‘Farmer’ proudly as he improves the lives of people in his own community, and others, by improving access to clean water and establishing productive gardening practices.
In 2020, I reviewed two books: The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm Tree written by Angeliki Stamatopoulou-Pederson and illustrated by Tety Swlou, and Ribbon’s Traveling Castle by Elizabeth Godley with illustrations by Paige M. Leyh.
The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm Treeis about Jacob who hears with the assistance of hearing aids. Jacob tells his friends how the aids help him hear better, just as glasses help people see better. He explains what they (the children) can do to help him hear and understand them better. As children’s understanding grows, so does their friendship.
Ribbon’s Traveling Castle is the story of a girl called Ribbon whose father was uncomfortable with the constantly changing world. He hitched their castle to a truck to take her somewhere happier. On their travels, Ribbon meets a cast of characters, all of whom are scared of changed. She invites them into her castle where they learn to accept change and find that life can still be fun.
This year, I once again had the pleasure of reviewing two books:
I don’t quite know how deep wishes got me to the marshmallow test which I previously wrote about here, but that’s where I landed. Maybe I was yearning for something sweet.
In the marshmallow test, children were left alone in a room with one enticing marshmallow on a plate in front of them. They were promised a second marshmallow if they didn’t eat the first before the examiner returned. The ways in which different children responded to the task were interesting and used for research into emotional intelligence and later success in life.
I had more altruistic goals in mind for the boy in my story, but in the end, he was more concerned with the present moment than life’s bigger issues. Children (and stories) don’t always turn out as you expect. I hope you enjoy it.
His eyes were as round as the cookie. He shuffled on his seat. His fingers twitched. They slow-walked to the plate and he quickly drew them back. His head bent low over the cookie. He inhaled. Deep. Long. No rule against that. He checked for dislodged crumbs. None. He sighed. The door handle rattled. He sat upright, shoved his hands beneath his buttocks and looked at the ceiling.
“You resisted,” said the examiner.
“Not even a crumb?’
He shook his head.
“Then you may have two cookies.”
“May I have something else, please? I don’t like chocolate.”
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.
With Easter just a few weeks away, I thought I’d remind you of the readilearn Easter-themed lessons and activities suitable for use with 5-7 year-old children, at school or at home. The Easter collection can be found in Cultural Studies here.
Easter in the classroom — some thoughts
When considering whether to include Easter activities in the classroom, it is important to realise that Easter may not be celebrated by all children and, even if it is, the importance and focus of the celebration may differ from family to family.
For children who don’t celebrate Easter, be sensitive to the expectations their families may have for their participation. Depending on the number, you may choose to avoid Easter activities or use the time to investigate other festivals celebrated by your families. However, unless you are in a religious school, most Easter activities will focus on eggs and bunnies or bilbies rather than religion, as do our readilearn resources. If you are in a religious school, then parents were aware of the focus when enrolling their children.
The lessons and activities mentioned in this post assume you have decided to include Easter in your program and are focusing on the secular celebration. While many of the Easter traditions focus on the new birth of spring, in the Southern Hemisphere, Easter occurs in autumn. Our readilearn Easter resources avoid focusing on the seasons for this reason.
How families celebrate Easter
The way of celebrating Easter will vary from family to family. Some go away for the weekend. Some stay at home. Some are visited by a bunny, some by a bilby. Some put out carrots for the bunny, some put out baskets for the bunny to put eggs in, some search for eggs in an Easter egg hunt.
It is always interesting to hear about different ways of celebrating so it is useful to begin with some discussion and writing.
Reading picture books to young children is one of the best ways I know of adding joy to the day. Anything that increases joy must be good for mental health, right? But for some children, the joy is momentary as they grapple with worries and other issues. Sometimes, it’s useful to find books that help children identify and discuss the things that trouble them in order for them to find a way out.
Michelle Worthington is an international award-winning author and screen play writer. Two-time winner of the International Book Award and finalist in the USA Best Book Awards, Michelle also received a Gellett Burgess Award and a Silver Moonbeam Award for her contribution to celebrating diversity in literature. Michelle addresses mental health through literacy with her picture books.
I previously introduced Michelle to you when I interviewed her about Super Nicholas, a picture book about a little boy with a big heart and a kindness superpower.
Maths is fun in the early childhood classroom as we count, measure and problem solve our way through the day. With the International Day of Mathematics coming up soon on 14 March, there’s no better time to think about ways of incorporating a little more maths into the daily program. While there are some suggestions on the International Day of Mathematics website, most of them are more suited to older children.
Here at readilearn we have over 100 mathematics lessons and activities ready to support your teaching and children’s learning. Many of the resources are digital lessons ready for you to teach on the interactive whiteboard. Some are printable activities to follow up and extend children’s learning, while others provide instructions and explanations for mathematical explorations.
Plan a party to celebrate
There’s nothing like a party to instigate some mathematical thinking.
If you decide to have a party to celebrate the day, you could start ahead with the interactive problem solving story Little Koala’s Party. In the story, children help Little Koala work out the number of guests as well as food and other items required for the party. They can use the same strategies to plan a party of their own. Other resources, like invitation notepaper and a paper hat template, help to extend the learning across curriculum areas.
While you might ask children to bring food from home to share at the party, following recipes together at school involves children in using mathematics in real and purposeful ways. They may need to count, and measure quantities as well as time. Recipes can be found in the Cooking section.
February is packed full of days to celebrate. The next few days are no exception. Here at readilearn, we support your celebrations with suggestions and lessons ready to teach.
Chinese New Year
Today 12 February is celebrated around the world as Chinese New Year. While the New Year celebrations may continue for up to sixteen days, today is the main day and it ushers in the Year of the Ox. Chinese New Year is a time for families to be, and celebrate, together.