Take Flight #flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write an escape. It can be daring or subtle. Who is escaping from what and why? Go where the prompt leads!

One of my favourite times of year as a teacher was springtime when we had a butterfly house in the classroom and watched the tiny caterpillars strip the plants of their leaves as they grew bigger and bigger on their journey to becoming butterflies. It was an almost magical experience to watch the caterpillars pupate and then, days later, emerge from their chrysalises as butterflies. I never tired of watching it and I was lucky to see it year after year while the children only got to see it when they were with me. (Though many came back to visit in following years, still mesmerised by the process.)

I am fascinated by metamorphosis. I view it as a hopeful process and consider it an analogy for our own ability to make change in our lives. It is also often used as an analogy for a transition that may occur, according to one’s belief, after death.

I often wonder what life must be like for the caterpillar, what occurs during metamorphosis, and the delight that must be felt when emerging as a butterfly. I have written many previous posts and flash fictions featuring butterflies but, as I said, I never tire of it. I hope you don’t either. Here’s my response to Charli’s prompt.

Take Flight

One day followed another — everyone in uniform, head down, following unwritten rules known by heart. Only Olive questioned, “Why?” She longed for adventure. Blue skies whispered promises on gentle breezes that rustled leaves and tantalised with sweet exotic perfumes. Her tastebuds rebelled. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, take another bite. She crawled into a shell and hoped to sleep for ever. Kaleidoscopic dreams flitted in a mash of memories and futuristic movie scenes. What was real and what imagined? She awoke renewed, seeing the world as if from other eyes. She unfurled her wings and flew to kiss the welcoming skies.

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Winning Story — Seeking Peace #flashfiction

I recently entered the Sue Vincent Classic Rodeo at the Carrot Ranch and was both surprised and delighted for my entry to be awarded first prize. You can read about other place getters here and all entries here.

The competition asked for 99-words stories with a beginning, middle and end to be written in response to this photo of Sue’s.

Here is my winning entry. I hope you enjoy it.

Seeking Peace

They stopped on a verge overlooking the valley.

“It’s beautiful, Dad. And so big. You said it was small.”

“Not small in size, son. Small in mind.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Folks round here didn’t want your mum and me getting married. They threatened to keep us apart. Cruel words were spoken. We left and never returned.”

“Why’re we coming back?”

“Your mother asked us — to make peace. Before it’s too late.”

“Like it is for her?” His voice trembled.

“Yeah.” He rubbed the boy’s head.

“Will we?”

“We’ll know soon enough.”

He inched the car towards the village.

***

Here is what the judges said about it.

“This author nailed a response to a photo challenge with the opening line, taking the reader from photo to story with an economy of words. This is a smart strategy when you only have 99 words or 99 syllables. We step out of the image into the lives of a father and son. The dialog is clear, sharp, and tells the story of loss and hopeful redemption. The judges appreciated a place not small in size but small in mind. That single concept conveys much. A well-crafted story with emotion and purpose takes ownership of the photo.”

What do you think? Do you agree?

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

A Story Reading for Easter – Readilearn

Easter Delivery is a story about Bilby twins Benny and Belinda who are excited to be old enough to make their first Easter delivery on their own. Before they are allowed to go out, they must prove to Mother and Father Bilby that they are capable of following instructions and delivering just the right number of Easter eggs for each family.

This video provides a brief introduction to the story.

The story encourages children to join in helping Benny and Belinda work out the number of Easter eggs required for each family and choosing which boxes or packs of eggs to leave. It is most suited for use on an interactive whiteboard with a small group or class of children, or on a computer with one or two children.

It can also be used interactively with children if teaching over Zoom as explained in this video.

In this next video, I read the story for you and your children to enjoy.

Continue reading: A Story Reading for Easter – Readilearn

A Year that Was flash fiction

A Year that Was #flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that takes place a year later. It can be any year. Explore the past year or another significant passing of time to a character. Go where the prompt leads!

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.

Bird School

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.

Mrs Grimbald,

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.

Grimbald,

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-secondary schooling

• 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

Similar findings are also reported by the Victorian Department of Education, Australia.

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.

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Announcing the WINNERS of the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic

The results of the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic are out. You’ll never guess who won. You’ll have to pop over to see.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

When the Rodeo came to town, Rough Writers from around the world answered the call. You came, you sat in the saddle, you rode the bull, and you joined the parade.

Most important, you were inspired by our wonderful friend, Sue Vincent. Sue has been battling terminal cancer, and we’re thrilled that she is around to see the winners (though I admit I cheated and let her know the top winner a little early). Participants were allowed and encouraged to donate to help Sue and her family, but we believe the photo she provided as the prompt was worthy of any prize. Her photo prompted 63 wonderful 99 word stories and 99 syllable poems; if the average picture is worth 1,000 words, then we can be certain her prompt is way above average!

The Sue Vincent Rodeo Challenge Prompt

When speaking with Sue following the contest, we learned that…

View original post 1,928 more words

multicultural children's picture books

Picture it in Books – Our Multicultural World – #readilearn

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 Tree is 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:

Continue reading: Picture it in Books – Our Multicultural World – readilearn

Deep Wishes - the marshmallow test

Deep Wishes #Flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about deep wishes. Where is the deep — in the sky, the ground, or outer space? What kind of wishes reside there for whom and why? Go where the prompt leads!

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.

Something Else

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.

He nodded.

“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 blog post

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Easter lessons and activities for the first three years of school

Easter lessons and activities for the first three years of school – #readilearn

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.

If you have already investigated Family traditions and celebrations, you will know which children celebrate Easter and which do not.

If you haven’t, you could use the Yes/No survey, Do you celebrate Easter? to find out.

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.

Talking and Writing

Recounts and personal experiences

Continue reading: Easter lessons and activities for the first three years of school – readilearn

improving children's mental health with picture books by Michelle Worthington

Improving mental health with picture books by Michelle Worthington – #readilearn

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.

In this post, part of a Books on Tour Promotion, I share two books written by Michelle Worthington and illustrated by Adyna Ferre. The books are published by Daisy Lane Publishing for the Willing Kids Program which aims to improve literacy through improving mental health and mental health through literacy.

About author Michelle Worthington

Michelle Worthington author

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.

About the books

Continue reading: Improving mental health with picture books by Michelle Worthington – readilearn