Tag Archives: Flash fiction

Outdoor games

Being outdoors, especially in a natural area, is good for the body, mind, and spirit. It is so for children as it is for adults. It is great to incorporate outdoor activity into the daily routine, including the regular school day. With our beautiful Queensland weather, children get to play outdoors most lunchtimes. While one day of indoor play on a wet day is a novelty, more than one and we start to feel cooped up.

However, other than at lunch breaks, outdoor play is not always scheduled as part of the school routine as it is in Finland, where children have, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day.’

I support the premise of Finnish education that ‘Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning.’

They must also have benefits to health and happiness. In Where will the children play? I suggested that ‘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.’ The reason for this statement is the disagreements I’ve seen occur when children have nothing to play with and no ideas for creating games of their own. It seems that many of the games played in the not-so-long-ago days, before the invention of video games and television, have been lost to subsequent generations.

Johnny Automatic, cartoon of a girl and boy playing with a ball https://openclipart.org/detail/721/playing-ball

In Are you game?  I wrote about some of the ways playing games can contribute to the development of social skills such as:

  • Sharing
  • Taking turns
  • Cooperation
  • Following rules
  • Dealing with competition
  • Accepting a loss
  • Accepting a win graciously

When in the classroom, I incorporated some type of game, whether indoor or outdoor, small group or large group, into every day’s schedule. Some of these ideas I have already shared on the readilearn website, including instructions for How to play freeze. I recently added some Maths games and activities for the whole class #1  which include suggestions for playing outdoors, such as Odd and Even. (Both these resources are free!)

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is also talking about outdoor games. She mentioned childhood favourites; such as, tether tennis, hopscotch, hide-and-see, jump rope, and flashlight tag. As I do, Charli wonders how playing these games compares to playing screen games. I have to admit that I like both, but I think it would be great for children to learn how to play some of my childhood favourites; such as:

  • Drop the hanky
  • Cat and mouse
  • Red rover
  • Fly
  • Skipping
  • Elastics
  • Hula hoops
  • Ball tag (brandy)
  • Hide and seek
  • Tag (tiggy)
  • Spotlight (flashlight)
  • Ball games

I’m sure you could add others. You know, all games were invented by someone at some time, and it is fun to make up games of your own.  Give children a little equipment, or none, let them use their imaginations and see what games they can come up with.

I have ‘invented’ a few games over the years. Some of them are already available on readilearn, others are on the list of to-dos. They are not all outdoor games, there are a variety of board games. But Charli has specifically asked for outdoor games. She said,

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves playing an outdoor game, like tetherball, hoops, tag. It can be made up, traditional, cultural or any kind of twist. Go where the prompt leads.

This is my response. I hope you like it.

Wanna play?

From the verandah, the park looked enormous and inviting. The men, lugging boxes and furniture upstairs, stopped chatting. Mum bustled them too, ‘Here. Not there.’

‘Stay out of the way,’ she’d commanded. He suggested the park. ‘Not by yourself,’ she’d said.

He went anyway, crossing the wide road alone. He watched a group of kids kicking a ball around. They looked friendly, but… He glanced back at the house. Not missed. Would they let him play?

‘Hey, kid,’ one shouted. He turned to run. ‘Wait!’ called the voice. ‘Wanna play?’

Reassured by smiling faces, he joined in the game.

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

Is contentment compatible with a growth mindset?

I am quite a fan of the growth ‘not yet’ mindset which focuses on a belief in the ability to do and achieve more through persistence and hard work. I have previously written about this mindset in What do you have in mind? and in The power of not yet.

I wonder how compatible a growth mindset is with a complacency or acceptance of the way things are; a “This is it. I can’t do anything about it.” attitude.

When I think of contentment, I think of serenity, tranquillity, a feeling of peace and acceptance. I think of it as a positive state of mind. The dictionary defines it as:

Does this imply that there is no wish for things to be different?

I often talk about the importance of imagination and creativity to inspiring innovation and invention. But do they also require a certain degree of disequilibrium or discontent with the way things are? Is it necessary to find fault with something in order to improve upon it? How many gadgets do you use regularly, accepting their imperfections without a thought of how they might be improved? It is not necessary to have the ability to improve them in order to imagine how they might be improved.

A fun thing to do with children is to get them to think of an easier or more enjoyable way of conducting a routine activity. How about an alternative to the traditional, in Australia anyway, emu parade which has children criss-crossing the school grounds, bobbing up and down to pick up rubbish? How about something to carry their heavy back-packs home? Or something to do their homework? (Oh, that’s right, they’ve already invented parents for that!)  I’m sure children, and you, can imagine far more exciting improvements.

Imagination is the driver of innovation and change. But it also requires action. It is the action that gets us into the growth mindset; perseverance, hard work and repeated attempts. As Edison is oft quoted,

 “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

He also said,

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

I wonder how my friend Pauline King The Contented Crafter would respond to my title question. While I know she has reached a certain stage of contentment in her life, I also know that she strives to better her craft, and does what she can to make the world a better place. How much need for change or improvement can contentment tolerate?

Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch and her flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling content  got me wondering about this. Charli talked about moments of contentment sprinkled among frustrating events and dreams of change.

It helped me realise that, while they appear to be in contradiction, we need a little of both. We need to be happy with who we are, what we have, and what we have achieved; while at the same time, we need to be aware of what can and should be improved, and some strategies for action. Questioning is important to stimulate imagination, and when paired with creative thinking, innovation can occur. We need the inspiration of just one forward-thinker to lead us into the future.

The same balance between contentment and growth can be seen in children’s play. I have used it as my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

Purpose in play

They worked furiously as if with one mind; digging, piling, shaping, smoothing the sand.  As if on cue, two began to tunnel through from opposite sides, meeting in the middle. Others carved into the surface, forming window-like shapes. Sticks, leaves, and other found objects adorned the structure. Then, simultaneously, the work stopped. They glowed with collective admiration. But Than was not yet content. Something was missing. He swooped on a long twig and stuck it into the top, antenna-like. “For communicating with the mother ship,” he declared. Soon they were all feverishly adding other improvements to their alien craft.

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

 

 

A long shot

I love the opportunity of finding out something I didn’t know before, and because there is so much  that I don’t know, the opportunities seem to arise quite frequently. Perhaps if I’d taken more advantage of them in earlier years, there’d be less for me to know now, and I’d be more help on a trivia team.

Curiosity is an essential ingredient to learning and it is important for parents and teachers to encourage it in children, as well as themselves. Providing children with the opportunity of asking questions and helping them find out about what they want to know helps keep curiosity alive. Michael Rosen’s book Good Ideas: How to be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher has many wonderful suggestions for doing just that. I wrote about that before here and here.

Over the past few weeks, I have felt increasingly challenged by the flash fiction prompts dished out by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. This week she had me (almost) completely stumped with her challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a (story) that includes the word longhorn. Charli’s in Kansas at the moment, and her reference is to longhorn cattle, a breed not familiar to most Australians. I was aware of a longhorn beetle, but knew little about them too.

Observing photographs of longhorn cattle, these were my thoughts:

  • Aren’t those horns heavy? How do they hold their heads up?
  • Wouldn’t the horns be dangerous – to the horn owner, as well as to others?
  • What would happen if the animals tried to move through scrub? They could get caught between trees, or knock their horns off.
  • What is the purpose of the long horns?
  • Imagine giving birth to something with horns like that!
  • Are they bred for beef or diary?

How could I write anything without doing a little research?

Fortunately, research is no longer as difficult as it was when I was a child. Press a few buttons on the computer, and a world of information awaits. My first stop was Wikipedia, but I investigated other sites too, including The Longhorn Cattle Society and Texas Longhorns. Here’s some of what I discovered in answer to my questions:

  • Longhorns are the descendants of the first cattle to arrive in the Americas with Christopher Columbus and Spanish colonists. Many escaped or were set free on the plains and were mostly feral for about two hundred years.
  • Horns form part of the skull and are difficult to weigh on a live animal. As the horns may continue to grow for several years, there are some differences, and steer horns are usually longer (and presumably heavier) that those of bulls and cows.
  • Horns start to grow at about three weeks. Phew – after birth! In fact, The Longhorn Cattle Society states that the cows are great breeders and have few calving problems.
  • Although the cattle may appear dangerous with their large horns, they are actually quite docile. However, they may experience damage to their horns if they are kept in confined spaces.
  • According to Texas Longhorns, the horns are considered non-functional. I can’t imagine walking around with something that appears so heavy and unwieldy on my head, just for adornment!
  • The cattle have many advantages, just some of which include ease of breeding, longevity and disease resistance. They produce lean meat and cheese has been produced from their milk.
  • There are some Longhorns in Australia, even an association for Texas Longhorns.

In my explorations, I was surprised to find this article which tells of an Australian Longhorn JR that earned a position in the 2013 Guinness Book of Records for the longest horns.

JR was pipped at the post in 2014 by Lazy J’s Bluegrass with horns measuring 297.8 cm (117.25 in)

Watch Bluegrass here.

The owner says his horns probably weigh about 200 to 300 lbs (90 to 136 kg)!

I hope you enjoyed finding out about longhorn cattle as much as I did. Or maybe you already knew. When I read that many of the cattle had escaped or been released onto the plains by early settlers, I was reminded of the cow experience on the farm when I was a child.

Holy Cow! It’s a long shot

The enclosure was built, the hay delivered, the trough filled. We children watched from the rails, as Dad and Mum manoeuvred Cow #1 into the yard.

Everyone clambered to be first to milk her.

“We can all milk her – in the morning,” assured Dad.

But in the morning, the cow was gone. The gate lay crumpled on the ground.

A stronger gate contained Cow #2, but she squeezed under the fence.

More repairs must secure Cow #3? She jumped over to flee.

Defeated, Mum replenished her powdered supply, and we kids never learned to milk.

Should’ve got a longhorn?

For a fun picture book (also based on a true story) about a cow, without any horns, check out A Particular Cow written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Terry Denton. It’s hilarious!

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

Fair trade – what’s it to you?

What do you think of when you hear the word “trading”?

International trade? Stock market trading? Trading one item for another? Perhaps a Trade Fair, or selling items at a market stall? Trading as your *business name*? Maybe you are committed to purchasing “Fair Trade” in support of the  World Fair Trade Organisation’s aim of making international trade more equitable?

As an early childhood teacher, I think of trading games that we use in maths lessons to help children understand place value. In our decimal system, we use ten digits in various combinations to represent numbers. Placement of each digit is vital; for example, 290 is very different from 902.

Without a firm understanding of place value, it is difficult to work with numbers efficiently. I believe that many difficulties with number stem from insufficient understanding of place value. Children need to experience numbers in a variety of contexts to fully understand the decimal system.

For younger children just beginning to learn about two-digit numbers, we may connect interlocking blocks or bundle popsticks to form groups of ten.

 

When children have a firm understanding of the grouping process, and the way the numbers are represented with two digits, they move to a similar process with numbers over one hundred. It is at this time that we introduce trading.

Instead of using interlocking cubes or other items that can be linked or bundled, ten individual cubes are traded for one ten, and ten tens are traded for a one hundred flat, and so on.

I feel so strongly about the importance of children learning place value, that I have made a variety of resources for teaching it. The resources, available from readilearn; include:

Beginning place value – the train game

Race to 99 – A place value game for maths groups

The interactive resources

Let’s read 2-digit numbers

and Let’s write 2-digit numbers

Playing games has always been a favourite activity for me, and always popular for family gatherings. We’d quite often we’d spend holidays, like Christmas and Easter, when the children were growing up, playing board games or card games. One of our favourite games, especially if there were larger numbers of people (up to ten) was a trading game called “Billionaire”. It is a raucous game. Everyone is engaged all the time. Play involves trading cards (commodities) with each other, and this involves much shouting (over the top of each other) and laughter. If you have never played it, but enjoy games, and have a group of four or more to play, I highly recommend it. (Sorry, I couldn’t find it to add a photo. It’s hidden away in the games cupboard somewhere.)

I couldn’t write about trading without mentioning Jack and the Beanstalk. Mother sends Jack off to the market to sell the cow. Along the way, he meets a man with a handful of “magic” beans which he offers to trade for the cow. Not having heard the saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, Jack agrees. Of course, Mother is none too pleased and throws the seeds out the window. But, as the story shows, Jack was right to trade and rewarded for his ignorance of the oft-touted adage. (The story also raises other issues regarding trespass, theft, and causing fatal injuries. But we won’t go there this time.)

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about trading. It can be the profession of old or of modern day traders on Wall Street. It can be trading places or lunches at school. What is traded? Is it a fair deal or a dupe? Trade away and go where the prompt leads you.

For my response I’ve ended up in the playground yet again. It involves a little trading of cards, but more a trading of power. I hope it works.

Trade fair

Cards, were coveted like gold. To belong, one was enough; more better. Each lunchtime the boys showed off new acquisitions, compared intelligence and strength points, and traded duplicates. Fair and friendly battles pitted minds, the winner claiming card supremacy. Then bully Boris won, and none dared challenge. Until Justin, tired of Boris’s tactics, dared.  The group gasped. It seemed Justin would be crushed. But clever cardless Frank slipped in and showed the winning move.  Boris growled, “Inadmissible” and threatened repercussions. Defiant, Justin handed Frank a card, bestowing membership. Empowered, each boy followed, declaring Frank the Master, and trading opened.

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

 

Navel contemplation

In a recent post But Why? I wrote about the importance of curiosity, imagination, and creativity. I included all three in a flash fiction story that included an imaginary friend.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

I thought I’d try for all three again.

Navel contemplation

Billy watched Mother bathe Baby.

“What’s that?”

“The last bit of his umbilical cord. Soon it will fall off, and he’ll have a belly button, just like you.”

Billy lifted his shirt to inspect.

“What’s billy cor?”

“Umbilical cord – it’s where Baby was joined to me before he was born. Everyone has one.”

“Everyone?”

“Everyone with a mother.”

“So, Silas don’t have belly button.”

“Silas would have a belly button. Everyone has.”

“But Silas don’t have a mum.”

“Oh. But he would have had a mum. When he was born.”

“Nope. Not born. I made him up.”

What do you think? Did or do friends, born of imagination, have mothers if we choose to not give them one? Does the answer to this question impact the existence of belly buttons in imaginary friends?

At the conclusion of the previous story, I suggested that “Perhaps there are some things for which we may never know the answers; for example, Can imaginary friends die?”

I thank you for your responses, especially one questioning whether I have ever killed an imaginary character in a story. Something for me to ponder. I don’t think I have. Would I do that?

In her post, Charli also writes about dying, or what happens afterwards anyway, especially with cremation and “wildcat scattering”. I often, occasionally, sometimes, contemplate what may happen to my body when I’m finished with it, or it’s finished with me, whichever comes first. Or is it the same thing?

I would like an environmentally friendly disposal of my remains and hope that, by the time action needs to be taken, there are many such options available. At the moment, there seem to be few, so I was interested to listen to this TED talk. I thought you might enjoy it too.

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

Are you coming or going?

© Norah Colvin

My mother used to sometimes say that she didn’t know whether she was coming or going, meaning that she was a bit frazzled with too much to do and too little time. With a small house filled ten children, is it any wonder?

Sometimes when asked “How are you going?” meaning “How are you going in life?” or simply, “How are you?” people respond, “Getting there”. Sometimes I wonder where they are getting, and wonder if they know too.

But does it matter? Is it important to know where we are getting? Is not there joy in the journey itself? What if the “there” turns out to be totally unexpected, a surprise? I have no idea where I’ll be after the door on this life’s journey closes. I hope it’s a pleasant surprise, but I’m more inclined to think it will be no surprise at all. This convinces me that it is important to enjoy the journey whether we’re coming or going or anywhere in between.

One of the purposes of education is to support people along their life’s journey, regardless of where they came from or where they are going.  I previously wrote about some issues affecting itinerant families in This too will pass. Saying goodbye to friends, if indeed there has been time to establish friendships can be difficult; so too the establishment of new friendships at each next place.

Robbie Cheadle, who blogs at Robbie’s Inspiration, recently shared her experiences in a comment on the readilearn blog. She said, “I changed schools 14 times during my primary school years and it was very hard. I was always the new girl and always having to start over. It does teach you to get on with people and to be resilient.” Robbie obviously learned to do so, but it doesn’t happen that way for all.

Sherri Matthews, another friend from the S.M.A.G. community, who blogs at A View from my Summerhouse recently shared her excitement at the publication of her essay Promise of a Rose Garden in Lady by the River: Stories of Perseverance, “a collection of  personal stories about facing everyday challenges”. This is a wonderful book and I have no hesitation in recommending it to you.

In her moving story, Sherri describes “having her heart ripped out” at ten years of age when she realises that the goodbyes exchanged between herself and her father as she left for school were more permanent than she expected. She says she kept her feelings inside, telling no one how she felt about her mother leaving her father. She says, “I cried alone at night, missing my dad so much that I thought my heart would break”.

These two experiences alone demonstrate that we may never know just what the children in our classrooms are experiencing. They may keep their feelings inside, not wanting to share. This is particularly so when the time that could be used for getting to know each other is pushed out to accommodate more drill and practice and standardised testing.

No child’s situation is the same as any other. There is no standard experience that puts everyone in the same spot on the graph at the same time. We need to make the effort to get to know individuals and to tailor the situation to their needs. This means providing opportunities for them to share their experiences, discuss their feelings, and follow their interests.

Of course, children should never be pressured to share more than they are comfortable with, but an open, welcoming, supportive classroom will provide them with a refuge from other issues that may confront them. I seem to keep returning to this point: the importance of a warm, welcoming, supportive classroom. I’m like a broken record, stuck in that groove. But it is the relationships that are vital and of greatest influence to a child’s ability to learn.

There are many simple activities which can be incorporated into the school day to help build community. I’ve talked before about the way I used to do the roll, with each child standing in turn to greet classmates. How much more effective it may have been had children said “good morning” in their mother tongue, teaching others the greeting, and receiving it in response. Children enjoy learning words from other languages.  What a great celebration of diversity this would be.

It was these thoughts that went around and around in my head this week when Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a hello or a goodbye. You can pick any greeting that grabs you from howdy to fare thee well. It will be interesting to see how the collection intertwines the opposite greetings. Charli herself has experienced a series of hellos and goodbyes in recent times, with another goodbye imminent.

For my goodbye story, I have taken another turn and gone full circle. I hope you like it.

Round and round

He felt tall, grown up, sitting in the saddle, holding the reins, feet in the stirrups.

Mum was watching.

“Hold tight,” she whispered. “Love you.”

He smiled.  Then they were off. He turned, letting go quickly to wave one hand.

“Goodbye,” he called. His lip quivered. How soon before he’d see her again? He turned, but she’d disappeared.

Suddenly she was in front of him.

“Hello,” she called.

“Hello,” he smiled.

Again, she was gone. “Goodbye,” he heard; then “Hello again!” He giggled.

“Going around in circles,” she thought. “Life’s like a carousel. You’ve got to enjoy the ride.”

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

Can you imagine a world without The Arts?

Salvador Dalí [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How much time do you think should be devoted to the creative arts in school? How much time do you think is spent on creative arts in school? Is it a match?

The arts include such things as:

  • Visual Arts
  • Drama
  • Music
  • Dance

Educational policies promote The Arts for their potential to develop creativity and critical thinking. For example, the rationale for The Arts in the Australian Curriculum states that

“The arts have the capacity to engage, inspire and enrich all students, exciting the imagination and encouraging them to reach their creative and expressive potential.”

Creativity and critical thinking are mentioned first in the aims.

How do The Arts contribute to our world?

If nothing else, they add beauty to uplift and inspire. In many ways, they are time capsules, carrying stories from the past through our present and into the future. While I am neither artist nor art connoisseur, I see the value in each form and the importance of sharing them with younger generations.  I also consider it important for young children to have freedom to explore each of the arts as a medium of self-expression.

I have shared some thoughts about each of the arts in previous posts, including

Let’s Dance!

image courtesy of openclipart.org

I’ve got the music in me!

Imagine that!

and introduced you to some amazing illustrators including Jeannie Baker, Kim Michelle Toft, Narelle Oliver, Helene Magisson. Today I have received two beautiful picture books illustrated by the very talented Muza Ulasowski who I’ll be interviewing later this year.

At the Carrot Ranch this week Charli Mills challenges us to consider what a nation may be like if art was gone. The picture she creates of a possible “post-truth era dystopian” future is not pretty. I’m not into dystopian futures where “everything is unpleasant or bad”. Tell me, we’re not there yet, are we?

Although The Arts get a good rap in the Australian Curriculum, and other curricula too I’m sure, many teachers grumble that time for creativity and the arts is pushed out as schools focus on the formal tests that pit school against school, state against state, and country against country.

Hopefully that situation is not as dire in early childhood situations. Fortunately, young children are constantly exposed to some aspects of the visual arts through beautifully illustrated picture books. Hopefully they also enjoy copious amounts of music, song, and movement each day, and lots of time for imaginative play. How much more than that, and how much time for self-expression, may vary from school to school and teacher to teacher.

Involvement in art programs can also be therapeutic, giving children opportunities for quiet, almost meditative times, in which they can turn off their brains for a little while, relax, and express themselves.

For Marnie, a character I have been developing through responses to Charli’s flash fiction prompts, art is more than just a release. Art classes with her favourite teacher Miss R., who sees and encourages the possibilities and potential that lie within, offer her welcome respites from the harshness of her reality.

I introduced this notion in a flash piece Safety, and extended the idea in a longer piece The story behind brown paint.

In this response to Charli’s prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? I have considered what it might be like for Marnie should her should she be robbed of her treasured art class. I hope you enjoy it.

No Art

She’d survived! In just minutes, art class with Miss R. Without Art today, she’d be somewhere else; anywhere. Or nowhere. Breathing deeply, imagining sunshine and calm waters, as Miss R. taught, helped quell the warmth rising from her feet, threatening to explode her heart and head. Somehow she’d avoided Brucie and his bully mates, escaping their lunchtime taunts. Now Art: sanctuary. Suddenly, tears obliterated hope as she read: “No Art today. Classes cancelled.” Where was that white rabbit with a hole down which she could disappear?

Later, during class, Miss R. asked, “Has anyone seen Marnie?” Brucie just smirked.

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