Llama Llama Red Pajama somehow flew under the radar for me. I only discovered it when the author, Anna Dewdney, unfortunately passed away. It still took me until very recently to read it. Which is such a shame because I absolutely love it. I think I might even say it is my new favourite book. I was laughing out loud reading it to my kids, because I AM MAMA LLAMA!
Sleep is such a funny thing. As a kid you never want to go to sleep. As a young adult you stay up super late or all night with no real repercussion. You reach your late 20s/early 30s and you are now nicely settled into an early bed routine (maybe that was just me? I don't know) and properly appreciate a good sleep. Then you have kids and you miiiiiiiiss your sleep. I don't think I've slept for 8 hours straight in 5 years.
It is my own fault. I know that and I am not complaining. I did not want to sleep train (good for you if you did, we all make choices that work for us). We had the babies in the room with us for a long time. I breastfed all night long. Like every hour. For a long time. To be fair, once each kid reached around 1 year old, they were both pretty great sleepers. It is just all those things that come up and make them temporarily bad sleepers again. Like teething. Illness. Developing asthma. Getting rid of a dummy/pacifier. Transitioning to a bigger bed. Moving siblings into a room together. Moving house. Potty training. Nearby construction. Hot weather. Cold weather. Learning about monsters...the list could go on.
Aside from all the bumps in the road of sleep, there is the monumental task of actually getting them to drift off. I know some friends who after reading books, stick kids in their beds and walk out of the room. Job done. I know some who lay and cuddle kids for an hour until they fall asleep. I suppose in our house we fall somewhere in the middle. We could probably be a bit better at bedtimes. We probably let the kids drag it out longer than necessary. Part of me doesn't want to rush bedtime because they are only little for such a short time. Of course I have days where bedtime seems never ending so I leave the room and end up with little llama's screaming mummy, filling me with guilt as I pour a large glass of wine!
So it's those days, the off ones where bedtime isn't a smooth as it could be, that inspired me to focus on bedtime books this week. We've read them a million times but have never really done more with them. Maybe, just maybe, a little learning linked to these books about peaceful bedtime routines could help us out. We shall see.
Listed below are the books I am aiming to cover this week and a brief breakdown of some activities I thought would link nicely to them. As usual, I will post our activities on Instagram with more detailed descriptions of each task.
1) Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
I thought we'd start with some simple fun stuff. We love to play 'spot the mouse' in this book, so I'm going to create a 'spot the alphabet' hunt around the house for E. I thought a nice activity for both kids to do together is to remake the book within their own room - so take pictures of their room, then print them and create a similar story to read at night. Since F has been doing a lot of rhyming in school lately, we can pull out rhyming words from the story. Then I also want to look at the clocks on each page of the book and work out how long it take the bunny to sleep! If we feel scientific, we might even talk about how the moon rises on each page.
2) Mortimer by Robert Munsch
This book seems perfect for a little problem solving task. I want F to think about why Mortimer does what he does. Then I want him to think of what the family could do differently. Next, for both kids I thought it would be fun to write a new song for Mortimer (need to prepare myself for them singing it at bedtime though!). Then I thought we could even make music to go with it.
3) Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
When little llama starts to freak out, he does some great actions I thought my little guy would have fun copying. I might even go so far as have him use actions to retell the story and get big bro involved. As with many of these books, there are wonderful rhymes, so will work on those with F some more. Since F often claims he is scared on his own at night, I thought it would be a good idea to look at fear related to the dark and what little llama is scared of in the story.
4) The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
For a bit of fun and vocabulary building, I want to have E try on big/medium/small clothes. The animals in the book follow a nice little routine, so I want to discuss our own routine and see if the kids want to change anything or add to it. For a bit of physical activity I want them to try out each exercise the animals do (probably not right before bed though!). We might try a bit of yoga or stretching at bedtime, depending on what they decide they'd like to do. I also want to highlight how the animals HANG UP THEIR OWN TOWELS!! Maybe that will inspire my kids try hanging things up. Just once even. Doesn't even have to be hung up. Let's just aim for not on the floor. That would be dreamy.
5) Bedtime for Peppa
So this obnoxious little piglet has made her way back into our lives. F went through a Peppa phase when he was little. It lasted 6 months and I haven't been happier for a phase of his to end! Now E has discovered her. We are trying hard to stick to books and not TV, which make her a little more bearable. To be fair, they often have really nice social stories about home life that kids relate to. This one in particular lays out the bedtime routine really well. To finish our bedtime book theme, I want to make a bedtime checklist together that involves how long each activity should (reasonably) last, decide how many books we can read or how long mummy/daddy stay in the room, how many songs are sung etc. Then we can make it up in a visual way for us to use each night. I'll be sure to report back if it works out!
Anyone else have tips for what works in their house? I am open to suggestions!
I started this blog to motivate myself to create more interesting and meaningful play for my kids. I suppose it was also to get myself to document more of what my kids do at home day to day. Looking back over the past two months, I think I have done just that. It certainly makes my days busier and more hectic, but in a good way. When I was a classroom teacher, my life was insane! I was at school from 7am until 4pm most days. I rushed home for a short play, then dinner and bedtime routine. Once bubs was settled, I would sit up marking and/or creating resources all night. Saturdays were devoted to kids but Sundays were once again planning/resourcing/marking. I spent hours creating fun learning opportunities for other people's children. It felt like I could never catch up with my own life and the time with my kids didn't always feel like it was 'quality'. Hence our decision to move back to Canada and for me to stop teaching (for a while).
When we first got to Canada, there were a lot of other things keeping us busy. We had to sort out our living situation, unpack, complete multiple renovations, catch up with old friends, visit relatives, sort out health care, schooling, find jobs etc. Just getting 'life' working seemed to take months. Actually, about half a year!
I have digressed, as usual. I just wanted to say that I'm happy with the direction this blog has taken. I'm sure everyone starting a blog has a number of hesitations and direction changes as they move along.
I used to love planning school lessons and units around books. I wasn't quite sure I could make it work at home, but I think I'm getting there. Usually an idea pops into my head as we are reading books together before bed. After they are asleep, I will sit and plan some play activities to follow up with over the next few days and then revisit the book again to really link the ideas together. The other way I've been planning is using a current interest of theirs and then visiting the bookshelf or library to find books that relate.
My toddler is a huge fan of all things on wheels at the moment - especially construction vehicles and emergency vehicles. And trains. And planes. Okay, anything on wheels. Lately he has been going around and putting out fake fires, which always makes us giggle. Out of nowhere he shouts, 'Fire!' and then uses his arm like a hose and makes a 'shhhhhh' noise of water spraying. So I thought I would plan some stuff around that. We really lucked out last weekend when we went to an event where all the city works vehicles were there and the kids got to climb inside them all (fire trucks, diggers, garbage trucks, you name it). They also got all sorts of cool little handouts like plastic firemen hats, activity books and build your own fire trucks.
So to start my fire truck theme, I set up an invitation to play. I included lots of things to manipulate like letters, wooden blocks, little people, various fire trucks, tissue paper fires, a library book we got about fire stations, the build your own fire truck from city event and of course the fire hats. Since my older one was home, the play took a turn towards building. They put fire out by smashing the blocks down and then rebuilt them over and over. It is funny how differently my toddler will play when he is alone and when he is guided by his sibling's influence.
Later on I got out our string activity book which has a fire truck page (picture above). They did that together really cooperatively. We also worked through one of the fire activity books that was handed out on the weekend. There was a lot about fire safety in it, so I am planning a bit of hands on fire safety. I am hoping to build a fire together outside and discuss how to keep safe around it. This will be good preparation for being around camp fires this summer! I'm also planning a few outside games with our water pump/squirters. Not sure what I will build yet, but something that resembles a fire that they can aim for and knock over. I'm sure it will turn into some wet sensory play all on its own. For a more physical activity, I want to set up a fire person challenge - a little obstacle course that will involve climbing a ladder at the end. Finally for a quiet activity aimed at my toddler I want to try and sort out some objects into groups of 'hot', 'cold' and 'warm'. The in-between category is pretty tricky for him, so I thought this was a perfect time to review it with him. Of course I'd like to throw in some kind creative/messy arts and crafts, but that idea is still in the works.
As usual I'll be posting all my ideas on Instagram, so please do check it out for updates! I hope loosely explaining my planning process helps someone else in a small way! I'm always interested in seeing and hearing other peoples ideas and how they come up with them. That is probably why Instagram and Pinterest are such guilty pleasures!
London holds a special place in my heart. Both of my children were born there and many great friends remain there. Last weekend marks one year since we left, so I thought it was a good time to pull out all our favourite books about London and take a little walk down memory lane. Kids have such a funny sense of time - a year, a month, a week, an hour. My 4 year old is sort of getting a better grasp of it but it is still hard to explain just how long a year really is. I suppose I am not much better. It feels like a life time since we left but also like yesterday.
Whenever I strike up a conversation with a stranger (like today in the library with a fellow mum), my 'sort of' newness to the area comes up. Then of course London comes up and always the same question - "Why did you leave?". That is a pretty hard question. I love London. It is such an amazing city and there was so much to do with kids there. We lived in a lovely suburb. I could walk absolutely everywhere (I don't drive). We could pop over to Europe for the weekend. I could go on and on.
Unfortunately we weren't close to any family and as we added to our brood, we started talking about moving 'home'. My kids could grow up with cousins and grandparents around them and that meant a lot to me. Also a teacher, I didn't really want my kids in the English school system. Don't get me wrong - I know a million brilliant teachers over there. It is more because of the constant change from the government, the pressure from inspections and the impossible workload put on teachers.
So that was it. We discussed it and kind of just did it. I started selling off our household items. We began the application process for residency for my other half. I booked a shipping container. We arranged flights. Then it sort of just happened. I was so sad leading up to the move, that it was like living in a blur. My youngest turned 1, just three weeks before we left and it was such a bittersweet celebration. Luckily we had a 2 week trip to France and a wedding of a good friend to attend before the actual move to Canada. That helped ease the transition a little bit.
It was still super tough though. When we arrived in Canada, it took months for my 4 year old to stop begging us to return or to tell me how much he missed his friends. You can plan all the activities in the world to distract a kid, but that won't stop them from feeling lonely. It broke my heart. It made the transition harder. Luckily little ones make friends quickly and soon move on. We have new friends and new jobs and have settled into life. Most importantly, I have more time with my kids, which was a big part of the move.
Sitting here a year on, we turn to books now to keep London and its memories alive in our kids' minds. We will go back one day with them, but for now we'll flip through the pages of these lovely books. Each page let's us tell our own family's story. Each page helps us reminisce.
Keep an eye out on our Instagram page for some of the activities we do that relate to each of these London books.
My son loves making books at the minute. Nearly everyday over the past month, he comes home from kindergarten with a book he made. On weekends he makes books. Before bed, he makes books. He has made books about seaweed. He has made books about sand. He has made books about dinosaurs. Lately, he makes books about Dogman (by the author of Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey) even though he hasn't read it yet. Sometimes the books have pictures and words. Sometimes just pictures. Either way, I love them. He is always so proud of them and I really want to encourage that pride with anything he makes. I also want to encourage any connection and love he has with/for books and reading!
I had been trying to think of a way to take his current book making obsession and create an activity for us to do together. Last weekend we ended up at Home Depot, of all places, and a great idea popped into my head.
Mark making or putting pen/crayon/pencil to paper, whatever you want to call it, was never something my boys had much interest in when they were young. If we talk about table activities - then mine love crafts and painting, cutting and pasting, gluing and sticking, but are/were not huge colouring fans or 'mark making' fans. My 4 year old started kindergarten and still wasn't interested. A tiny piece of me worried a bit, as much as I told myself not to. A few months into kindergarten though and he was writing up a storm. His letters are hard to read and all over the place with size and shape, but that part really doesn't worry me. He likes writing. That matters. He enjoys it. That matters.
I thought with my younger one perhaps I needed to present more opportunities to draw and colour. I was on the ball with early letter recognition (see my last post about having the alphabet in about a hundred places in our house) but maybe I didn't pull out the pencil enough? Who knows...it is all trial and error with parenting because each kid is so different.
“Are you asking your children questions while reading?” is one of the first things I ask parents when I do home consultations. Most parents say yes. It comes naturally to people, which is great, since it is such an important part of learning to read and understand language. When I first started running small preschool ‘reading’ groups, people thought I was going to have 3 year olds memorising sight words or something similar. Far from it!
Early reading skills really have nothing to do with reading words. There is so much that needs to come before that and can be done easily every day at home. Little ones need to listen to stories; interact with stories; have stories come alive with puppets or toys or silly voices; develop their own interest in stories; start to understand that letters and words have meaning and make sounds; mimic sounds; hunt for and point out objects on pages and be thinking about what they see and hear.
So ask them questions! You probably already are, but it is good to note that there are different kinds of questions.
As a Year 6 teacher in the UK, I had the (unfortunate) experience of helping kids prepare for the national tests that are given before leaving primary school. That meant that teaching became very technical and every skill was picked apart and analysed. Although I hated the tests, the preparation did help me understand where children were lacking in their reading skills (after being in full time school for 7 years). More often than not, children struggled to answer questions that required them to think beyond the literal and obvious. I place part of the blame on inexperienced or unsupported teachers. I frequently observed teachers leading guided reading with groups of younger children and found that they focused on 3 things: sounding out individual words, reading with expression in their voice and answering very straight forward literal questions. I was recently in a grade 5 gifted classroom and was a bit shocked to see the students handed a set of comprehension questions in which only one out of ten made the pupil actually THINK.
In staff meetings over the past 5 years (in the UK at least), Bloom’s taxonomy has been pushed a lot. It isn’t anything new. I remember studying it in teachers college ten years ago. It was developed in the 1950s by an educational psychologist (Dr Benjamin Bloom) to promote higher order thinking. It is useful to be aware of, but I’m not suggesting you sit your toddler down and grill them with this list. I’m not going to try and cover the six areas or all the questions that fall under them (because it is extensive), but please google it if you are interested in finding out more.
The point I want to drive home is that even younger children are capable of answering questions that are more challenging than, “What colour is the car?”.
You can discuss a book before you even open it.
Aim to ask some open ended questions while reading.
More than likely, you are already doing most of the things mentioned in this post. I hope you found a few suggestions though that might be helpful!
Children are born with ownership instincts. It is one of the first social issues to come up with kids. I can still remember the look on my son's face at the first play group I took him to, when another little pair of hands reached out for the toy he was holding. "Mine!" he shouted. He couldn't understand why someone wanted to take 'his' toy. Now that I have two kids, this is an ongoing battle between the two.
Ownership can be a great thing though. Something I took away from schools in the UK (that I really don't see much of here in Canada) is the way teachers in Early Years and lower grades give the kids ownership of their work. Pieces that children produce are usually labelled by a teacher, using the child's own words to describe it. To be fair, it mostly developed from the UK's inspection system. Teachers always have to have evidence of learning in case Ofsted drop in. It is time consuming to do with a class of 30, but it really does help a teacher see the development of the child's thinking over the course of the year.
It is also really lovely for a parent to be handed a collection of work at the end of the year. You can sit with your child and read through their work together. Rather than just see a page of dots, you can read about what they were trying to draw. It gives them ownership. It jogs their memory. I think it even gives them a sense of pride in their work/creations from a young age.
So I started doing it myself at home as much as I could. What I ended up with though was a giant box of every single scrap of paper that my kids ever wrote on. It was getting pretty ridiculous!
One day I was reading a blog (I can't remember which one, so if anyone knows, please add a reference for the idea!) and the writer shared how she organised her kids' work. She had a 3 ring binder with plastic sleeves in it. Each month she selected a few pieces she loved and slipped them in the binder.
I thought it was a great idea! I'm not quite that organised though. So I try to just stick a date on the work and then save it in a box of their 'creations'. Every once in a while (when the box is filling up), I bring out the binder and sort out pieces to keep. My older son loves doing this with me. We pick our favourite pictures (he doesn't know where 'the rest' of the work goes!) and read them together before filing them in the binder.
I have also been trying to snap pictures of all their work as we go along. That way we have a digital record of them in case a small set of hands gets hold of the binder and is in a 'ripping' mood.
How do you save and organise your kids' work? If it is a way that makes it easy to look back through it together as a family, please do share! I am always looking for ways to be more efficient.
Real life learning or authentic learning. When it happens naturally, it makes me want to home school my boys so much (but that is a whole other topic!). To me the key part of authentic learning, is the follow through. In a classroom you are often in the middle of 'something' when a great question comes up. Lots of times you can pause and call everyone together and discuss the question. Pick it apart as a class. Debate it. Leave the kids energised by this 'surprise' learning.
Sometimes though, you are right in the middle of a task that you can't really stop. You say to everyone, 'Remind me after lunch', but that doesn't always happen. It is the same at home with kids. The timing isn't always perfect to stop and answer questions. Maybe one kid is screaming or dinner is burning or you've been trying get everyone in bed for an hour. So I try, try, try to remember to answer the next chance I get. Follow through. It feels so good when you do.
This week my little one's nap ran late, so I got to pick up my older one from school all on my own. It's always a bit more peaceful and I enjoy the talks we have as we walk home. As we wandered, he noticed that yellow flowers were popping up everywhere. Yellow is his favourite colour, so he loved this and ran over to pick one for me. When we passed a man squirting the yellow 'flowers', he asked why. I explained that most people considered dandelions to be weeds and wanted to get rid of them. This started a long discussion of how weeds can take over and how dandelions in particular spread their seeds. I reminded him of one of my favourite pictures from Richard Scary.
I was a bit anxious to get home since his brother was napping and hadn't been well. I didn't want him to wake up with only grandpa there and be upset. But our talk was so nice and we started spotting dandelion leaves all along the path. He realised that pretty soon there would be yellow flowers absolutely everywhere. Soon we were down on our knees, looking at leaves with buds in the middle and he asked what happened to the green leaves. I explained how they protect the bud and we looked at a fully opened flower and compared. We found one half way popping out and talked about all three of them. He tried counting all the buds he could see, but there were just too many.
Then I had a memory of a book we had at home about a city of guinea pigs who ate up all their dandelion leaves. The hero is Christopher Nibble, who finds one last dandelion and replants it, waits patiently and then blows all the seeds across a field. We hopped up and headed home to dig the book off the shelf. My little one was fine of course and I was so glad we hadn't rushed home. Our impromptu science lesson was beautiful. It was meaningful and I know he'll remember it. I'll remember it. I took the time and followed through.
The best part of it all? After having no answer for his question about where it gets its name, I got to hear him explain that a dandelion looks like a lion's mane. How good is that?
Kids and the creative world go hand in hand, right? I haven't met one yet that doesn't love imaginary play. As a teacher though, I often watched kids struggle to create ideas when it came to writing stories. I could do all the 'teacher-y' things, like scaffold the learning, differentiate the tasks, talk in partners, use picture prompts, have sentence starters, do storyboard planning...yet they still struggled. It made me wonder what I was doing wrong sometimes. Luckily, that is what made me sit and reflect and get better at my job.
The second school I taught at loved Talk 4 Writing, a program that was developed by Pie Corbett (who has lots of great books on teaching, if you don't know him yet. He is pretty well known in the UK, but I'm not sure about North America). I was already in the habit of using a lot of talk during literacy lessons, but it was usually focused on another story or a prompt that led to a task. Here is Pie himself giving an example:
Talk 4 Writing helped the kids orally practise what they wanted to write but I found it helped more with story re-telling, not creating stories ideas. I felt some kind of guilt attached to this struggle the kids had. It always reminded me of something I heard when I was in teacher's college. I have no idea whose original idea this is or what piece of research it might be attached to, so I'm just going to summarise what I remember the course leader saying.
"If you draw a dot on the board in front of a group of 4 year olds and ask them what it is, they'll give you a million answers. The sun! An ant! A rock! A circle! If you draw that same dot on a board in front of a group of 10 year olds, they'll usually say one thing. A period." - OISE instructor (eep! bad referencing, I know!)
That idea makes me so sad! Our education system (well, the UK one at least, as that is where I am most experienced) is draining the creativity out of kids. I tried my best to not let that happen in my own classrooms, but the older the kids got, the more curriculum you had to squeeze in and I think everyone fell victim to it a little bit.
So what did I do about it? I tried to throw in little creativity building activities whenever I could. Just short and simple ones. I'm not going to list them all here...but I will highlight my favourite. I stumbled upon these little gems at Tiger (a British shop that is a little bit like an Ikea dollar store).
There are probably lots of other things out there that use a similar idea. I have used picture story prompts for various different subjects and activities in the past. However, none have worked quite as well as these. ALSO - my kids love these at home too! I think my son was about three years old when I found these. He loved to roll them one at a time and I would make up a silly story that twisted and changed based on what he rolled next. It didn't take long before he was adding to the story himself and soon taking it over!
You don't really need dice (they just make it a bit more fun). You could just close your eyes and point to something in a book and start a story from there. Your little one could close their eyes next and point or just choose something random for you.
We walk a lot in our family, which also provides great story prompts. Stories about people (who doesn't already do that in their head anyway?) walking by. Stories about what might be inside a big truck. Stories about 2 ducks that waddle past. Story prompts are floating around everywhere.
Does your family create stories together? How do you do it?
Hope you create a hilarious/scary/science-y/superhero-y/every day story soon!
Hello! I'm Deb,
a book-toting mother of two and an elementary (primary) school teacher. I love making stories engaging and interactive for kids.
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