What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. No just not for some, but for everyone. Those words were first sung in 1965 by Jackie DeShannon but they couldn't be more true today. I can't even begin to comment on all the hate in the world right now. I just don't understand why anyone would choose to live filled with hate. So let's focus on the love. This month is Pride Month and to me, that means LOVE! Pure and simple love.
My son started school this past year and wow - he certainly hears a lot of interesting things from other kids. Unfortunately it isn't always the nicest stuff. That is what life will be full of though and I know my job is to make sure he recognises the unkind stuff and counters it with kindness. I know most of what he says comes from an innocent place and provides us with great learning opportunities. I'm lucky to have friends with an array of skin colours - so it never even occurred to me that he would suddenly start picking up on that. I almost died the day he told one of my closest friends that their skin looked like poo. He was three at that point. I apologised profusely. I was flustered. I turned red. I know my friends don't think I taught him this, but then I hadn't taught him what was more appropriate.
At age 3, his comment about skin colour was merely an observation. Also, the world of a 3 year old (at least my 3 year old) revolves around poo! So making a comparison to it shouldn't have surprised me. From that day on though I realised the importance of talking about how our choice of words can make people feel. We discussed trying to put ourselves in other people's shoes (which is really hard for kids this age - they are still very much egocentric). He might not be able to fully grasp it, but it doesn't mean we can't discuss it and work on it.
Skin colour is out in the open. It is there for kids to see and comment on and they will comment! They comment on everything! However other things are not always out in the open and ripe for little mouths to point out and question. What someone's family looks like. Who someone's parents are. What someone likes to do or doesn't like to do. Those are things I feel I need to discuss before they arise in the school yard. I want to make sure my kids are loving towards everyone, not just accepting. I want them to appreciate everyone's differences, not just be okay with them. I want them to be proud to be different from the people around them and also celebrate everyone else's differences. That is surely part of what Pride Month is, yes?
I want my kids to understand that all families and all people are different (but really the same!) in such wonderful ways. Books can be such a great way to start conversations about the diversity around us (after, of course, surrounding yourself by amazingly unique people). So I rounded up a bunch of books that have been recommended to me by various friends. I'm embarrassed to say I didn't own any of these yet, but was happy to find a good selection in our local library. I will certainly be purchasing our favourites from the group as soon as possible.
The best thing about reading these books so far has been watching my kids' reactions. Meaning - there was no real reaction. Everything is 'normal' to them at this age. I want to make sure when someone at school tries to tell them what is 'not normal', that they can stand up and say nonsense! I hope I can instil strength in them to be open minded and intelligent enough to stand up against any form of hatred.
So here are some of the books that beautifully illustrate the kind of world I want to live in. The kind of loving world I am teaching my kids to help create.
The Family Book by Todd Parr
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein
King & King by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland
Stella bring the family by Miriam B. Schiffer
Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang
Molly's Family by Nancy Garden
I will be posting all of our activities related to these books during the week on our Instagram account, so please do keep an eye out!
Happy Pride Month to everyone.
Links below to Instagram posts with more details on each activity we did!
The Family Book - activity 1
The Family Book - activity 2
The Family Book - activity 3
King & King - activity 1
Molly's Family - activity 1
Families, Families, Families - activity 1
The Sissy Duckling - activity 1
I've always been inspired by books. I used to love planning units for school that were based on books I loved or that the kids loved. They spark my own creativity. I've always said that I am not personally very creative, but give me something to work from and I have loads of ideas. So this week I finally picked Steam Train, Dream Train as my inspiration behind our play at home. I had been putting it off since there is so much in the book that my kids love. First of all trains. Big hit. Second of all, construction vehicles. Huge hit. A train car full of sand. Tick. An ice cream train. Tick tick tick! Basically all of our favourite things in one story. I don't want to simply review all the activities we did during the week, because I feel like I'm just repeating what I've already posted on Instagram. If you'd like to read about each of our activities in more detail, please visit our account by clicking here.
I love the ending of this book so much. It has that Toy Story feel to it. It made me think about what my children did or didn't believe in. It made me think about what memories they will have of their childhood. It made me wonder if they will think back and feel a bit of magic in them. This book makes me feel that childhood magic in me and it made me want to try and create a bit of that. So, taking inspiration from the book I thought I would set up their toys each morning doing something different. Day one was easy, I had all the toys out on the train table. I don't think the kids really got it though, as they are used to me having things set up for them to explore in the mornings. It just looked like an invitation to play with trains. So I realised I needed to get a bit more creative the next day.
So on day two they found the above picture at the end of their bed when they woke up. Some of the stuffed animals were having a story read to them. My 4 year old was still sceptical, asking me why I put them there. I denied it but he wasn't convinced. That just made me want to up the game. It also made me a bit sad that by 4 (okay, almost 5) he wasn't a 'believer' anymore!
Day three - they awoke to a group of toys having a snack together. A bit of coffee, an apple and an ice cream. I wasn't up with them that morning so I didn't see their immediate reaction. Later that day though we were all playing together and I saw the ice cream wrapper on the floor. I asked who had been eating ice cream and my 4 year old said 'the hulk'. I was so happy! He was either starting to believe it or just appeasing me.
I'm going to keep it up for a few more days. At the end I plan to revisit Steam Train, Dream Train and see if they connect the idea. Or at least make them wonder. What are those toys up to at night?
I'd love to hear other people's ideas for how they add a bit of magic and wonder to their kids' lives. I suppose just books alone do that though!
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.
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.
I had never really heard of an 'invitation to play' before I became a mother. The majority of my teaching career was with older kids, so our learning was set up quite differently. Since having kids though and moving to work with younger children, it is something I encountered quite a bit. In the UK, children can start school as young as age 3. They don't have to, but the option is there. In Canada it is similar, kids can start at age 4 (JK) but don't have to legally be in school until age 6. After returning from my second maternity leave, I had the pleasure of covering in a nursery class (age 3-4) quite frequently for a term. It was lovely to see how they invited kids to play at various tables and stations throughout the room and in the outside space.
Even if you've never heard the term before, an 'invitation to play' is pretty self explanatory. If you make a space look appealing or interesting, children will come and investigate. That is really what 'learning' at age 3 looks like. I'm not going to pretend that I do this every day in my own house, but I do try to set something up each week for my toddler. It is in no way on the scale I would set up a classroom, but I like having a little table in the play room that I change around. It sometimes makes old toys seem interesting again.
I'm pretty excited these days because my 2 year old is really into naming colours. I love, love, love this age! Listening to his language develop and increase, blows my mind. I also happen to love colours and it is a natural stage all kids go through. Everything we see walking down the street gets labelled by its colour. Every toy is called by its colour. Colour is everywhere! It is probably one of the first adjectives that children start to use naturally when describing things. Don't let that skill pass them by!
Aside from inviting my kids to play with particular toys, I always like to link our play with a story. We visit the library all the time to keep on top of things but also have a pretty big collection of books. Loads of baby board books cover the colours but my favourite has to be a colours primer by Jennifer Adams. She has a whole series based on famous pieces of literature but that really focus on things like shapes or numbers or emotions. If you haven't seen them before, check them out.
“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!
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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