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'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!
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!
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.
Surely repetition is key to all learning, but I think especially so with younger learners. It is common sense really, the more you see, hear, say, explore and practise something, the more likely you are to really remember and know it. I always felt like it was difficult to do enough repetition of skills in my (older level) classrooms because the curriculum had so much packed into it. There was so much to cover, we were lucky to get back to main topics two or three times in a year. This is yet another point on my list of 'why I should home school', but we'll leave that discussion alone for now.
I recently posted about an ABC book on Instagram (see it here). My toddler has really been getting into his ABCs lately and is starting to recognise certain letter shapes. As I went around the house to look for some alphabet related activities we could do, I was actually a bit shocked at how much I found. Maybe it's because I'm a teacher? I've been subconsciously collecting alphabet items for the past five years?
I'm going to blame the fact that my closest friends are all teachers and get my kids the best gifts. However it happened, it is definitely a good thing. My kids will certainly see, touch, hear and play with the alphabet without every having me thrust flashcards in their faces. Not that there is anything wrong with flashcards. I just feel like they tend to used the wrong way with little ones more often than not. Repetitive learning is possible for toddlers, preschoolers and older children, without the need for tools like flashcards. Below are a list of just some of the alphabet related items my kids play with, that I found around our house.
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!
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?
There have been an increasing number of studies during the past decade, focusing on the importance of parents’ verbal engagement with their children. Some studies discuss the differences between higher income and lower income housing (the famous ’30-million-word gap’ study by Hart and Risley). Other studies discredit this one and focus more on cultural differences in raising children. I am not here however to debate those or write a professionally sited paper.
I am interested though, in ways people can engage with their children and what makes sense to me is that the more words your children hear, the more they will come to recognise. Again, I have read papers that say having normal conversations with babies and toddlers is the best way for them to learn new words. I have read others that say reading books to them is actually better. Surely it is all good, no? A baby/toddler hears lots of words, from lots of places and starts to recognise them. Eventually they will start to use them. Finally when it comes to reading, they will recognise them in print. You are more likely to read/recognise and remember a word that you already know and understand.
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.
Find us here too: