Make Bedtime Reading Interactive

Children’s books are supposed to be fun but this intention can be easily misinterpreted by a child when reading is a daily part of their homework. So sometimes as parents we have to go that extra mile to show our children that although it’s a routine requirement it doesn’t have to be a chore. We know reading stories can be funny, interesting, surprising and enlightening but when we add in a little extra imagination they can be read in unconventional ways too. By doing this we can demonstrate that a writer can provide the platform for your enjoyment but how you the reader benefits from the book is a completely individual approach. The aim is to make reading stories a positive experience. I doubt there’s anyone out there who wants to do something they don’t enjoy so why would we expect our children to feel any different?

Reading with Child

  1. Invite a favourite cuddly toy to act out the story. A cuddly toy is like a child’s best friend. One that never disagrees with them, makes them feel safe and will always be there for them (providing they’re not left on the train, in the park or accidentally dropped down a well). So helping their toy act out a story can feel quite natural for a child. Ask your child to choose a cuddly toy who would like to play the leading character in the story. As you read, swap the name of the leading character with toy’s name and watch your child take them on an adventure. A great way to make the story more memorable too.
  2. Narrate the story in a silly voice. Pick a well known, distinctive voice to impersonate such as Buzz Lightyear, X Factor voice over, Mr Bean, a robot or Yoda etc. Then see if you can get some giggles by maintaining the guise for the whole of the story.
  3. Read the opposite of the story. Children love it when they know what the story is supposed to be and can spot the funny deliberate errors made by the reader. To do this choose a book your child is familiar with (you know the favourite book you must have read a thousand times). Then turn the story around by replacing words with opposite ones. For example, “We’re going on a mouse hunt. We’re going to catch a tiny one, what a rainy day! We’re so scared” etc (based on Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen) or “Once there was a boy and the boy hated stars very much. Each night the boy ignored the stars outside his window and wished they would all go away” (based on How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers).
  4. Take turns with reading the character’s lines. This is a simple one but very effective on the nights when your child is reluctant or just too tired to read as your joint participation takes some pressure away from your child to complete the whole book on their own.
  5. Sing the story. If your child likes to sing and is losing interest why not suggest they sing the story to you? This can be a made up tune, a memorable song from a film or a popular nursery rhyme and perhaps different characters could have different singing styles. Singing the story can add a new dimension and help develop intonation and expression.

Reading on Sofa

Livening up bedtime reading can be as much for us parents as the children at times. I know I struggle some nights to muster up the enthusiasm when I’m feeling exhausted, stressed or dispirited with life and just want them to be quiet and in bed so I can wind down from a challenging day. So removing the monotony is also a good way to keep it pleasurable for all involved. It’s important for us to stay engaged and enthusiastic too because if we can’t show we’re enjoying reading time the chances are our children won’t see the fun in it either.

Here’s a link to one of my earlier blogs for more ideas on how to encourage reading – 10 Tips to Transform Your Reluctant Reader into a Master Reader.

Reading with Down’s Syndrome

I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to interview Jilly Smithson, an incredible women who has been teaching for sixteen years as well as having worked or volunteered with people with disabilities since she was eighteen. She is now the proud mother of two children, Emily and Tom with Down’s Syndrome. You may have read her inspiring and heartfelt story in the Guardian recently (I chose to adopt two babies with Down’s Syndrome as a single mother).  It’s a story which summons the feelings of awe, disbelief, respect and admiration all rolled into one. I’ve always felt that with the right approach reading can benefit everyone and for me Jilly is the ideal person to give advice on the ways in which reading can add to the life of any child with Down’s Syndrome so I asked her a few questions to try and get a better insight into the reading time she has with her children.

At what age did you start reading to your children?

From babies – it has always been part of their bedtime routine and there have always been books around the house for them to look at when they want.

What has been the greatest challenge for you as a mum trying to support your children to read?

Emily has a visual impairment so it has been hard to get her interested in the written word. She has enlarged texts from the visual impairment team but still prefers to listen to stories read by others.

What are their favourite books and why?

Emily likes touchy feely books and stories with rhyming. She especially likes the Blue Kangaroo series of books at the moment.

Tom likes books that have actions or things that he can do as he reads, eg. lift the flap book, press the sound button.

In what ways has reading added value to your lives as a family?

It is something we do altogether as a special time before bed. It was one way in which I helped Emily to bond with Tom when he first came home.

What have you found to be the best way to keep them interested in reading?

Lots of different books that do different things – sound books, touchy feely books, lift the flap books, books with DVDs. Visits to the library, book bus etc. To be honest they’ve always been interested in books.

What do you think your children enjoy most about reading?

The individual time they get with me! Books are also an activity they can do independently so it is something that they can do for themselves.

What’s the funniest memory you’ve had so far of reading with your children?

We read The Gruffalo touch book. Tom was very young, about 10 months old. Both children explored the different textures etc then when we came to the wart on the end of his nose, it was a sticky spot on the page, Tom’s face after he touched it was a picture!

Having taught and worked with people with many types of disabilities over the years and now a mum of two children with Down’s Syndrome, what advice would you give to other parents with children with Down’s syndrome with regards to helping them to read?

Just read little and often, have books always available and remember that children with Down’s Syndrome find learning to read phonetically very difficult. We use a lot of symbols around the house – they have a picture and the word so that the children are being exposed to the written word all the time.

What would be the best message about life a children’s book could teach your children?

That it is ok to be different. The books by Todd Parr are perfect for this. They cover difficult topics in a simple way for young children and have wonderfully bright illustrations.

A huge thank you to Jilly for your input which clearly demonstrates that reading with children is not just about what’s in the book, it’s also about bonding, interacting and sharing time. Reading remains pleasurable when you remove any expectations of what levels you think should be attained or what you are told should be attained. Learning to read is a very individual journey for every child and this is no different for children with Down’s Syndrome. It is more about helping children to find the ways in which reading can add to their lives to give them that purpose and desire to read.

Resource links recommended by Jilly:

Down’s Syndrome Education International (DSE) – See and Learn Language and Reading.

Down’s Syndrome Education International (DSE) – A Reading and Language Intervention for Children with Down Syndrome.

Books mentioned by Jilly:


CLICK TO BUY My First Gruffalo: Touch-and-Feel book by Julia Donaldson (author) & Axel Scheffler (illustrator); Published: MacMillan Children’s Books.

 


Blue Kangaroo series by Emma Chichester Clark (author/illustrator); Published: Andersen Press.
CLICK TO BUY I Love You, Blue Kangaroo!

 

Books by Todd Parr; Published: Little, Brown Young Readers such as:


CLICK TO BUY It’s Okay to be Different

 


CLICK TO BUY It’s Okay To Make Mistakes

 

 


CLICK TO BUY The Feelings Book

 

 

Note: some names in this blog have been changed.

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to  Amazon.co.uk

Playing by the Book

Are you genuinely allowing your child to learn through play?

Throughout my blogs I like to suggest activities for parents to try in order to help them show their children how books and reading can be fun. Remember that little word show that I used.

I took some time the other day to peruse some of the many colourful blogs which light up my WordPress feed when one particular one held my attention.

Its title was Why I Don’t Like Play Based Learning posted by Happiness is Here.

It was a bold statement. It was intriguing. I thought the blog was honest, well written and challenging. I loved it.

However they cited an activity designed to encourage reading so I felt I needed to respond.

I couldn’t argue the sentiment; the article was spot on when it pointed out that the popular so called play based learning is usually led by adults and not children. Yet above all it was the fact that the word play was being used to describe adult led activities which had initiated the writer’s concern. This made me question some things. Are there set rules for what play is or isn’t? Can’t play be anything that the participant finds enjoyable? If so, if the child is a willing participant in an adult led activity and enjoys it, is that not considered a form of playing? Is it true that play by definition can never be directed and where does that leave me and my fun book related activities? I think I may be guilty of using the phrase learning through play from time to time.

My understanding of the article was that they too feel that, what I call fun learning activities have their place but they also made the valid point that a distinction should be made between whether the activities are child led or adult led. Child led play is an entertaining and enjoyable way in which the child chooses to occupy themselves opposed to a planned activity an adult has instructed them to do. The difference is that there’s an intention or ultimate goal behind the playful and fun activity created by the adult whereas child led play has no expectations or set path; it’s about learning through exploration and it hasn’t been pre-planned; there’s no wrong of right way to play, it’s the result of a child responding to their immediate environment.

So why is this free unstructured play so important and how can it be incorporated into encouraging reading?

More and more parents want to teach their children how to question and think for themselves and for me reading is one such powerful tool which can enable this process of brain development to bloom naturally. Ironically what some people aren’t aware of is that one of the best ways to help children think for themselves is to leave them to do as they please and omit all the good intentioned controlling measures, expectations and structures the adult has planned.

Play Drawing on Books

To implement child led story making and reading activities this would involve leaving your child in a safe environment which includes piles of assorted books on a blanket, magazines positioned in various places within the immediate area as well as a choice of other objects, toys and activities made available. No instructions should be provided except to make sure the child is aware that you’re there if they need you and that they can do whatever they like as long as it’s enjoyable to them and not harmful to themselves or others. Although the books are the main focus, it’s important that there are alternative options to books. This can be magnetic letters, posters, puppets, toy animals, paper and pencils etc to encourage imaginary or role play. The idea is that you’re making the tools available but the choice of how, what and for how long they use them for is up to them.

Play Standing on Books

This will be a difficult concept for many of you to grasp as it means letting go of some deeply ingrained social expectations. Why? Because the results could be anything ranging from the child conventionally reading or looking through the books, completely ignoring the books and pursuing another activity, building book towers, playing shops or schools with the books, bending the books to scribbling on the books and cutting out the pictures and sticking them on their bedroom walls (gasp). Some would call this unruly, irresponsible or even lazy parenting as for many it’s a giant leap away from the controlling, structured and over protective world we live in.

Play Sleeping and Sitting on Books

So how does this approach benefit the child? If you can manage to resist interfering, make no judgements and keep calm at the results your child will have achieved an independent new understanding of the world, through trial and error where their actions have come from a sheer desire or curiosity to learn and discover. A room filled with books and other activities where they’re given free reign takes the fear out of having to read so by leaving them to their own devices they no longer feel threatened by the expectation to read and soon find the fun in books and the chances are that their natural curiosity will take over and lead them to pick up a book one day and want to work out what the words mean.

Play Books on Your Head

For me the title play based learning suggests learning which incorporates the concepts of play into the foundations of the activity so I don’t see an issue with using the word play as such as it’s not actually defining play itself. I do on the other hand think we should be more mindful that as important as these fun learning activities are they are still showing or even dictating to your child what and how to do something. So if I were to label it, perhaps I would call it directed or guided play learning or if you really wanted to omit the word play, directed fun learning. If you want a child to learn for themselves, provide the tools and the environment and then just let them be, it’s as easy as that. The hardest part will be letting go of your control because if you’re governed by time or you’re seeking a certain result which you perceive to be right then child led play isn’t the approach for you. Although if you do try it, you might find it’s not just your child who feels liberated.

To learn more the following blog I found provides an excellent explanation of child-led play: The Adult Role in Child-led Play – How to Become a Learning Ally by Nature Play.

The Evils of Flashcards

Flashcards

I remember my mum waving flashcards in front of my face as a child. I think they were probably considered one of the “how to be a good parent” tools of the 70’s. Parenting trends are a bit like the articles I see instructing us on what we should and shouldn’t be eating; they change according to the advertiser’s needs – sorry I mean the latest research. It seems advice changes so frequently that unbeknown to us we’re probably all in a constant state of confusion about everything as nobody really knows what they should or shouldn’t be doing for the best. It appears it’s no different when it comes to finding ways of supporting and encouraging our children to read when often the information available can be just as conflicting.

I don’t really think flashcards are an evil reading tool, I don’t feel traumatised by my experience of them as a child either or that they impaired my reading skills in any way but some have proposed a number of convincing arguments to the contrary.

Let’s get critical.

The biggest criticism of flashcards is that they limit interpretation. As they lead the reader towards the association of a single picture with a single word they are not allowing for variance of a word such as the type of dog, car or colour for instance. This suggests flashcards are only teaching a child how to associate a word with a picture through sight opposed to understanding it and learning to read.
Another criticism is that as the words on flashcards are out of context they serve to introduce an unnecessary additional layer in the steps required to interpret and understand a word when it is in context. In everyday terms this means they guide the reader into taking the long route to learning.

Hail praise to all flashcards.

On the other hand retaining a number of words by sight (reading them as seen, opposed to sounding them out) is considered a good thing because it allows for smoother, more continuous reading which gives the brain more time to think about meaning and comprehension.

In addition for those who have a dominant visual memory flashcards can act as an added aid for imprinting the word formation in the reader’s mind through the use of colour, shape and images.

As parents, it is our natural instinct to want to do the right thing for our children (whatever that may be) and if taken verbatim, it is contradictory advice like this which can feed the innate panic mechanism within us . However if you’re searching the internet for the “right thing to do” or solely relying on small scientific studies to appease your fears you are missing a vital ingredient; and that is to trust your own judgement.

Many articles are only one person’s opinion and many of the studies have only been conducted on a minuscule percentage of the population where their sole purpose is to uncover a similarity within differences in order to neatly file any traits or habits under one category. It never does any harm to question if a study is truly looking for the ultimate answer that we seek or if the researchers are merely looking for the answer that they think it is?

That’s not to say that all the information we find is nonsense but it does mean that the information that may be right for one person may not be right for the next. So when it comes to helping your own children to read, don’t limit yourself to one isolated method or be afraid to explore new methods and techniques but discover the options and give yourself a break. Listen to your gut feeling as to which methods you think are best suited to your child.

Further links on the topic of flashcards:

Ditch the books and flashcards! You can’t teach a baby how to read, claim experts – Mail Online.

Sight Words Flashcards and Tips for Early Reading – School Sparks.

Teaching with Flashcards? – Flashcards Guru.

(Don’t Make Me Say the F-Word) Flashcard-Free Vocabulary – Cochlear Implant Online.

Reading Should Come with a Government Health Warning!

Image Boy Questioning

What if I said to you that reading could be bad for your mental well being? Would you believe me? Yet books are addictive, they talk about theories which we base our reality around as though they are facts; they constantly lie to us about worlds and characters that don’t really exist; they tell of depressing, upsetting stories which we may never have been affected by otherwise. It’s well known a good book can make your eyes blurry and your thoughts explode. The contradictory facts, figures and opinions inside have even been known to cause confusion on the brain for some but most of all, beware that reading can make your children repeatedly ask WHY?

Image Why

I’m not trying to create my own conspiracy theory here but I am hoping to demonstrate that it’s not always what is in the book that is good for us; it’s how we react to it, use it and question it. It’s the power a book gives us as individuals to exercise our free thinking. Think about the alternative. For instance when the Nazi party ordered the burning of certain books during the 1930’s they were attempting to control how much information the layman had access to; to limit awareness and segregate nations; prevent the people from writing about the truth or opposing ideologies.

Teaching our children to read and write gives them the tools to question and question then question again. They can investigate a topic of interest, read alternative views; see emotions put into words; draw from people with first hand experiences; learn to make their own judgements and not take everything at face value. It is then that they are better equipped to follow their own route to understanding the world.

WARNING: reading books may be hazardous to your health. Side effects may include extreme laughter; uncontrollable thinking; deep emotional reactions and unexpected changes of opinion.

The Dancing Book

Einstein Quote

As it’s National Poetry Day and Dyslexia Awareness week, to celebrate I’ve written a poem called The Dancing Book about a little boy with dyslexia going through the emotions of trying to find ways to read whilst his mum is unaware of the difficulties he’s facing. A young child with dyslexia doesn’t realise that what they are trying to make sense of is much harder than what others are experiencing.

The Dancing Book Page 1

The Dancing Book Page 2

Dyslexia is often misunderstood. It has nothing to do with low intelligence, bad eyesight or poor teaching, it is merely that some people’s brains are wired differently to others, considered possibly due to genetics. In fact in many cases the child is very bright and it is the disparity between their reading skills and intelligence level which often first highlights the issue.

Being wired differently means the processes of deduction a child with dyslexia uses are different. In fact everyone has their own unique set of processing skills which are highly effective in some situations and less so in others. The mere difference being that a child with dyslexia has a set of processing skills which happen to make reading and writing more difficult. It is often the case that if you think differently to the average person, you have the power to achieve more than the average person so how can we teach children with dyslexia to draw out their unique abilities?

Unfortunately it is not a simple case of if a child has dyslexia we can list the learning strategies they need to follow. A strategy that works for one child may be totally ineffective for another. It is more about suggesting ideas to enable each child to find the strategy that works best for them. As with many things, it needs to come from within the individual.

From studying psychology I have developed an interest in learning difficulties such as dyslexia. To me, in order to be able to offer a true resolution towards enhancing their reading skills, the only way is to get into their shoes and understand the difficulties they face on a daily basis when learning to read.

What does an individual with dyslexia see and experience when reading?

The reason why people with dyslexia find it hard to read is because the text they see on a page can appear blurred (blur effect), spaced out (river effect) or faded (wash out effect). Inevitably this makes it very hard for the individual to seamlessly process the printed words and sentences. The following linked articles give a visual understanding of what an individual with dyslexia may see. A small but important insight into the types of difficulties they have to overcome.

Six Surprising Bad Practices that Hurt Dyslexic Users

Typography Book Explores What it Feels Like to Have Dyslexia

With the right support dyslexia does not need to prevent anyone from becoming an excellent reader. The main message being that if the wiring in your brain is different; don’t be afraid to try something different.

Dyslexia Friendly Books – Barrington Stoke

Fun and Games for Dyslexics

Top Author Tips for Encouraging Reading

Reading leads

It’s no secret that the government has stepped up its reading initiatives throughout the country over the last few years following the revelation of the UK’s shocking literacy level results and we often see many famous authors at the forefront of these promotions. Obviously authors just want more people to read so more people buy their books, I hear you cry! Well yes…..and no. Yes because they want to make a living out of something they love to do but no because a child may love to read but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily like to read their books! Authors are pushing these campaigns because each one of them is continuously experiencing the true extent of how books can add value to anyone’s life. The strong link between the love of reading and writing is irrefutable and it is often by reading that a writer is inspired to create stories, just like those that inspired the writer to read in the first place. Writing fulfills the need to communicate and share that which inspires, uplifts and excites our minds, thoughts and perspectives and every kind of literature is bulging with words waiting to be understood.

Quote Margaret Mead

Reading leads everyone along an individual path. What better way is there to assimilate information about our world other than through reading? Whether it’s via a book, comics, newspapers, emails, letters or the internet, it is still the act of reading. Books give children the opportunity to absorb information for their own use. In my world I accept dragons and fairies but boot out all the unwanted zombies!

Quote Edmund Wilson

Twins can lead identical lives but their experience and perspectives will always be different. No two people experience the world in the same way just as no two people will interpret a book in the same way. Books are packed with information of knowledge and experience which is there for us to question and challenge and contribute uniquely to our lives.  This is how books nurture individuals and most importantly ones who can think for themselves. If everyone thought the same, the world would stagnate and never progress.

Quote Neil Gaiman

So I thought I would find out what the famous children’s authors are saying about reading and have summed up some of their top tips on ways to encourage children to read – from the mouths of those who know!

J. K. ROWLING: 

“The stories we love best do live in us forever.”

Sharing the experience has to be one of the best ways to encourage reading and finding the “right” book. #PotteritForward which was initiated by the MuggleNet fan site, has only added to the addictive magic of Harry Potter. The idea behind it is to leave post-it notes for the next reader giving their own real examples of what they have gained and what they will always remember from reading Harry Potter.

JULIA DONALDSON:

“Act the stories out a little bit with your child by taking turns to do the voices.”

Read interactively with your child. Julia Donaldson advises that reading rhyming stories with repeated sound patterns will help your child to decode and enable them to enjoy repeating the parts they know off by heart.

MICHAEL MORPURGO: 

“It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children.”

Read as a family for pleasure. Make books easily accessible at home to show books are not just for education but also for pleasure. Show that you as a parent are interested in stories and love reading too.

FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE: 

“The joy of a bedtime story is the key to developing a love of reading in children.”

Make time for bedtime reading. Let’s face it, children go to bed early so some of us aren’t even home from work by then but this is exactly when bedtime stories can become even more special, something to look forward to, a time with mummy or daddy and a treat. So Frank Cottrell Boyce is saying find that precious time to regularly read with your children each week.

NEIL GAIMAN:  

“Libraries are about freedom. The freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication.”

The choice is theirs. Neil Gaiman sees a library as the heart of reading for pleasure, a place where a child should be permitted to read anything they like.

NICK HORNBY: 

Tell boys books are highly inappropriate.”

Break the rules with reading. A clever approach of reverse psychology could indeed encourage many a reluctant reader to find out what they’re missing out on!

DAVID WALLIAMS: 

“Books fire children’s imaginations like nothing else.”

Get your imagination talking. On 19 Aug 2015 Nicky Morgan (education secretary) and David Walliams launched a campaign to encourage fun book clubs to be set up in schools to help children share the stories and read them together for mutual enjoyment.

MICHAEL ROSEN:

Stop focusing on decoding and testing and encourage children “to lose themselves in a good story.”

Reading is fun and not just for school. Michael Rosen focuses on the danger that too much analysing could cause a fun activity to become something quite dull.

MO WILLEMS: 

“Forget about reading being healthy. It’s not broccoli. In fact, most children’s books are lies. And the bigger the lie the better the book – as long as it’s emotionally true.”

Reading is not like vegetables! So don’t make them devour a book because it’s morally correct or sound advice. Let them devour it because it’s gives them the enjoyment of experiencing something new. Then they will make up their own mind as to whether it’s good for them or not.

CHRIS RIDDELL: 

“I’m interested in illustration in all its forms, not only in books for children but in posters, prints and performance, as a way of drawing people into books and stories.”

“I want to help and encourage every school to do more for readers: if they have nowhere to read, create a space with a few books; if they have a bookshelf, have two; if they have a reading room, aim for a library!”

Reading is more than words. Voted in as the new children’s laureate, Chris Riddell will be bringing words and pictures together and campaigning for more time and space to be allocated to reading in schools.

If you would like to help a child to read check out the charity Beanstalk.

10 Quick Reading Activities for Children.

Back by popular demand, this time I’ve put together some quick and simple activities to encourage reading and aid spelling. There are so many opportunities throughout the day to help our children to read and so many little ways to make it fun. Whether it’s adapting a familiar game, going on a treasure hunt or baking some edible letters, these activities don’t have to be time consuming and can easily be incorporated into any little person’s life.

1. Eat Your Words

Follow a simple biscuit recipe and use letter cutters to make words. We were making some cheesy biscuits for a party, so instead of making them round as we usually would, we cut out letter shapes so the boys could make words with them once they were baked. They asked how to spell words, they read each others and it became a game of who can come up with the silliest words.

Quick Reading Eat Your Words

2. Secret Messages.

Finding a secret message always brings a smile to my boys faces. It’s a way for me to say I’m thinking of them even when they’re not with me. I don’t do it every day because I tend to leave it for special purposes, like a birthday, a treat or letting them know about a special day out or a fun activity together. I find if it’s something they are going to look forward to doing or having they are more likely to read the note (which is the main purpose of the notes after all). They would be less inclined to read a note telling them to clean their room!

Quick Reading Secret Messages

3. What Am I?

A quick printable activity. The children must read five clue words to come up with the answer to “what am I?”.

Quick Reading What Am I

4. Street Names.

This one is easy to play when you’re out and about walking to the shops or on a long car journey. Get your children used to reading new words and names by spotting the different street names. Who can be the first to spot a lane? What are we walking along? Is it a street or a close?

Quick Reading Street Names

5. Read a Recipe.

Children love to help with stirring and sieving and licking the bowl! Ask them to read out the recipe to you as you follow the steps together.

Quick Reading Recipe

6. Playdoh Printing.

Use plastic cutters to make letter imprints in playdoh. Build letters into words and words into short sentences to aid reading and spelling.

Quick Reading Playdoh Letters

7. Rhyming Dominoes.

Another quick printable for a twist on the traditional dominoes game. Cut out the domino tiles and split between all players. Try and match each word with a rhyming word.

Quick Reading Rhyming Dominoes 1

Quick Reading Rhyming Dominoes 2

8. Lego Letter Race.

Choose a simple word. It’s a race to see who can make the word with Lego the fastest. Each player uses a large flat Lego tile to display their word.

Quick Reading Lego Letters

9. Scrabble Swap.

For this activity we used junior scrabble tiles but if you don’t have any to hand it’s just as easy to type and print out some letters onto card but make sure there are plenty of vowels in the mix.

Quick Reading Scrabble Swap

10. Follow the Clues.

The promise of treasure at the end of the clues is enough to get any reluctant reader to at least try and work them out! Hand them the first clue and make sure the second clue is where the first clue tells them to go and so on until they discover the last clue and need to find the promised treasure. You can copy and print the clues below or use your own to send them on an adventure round the house.

Quick Reading Follow the Clues 1

Quick Reading Follow the Clues 2

Words are everywhere, look around and point them out as children will naturally be curious to read something if it looks interesting to them.

What are your favourite reading activities?

Is Doodling Snoozing?

I was supposed to be writing my blog…………I blame it on the trolls. It all started with Cousin Troll and then a couple of his friends joined in. The Guardian recently featured a hilarious step by step guide to drawing a troll by Adam Stower children’s author of Grumbug (published 1 Jun 2015 by Templar Publishing). It had me hooked. It was meant for the kids but I couldn’t resist. So I grabbed the boy’s felt tip pens (hence the sketchy colouring) and brought these little creatures to life. It was a huge amount of fun. Give it a try!

The Trolls

A mere glance at my friendly trolls and the trained (even untrained) eye can see that I’m not an illustrator…….but I do love to doodle. Flowers, trees and cubes are my preferred doodles. I doodle on notepads, calendars, school letters, receipts, printer paper and even bills….especially bills! Furniture and books not so much of course.

For the most part doodling has been seen as a form of day dreaming. I certainly remember it as something to be reprimanded for in school. Yet is it truly a sign of a lack of concentration? Or is it a way for the brain to relax and let thoughts develop and creativity to take hold? I doodle mostly when I’m toying with new ideas for my books but am not sure which way to take them. It serves as a pause in the typing and a rest for the frown lines. I’m not even sure if I’m thinking about anything at all as I doodle my way through the fog but it feels good and leaves me with a sense of calm.

Psychologists have studied the doodling phenomena and have come up with some surprising results. Apparently instead of distracting the mind it helps to focus it (see Doodling Your Way to a More Mindful Life by Cathy Malchiodi). It’s an outlet for generating creative ideas (5 Big Benefits of Being a Doodler, The Huffington Post), it’s a stress reliever. I can certainly appreciate the healing benefits of stepping away from the manic rush of every day life from time to time in favour of some subconscious scribbling but I’m even more intrigued as to how doodling can help our children’s literacy.

Have you ever been presented with a scrappy piece of paper by your child and found yourself looking at random squiggles and tried to tactfully ask what the picture’s called in the vague hope it would shed some light on the ideas behind such a masterpiece? Literacy Development: The Importance of Doodling by Anna Ranson and guest blogger Kate describes several benefits of mark making for preschoolers as an early sign of communication which helps them to understand the connection between the people and objects around them and these lines and symbols written on paper. When children learn to write they enjoy colouring in letters, making patterns on them and embellishing them. It helps to imprint the letter formation in the child’s mind. Is this not their version of doodling? The physical and mental benefits of doodling suggest it is a valuable creative learning tool and a calming memory aid (The Cognitive Benefits of Doodling by Steven Heller). These are skills required to learn how to read so I can’t help wondering whether doodling is an undervalued subject in the school curriculum (Learning science through reading, writing…..and doodling by Laura Guertin) – although I’d probably need to do some doodling first to fathom out how exactly it could aid the teaching of reading!

Well doodling some trolls has certainly inspired me to write this blog, even if it wasn’t what I’d originally set out to write……but isn’t that the marvel of creativity where you can start down one route and often end up on another?

Please give my trolls some names and maybe use them as a story starter this summer – but make sure you squeeze in a spot of doodling to get those creative ideas flowing!

 

CLICK TO BUY Grumbug (Troll & the Oliver 2)

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk

Step Away From the Books!

Boy Climbing TreeImage courtesy of Prawny at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Promoting reading and insisting parents should take every opportunity to get their child to read to them is all very well when we have a child who is willing and able but what happens when our child flatly refuses to try and the more we persevere the more their inventive diversion tactics frustrate us rather than entertain us? We ignore that growing grimace of course as we instruct our curt demands over the blubbering tears and our patience teeters dangerously close to being non-existent. Then we hit that ultimate test. The wailing; the incessant banshee wail that both grates on our ears and pounds at our heart as we’re left feeling like the cruellest parent that ever lived!

There are very few parents who cannot identify with this scenario at some point. It may not necessarily be related to reading but if it is something like reading it can be particularly hard when we are constantly being bombarded with information on how important it is for our child’s development and future success. Letting our children down is probably right up there as one of our greatest fears as parents. So what’s the answer, keep going no matter what, get stricter with our regime and get firmer with our expectations?

Oh no! Step away from the books! Do something completely different. Ironically cutting out the expectation to read can be the first step towards a love of reading.

It may sound like a contradiction but having a break from something which causes anxiety can be a way of recharging the batteries and learning how to look at things from a different perspective. The school holidays are the perfect excuse to do just this. Take away the pressure, forget about the targets and lay off with the demands, get outside and focus on having some good old fashioned fun. We don’t usually have to go very far, maybe a nearby beach or playground, a wood or field or even our own back garden is bursting with opportunity for adventure and exploration. But what does this have to do with reading? The key is experience.

My husband and I had a good reminder of this over the Easter weekend. We were in the front garden trying to salvage our previously drastic approach to gardening (ripping everything out to start over again) by installing some new fencing and pretty flowers. Our two boys were happily cycling round in circles from the front to back garden. Later I go in to make dinner, husband starts painting fence and boys continue their circuit – or so I thought! I call for dinner. No response. I call for dinner again. I can hear some chattering in the garden and my eldest comes bounding in with the biggest grin on his face followed by a slightly pale looking stunned father clutching his phone and handing me a photo to look at. OMG!

The photo was of my eldest at the top of the tallest fir tree in our garden which is about 25 foot tall! I flashed him a glance so my brain could compute that he was actually in one piece. Realising all arms and legs were still attached naturally my next concern was how he got past all the spiders nesting inside the tree (and maybe even a few zombies) then as I slowly relaxed I heard a WOW drift from my mouth.

“Feel how hot my hands are mum. It’s really brown in the middle mum. I climbed up the spine as the branches were thicker there. I could see right across the field mum.”

What happened here was that he hadn’t just read about someone else climbing a tree, instead he had felt what it was like to climb it, the strength it took and what it looked like on the inside and how far he could see from that height. No amount of reading can replace personal experience but personal experience can encourage reading. How? Because experience is how we find out where our interests lie and an interest in what you’re reading is paramount for it to remain enjoyable. Find out what excites them, what makes them feel proud, what keeps them motivated, what gives them a sense of achievement. Sometimes we need a reason to read and only then can we appreciate what merits it can hold for us. It may be as simple as finding a book about trees, the best trees to climb, being a lumberjack or the science behind why our hands get hot when climbing.

So let’s rewind this scenario and pretend it was me who found him up the tree. Can I honestly say the result would have been the same – I’d like to think so but probably not – it’s more likely that panic would have turned me into a caterwauling maniac! Not unlike the frightened wailing banshee child struggling to read!