Guest Blog – Make A Story in a Bag

Wow, it’s been some time since I’ve opened up my blog – a break I never intended but as life has a tendency to do, it’s been hurtling a few unwelcome things my way to deal with. So I was delighted to be contacted by Seisha Lock from Education.com who requested to do a guest blog and came up with this wonderful story activity and a way to recycle those threadbare socks!

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Make a Story in a Bag

For lots of kids the beginning, middle and end don’t always come so easily. Ask a first grader to tell a story of the day, for instance, and often the result will be hilarious because it’s all mixed up. As fun as it is to listen teaching kids that stories have an order is important. Want to give your kid some practice? Make some puppets and put them to work!

What You Need:

  • 3-4 old socks
  • Glue
  • Markers
  • Construction paper
  • Yarn (for hair)
  • Book of your child’s choice (from school, home, or the library)
  • Brown paper lunch bag

What You Do:

1. Set it up.  Explain to your child that you are going to read a story and then act it out! Let your child pick whatever book she’d like and start by reading the story together. Stop after every 2-3 pages to talk about what’s happening. At the end of the story, ask your child:

  • Who was the story about?
  • Where did the story take place?
  • What happened in the beginning of the story?
  • What happened in the middle of the story?
  • What happened at the end of the story?
  • Help your child write down the answers to each of those questions, to use for a puppet show later on, or take dictation if your child struggles with this task.

2. Reuse those socks! Sure, your toe may have wormed a hole in the tip, but old socks make perfect puppets. Just throw them in the wash first! Once they’re clean and dry, tell your child she’s going to make puppets for each of the characters in her story, and then act it out!  Give your child the craft supplies and let her use her imagination. Yarn makes great hair, googly eyes add a fun touch. And old ties or bandanas serve as great “costumes”. If she’d like, she can use construction paper to make background scenes, houses, or any other important settings from the story.

3. Act it out. Gather the family and announce the performance. Let your child take the lead and tell you whether she’d like to play all of the characters, or whether she wants some acting backup from you or a sibling. Once the show is over, place the sock puppets, scenery and written story summary in a brown bag and have your child write the story title on the front.  Be sure to keep your “story-in-a-bag” for future shows! This is a fun way to see if your child really understands and remembers a story, and who knows? It may become a new family tradition!

Thank you Seisha, it’s always good to pair up with others who enjoy promoting the fun in literacy.

I hope to get back into my blogging soon so watch this space for more to come.

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)

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Getting all Mixed up

Lego Army

Meet these little guys!

I have to warn you, these are not just Lego people. These figures have evolved into Captain Cuphead, Superstorm, The Undead Surfer, Conehead, Mr Brickhead, Skeleton Warrior, Leverhead Lenny and Torch. In fact I can’t possibly list the whole army!

This is the result of my boys secretly concocting their own Lego characters for their made up battle game. As you can see, it involves taking legs, heads and bodies apart and mixing them all up with unusual additions!

I love it when they play like this. This is how creativity grows. Children are naturally good at creating things as they aren’t limited by the boundaries we impose as adults. They are more open to the impossible becoming possible.

Creativity is the reason I encourage reading and writing so much, not just because I enjoy it but because to me creative thinking is one of the most important skills we can learn. It’s about thinking outside the box, mixing things up and trying new combinations. Creativity has no boundaries and no rules. It explores, it questions, it experiments and it jumbles up the conventional. By thinking and acting this way we become better equipped to deal with the lows in our lives. By turning things on their heads and thinking of novel ways to approach a problem we begin to create a few more highs in our lives. We might even make some innovative discoveries along the way!

Reading can ignite new creative ideas as the reader gets pulled into the writer’s potion of thoughts, knowledge, imagination and points of view. Whilst writing can be the outlet for translating the reader’s creation into a physical form for others to digest, interpret and mould into something else new.

As a children’s writer I experiment with letters to make new words, I mix words to make new sentences and new sentences to create new meanings with the aim of building a fantasy world which is unique, fun, interesting and believable. There’s a story in everything if I look hard enough.

But it’s not just writers who create. An artist expresses creativity by mixing up different mediums, colours and strokes to come up with an individual style. Musicians listen out for new chord combinations or varying tones and lyrics to add depth, feeling and connection to their pieces. Dancers strive for the ultimate emotive expression to draw their audience in by experimenting with different actions and facial expressions. All these activities require the same fluidity of thinking as do inventors, designers, sculptors, speakers, mathematicians, managers and so on. We are all creative thinkers who create new moments and stories each minute and each second of every day. How we present our creativity is the part which is unique to each one of us.

Now I’m sure some of these highly evolved Lego creatures must have some stories to tell……………….

2015 Writing Competitions for Children

2015 Writing Competitions for Children (1)

Image courtesy of tigger11th at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week saw the exciting announcement of the Chris Evans 2015 BBC 500 words writing competition for children (details below). So what’s the buzz all about? In the age of “don’t compare yourself to others, it’s not important what others are achieving” attitude why should we be encouraging our children to enter writing competitions?

Creative writing competitions are a fun way to encourage children to write and build upon the knowledge they have acquired through learning to read. Here are eight reasons to encourage children to enter writing competitions.

Writing competitions can consolidate their learning of how words and sentences are constructed by acting as a tool to practise their phonics, grammar, spelling, vocabulary and punctuation skills.

They can encourage them to think about the use and meaning of words on a deeper level: are they long sounding words or short sounding words, descriptive words, emotive words etc?

They can provide a lesson of how to work within boundaries by needing to consider the deadline, word count and subject matter.

Writing competitions can help hone creativity into structured thought processes helping them use their imagination effectively by putting it into a comprehensible format involving a story structure and plot.

They can improve confidence by creating a sense of achievement and purpose. Even if they don’t win they have still completed the challenge of writing the story with a purpose to enter it into a competition.

They can provide a child with a safe outlet to express their own feelings by exploring their emotions and opinions through their characters actions.

Writing competitions can develop empathy for others: how does the character feel and behave, why do they react in a certain way?

They are simply a life lesson: There is always that chance of winning. Aim high. They may not win but should always try. If they don’t win they have still gained valuable practise and experience from the process.

Here is a selection of more 2015 writing competitions for children or young adults. Some are closing in February so get those pencils moving and enjoy!

(Click title links for full terms and conditions for the individual competitions).

Iggy and Litro Young Writers’ Prize

Iggy Litro 6 Feb 15

Young Writers Out of this World Poetry Competition

YW Out of this World 13 Feb 15

Young Writers My First Acrostic Competition

YW My First Acrostic 13 Feb 15

BBC Young Writers’ Award with Booktrust 2015

BBC YW Booktrust

Chris Evans Breakfast Show 500 Words Writing Competition

Chris Evans 500 Words

Fresher Writing Wizardry Competition

Fresher Wizardry 28 Feb 15

Inkhead Short Story Competition 2015

Inkhead 1 Apr 15

National Literacy Trust Around the World with Wally

World with Wally 5 Apr 15

Wicked Young Writers Award

Wicked 17 Apr 15

Curry Mallett Children’s Short Story Competition

Curry Mallett 15 Jun 15

Laura Thomas Communications

8th International Annual Junior Authors Short Story Writing Contest

Laura Thomas 30 Jun 15

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to supply accurate competition information as at the date of this blog being published, the information supplied is intended as a summary of details and does not replace the full details of terms and conditions related to each competition. Therefore please refer to the relevant link / website (as above) for full and up to date entry requirements and terms and conditions at all times before entering any of the above mentioned competitions.

 

 

A Doorway to a Bigger World: Part 3: Imagination

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Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

IMAGINATION

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”. Albert Einstein

Imagination, WOW! Saving the best for last! Stories are a great source for developing imagination. Imagination is at the heart of all great achievements. Everything we achieve in life begins as a thought in our imagination. If we don’t use our imagination we only limit our achievements. Reading develops imagination by helping children to believe in possibilities beyond their own experience and that to me is like offering a child the potential for an incredibly fulfilling life. So how exactly does reading stimulate their imagination?

  1. Reading develops the skills to visually imagine something in order to make sense of it. Children need to be actively engaged in the story in order to become a part of the story and be able to critically and imaginatively process the information in front of them. To actively engage in a story demands a visually imaginative mind to comprehend the ideas and meaning conveyed. To explain this further, if a child is still learning to read they first need to visualise the letters in relation to each other as meaningful words. They then have to figure out what the individual words mean within the sentences and their meaning within the context of the whole story. This requires the ability to imagine things from different perspectives in order to make sense of why they are put together that way. Then just to make the whole process that little bit more mind blowing, by this time more images, more ideas and thoughts are popping into their heads creating their own interpretation of the story. With all this going on simultaneously, it’s no wonder reading can be a real effort for many.
  2. Reading stories can provide inspiration for pretend play. Role play and pretend play, whether in the playground or independently at home is a way for children to act out and practise real life scenarios or conjure up their own make believe world.
  3. Books leave room for the imagination to grow. Picture books and films are a representation of the author’s and illustrator’s imagination. However, unlike films and television, a book cannot create the whole picture but inevitably leaves some gaps for the child to fill. Children are still required to imagine the feelings, the setting and sounds on a larger scale and it is the words which force these new images to appear in their minds. A book is a series of static snapshots of the story whereas television can encompass so many more continually active frames to the story. So an author’s creativity becomes the trigger for the child’s imagination to take part in the story, whereas television is more akin to passively viewing someone else’s idea.
  4. Reading introduces the possibility for new experiences. This may simply be through reading about an event or person they have no prior experience or knowledge of or it may be the idea that something is achievable that they previously thought was not. The point is, reading opens up their minds to consider what might be possible and it puts no limits on imagining what is possible.
  5. A large vocabulary leads to a creative communicator of ideas. Books by their very nature are bursting with words. The more words a child is familiar with the easier they find it to communicate their ideas and share what’s in their imagination. In turn by talking to others, more ideas and inspiration are absorbed in their minds which can only lead to an even greater imagination.

For more information on pretend play here is an article from Psychology Today Reading for Imaginative Play .