Thursday, July 30, 2009

Notable Children's Books in 2009

I regularly review some of the major children's literature awards on this blog. This has included the Newbery & Caldecott awards (USA), the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals (UK) and the Children's Literature Book Council Awards (Australia). While it's wonderful to consider the merits of the medal winners each year, the reality is that there are many other wonderful books that never win prizes. Parents and teachers obviously want information on more than just a handful of wonderful books published each year. This has been recognised by a number of organizations promoting children's literature and as consequence some publish a list of 'notable' books each year.

Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) notable books

For example, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) publishes a list of notable books (here) from the 'Newbery', 'Caldecott', 'Belpré', 'Sibert', 'Geisel', and 'Batchelder' award and honour books. They also list notable Children's Books that have also received American Library Association awards, such as the Coretta Scott King Award, Michael L. Printz Award, and Schneider Family Book Award. They include awards for literature as well as non-fiction. The ALSC defines notable books as those that are:
Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children's books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children's interests in exemplary ways.
Since 1996 they have also listed notable videos for children (here).

Jellicoe Road

Lists of this kind are a helpful resource to help identify books that don't necessarily win the top children's literature awards around the world. For example, 'Jellicoe Road' written by Australian author Melina Marchetta won the Michael L. Printz Award that is for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. This book was first published in 2006 in Australia as 'On the Jellicoe Road' but was first published in the USA in 2008 with a slightly changed name.

The book tells its story through strong characters with authentic voices. Like Marchetta’s other young adult novels (e.g. Looking for Alibrandi, 1993), 'Jellicoe Road' is an exploration of relationships and family traditions. The main character Taylor Markham is making the transition from troubled teenager to independent young woman. She struggles with the the memories of her past. The book uses a dual narrative that allows the parallel telling of how Taylor reluctantly leads the students of the Jellicoe School in secret territory wars against the Townies and the Cadets. The book evokes strong images of the Australian landscape through a story full of suspense, emotion, romance, humour and tragedy.

Children's Book Council of Australia

Each year the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) publishes a list of 100 notable books. Once again, the purpose in doing this is to recognise the many fine books that are published each year but which don't necessarily receive the recognition they should, simply because they are not shortlisted in the annual CBCA Children's Book of the year awards. The limitation of awards and shortlists is that by definition they are 'short'(!) and so fail to capture the full range of wonderful books published each year.

Shaun Tan's 'Tales from Outer Suburbia' is one of 102 (!) books that have made the list of notable books in 2009. As the CBCA awards have not been announced yet this book, like all others on the list, could still become a winner or honour book in 2009. Irrespective of the award outcomes, inclusion on the 'Notable list' offers greater profile for a larger number of excellent books. You can download the CBCA 2009 Notable list (here).

Related links

All previous posts on children's literature awards (here).

All children's literature posts (here).

'Children's Literature Assembly' Notable books (here).

Friday, July 24, 2009

2009 Kate Greenaway & Carnegie Medals Announced

In Great Britain there are two major awards for children's books - the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal (here). Both are run by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

The Carnegie Medal
is awarded to an outstanding book for children and young adult readers. Nominated books must be written in English and should have been published first in the UK in the year before the awards. The Carnegie judging panel consists of 13 children's librarians from the Youth Libraries Group of CLIP. Nominated books are also read by students from many schools who send feedback to the judging panel.

The award was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). His experience of using a library as a child led him to resolve that if he ever acquired wealth that " should be used to establish free libraries." Carnegie set up more than 2800 libraries across the English speaking world and, by the time of his death, over half the library authorities in Great Britain had Carnegie libraries.

The first medal was awarded to Arthur Ransome for his novel ‘Pigeon Post’, this was the sixth book in the well-known 'Swallows and Amazons' series.

The Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for excellence in illustration. The award was established in 1955 for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It was named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her wonderful children's illustrations and designs. As if to set the standards very high no award was made in the inaugural year as no book was seen as worthy enough. The first book awarded was Edward Ardizzone's, 'Tim All Alone' in 1956. In a previous post I outlined the shortlist for the 2009 Kate Greenaway Medal (here). The winners of both medals have recently been announced.

The 2009 Winners

a) Carnegie Medal

Siobhan Dowd,
Bog Child
Publisher: David Fickling Books

Age range: 12+

The book is set in the troubled world of Ireland in the 1980s. A teenager named Fergus goes digging for peat with his Uncle Tally and finds something that shocks him. Curled up deep in the bog is the body of a young girl and it appears as if she has been murdered. As Fergus tries to make sense of what is going on in his, the mystery of the child in the bog is revealed to him in a dream.

The author Siobhan Dowd finished the book just three months before her death from cancer. Dowd is the first posthumous winner of the award. It was her fourth book.

In announcing the award Joy Court, chair of the judging panel commented that book is "an absolutely astonishing piece of be able to write like that when she was going through what she was going through is just astonishing – the sheer beauty of the language, the descriptions of the environment; she has such an amazing sense of place."

Full Carnegie shortlist (here)

b) Kate Greenaway Medal

Catherine Rayner, Harris Finds His Feet

Publisher: Good Books

Age Range: Preschool+

Edinburgh author and illustrator Catherine Rayner is the winner of the 2009 the Kate Greenaway Medal for a book inspired by a wild hare and her own rather large feet. The book 'Harris Finds His Feet' is only her second book.

Harris is a small hare with very large feet who heads out into the world with his Grandad. His Grandad has taught him many things including how to hop high into the sky and run very fast. But Harris has to grow up and find his own way in the world.

Joy Court, Chair of the Kate Greenaway judging panel commented, “Harris is a triumph, from the way he moves and his expressions to his velvety fur and his oversized feet. His relationship with his Grandad is beautifully evoked as are the times of day and the textures of the exquisite landscapes around him, in a book which oozes charm and glows with colour.

Rayner is a young author/illustrator (just 27!). In 2006 she was named Best New Illustrator at the Booktrust Early Years Awards.

Full Kate Greenaway Shortlist (here)

Related links

My previous post on the Kate Greenaway Shortlist (here)

Other posts on children's literature awards (here)

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Challenge of Boys and Reading

We have known for a long time that girls seem to make a faster start in reading. Many have explained this by pointing to the fact that girls are usually faster to speak. They arrive at school more articulate and with more extensive vocabularies than boys. However, in the last 2-3 decades the gap between the literacy achievements of boys and girls has widened in favour of girls. Professor William G. Brozo who is co-author of the book 'Bright beginnings for boys' shared this summary of boys' literacy achievements (primarily American data) at an American Literacy conference in October 2008:

  • By grade 4 an average boy is two years behind an average girl in reading and writing
  • Boys make up 70% of special education classes
  • Boys are four times more likely to have ADHD
  • Boys are 50% more likely to repeat a grade than girls
  • Boys are three times more likely to be placed in a reading disability or learning class
So we know we have a problem, but what do we do about it?

Helping boys to become readers

I have shared some of these ideas in a previous post (here) but I've developed them a little further here. Before sharing a list of specific hints, let me share what I see as four fundamental things about boys and literacy:

1. Boys are more likely to be attracted to books and reading when the books and the reading event (whether at school, or reading with mum and dad) offer opportunities to discover, experiment, explore, learn new things, make them laugh, consider the curious or unusual, help them to play, see how things work, share trivia tricks and facts with other boys, explore the unknown, and generally do interesting things.

2. Boys need to understand the value of story and storytelling from an early age. This can be acquired through early books, the stories you share with them (anecdotes, memories, tall tales etc), traditional stories and fantasy. Until boys value story, they will struggle to cope with reading.

3. Fathers and mothers need to learn how to listen to and read with your sons. Reading to and with you should be enjoyable, not boring or a chore. See my previous post on this topic (here).

4. Fathers have a key role to play in boys literacy and learning development (see my post on research in this area here).

At a more basic level:
  • Boys need a lot of help choosing books that they will not only like, but which they will be able to read. Take the time to help your sons choose books, if they pick up a book with an exciting cover and find that they can't read it this will be a disincentive.
  • Fathers have a special role to play in encouraging boys to see reading as a worthwhile pursuit. Fathers who read will have sons who read. Fathers need to read to and with their sons. A good way to do this with older boys who struggle is to read the first few pages aloud and then ask your son to read on. In this way you'll find that your son can read for longer and cope with harder books.
  • Don't forget the importance of non-fiction - boys want to learn and non-fiction is often a good way in - try books about sea creatures, space, sport, transport, technology of any kind.
  • There is also a place for riddles, joke books, cartoons, poetry and silly rhymes.
  • Comics and magazines are also a good place to start - get them reading. But don’t forget that it is the quality of the story that will ultimately motivate boys to want to read and so quality literature is important to develop long-term readers.
  • Online reading and research is also a good source of reading challenge for boys.
I hope I haven't given the impression above that only fathers can motivate boys to read. Let's face it, more often than not it is mothers who read more stories to their younger children. But there is an important place for men reading books to and with boys, and research evidence shows that fathers have a key role to play with boys' literacy and learning (see my previous post on this here).

Some sure fire starters for young boys

If you can't get your 3-5 year old boy to listen to a story try one of these ideas to turn around:

Read a book dramatically that lends itself to lots of action, loud noises and maybe a rumble half way through (when the wolf eats Grandma, or the boy gets falls out of the tree). Be dramatic, get their attention!

Read a story that they've heard before but mess up the story line as you go along. This is probably how writers invented fractured fairy tales. The first little pig built his house from straw, but he wasn't stupid, so he used super glue to hold the straw together. The wolf knocked at the door and said, "Little pig, little pig, let me come in." The pig replied, "No, no, no, I've used super glue, get lost." "Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow you're house down," roared the wolf. "Two chances wolfey, get lost" and so on. It doesn't matter if the story logic breaks down, they will still love it anyway.

Get out some dress-up clothes and get them involved in acting out the story. Try to involve all members of the family and have lots of fun. You can sacrifice the accuracy of the story in favour of having a great time.

Some books about Boys and reading

Some of the following books offer good general advice about boys and reading

'Bright beginnings for boys: Engaging young boys in active literacy', Debby Zambo and William G. Brozo, International Literacy Association
'The trouble with boys', Peg Tyre
'Best books for boys: A resource for educators', Matthew D. Zbaracki
'Raising bookworms: Getting kids reading for pleasure and empowerment', Emma Hamilton
'The Reading Bug', Paul Jennings

Other Web Resources

'Guys Read Website' - I don't like the design of this site but it has a great set of links to authors who write books that boys might like. Here is the link.

The UK Literacy Trust has a great list of resource links dealing with boys and literacy (here).

The Hamilton Public Library in Canada has a useful site with some good booklists and advice (here)

Max Elliot Anderson's blog 'Books for Boys' has some very useful material and links (here)

You can read all of my posts on boys (here) and boys education (here) using these links.

Family Action Centre at Newcastle University has an Excellent Fatherhood Network and many programs (here)

Friday, July 10, 2009

20 Fun Language & Thinking Games for Travellers

This post is a follow on from my last post 'Holiday Activities: 30 simple ways to stimulate learning' (here). This time I've just focussed on great language games that can be easily played in the car on long (or short) journeys. Many of them could also be played in a bus, or in some cases, a train. I've tried to keep the ideas simple and adaptable for use with children of varied ages. I've included a number of games that we played with our children in the car when they were young, some I used when teaching and some new ones that I'd love to play with my grandchildren. Most of the new ones have been gleaned from a great resource published by Usborne Children's books, '50 things to do on a journey' (here). I've modified many of the latter to suit the needs of younger children as well. One thing to note is that you don't have to play every one of these games competitively and if you do, you might need to handicap older children.

1. Sound word categories

You start this game by agreeing on 3-5 categories (depending on the age of the children and their vocabularies) for which people will have to be able to think of words that belong to them; for example, an insect, flower, person, country, girl's name, action word. Someone chooses a letter (maybe Mum or Dad to make sure that it isn't too hard) that has to be used by everyone and is applied to each category. The fastest person to quickly name their words earns 3 points, the second gets 2 and the third 1. So for the letter 'f' and the three categories insect, country and girl's name you could say fly, France and Fiona. A parent usually acts as the timer.

2. Top 6 (or 10 if your children get to be good at it)

This activity is a variation on the previous 'Sound Word Categories'. You vary it by choosing a category and then seeing if someone can list 6-10 words that fit the category. For example, think of 10 car names, dogs, books, insects, snakes, footballers etc. The person who thinks of the most words in a category wins.

3. Rhyming words

Pick a word that is easy to rhyme with other real words. Each person takes a turn. The winner is the person who is the last one to think of a rhyming word. For example, heat, seat, meat, bleat, sleet, neat, pleat..... If the children are older they can write the words down simultaneously.

4. Don't say yes

This is a slightly harder game but lots of fun. One person has to answer questions and the others get to ask them questions to which the answer is obviously 'yes', but they must answer every question truthfully without saying 'yes'. If they do say 'yes', or can't answer, the turn ends and the person asking the question earns a point. For example, Karen is asked, "Do you like ice-cream"? To which she might answer, "Most people like milk-based products that are cold." The next person in the car asks a question, but it mustn't be simply the same question. For example, they could ask, "Do you like milk-based products in cones?" To which the reply might be, "Some I like to eat in a wafer case."

5. Spotto......

One of our family's favourite games in the car was 'Spotto windmill'. We lived in the country and often drove for 5-6 hours towards the coast. In key areas there were lots of windmills pumping water for stock. But you don't have to use windmills; you can spot billboards, bridges, trees, birds, and animals, almost anything that is common. The game can be concluded in various ways, such as the first to 30, ending it at a specific landmark or just stopping when you're tired of it or you run out of windmills (or whatever).

6. What's your job

This game starts with someone thinking of a job. Others then guess by trying to find out details about what the person does, where they work, they use tools, what skills you need etc. The skill is in asking just the right questions. Does this person work outdoors? Do they drive something? Do they use special tools? Can they work alone? etc. The aim is to see who can get it right. Every person in the car takes it in turns to ask a question and you keep rotating until someone gets it right. That person gets to pick the next job and it all starts over again.

7. Guess my song

Someone picks a song and they have to hum the first line. Everyone in the car has one guess then the person hums an extra line if no-one gets it after the first round. This continues until someone gets the song.

8. Guess the person

One person in the car thinks of a person everyone knows (e.g. a family member, TV star, book character, teacher, cartoon character, famous person), and then everyone takes turns to ask a question about them. Is it a man or a woman? Are they young or old? Does she have black hair? Does he wear glasses? Is she famous?

9. I Spy..

This is a well-known game. It can be varied for young children by simply asking for categories rather than insisting on letter names or sounds. So the variations can include: "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with" 'p' (letter name) or 'p' (sound name) or even, "that is green". The last variation is a good way to involve very young children and the categories can be very varied. "I spy with my little eye a thing that ...." is black...or, a little thing that bites... or, a person who likes coffee... or, a thing the car has to stop at etc.

10. Back to back words

People think of words that begin the way the last word ends. You will need to demonstrate this a few times and it isn't that suitable for children under 6 years. It might go like this: pot, tree, egg, goat, top, pot, turtle, elf, fog, goldfish. You can make the game harder for older children if you like by asking for the words to fit specific single categories like animals, names, places.

11. Who lives there?

This is a great game. Wait till you stop at traffic lights or you are travelling slowly enough to see a house long enough to remember some details. People take turns adding details to describe who might live there. This can be very creative or an accurate set of predictions. Each player builds (plausibly) on the previous person's clues. For example, first person says, "a mother lives there with her three children". The next person says, "the children are aged 3, 7 and 16". The next person says, "their names are, Sue, Pickle and Wobble.". The next says, "Wobble is named after his Dad (Bobble) who is on a round the world yacht trip" etc. When people run out of ideas you start again. You could vary this by choosing a car. The first person might say, "That car has a family of three children and their parents heading for the seaside".

12. Twenty questions

This starts with someone choosing an object, person, place, country etc that others have to identify. The others in the car have a chance to ask questions (maximum of 20 for each thing chosen). The questions are answered with a 'yes' or a 'no'. When someone thinks they know it they can guess. You can score this different ways (or not all). The person whose word is not guessed can score points as can the person who guesses correctly.

13. Memory game

There are many memory games, but a common one involves thinking of things that are in the car (or the boot/trunk), an imaginary backpack, suitcase, the kitchen at home, the beach where you'll visit. The people in the car add an item to a list and the next person must repeat previous details and add their own. People are eliminated when they forget an item. So it could start like this: "In the car we have a radio", to which someone says, "in the car we have a radio and a steering wheel", which could become "in the car we have a radio and a steering wheel, plus a pesky sister.....". A parent might write them down as you progress to avoid disputes.

14. Never-ending story

This game has two main forms, a single word version and a sentence version. In the word version people in the car take turns adding to a story one word at a time. It might go like this: "It", "was", "the", "first", "day", "of", "the", "monster's", "summer", "camp"....and so on. The members of the game try to make it impossible to add to the story because the last word is pretty much the last word.

The sentence version is slightly more complex but just as much fun.

15. Word association

This game is a bit trickier but can be handled by children 6+. Someone starts with a word and the next person has to add a word that has an association. Using just nouns and verbs is easiest. The game ends when a word is repeated or someone is stuck. You can have winners and losers if you want but it isn't necessary. Here's how it might go. "Dogs", "bark", "bones", "kennel", "growl", "fleas", "wag", "tail", "scratch" etc.

16. Who am I?

The first player thinks of the name of someone who everyone will know then gives a clue about their identity, for example, Big Bird, a relative, a cartoon character etc. The people in the car then take turns trying to guess who it is. If they get it then they have a turn at choosing the identity. For example, if the player chose 'Bob the Builder' they might start like this: "I fix things".

17. Oh no!

This is a great idea for 3-4 people in a car. Someone starts a story with the words "Oh no!" followed by a simple statement. They might say, "Oh no! There's a spider in my pocket." People then take it in turns to add to the story using "but" as their first word to turn a serious circumstance into a not so serious one, and vice versa. They might add, "But it is only plastic". To which someone might say, "but it has dynamite in it". This continues until the players get sick of it or until everyone agrees that an appropriate ending has been found.

18. Special choices
This game requires people to choose between two options and give their reasons. Someone has to come up with the choice. For example, "If I had to choose between snakes or caterpillars" might receive the responses" "I'd choose caterpillars because I'm a robin", or "I'd choose a snake to surprise my teacher" and so on.

19. Twenty-Five

The first person chooses a letter or sound at random. Each person then needs to write down (or say) 25 things inside or outside the car that begin with the letter. The game ends either by at the end of set time (say 3 minutes) and the points are tallied. You can score many ways, such as 1 point for every correct word or 1 for each word and 3-5 for each unique word.

20. Teapot This game starts with one player picking a verb (action/doing word). The other players in the car then have to ask questions about the verb, but they replace it with the word "teapot." For example, if the word is "swim", the first question asked might be, "Do cars teapot?" Of the course the answer is "No." Players keep asking questions until someone guesses the verb.
'50 Things to do on a journey', Usborne Activity Cards.

'Holiday activities: 30 simple ways to stimulate learning'

'Stimulating language, literature & learning in holidays' - Part 1

'Stimulating language, literature & learning in holidays' - Part 2

Friday, July 3, 2009

Children's Holiday activities: 30 simple ways to stimulate learning

While Australian school children are just about to commence winter holidays, northern hemisphere children are in the middle of summer holidays. This is a time when parents can find children challenging. It is so easy for children to become bored in the holidays when their daily routines are suddenly changed. In the USA of course there is an even greater challenge when children are have three months of holidays. I've written a variety of posts on 'Stimulating Language and Literacy Learning' at about this time last year (here & here). This post is a summary of two previous posts on 'Stimulating Language and Literacy Learning' with a few new ideas. My assumption is that you will be responsible for one or more children for a period of at least a couple of weeks. I'll offer some general hints then simply list 30 ideas that I think will work with most kids.

A few basics hints:
  • Have a strategy for the holidays - map out a timetable (post it on the wall) and try to plan a few significant events and think through the general structure of each day.
  • If you have younger children still at home, being joined by school kids on holidays, try to think about how you will cope with all their interests and think about varying daily routines a little.
  • Pace yourself - don't use all your best ideas in the first few days (you'll wear them and yourself out and you'll struggle to keep up the variation later).
  • Expect bad weather - think about some ideas that will work in rainy weather as well. It's called the "Law of Holidays" - expect lots of wet weather and a day or two of sick kids.
Here are 30 simple ideas

Books with a difference

1. Pick some special books they haven't seen - try to borrow or buy at least 2 books for each child that you think they'll enjoy. For young children these will end up being read and re-read many times. You don't have to buy them, visit a library or buy them cheaply at the local opportunity shop (most have lots of books). See my post on book exchanges, op shops and web exchange sites here.

2. Books as a creative stimulus - While the shear joy of the book is usually enough, sometimes books can stimulate many wonderful creative activities. For example:
  • After reading Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things are" go outside and dramatise it. Let one child be Max and let others take turns at being the wild things. Make a boat out of bits of wood, or even have a go at making one out of a large cardboard box (or several).
  • After reading Jeannie Baker's book "Where the Forest Meets the Sea" (a book about the Daintree Rainforest in which all the pictures are collage) encourage them to make a collage out of natural materials (and maybe some wool, straws etc to supplement) in response to Baker's pictures. Or read a second book and have them use collage in response.
  • After reading Graeme Base's "The Waterhole" get them to paint the waterhole (they can draw the animals, cut them out and paste them around the waterhole).
3. Books in cars - Some children don't like reading in cars (and some get car sick) so why not try a read aloud book (book with a CD). It will help to make a long trip shorter. I intend to write my next post on this topic in the next week or so.

4. Dramatisation - Dramatisation is an excellent way to respond to a book. If you have a dress-up box all the better. Let your children either re-tell the story through dramatisation or improvise. Get involved to help set the pattern for turn taking etc. I play a mean wolf, and an even better Grandma!


5. Free writing - Encourage all children (even as young as 1 year-old) to 'write'. Give them some paper and ask them to write. Write with them. You can make up some lined books with a cover and suggest that that they tell a story in words and pictures. Even 3-4 year-olds will give the words a go. See my previous post on writing (here).

6. Diaries and journals - Introduce older children to diaries or holiday journals.

7. A holiday blog - Tech savvy mums and dads might encourage their children to write online. Why not set up a family blog that can be read by friends and relatives (even if only for two weeks). You could use this as part of a trip away, or just use it at home. Older children could set up the blog themselves and all family members could contribute. Let them have access to a digital camera and a scanner and the sky is the limit.

8. Start a family joke or riddle book - give them some jokes as models ("Knock, knock", "Why did the centipede cross the road"....)

9. Email or letter exchange - Encourage your children to write letters, send postcards or send emails to relatives and friends.


In a two-week holiday I'd aim to plan 3-4 outings. Some outings cost nothing; others do come at a price. Here are a few ideas:

10. Zoos or wildlife parks - If you're in the city the zoo takes a lot of beating. It's expensive one-off, but a Zoo Friends' program (e.g. Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney) will enable you to go whenever you like for about the cost of 3 family trips. If you live in Sydney a cheaper option (but a good one) is Featherdale Wildlife Park at Blacktown and the kids will get VERY close to the animals (and will be able to feed them) in a small and friendly park with lots of free parking. Again in Sydney there is our wonderful Aquarium (book online it's cheaper).

11. Visit a museum or art gallery - In Sydney we have many including the Australian Museum in College Street, the Power House and the Museum of Sydney. The Australian Museum has a wonderful dinosaur exhibition. The Maritime Museum is worth a visit.

12. Visit an historic site - There are free sites and some that charge. In Sydney it's free to visit La Perouse including Captain Cook's landing place. But you can pay reasonable admission prices to go to places like Elizabeth Farm, Old Government House (Parramattta) and the Hyde Park Barracks (one of my favourites).

NOTE: If you're not in Sydney this is no excuse; most towns of 10,000+ people have significant places to visit. For example, Bathurst (NSW) has the Australian Mineral and Fossil Museum in Bathurst (NSW) is a stunning museum that will get any child interested in rocks! As well it has the Bathurst Sheep & Cattle Drome. Sovereign Hill is a replica of an early Australian gold rush town and its in regional Ballarat (Vic). You can visit Timber Town, that re-creates an early Australian mill town in the 1800s, at Wauchope (near Port Macquarie) on the NSW mid-north coastal region.

13. Walks - In most places you will find national parks, botanic gardens or physical features and locations worth visiting. Remember that boys in particular love open spaces. Give them an oval and they'll run around for hours rumbling, throwing balls and chasing other people. If you want something more structured and planned and you live on the coast, why not explore some beaches (you don't have to swim in winter). In Sydney John Wells has documented all 150 of Sydney's beaches complete with public transport advice and things to do - this is a classic non-commercial website. You can have fun even in winter. Rug up and collect shells, rocks and just fossick.


14. The cinema - On wet days movies are perfect. In Australia Tuesday is usually half price at many theatres so this is the perfect time to go. As usual there many new release movies.

15. Plan a home movie night - get a good DVD, spread out blankets and pillows on the floor, dim the lights, make some popcorn or make some pizza.


If you're imaginative you can come up with your own ideas. If you're not, and want a good website try Kids Craft Weekly (which is outstanding).

16. Planned craft could include - simple beadwork, noodle craft, mask making, making plaster moulds (and painting them), anything for young children that requires paper tearing, gluing, glitter, stickers.

17. Simple activity books - Discount shops like Reject Shops, Teks, Go-Lo etc often have stacks of colouring in books, dot-to-dot, alphabet, pre-reading etc. Not really all craft, but they combine some colouring with word play etc (don't do too much of this).

18. Unstructured creative craft needs materials - Stock up when you go to the supermarket with simple materials like paper plates (good for masks), brown paper bags, sticky tape, glue, cotton balls, tooth picks, paper cupcake holders, straws (cutting up and threading), noodles (for threading).

19. Reverse Garbage - The Reverse Garbage is a not-for-profit co-operative that sells industrial discards, off-cuts and over-runs to the public for creative uses. They have been operating in Marrickville for 31 years (this one is for Sydney people only, but there may be equivalents in other places). Take the kids as an excursion, let them choose some stuff then take it home to use.

Creative Play

I've written a number of previous posts on play (here) but planning for play is important. While you can say to your children go outside and 'play', doing some simple planning at times will lead to more stimulating play times.

20. Dress-up box - If you don't have one take the kids to the Op shop to start one. You might even pick up some gems like old helmets, hats, belts (you can cut them down), handbags etc.

21. Water play - This is hard in winter, but maybe you could make bath-time special for littlies with extra bubbles, different stuff to take in it. In warmer weather give them a bucket of water and some things to scoop, sieve etc - BUT ONLY UNDER SUPERVISION, kids can drown in a few inches of water, even in a bucket.

22. Play dough - Carmen's can't fail recipe is 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 cup of plain flour, 0.5 cup of cooking salt, 2 tablespoons Cream of Tartar, 1 cup of water, colouring. Mix together and put in a saucepan on medium heat until it binds together, stirring all the time. Fold together by hand. If you keep it in a sealed plastic bag it will last for ages in or outside the fridge.

There are endless things to do with play dough. Try to move beyond just cutting out shapes (which kids still love). Encourage them to make a house, a farmyard, a bed, and an aquarium. Use some plastic animals with the play dough or small plastic people. If you don't mind tossing the play dough out you can let them use sticks, plants etc to make simple dioramas. Kids will create complex stories as they manipulate the play dough.

Above: Jacob (5), Rebecca (3) and Elsie 18 months playing with play dough

23. Bubbles - You can't go wrong with bubbles.

24. Balloons - Blow them up, let them go, kick them around, let out the air to make noises (boys love it!), try some helion balloons and let them go, etc.

25. Build a cubby house - No not with wood, just use a table, some chairs, wardrobes (hitch the blankets into the top of the doors, some pegs and sheets and blankets. By draping them over other objects you should be able to create a special space (about 2x2 metres is enough for three small kids). Try to get at least 1.5 metres of height. Have the kids 'help' and then get them to collect some special things to have in the cubby. Use a toy box for a table, some cushions to sit on. I always let my grandchildren have my cheap transistor radio from my shed (lots of fun). Girls might like a tea set; boys will collect animals and toys, both will like books. If you're up to it, climb in as well and read some stories. They'll like the edges tucked in to cut out light so you might need a torch. I've seen a cubby of this kind amuse kids for half a day. Then of course for the adventurous you can share some snack food as well.

Above: Jacob in a 'house' that he made (with help) from a box we saved

Indoor and back yard fun

26. Treasure hunts - Write the clues on paper using words and pictures depending on ages and make the treasure worthwhile (chocolate, a coupon for an ice cream in the kitchen etc).

27. Board games (see my previous post here)

28. Cooking - Kids love cooking with their mothers or fathers. Do simple stuff; my daughter Nicole has talked about this a number of times on her blog 168 Hours.

29. Household chores - I know that Nicole has blogged on this too; Jake and Rebecca just loved washing the outside windows. Give them a bucket, sponges, scraper etc and they'll have fun. They'll enjoy gardening as well (give them a confined and simple task) if you do it with them.

30. Scavenger hunts - There are endless ideas for this activity and it is great in the park or in a yard. For a great variation try an insect scavenger hunt (one of my grandchildren's favourite activities). You'll be surprised just how many you can find. You'll to be careful turning rocks over and digging around, but even in Australia it's low risk if you supervise. Place a pile of bricks in a damp place and then let the kids help you to uncover them a few days later - watch the critters scurry.

Some good kids websites (just a sample)

Kids websites will also provide hours of focused fun activities for children. Here are a few examples:

Postman Pat
Clifford the big red dog
Animal homes (games etc)
The Playground ABC Kids
Thomas and Friends
Kids Discovery (older kids) - play games; build your own volcano etc
Google Earth (older kids can explore their world)

I hope the ideas in both posts offer a few new ideas, or maybe just reminders of things you have forgotten. With all the ideas the aim has been to:
  • Stimulate creativity
  • Encourage exploration and discovery
  • Use their hands as well as their minds
  • Encourage interaction between you and your children
  • Foster literacy development
  • Increase their knowledge
  • Keep them interested