Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Ideas for 'Doing' School at Home During the Covid-19 Virus

Around the world there are many families trying to manage life at home during the Covid-19 Pandemic. While every family's situation and each nation is dealing with this problem in different ways, all families face similar challenges. As a trained teacher, author of varied learning activities for parents,  and devoted father and grandfather I've tested these ideas and many more. But due to the Corona Virus many parents across the world have found themselves acting as teachers at home. This is a nightmare for some, but it can be rewarding and even fun!

Many are asking:
  • How can I as a parent, who isn't a trained teacher, make this work?
  • What if my child gets through all of the school work in a couple of hours?
  • How can I make some of the work fun and engaging?
  • How do I juggle my paid work if I'm working at home as a parent at the same time?
In this post, I want to lay out some basic principles for teaching your children at home (I'll come back to some of the above questions later) and offer some practical ideas. In future posts, I will outline further practical ideas to make home learning not only effective but exciting and fun, even if you aren't a trained teacher. The ideas have all been tested by me and my wife who was also a teacher with children aged 5-12 years. Some of them will work for older children too, or if you have a wide age range in your family, one of the older children might become the 'teacher' for one or two of the activities. But first some DO's and some implied DON'Ts.

#1 Do establish some basic rules - these must be complied with if your children hope to do some of the other things that they might enjoy more than school work (e.g. computer games, TV, online activities, social media, outdoor games and exercise if still possible and allowed in your country). You need some basic rules for your children and you need to stick to them (stick them up on the wall). And as the 'teacher' one of the most important rules for you is to be consistent in applying the rules.

#2 Do complete the work that your children's teachers are setting - but don't assume that it has to be done first (especially if it's all hard and demanding). Some private schools will have sent your child home with very prescriptive guidelines for what is to be done and when. This might require online activities, class participation using varied platforms for online, prescribed content, media, group work and so on. But, you do have some freedom even in such prescription. If there's a meltdown, all school prescriptions might be set aside for an hour or two. This is about emotional 'survival', for you and your children.

#3 Do program in physical activities outside (weather permitting). There are many things that can be done with varied age groups. Board games (I've written about this on my blog), online games, sport, watching special programs via available content streams like Netflix, Disney, STAN etc.

#4 If you are able, DO establish a place within your home or apartment where school activities take place. Rather than private spaces in bedrooms I'd recommend 'public' places like the dining room, or a family room (if you are lucky enough to have such a place). In this space, you might have a shared computer (if you aren't able to have more than one device), a tablet (or two perhaps), hopefully internet access etc. When they enter this space for the activities of school, it is school! Insist on this.

# 5 Do provide time for marking work (if that is the task of the parent not teachers) and give good feedback and praise. Much of this will take place as you supervise, but do read written work and give some feedback to your children. Try to be constructive, not just critical. And do find something to commend.

# 6 Do be consistent! Discipline for the teacher always breaks down when they are inconsistent towards children in the class (or group at home). This will happen even faster for the parent if you let one child away with bad behaviour or attitude, but not the others.

# 7 Do build into the day planned 'Tension Breakers'. 'Tension breakers' (i.e. things to stop chaos when the wheels are falling off the family, or a child is having a meltdown!) are used when everyone seems to have had enough. Try to use activities that involve all children and hopefully at least one parent in the activities. Here are some examples:

a) Sure Fire Mimes - You can make up your own but make sure that they are suitable for varied ages. For example:

* You are trying to teach someone to knit
* You are a cat washing yourself
* You are a pirate being forced to walk the plank
* You are a tightrope walker at a circus
* You are a famous pianist walking onto the stage
* You are paddling a kayak when you lose your only paddle
* You are making a snowman
* You are decorating a birthday cake

b) Rearranging clothes - One child leaves the room and makes a minor alteration to his or her clothing (must be visible). They might leave a button undone, loosen a belt, undo, slightly rearrange their clothes or hair, and so on.

c) Five minute fillers - there are lots of options here. They are challenges of one kind or another. Try to make them such that children of varied ages can do well at most of them.

  • Making paper snakes
Give each child a small piece of identical paper (perhaps 10cm x 5cm, but the photo is using a Post-it note) and ask each child to see how they can tear the paper into a single 'snake' by working along the paper from out edge to the middle. The longest unbroken 'snake' wins.

  • Never ending story
As the 'teacher' you start a simple story that the children add to (maximum of 6 words), until you run out of inspiration. At first be generous if some find it hard to stick to 6 words. For example:

Oscar went for a ride...
He ran into ...
Who could have guessed that ...?
How would he possibly ...?
Fortunately, ....
But ...
How could he ever ...?
I guess that he ...

  • Who's that talking behind my back?
One child stands about 4 metres away from everyone and once they are blindfolded and looking away someone chosen by the parent is asked to whisper 'very' softly just two words. The blindfolded person has to guess who it was.

  • Ventriloquists

Give each child a turn to repeat a 3-5 word sentence without moving their lips. The group votes to decide who was best at it (the parent has 2 votes!). For example, "my front tooth is aching".

You can trot out tension breakers like the above when everyone seems to be getting tired, or as a reward after a more demanding task.

In my next few posts I will share some other ideas that might help to make learning at home more interesting. These will include:

  • Helpful educational apps to use on tablets or phones
  • Outdoor activities that can work
  • Books that are great for reading aloud
  • Poems for sharing
  • Art activities that are easy and fun
  • Cooking lessons
  • Fun activities outside  

Friday, March 6, 2020

Eight Stunning New Picture Books for Children aged 3-8 years

1. 'Wheels' by Sally Sutton & illustrated by Brian Lovelock

I've reviewed Sally Sutton's books before on this blog, including her other books in the transport series 'Roadworks', 'Demolition', 'Construction', 'Dig, Dump, Roll' and now 'Wheels'. I love this series of books and so do children aged 1-4 years.

Rumbly wheels, grumbly wheels, Hauling-up-the-hill wheels. Wheels go fast, wheels go slow. Shout what’s coming, if you know!

Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock with his wonderful illustrations keep producing these stirring rhythmical and jaunty stories that sweep readers and listeners along as fast as the transport!

In this new book, a boy and his sister watch vehicles going down a street and keep trying to guess what will come next. Brian Lovelock's illustration are as engaging as the rhythm and rhyme of these books.

Sally Sutton's book 'Roadworks' won the Picture Book category of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in 2009, and in 2015 'Construction' was a finalist. Sally has also written many other books for children. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

2. 'Noodle' by Mark Gravas

Noodle Bear is just crazy about noodles. When he fails to turn up at his best friend, Fox's birthday party she tries to coax him away from this preoccupation with noodles with other delicious treats. His bear cave has become a mess as he eats noodles all day long. Finally, he runs out of noodles, and his solution is to head for the big city to become a contestant on the biggest game show of them all, "Noodle Knockout". Inevitably, he becomes star with more noodles than he can eat. But noodles and fame can't seem to fill the empty space left when he turned away from home and friends. Will he come to his senses and seek his friends once again?

Mark Gravas is an animator and director from Sydney. He is well known as the creator and director of "Yakkity Yak" (2002/2003), an Australian/Canadian co-production. He also directed the 2005 animated film "Here Comes Peter Cottontail: The Movie" and designed and directed the 2006 Cartoon Network production of "Casper's Scare School". Writing and illustrating children's books has long been a goal of his. Children will be just as delighted as this book as his animation work.

3. 'Jelly-Boy' by Nicole Godwin and illustrated by Christopher Nielsen

I love this book with its text that has been beautifully crafted by Nicole Godwin. It isn't easy to create a picture book that tackles a significant environmental challenge without it drifting from storytelling to teaching and preaching. But 'Jelly Boy' manages to navigate this tough territory and make a significant point while still creating a great story. This is an environmental topic that needs to be shared with the young and the old.

In an unlikely love twist, a jellyfish falls in love with a plastic bag she mistakes for a jelly-boy? Jelly-Boy is different. He is big and strong. And not as wobbly as the other Jelly-boys. By the time Jelly-Girl discovers the dangerous truth about her new friend, it may already be too late.

Christopher Nielsen's illustrations make a significant contribution to the success of this stunning picture book. But it does not overshadow the skill of the writer. I just love the cleverness of the dialogue created by Nicole Godwin between Jellyfish and 'Jelly-Boy'. Wonderful stuff!

'You were big and strong.
And not as wobbly as other jelly-boys.
You were a good listener.
And so very brave.
My family didn't like you.
"He's not one of us."
"We've seen his type before."
"He's dangerous."

Christopher Nielsen as illustrator is inspired by his love of vintage design. His work has been acknowledged in many awards around the world and he has also received Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in the Illustrators Australia Awards.

4. 'When Sadness Comes to Call' by Eva Eland

It isn't easy to deal with Sadness whether young or old. This is the outstanding debut picture book from Eva Eland. It is the first in a series of picture books she will write that tackle key human emotions.

The short text is well crafted and very subtle and in no way overstated.

Sometimes sadness arrives unexpectedly.
It follows you around.
And sits so close to you, you can hardly breathe.
This is a beautiful debut picture book from the talented Eva Eland, who offers a wonderful book for young children 3-6 years old. I can't wait to see the next book in the series 'Where Happiness Begins'.

Publishers Weekly has described this little book as "...a deeply sensitive story".

Eva Eland is a Dutch Author Biography and Illustrator Biography who now lives in Cambridge England. She earned an MA with distinction in children’s book illustration from the Cambridge School of Art, and has also studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and the School of Visual Arts in New York.

5. 'Big Hug, Little Mouse' by Lisa Kerr

I'm a fan of Lisa Kerr and her books. As a big fan of Guess How Much I Love You (previously reviewed on this blog) I was keen to read 'Big Hug, Little Mouse. We all know how special a hug is when motivated by love. And Millie (the mouse) discovers how important they are, when one day she announces after dragging herself out of bed that:

"I've lost my hug."
She sets out to find her hug again. She hoped that it wasn't gone forever. Perhaps it was in the blueberry patch, a rabbit hole, or in a watering can! As she sets out to find her hug all her friends give her their special type of hug, including the "hello hug", "one-arm hug", "because you're happy hug" and so on.

Lisa Kerr is not just a great illustrator and artist, she is a great storyteller and wordsmith and uses just less than 300 well-crafted words to tell a simple story well. And surely we are living in times when we all need hugs, especially our children.

There are so many different types of hugs and, as an expert hug-giver, Millie knows them all. There is the Hello-l’m-happy-to-see-you hug, the I'm-Sorry hug and the Goodbye hug, to name a few. But what happens when Millie loses her hug? How can she find it? Luckily, her friends are ready to help. This is a story about giving hugs, getting hugs and making sure the people that matter most to you know they're loved.

Lisa Kerr is a Melbourne based illustrator/author who works from her studio at home in Beaconsfield. Her detailed illustrations are traditionally produced using ink and watercolor. Her first picture book, “One Cheeky Monkey” soon developed into a series of books. The illustrations in this beautiful book have been traditionally produced using ink and watercolour.

6. 'Azaria: A True Story' by Maree Coote

This is an important children's book that tackles one of the most troubling tragedies in contemporary Australia. And yet, the current generation of children knows very little about this true story of tragedy, miscarriage of justice, hatred and persecution. Not typical picture book themes. I tested this book on one of my granddaughters aged 11 and she found it very sad and a little disturbing. In many ways, she found the public hatred towards Lindy Chamberlain as the hardest thing to understand as well as the horrible death of a very young baby.

Of course, we cannot continue to shield children from such realities of life. Death is real and usually unexpected and even the youngest can lose their lives. And of course, persecution can happen. It might start in the playground, but in adults it can become even more ugly.

Yes, it is a modern day cautionary tale. It also explores with great sensitivity BIG issues such as how our lives can collide with the natural order of things. And injustice can be experienced by all.

It is a well-written and beautifully illustrated non-fiction picture book that explains a famous miscarriage of justice, and examines the role of the media in an appropriate manner for children. The book is appropriate for children aged 8-12. I wouldn't as a teacher read it to a group of 5-7 year olds.

As well as being a moving read aloud (or alone) story, it could also serve as an excellent cross-curricular resource. There are Teachers' Notes and extensive resource material available online for teachers.

7. 'The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family' by Ibtihaj Muhammad, with S.K. Ali and illustrated by Hatem Aly

This is an important book in our increasingly complex and diverse societies in western nations that require us to develop greater mutual understanding. It offer an uplifting story of being proud of who you are from Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad in association with S.K. Ali and illustrator by Hatem Aly
Asiya's hijab is "... the brightest blue. The colour of the ocean..." when she heads off on her first day of school for the year. With her is her older sister Asiya. It is her first day wearing a hijab made of a beautiful blue fabric.

However, as you'd predict, not everyone sees her hijab as beautiful. In the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah's mother encourages her by telling her she needs to find new strength and ways to be strong.

 This is an uplifting, story that has great significance in western nations like Australia. It is written by a young woman who has succeeded in varied ways in life, including winning a Bronze medal in fencing at the Olympic games representing the USA. She was also the first Muslim American woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympic Games.

Illustrator Hatem Aly has added much to this beautiful book with her digitally rendered illustrations rich in colour, emotion and life. She was born in Egypt and has been highly honoured for her work, including her book 'The Inquisitor's Tale' (by Adam Gidwitz) being named as a Newbery Honor Book.
Collaborator S.K. Ali is an award winning author of 'Saints and Misfits' and 'Love from A to Z'. Like Faizah and Asiya, she and her sister visited Hijab shops every year before the first day of school to choose their proudest colours.

8. 'Under the Milky Way' by Frané Lessac.

I've been a big fan of Frané Lessac for a long time and have reviewed a number of her books in the past. Including her book 'Under the Southern Cross' which is about nighttime in Australia.

Beneath a blanket of stars, crowds cheer at Little League games, campers share fireside stories, bull-riders hold on tight, and sled dogs race through falling snow — all under the Milky Way.

In this new book Frané takes the beauty of the Milky Way and leads us to consider the incredible Galaxy in which we live. A spiral shaped galaxy containing several hundred billion stars, including our own Sun. A vast collection of stars 100,000 light-years across and about 10,000 light-years thick. And of course, it is visible across and around our globe. Just imagine the many things occurring every day 'under the Milky Way'.

The book has a multi-level text with a simple sentence on each double page that suggests thematically what might be occurring every day (or should I say night?)! For example:

In Salem, Massachusetts listening to spooky stories about things that go bump in the night - under the Milky Way.   

Each double page is then illustrated in keeping with the theme. In Salem, as you might predict, we see families celebrating Halloween in a tapestry of images and action.

But "In San Francisco, California firecrackers pop and crackle as the dragon dances to the drummer's beat - under the Milky Way." And so, we continue across America with each beautifully illustrated double page spread highlighting a different state or city in the USA (and a wee bit of Canada).

The artwork is beautiful as always, with vibrant colours and details that make you want to ponder and explore each page filled with detail. A wonderful and colourful celebration of the starry galaxy and its place in those who dwell 'underneath' it. Readers 5-10 will love this book.